Think Like A Publisher: Chapter 4: Production and Scheduling

Here we go with Chapter Four, the first of the production and sales chapters.

It’s been some time since I wrote the first version of Think Like a Publisher. Since I wrote those first chapters, Scott William Carter and I have taught three workshops by the same name, plus an advanced workshop helping indie writers make more money from their books. This fall I will be teaching a POD workshop on all the aspects of designing and selling paper books. (Watch for the announcement.)

And during those workshops and from comments and from hundreds of sources I learned a ton more information.

Plus the publishing company I helped start (WMG Publishing) now has a full-time employee and has published over 240 different book titles.

And the overall publishing business has changed as well. Amazing numbers of changes, actually.

As traditional publishers grab for more rights and become even more difficult to work with, more and more writers are moving to indie publishing. As they make the jump, they ask basic questions on how to do it, how to be treated with respect as a publisher, and even how to do simple things like setting up a publishing business.

An indie publisher is still a publisher, the same as any traditional publisher.

Think Like a Publisher 2012 is an updated version of the book from over a year ago, including some of what has changed and what I have learned over the last year or more. I’m sure in another two years I’ll do a third edition. Some things are changing that fast.

As time allows, I will post a chapter for free here with a link under the tab above. But the entire 2012 edition is now available in both trade paper and electronic editions in all electronic bookstores (Kindle, B&N, Smashwords and so on) if you want to jump ahead of these posts. (B&N link also has the paper version through Barnes & Make sure you get the green cover. The red cover is the first edition.

Comments on each chapter are welcome and help us all learn, but keep the comments focused on the topic of the chapter, please.

I hope these chapters help you get a jump on learning how to be a publisher.


Chapter 4

Production and Scheduling

The first three posts in this series were designed to be a unit and help you get set up as an indie publisher. You should have a business name picked out with a web site domain reserved, understand your upfront costs and have made decisions on how to deal with those costs. Then you should have done a rough guess on income and when each project might break even.

If I had to summarize those first three chapters, I would say this: “Be prepared, set up correctly, keep your costs down, and understand the possible cash flow.”

So the next logical step is the question: “How Do I Get My Books Out To Readers?” In other words, how do I produce and distribute my book? You can’t have distribution without production, so I am starting with production right now.

The first major steps in production are inventory and scheduling.

So to really think like a publisher, you need to understand publishing lists, deadlines, and how distribution must be planned far, far ahead of the actual launching of books.

Basic Production Schedule Organization

Traditional publishers have what are called “Lists.”

Lists are basically a publishing schedule of the books being done each month and how much attention each book will get.

In traditional publishing, the list works like this: If your book is number one on the monthly list, you get better covers, better promotion, and all the attention. And more than likely your advance was higher. If your book is in the number two or three slot, you are called a “mid-list” writer.  If your book is down in the number five or six slot, good luck.

As an indie publisher, you also need to set up a publishing schedule and then, as best as possible, stick to it. And always remember one major thing:

Publishing is an industry driven by deadlines.

Trust me, if you don’t have deadlines, things will just slip by and books won’t get done or published.


A publishing business is a business of selling product. I know, as a writer, your story is your baby, your work-of-art. But once you move it into the publishing business it is a widget, something to be sold to readers to enjoy. You are in the sales part of the entertainment industry.

So as you start your business, you first need to know what inventory is available to you, what will be available, and what can be created.

So do an inventory. Count all your finished short stories and novels. Then count all the short stories and novels that have been published but might revert to you soon, or count stories mostly finished that would be easy to finish. Then look at your writing schedule and figure out over the next year how many stories or novels you can write.

You will come up with just a simple list. And list them by title under each category.

1) Finished Novels and Stories.

2) Stories or novels available soon. (List each with possible date.)

3) Stories or novels to be produced. (List dates for finishing…deadlines. If you have more than five or so short stories, don’t forget collections as future products.)

This total number of your inventory may surprise you, disappoint you, or scare you to death (as it did with me and Kris). But at least you have a list of inventory now.

Time In Production

In New York traditional terms, a “list” is also the number of books that can be produced every month.  They take into account numbers of employees and all that it will take to produce the number of books on the list. Traditional publishing is very good at figuring the time it will take for each step of production.

So now you need to take a hard look at how you are going to run your business.

Even if you hire everything done, it takes time. If you do it yourself, and haven’t tried it yourself yet, plan a lot of extra time for the first books because of the learning curve involved.

After you have done a few books, got a few things up electronically, you will have a pretty good idea on how long each step will take with your own work and writing schedule.

Here are the general categories you need to take into account when figuring production time.

Manuscript Preparation:

— Proofing time?

— Electronic formatting time?

— POD formatting time?

Cover Preparation:

— Finding art time?

— Cover formatting time?

— POD cover formatting time?

Launching Time:

—  Electronic Launching?

— POD Launching, including proofing time?

A couple of hints. Try a couple of short stories electronically first to get the hang of this and figure out your times. And POD times will always be factors longer, so maybe wait on POD until you get comfortable with doing much of this.

Putting a Publishing Schedule Together

So now you have an inventory and a rough idea how long each project will take to complete and get published.

So take into account the amount of time you want or can afford to spend on this kind of publishing business, then just do a publishing schedule.

Set the date for publishing each title.

If you have a lot of inventory and not a lot of time, this schedule might be a couple years long. If you have little inventory and more time, you may only have a few months of schedule.

Add in a little extra time for each project.

And then act like that is a concrete deadline.

Writers in general hit deadlines, but there are always a few writers who think it is all right to miss a deadline by a year and still expect their book to be published. And then they get upset when the publisher kills their contracts and asks for their money back. This is a business, a deadline-driven business, so act like a publisher and treat your deadlines like that as well.


Just as traditional publishers, don’t be afraid to adjust at the end of every month. If things are taking longer, which they will at times, adjust the deadline and shift all deadlines at the same time. But be warned:  Too much shifting will really get discouraging.

Say you did a publishing schedule for the next twelve months and wanted to get up two stories or novels or collections a month. You think that in one year having twenty-four projects up electronically would be great for your business and your projected cash flow.  And honestly it would be.

But then you start slipping deadlines and not giving the deadlines the attention a regular publisher would give them. And you discover at the end of the year you only have ten items up. You will get less than half the income and now you still have a half-year of inventory to put up that should have already been up. Not fun.

So when you set the deadlines, be realistic, don’t be afraid to adjust, don’t get in a hurry, but at the same time do everything in your power to not miss a publishing deadline.

Time in the Channel

Okay, realize that if you have an internal business publication deadline, don’t announce the exact date because it takes days for a book to come live on Kindle and PubIt!, a month of time at least for any POD with proofing, and such. And to get through Smashwords (and out around the world) at least a month or more through iPad, Kobo, and so on.

So your publication date for your internal business use is when you launch it on Kindle, Smashwords, and PubIt!.

However, for the public announcement, you would be better served to announce a month later. That’s how most traditional publishers do it as well. Books are often in stores weeks ahead of the official publication date. Distribution takes time and I’ll talk about that later as well. But now, when setting deadlines, keep that in mind.

Why Deadlines Are Important

I’m going to talk a lot about this in later chapters, but for the moment, just understand that a deadline on a book being published allows you to announce the book out ahead. And do promotion on the book ahead of time. And get readers interested and expecting a book to arrive at a certain time. As readers, you all understand how this works. “Coming In May” is a powerful promotional tool, especially for a sequel to a book.

Using Production Deadlines in Your Writing

This is a wonderful new aspect of this indie publishing. You can set publication deadlines for a book far, far before you are finished with the book.

Of course, this is normal in traditional publishing. Publishers often buy two or three books at a time from an author. And when they do, they have book #2 and book #3 already penciled into a publication schedule down the road.

As an indie publisher, you can use your own publication deadlines to help drive yourself to finishing and releasing books.

Many beginning writers can’t seem to finish a project, or when they finish it they spend years rewriting the poor thing to death and having workshops turn it into a monster with an arm sewn onto the forehead.

Having a publication deadline will do wonders for getting you to write, finish what you write, not rewrite, and get it out to readers. (Wait, those sound like Heinlein’s Rules, don’t they?)

Also knowing a book has a hope of getting read by readers and making you some money does wonders for pushing a writer to write and finish.

So, when setting up your publication schedule, look not only at your existing inventory, but slot in an unfinished novel or two. That gives you a firm deadline and not only will your publishing company help you make money and find readers, but it will also drive your writing.


Count your inventory, figure your future inventory, figure your time, figure how much time it takes for each step of each project, and then think like a publisher and set a publication schedule.

And maybe use that schedule to help you finish new books as well.

Deadlines drive everything in publishing. And all deadlines are set by publication schedules.

Think like a publisher and set the schedule.

You will be stunned at how much of a difference it will make for your publishing company.



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27 Responses to Think Like A Publisher: Chapter 4: Production and Scheduling

  1. Maria Grace says:

    I just wanted to thank you for putting this series together, and for this entire blog. I am just starting out, about to release my second book and your long run perspective has really helped me fight off the discouragement. I feel much better about not having everything perfectly established form the get go, I be on every social media site in existence with a put together platform and perfect tag line.

    I think I read more good sense, useful advice here than I have found in most other corners of the web and I really appreciate it.

    I do plan on getting ‘Think like a publisher’ with the next royalty check. Definitely worth the investment.


  2. Thanks for the wealth of information you have available here. Your advice is initially what got me planning ahead. I don’t have ten books ready to go, but I started my own imprint, have my first manuscript out for proofing and set up my own little production schedule where I’m projecting to have three books published by January 2013. I’ve also begun working on a new schedule for 2013 and beyond.

    I can’t wait to read more and may even take one of your POD workshop.

  3. David Barron says:

    I’m starting to hear a lot (perhaps because I hadn’t previously been listening) about the importance of valuing steady, consistent progress over project “heroics”. Deadlines seem to be where the heroes hit the fan and the turtles do just fine.

    This series is great, and the print edition (which just arrived here) is slick. It’s neat to have a hard copy example of the “POD is important, too!” point. Also, it reduces eye-strain reading the blog all the time.

  4. Kerry NZ says:

    Thanks for all the guidance. The month ahead of your internal date is really good advice… as I’ve just found out.

  5. Carradee says:

    Silly me, I realized that I know how long it takes me to write various types of non-fiction, but I have no clue how long it takes me to write a novel. *facepalm*

    So. Spreadsheet made, to keep track of how long it takes me to write the latter half of my current WiP and to track the full hours on another one. I’ll also be applying the time tracker to the next several short stories I write from scratch.

    That said, after one particular novel is taking me over 6 months longer to finish than I expected (short version: I’m still figuring out what methods work best for me), I’m going to have to sit down and redo the loose schedule I had.

    I’m also thinking I’ll put some hard dates on it, this time. I have several short stories languishing in my file cabinet or on my hard drive. I need to upload them.

  6. J.A. Marlow says:

    I’ve used a loose schedule from the time I first started in 2011. In the end, I ended up putting out more ‘widgets’ than expected for the year. Going into 2012 I upped the game a little bit by trying to concentrate on longer projects. So far so good, although I do notice the same thing as last year.

    Even though for the most part I do publish what was planned, it’s not always in the order first planned. So, one project is delayed a month or two, but something else comes up to take its place. This has still allowed me to continue the goal of publishing at least one item each and every month (A pace I hope to keep up for years to come).

    Having something on the schedule for each and every month does help to keep the focus. To know what to work on next and what to be preparing. As you said, not having some sort of deadline or structure to this makes it far too easy to let things slide. Then, come the end of the year, the list of productivity looks awful. I sure don’t need that kind of depression!

  7. allynh says:

    I went online and saw the announcement that CreateSpace is letting you distribute to Amazon Europe.

    I then went to look at the “Royalty Calculator” on the “Distribution and Royalties” page and tried 300 pages, at 6×9, at $10 just to see what came up, and the numbers for pounds and eros look disturbingly low. It looks like the actual cost for the POD in Europe is higher.

    It looks like you need to set prices higher in Europe. Give a yell if you figure out a good pricing strategy.


    • dwsmith says:

      allynh, why would you ever price a 6×9 trim 300 page book at $10.00???? Holy smokes, to get the right discounts, you need to be in the range from $15.99 to $17.99. Then the overseas sales will be fine as well.

      Folks, I have a chapter coming up on this in Think Like a Publisher, but you have to price your books in paper right to be able to give stores 50% discounts and free shipping and still make money.

      A sample of this is a 300 page book at 6 x 9 trim might cost you, the publisher/author around $6.00 to buy. You have a $17.99 cover price. The bookstores can buy it for $9.00 and you make $3.00 profit per sale to a bookstore. About a 17% profit without touching the book.

      Again, I’ll explain later, but pricing on paper books is more critical and has far more things to consider than randomly setting a price for an electronic book.

      • allynh says:

        I’m still trying to get used to the new look on the website and the nested comments. HA!

        The thing I need you to look at is the Amazon Europe royalties are based without paying a $25 “Expanded Distribution”. Amazon charges $25 for US “Expanded Distribution” but there is no charge for Amazon Europe.

        The suggested prices and royalties for Amazon Europe don’t relate in a direct conversion of dollars, pounds, eros, so there are clearly hidden costs that can and will change, making long term planning of prices problematic.

        Depending on the exchange rate, what looks like real money may change on a dime. HA!

        • dwsmith says:

          allynh, I honestly have no clue what you are talking about. Is it one of those “things will change” fears or something real??? Are you talking about CreateSpace? (Amazon owns it, sure, but it is not Amazon.) CreateSpace charges a $25 expanded distribution fee which includes Europe distribution now.

          Sorry, no clue what you are trying to say. Try again if you think it is important and something based in real facts, not worry about the future that might not happen.

          • allynh says:

            I’m wondering, if part of the problem with your latest answer is that you have turned on the nested threading on your blog, while still moderating each post. HA!

            - Is it possible that you are not seeing the original comments that we are adding to, and thus not seeing that a conversation is occurring with information already provided.

            I will assume that’s the case and treat this as a non-threaded post. HA!


            Europe is going to be a major market for POD, well into the future, because they still prefer paper to electronic. The move by CreateSpace to have “Amazon Europe” eliminates the need to find foreign publishers to reprint your books, giving you more control. American SF/F/H direct from an American publisher like “WMG Publishing”, should sell like gangbusters, HA!, when certain problems are fixed.

            The access to “Amazon Europe” through CreateSpace is free as part of “Standard Distribution”. It is not necessary to pay the $25 “Expanded Distribution”, to have access to “Amazon Europe”. “Expanded Distribution” only covers the US.


            [quote]What is Expanded Distribution?
            Expanded Distribution offers you the opportunity to access a larger audience through more online retailers, bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, and distributors within the United States. Expanded Distribution will also improve discoverability of your book across all the channels….

            [quote continued]
            Regardless of whether or not you include your title in Expanded Distribution, all CreateSpace titles can be distributed through the, Amazon Europe and eStore channels.

            If you have “Expanded Distribution” that opens up a whole other can of worms as far as royalties go. It looks like your royalty payments can change without your control depending on how Amazon fulfills the order.

            If you are enrolled in the, Amazon Europe (EU) and Expanded Distribution sales channels there may be rare occasions where and Amazon EU sources an order through an Expanded Distribution channel. In these cases you will be paid the royalty rate of 60% and not the lower rate of 40%. This royalty rate applies to orders originating on where LLC is the seller of record and on Amazon EU sites where Amazon EU Sàrl is the seller of record. This does not include items listed by a third-party reseller, or “Marketplace” seller on or Amazon EU. Royalties for orders placed on and Amazon EU that are fulfilled via Expanded Distribution can take up to six weeks to appear in your sales report.

            I’m not expressing the fear of “things will change”. We are on a major roller coaster ride, and just hit another deep drop. HA!

            I’m asking how should we price PODs in Europe that make sense for the market, and will not fluctuate with the changing currency rate.

            - If you automatically tie your US books with the “Amazon Europe” books do the prices change constantly with the exchange rate.

            Pricing on books sold in England or Europe have to fit the region. They have to be priced in the range of other similar PODs. I’ve looked at Amazon UK book prices and can’t see what the appropriate price should be, and I have no clue what Europe(Euro) prices to set. Their “paperbacks” are the same size as our mass market. There is no obvious statement of Trade Paperback the way the US has, so what should we charge?

            That also brings up the problem of your current business model, now that CreateSpace has added access to “Amazon Europe” for free.

            - If you have someone in England* order a book from your WMG Publishing website you cannot send them a copy made here in the US without also charging high postage.

            - If a bookstore in England* orders your books you do not have the option of ordering copies from the printer located in England**, at your “discount price”, and having it shipped “locally” to the customer.

            Thus your costs are higher than necessary, printing and postage, when selling books overseas.

            The move by CreateSpace opens up Europe, but there are a bunch of questions that need to be answered to make your current model work.

            In the meantime, keep your hands inside the car, until we have fully stopped. HA!

            *or the Euro Zone; Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, etc…

            **Amazon Europe

          • dwsmith says:


            Yup, know all that, and nothing at all new. Selling English language paper books overseas has always been either impossible, far more expensive, or flat not worth the effort. Duh. CreateSpace has opened up a brand new area for all of us. It does not mean we still, as authors or indie publishers, go to overseas traditional publishers and sell translation rights.

            And, of course, UK or Europe stores who order our books directly from our distributor will be sent to a local distributor for the time being, as we would have done before this new announcement. So again, nothing new or changed.

            And honestly, the market for English language books in Europe is going to be fairly small in relationship to the sales in the states. We are going to price our books to the right amount to get the right discount to stores here, and let the price just move over with the exchange rates to overseas countries. More than likely that might be higher than a company in say France could publish and price the same book for, but again, nothing new.

            At the moment, my answer to your question is price them correctly for the States, let the price move to Europe, and then as sales increase, figure it out them if prices need to vary overseas on the same book published here.

            I have no idea why you quoted all that stuff from CreateSpace. Trust me, I’m not stupid enough to work with them and not read their contracts and terms numbers of times.

            So no real clue again what you are trying to get at. Sorry. I am just flat missing your point. You seem (at least what I can see) to be saying there are problems with the CreateSpace paper book distribution. And they have problems that need to be fixed, although I have no idea exactly what those problems are.

            Will WMG Publishing distribution model through Ella Distribution Inc move over exactly to paper Europe books??? Is that the question. The answer is “Of course not.” Why would you think I would expect it to?

            Remember, I have been a publisher, editor, and writer in this industry since 1975. I do know how it works. I have sold books into eighteen languages at last count. Pulphouse in 1988 had overseas distribution. Trust me, I know the problems and how it works and trust me, CreateSpace doing what they did last week is a wonderful thing. Different than books to the states? Yes. But now possible.

          • dwsmith says:


            Were you talking about how CreateSpace AND set firmly your overseas price? And how they do not adjust it for the ups and downs of the money side of the exchange rates? If so, you are, of course, right.

            Publishers need to pay attention to the overseas exchange rates and if there is a huge movement in an exchange rate, we need to reset our books. It’s an easy click off and then click back on and they will be reset on the electronic versions. Not yet sure how easy that’s going to be for the paper versions, but my guess is about the same.

            If that was what you were trying to say and I kept missing it, sorry.

          • allynh says:


            The point I’ve been trying to make, is that in the very near future you should be able to fulfill orders direct to English and European bookstores, from sources “local to them”, at postage rates “local to them”, just as you can now in the US.

            - It will be as if WMG Publishing had European offices. HA!

            You need to start thinking about Europe as a real market where you can fulfill orders “locally” in Europe, because I bet that you will sell more POD copies in Europe, to more bookstores, than you do in the US.

            Call me crazy, HA!, but it is important to know what to charge for POD in England and Europe that fits their market.

            - Because books that do not “fit” the US market may sell big in Europe.

            Personally, I intend to maximize the fact that there is an entire continent of english speaking readers who have never had access to US indie writers. They have only had access to blockbusters, they haven’t read my stuff. HA!

            Remember, Slim Whitman* was the biggest country singer in Europe. HA!

            *”He is consistently more popular throughout Europe, and in particular Britain, than in his native America, particularly with his covers of pop standards and movie songs. – Wiki”

          • dwsmith says:

            I see what you are getting at. That day might be here, but I doubt it will be more in Europe than the States at any point. Never has been in publishing in general. Just different sized markets. But still critical and large, no doubt there. And I agree it is important to price what fits European markets as best as possible, especially with moving exchange rates.

      • Carradee says:

        Hey Dean,

        Just so you know, CreateSpace has adjusted their per-book cost. I’m putting together a 300-page POD book, and it’ll cost me $4.45 US each to buy direct.

        Therefore, I could charge $13.99 for a single paperback and still make over $2 per book on the max discount—assuming, of course, that there’s nothing wrong with my math:

        ($13.99 per book * (100% – 45% max discount) * 10 copies) – ((10 copies * $4.45 per book) + $10 shipping)

        • dwsmith says:

          Carradee, plug it into their little chart, with trim size, paper type, and page count. They will tell you exactly how much you will make on each area of distribution.

          • Carradee says:

            *snaps fingers* Ah! You were talking about the other calculator!

            I misunderstood. I thought you were talking about the direct author orders (under “Buying Copies” on the CreateSpace page), because I thought that was the only situation where the 45% discount would apply.

            You were referring to the Expanded Distribution calculations under the “Distribution and Royalties” tab. My mistake. ^_^

          • dwsmith says:

            Carradee, yes, that was what I meant. But honestly, both numbers are critical. The cost to us for each book also has to be calculated into the final price of each book, and the amount you get from the extended distribution as well. I have found that if I use their chart under “Distribution and Royalties” tab and make sure I am getting about $2.00 for each book sold extended, everything else is better. I try not to let the price I get for extended sales go under $1.00 at the lowest. At that rate, the price I get for “publisher” copies is usually clearly inside the number I need it to be to make a nice profit while offering bookstores a 50% discount.

            So both calculations need to be taken into account when setting the final price of the trade paper.

          • Carradee says:

            And now my nice Numbers spreadsheet includes some columns for evaluating the net $ and % earnings from Expanded Distribution. :)

            I’m setting up formulae to figure out the standard cover and sale prices for works, based on approximate word count and number of pages—though I’m learning just how hard it is to judge how many pages a particular word count will be.

            I’m currently formatting two POD books, one a good 4k words shorter than the other, but the shorter one takes up more pages, despite the font face, spacing, etc., all being the same. One’s narrator uses a lot of multi-sentence paragraphs, while the other uses a lot of direct, few-word paragraphs. I’d forgotten what a difference that can make in the page count!

  8. John says:

    Great book. I’m not even a writer.

  9. Another great update, Dean. Of course, this reminds me that I’ve got to get my a** in gear and set a consistent work schedule, despite what’s going on in my life right now.

    And I like the new look–fits nicely on my screen, at a decent size for these old eyes (and the color scheme helps, too)!

  10. Kerry NZ says:

    Another thing that adds to the list of things affecting timing is getting ISBN and CIP (Currently In Print) records (the specially formatted national library records that have started appearing in books the past decade). Here in NZ the ISBN is free but takes a few days and is needed before applying for the CIP which takes a week or so (and which then puts the book in an advance catalogue put out by the National Library for booksellers to plan by – so should be applied for well in advance).

    • dwsmith says:

      Kerry NZ, well, you just confused a bunch of Americans and Canadians. (grin) No CIP files here and ISBNs are mostly free through the electronic services or through CreateSpace for paper. And ISBNs are not used that much here, since they are a monopoly by Bowker and companies have developed their own tracking systems. Still needed, but not so critical and takes no extra time here.

  11. These few chapters of Think Like A Publisher have been very eye opening. I love the straightforward way you present things and have been a lurking fan of your site for quite a while. I am currently working on several how-to books based on my blog as well as a backlog of fiction stories. Starting my own publishing operation is the logical next step for me. I look forward to reading the full book which I just downloaded to my Kindle. Thanks Dean for all your wonderful posts. Your site is a godsend to authors and anyone interested in publishing.

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