Friday, April 12, 2013

Business Planning: Your Production Schedule

Part of the joy of self-publishing is the ability to set our own schedules. We can determine how many books we release in a year, how far apart they are to be spaced, and when they will hit the virtual shelves. We are not limited by publisher scheduling that only allows one title a year, nor are we contractually obligated to deliver manuscripts by a certain time. 

Have you ever heard that old saying, "Given enough rope to hang yourself with?" The freedom that comes with being completely in charge of our own schedules can also become a hindrance to us. Without a set schedule, it's easy to slack off . . . or as may be the case for many writers, it's easy to set publication dates that we can't reach without skimping on editorial time. 

A Production Schedule should be a major part of every author's business plan. By taking the time to plan out when you are going to release titles and the timing for the steps along the way, you are setting yourself up for success. Not only does a production schedule give you something to go off of for your own benefit (say, in helping you plan your finances around the release), it also allows you to pre-schedule with editors and cover designers. If you have a date scheduled with your editor from the start, you won't have the last-minute scramble to find an open editor when you finish your draft. You also have added incentive to get your draft done on time - there's nothing like missing a deadline when someone's waiting to get your manuscript from you. 

So how do you go about setting a production schedule? The answer to that is the ever-infuriating it depends. Ultimately, you need to decide what works best for you and your business, but I do have a few suggestions:

  • Look at your past work. How long did it take you to draft the book? And how long did you then spend in edits? You can't base your production schedule off anyone's work but your own. Maybe you can write and edit fast enough to release several books a year; maybe you need much longer and will only be releasing one title a year. (And don't let anyone tell you that you have to release a ton of titles to make it. More titles may help, but releasing early just to get them out there will only hurt.) Whatever your schedule looks like, make sure it is something that works well for you and your working pace. This isn't a race or competition, y'all. 
  • Make sure you plan in time for edits. You know how long it takes you to write a draft, and you know how long it takes you to get through edits. When you plan your schedule, make sure you also plan in enough time for your editor to work on your project. I work as an editor, and I can tell you: it is possible to turn edits around for an author really quickly, but work is much more thorough and less likely to have mistakes missed with enough time allowed. (Also, most editors will charge extra for rush edits, so do your bank account a favor and work time into the schedule.) All editors are different, so contact yours to see how much time she needs. 
  • Plan enough time for publicity and marketing. Hype can't build overnight. Give yourself enough time to get word out and give your baby the best chance you can. 
  • Plan for something to go wrong. My time as the editorial coordinator for Month9Books has taught me one very important thing: something is bound to come up on every title. Make sure you are ready for that eventuality. Personal example: I had plans to get the most recent draft of my book done and to an editor at the end of March. Then all the things happened. A bunch of Month9 work came up; I had a few freelance projects come my way; the farm, in a truly farm-like way, demanded so much time to fix fences (always the fences); and then I got sick. So, yeah, draft didn't get done. And while it was a hassle to have to reschedule with my editor, I had the time built into my schedule, so it won't change my release date at all. If I hadn't scheduled buffer time in, there's a very real chance I would have to push that date back. 

I can't tell you what your production schedule should look like; I don't know your work habits, and I don't know how many rounds of edits your title will need. My schedule is probably a little more detailed than many; chalk that up to scheduling for a publisher. :) Here's what my schedule for Incubus, my December release, looks like:

  • Rewrite delivered by 31.July.2013
  • Full beta read by 7.August.2013 (I have awesome fast readers.)
  • First revisions by 14.August.2013
  • Send to publicist and editor by 15.August.2013
  • Content edit returned by 31.August.2013
  • Revisions and edits by 15.September.2013
  • Copy edits returned by 30.September.2013
  • Revisions by 14.October.2013
  • Pre-proofing by 21.October.2013
  • Formatting by 31.October.2013
  • Second proof by 7.November.2013
  • Send files to Lightning Source by 10.November.2013
  • Final proofing (both eBook and print) by 24.November.2013
  • **Cover needed by 3.September.2013**
  • Release date: 3.December.2013

Yes, I know there are three proofreading rounds in there. I am neurotic like that. I read my books forward, backward, and totally randomly, trying my very best to squash out any proofing mistakes. Your schedule may not be this detailed, and that's okay. The important thing is that you have one. I write a schedule like this for each book I plan to release, plus a master schedule of my releases, so I can look at the big picture and know what to expect for my business.    

There you go - the nitty gritty of scheduling your titles. Take some time to figure out a schedule that works for you. Then get back to writing - that's the fun part anyway!

Your turn: do you schedule out your books, or do you let things run as they may? Leave it in the comments. 

(I'll be back next week to talk about big, bad finances!)



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