As an independent author, you’re also a publisher. You set the vision for all the writing that will be published and create plans to ensure its success. Independent publishing can be a breathless enterprise: There’s so much to learn, and business evolves constantly. Countless shiny opportunities and ideas wait to distract you from your focus. That’s why you need a production calendar.
What is a Production Calendar?
A production calendar is a schedule for everything that you intend to publish. The calendar can be for six months, a year, five years, or whatever vision works for you. As a new indie author, a one-year schedule may give the best balance of short-term action and long-term vision.
Why Do I Need One?
As we discovered in my earlier post about SMART goals, if you don’t write down your plans and goals, they won’t come to fruition. The amount of information available on independent publishing can easily overwhelm even experienced author-publishers. A production calendar anchors and focuses your work, providing a structure that gives context to all the ideas, strategies, and opportunities that will come your way once you begin working in this sphere.
What Does a First-Year Author’s Calendar Look Like?
Months 1-2: Executive time
1) Block out a day on your calendar where you don’t do any writing at all. Just think about your business, where you want it to go, and how you want to get there. Set the vision. Buy a year-at-a-glance calendar, write your objectives on it, and post it on the wall where you’ll see it every day. Tools like this can really help you achieve your vision.
2) Once you’ve done that, write some SMART goals. This is a good time to consider your production model. Some independent authors work on a high-volume-output model, churning out a book a month. Others opt for a slow-and-steady pace, recognizing that high output can lead to rapid burnout. Decide what will work best for your reality and your goals for your author career.
3) Prepare a budget. If you’re just starting out as an indie author, you may not have much information to work with. At this stage, your budget may consist of a list of projected expenses. From that, you can make decisions about where and how to obtain your financing. Or, if you choose to self-finance, you might start from the opposite direction: You have a fixed amount of money to spend. Break down those projected expenses and determine what you can allocate to each line item. (We’ll talk more about financing in a future post.) In your first year, expect to lose money as your start-up costs accrue. Identify a timeline over which to amortize those costs.
4) Get your baseline business documents in order. Depending on where you live, you may be required to obtain a permit to run a home-based business. Contact your local chamber of commerce, and (in the USA) look on your state’s Secretary of State website for information on setting up your business. Consider how you will file your taxes—will you file as a sole proprietor, or do you need a larger business structure, like an LLC or corporation? Seek advice from qualified legal professionals and certified accountants. Helen Sedwick’s book The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook is a terrific resource for the new independent author and can help you determine for what purposes you may need professional legal advice.
Ask a lawyer to draw up a boilerplate contract that you can use for all your future vendors (your editor, cover designer, and so on). Get her or his advice on GDPR. This is a major data privacy law passed last year in the EU and has significant implications for your mailing list, the independent author’s bread and butter.
Yes, these professionals’ time doesn’t come cheaply, but the investment, when made thoughtfully, is well worth it. You’re building a business for the long-term. Give it the foundation it deserves.
5) Establish your author website and your social media accounts. You need a presence on the web where people can discover you and your writing, and where you can start to collect a mailing list. An attractive looking website can be had for very little money: WordPress.com, Wix, and Squarespace are just a few sites that can get you up and running in a hot minute. WordPress.org gives you endless flexibility in your site’s design and capability, but it also demands more skill on your end. Decide what social media channels you’ll use—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or others—and grab your accounts. Get consistent usernames or handles to create a recognizable brand identity.
Months 3-9: Develop your product
6) Oh yeah…write your manuscript! Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. Use SMART goal techniques to fit writing in to your already-packed schedule.
7) Once that first draft is finished, celebrate! You’ve reached a major milestone that many would-be authors never realize.
8) Hire a development editor. Use that contract you drew up, and give her or him your first draft.
9) While your editor is working, keep yourself busy. Draft your book’s synopsis, your cover copy, or gather your thoughts on cover design with a mood board on Pinterest. Start working on a marketing plan.
10) Get the manuscript back from your editor and revise. When you’re done, send it back to your editor for a second read. Give it to some trusted friends or some beta readers (more on beta readers in a future post).
11) See #9. Review your draft of your synopsis and cover copy, as you may have made revisions that affect these documents. If your editor’s feedback indicates your manuscript is nearly market-ready, you can hire a cover designer and begin to write your design memo.
- 11a) Repeat steps 9-11 as needed. Listen, it’s okay if at this point you need to revise your timeline. Take the time to get your manuscript right. Just be sure to give yourself new, firm dates to aim for, so your goal doesn’t slip from your grasp.
12) Make your final changes to your manuscript. Hire a copyeditor and give him or her the manuscript.
Months 10-12: Prepare to launch
13) Create a marketing strategy and plan your launch. Now is when you need to research and make decisions about product offerings (the formats you’ll offer your book in). Will you have a print book, or just an e-book (do you need a MOBI file, or an EPUB as well)? What about an audiobook? Who will handle the production? What prices will you charge for your products? Look back at your budget—what can you afford to produce, and how many units do you need to sell to break even?
In what channels will you sell your book? Will you “go wide” or restrict your book sales to Amazon? You’re a publisher now, so read that boring Terms and Conditions document and make sure you understand it—it’s a contract. The self-publishing world has endless debates over the merits of wide vs. exclusive. We’ll dive deeper into the pros and cons of each in a future post, but for now, The Alliance of Independent Authors offers a good primer.
Marketing is a key responsibility of the independent author (and—surprise!—it’s an important skill for the traditionally published author, too). Plan to invest some time researching different tactics and discerning what makes sense for you. As you execute your plan, make notes about what works well and what doesn’t. We’ll talk more about marketing plans in a future post, but in the meantime, Jane Friedman offers a terrific bird’s eye view of a marketing and launch plan for a new independent author.
14) Get your book’s ISBN (and barcode, if you intend to have a print product). In the US, ISBNs are obtained from Bowker. Don’t be tempted to get the free one from Amazon—you’ll want your own. And if you’re publishing in multiple formats, you’ll need an ISBN for each one (EPUB, MOBI, paperback, hardcover, large print, audio, etc.).
15) If you haven’t done so, hire your cover designer. Then write your design memo.
16) Get cover concepts back from your designer. Seek feedback from your mailing list.
17) Get your manuscript back from your copyeditor. Make the copyeditor’s corrections to your master file, then page up the book. Reedsy has a free tool, or you can go with a product like Vellum or Adobe InDesign.
18) Hire a proofreader to review your page proofs. Make final corrections.
19) Do your production pre-flight—this is the process of preparing your digital files for manufacture. If there are any problems with your cover or interior files, you’ll find out at this stage and correct them.
20) Upload your files to your chosen vendors. If you’re printing a book, order a proof copy from each vendor (Amazon, IngramSpark, etc.).
21) Launch your book! Again, take a day to celebrate.
22) File for copyright protection.
23) Review your notes of the past year. Plan version 2.0.
24) Write your next book.
Being an author-publisher can be an overwhelming job, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools, some thoughtful preparation, and a bit of personal discipline, you can realize goals that you’ve always dreamed about.
Helen J. Darling writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her first novel, I’ll Know Me When I Find Me, was self-published in January 2018. You can connect with her at itshelendarling.com and on Instagram at @itshelendarling.