Timelines and Project Planning
We’re all familiar with timelines in stories, and the inconvenient way they mean that character X can’t be here because the night before he was a thousand miles away, or on a different planet. Sometimes, beta readers catch “Uh, how did he get from his house to the restaurant, because he was dragged bleeding out of the forest the night before by a friend, and his car was left on the side of a logging road…”
Sometimes they don’t, and the fans create the most bizarre theories to cover continuity errors (See: Jar Jar Binks is the secret Sith overlord.)
Well, timelines appear in publishing houses, too. Traditionally published authors know their advance is split into three sections: On signing, which may occur with only a query and three chapters written; on acceptance, when the entire manuscript is turned in and the editor is happy with the manuscript’s final form; and on publication. These can drag out for years.
With POD printing, no slow-moving contracts to fulfill with brick and mortar buyers, and a wide-open publishing schedule, most indies can collapse this timeline into a very long week, filled with muttering at the computer and endless cups of coffee while dealing with formatting, keywords, cover, blurb, and newsletter release announcement. For short stories not being printed in hardcopy, this can be mere hours.
On the other hand, if you want to get some traditional reviews prior to publication, you’ll have to build in time to create and send out ARCs – Advance Reader Copies. If you’re working on bookstore placement, again, they prefer to know and decide to stock or not prior to publication, which means you need your book length (and therefore dimensions) ready, as well as your covers, your blurbs, and often some ARC reviews to sway your sales pitch… and your pricing, discounts, and returns policy. (Yes, indies can place in bookstores. It’s a lot more work, but not impossible.)
If you’re farming out work – say, your interior design and formatting for print – what time and headache you save are offset by the need to estimate when you’re finishing the book, and schedule a slot with the formatter. Same with a cover designer, as well as building in the turnaround time for the artist if commissioning cover art.
Did I mention that life never conforms to expectations, and emergencies fail to schedule themselves? (Also, everything critical you fail to plan and schedule for will become an unscheduled emergency.) When building any schedule, it’s critical to build in pad time.
Even a one-author publishing house gets to the point where there’s a project calendar, with production slots for a set number of estimated books per year, and early deadlines for contracting or searching for art due to slightly wonky scheduling for the cover design (Yes, it’ll have to be done a month early, because my cover designer is going to be out of town any closer to the release date.) There will be the primary beta reader feedback date, and the drop-dead beta reader feedback date, the formatter’s slot (note, this can get exciting if you have a wraparound cover, and the formatter ends up with a thicker book than you commissioned a cover for. Don’t cut the formatting too close, so you have time to redo the print cover.) There’s also the time to schedule a sale on the first in series if this is a later book (most sale slots require at least a month’s notice to get a slot. Bookbub… *sigh* good luck!).
And, if the release falls near a major con you attend, there’s also the need to pad sufficient time to get print copies of the new book to you before attending your signing sessions!
…just when you think the calendar is a work of art and beauty, well, may your only interruptions be pleasant surprises, and never be like the kidney stones that decimated our schedule with Sweet meteor o’ death effectiveness this year!