Do you need a production schedule?
If you are a writer, and you have any commercial ambitions at all, then yes, you do.
A well-built production schedule will help you stop the overwhelm, restore your sanity, and give you a proper footing upon which to build your business.
There are other benefits, too, but first, we should discuss the obvious.
At least it’s obvious to me.
What Is A Production Schedule?
At its simplest, a production schedule is a list of books you plan to write across a set period of time, and when you plan to publish them. In other words, deadlines and release dates.
A production schedule is not a writing schedule.
A production schedule and a writing schedule have two different functions. They are two different things, although they are related.
A writing schedule allows you to build a production schedule. It is purely blocked-out time dedicated to writing, and doesn’t specify what you are actually going to write.
A production schedule, on the other hand, includes all aspects of production, including what you are going to write, and when.
This will make much more sense once you have actually built your first production schedule.
Why You Need A Production Schedule
I’m not sure there is a gentle way to put this.
Only sensitive artistes get to write according to their muse. If you are serious about making money, then you have to get rid of the notion that you write whatever you feel like writing, whenever you feel like writing it.
Not even in traditional publishing can you just sit and write and let everyone else take care of your business. These days, traditional authors have to market their work, and develop a decent business sense if they are not to be exploited up the wazoo.
One of the things that pulp writers of old and this century’s indie authors have in common is that we all plan our books out. Those writers who do not plan generally do not earn serious money.
Advantages Of Having A Production Schedule
Apart from grounding your business, a production schedule has a number of advantages and benefits.
Stops Time Creep.
A production schedule keeps you accountable to yourself, as well as everyone else. Without it, it’s very easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re progressing marvellously. A few days of not hitting your word count can slide by completely unnoticed.
However, with a production schedule telling you when you’ve missed deadlines, there’s no way to duck the truth. You either have to work to catch up (something I’m always doing), or admit to yourself you can’t write as fast as you thought you could.
Actually, overestimating how many books you can write in the year is very common for new indie authors, especially those of you who have just quit the day job and are brimming with enthusiasm. Long-term production is always less stellar than you’d like it to be.
That, right there, is another side benefit of having a production schedule. It keeps you realistic, as well as keeping your honest about how you’re spending your time.
Budgeting And Business Planning
After you’ve been keeping your production schedule for few months and you know it is a fair representation of what you’re capable of producing, you will have a document that allows you to do some serious planning.
If you know approximately how much you can make from a new book release, then you have a tool that will help you with budgeting, too.
That sort of information becomes important when you’re talking to people in finance and business.
There are always unexpected slumps and spikes in sales and you can never predict if a book of yours will take off like a rocket. But in general, a production schedule gives you a way to make average estimates of your business’s performance.
This sort of information is invaluable, when you start thinking long term.
Sick And Play Time
I’ve spoken about sick and play time before. [Here, here and here, to begin.] Once you know what amount of work you can get done, on average, then if you speed up your rate of progress just a little, you can build in “spare time”. This spare time can be used for vacations, or just tucked aside for rainy days.
Once you are ahead of your production schedule, then you have spare days in which you can do nothing at all and not impact your business, or your revenues.
Or you can use the days in any way you wish, including projects of the heart, experiments in other genres, on-the-ground research in far-flung places, conferences and travel, and much more.
When you work ahead of your schedule in this way, the days you take to do something other than writing will not have a drop of guilt in them. Your revenue is not impacted and your business doesn’t suffer.
For example, at the moment and up until early December, I am working to get about six weeks ahead of my production schedule. I have relatives travelling from Australia to spend Christmas with me and my family. I would like to take that time off while they are here.
This is a fairly ambitious project, but by working with my production schedule and nudging deadlines by a day or two, I have figured out how I can “save” the six weeks. It means working a little bit harder now, but spread across the six months I have been doing this, it is not nearly as onerous as falling six weeks behind at the beginning of 2019, and sweating to catch up.
Because It’s Professional
Every other professional in the world schedules their time. I once worked with a President and CEO whose schedule was planned down to every 15 minutes. I’ve heard of executives who plan their time in seven minutes increments. I presume there is a spare minute every 15 minutes or so, although maybe that’s just their version of sick and play time.
Consider this. If a journalist asked you what’s in store for the next six months or the next year, and you answer with a vague, “Gee, I don’t know… Perhaps another book or two?”, how do you imagine that would go over?
Compare that answer to: “Well, I have four books scheduled, including three science fiction novels, and the sequel to my best seller, which will be released the week before Christmas.”
Not only does that sound like you actually have a clue, but there are subtle marketing effects, too.
For example, I am currently writing the book that will be released in February 2019. My readers are all aware of the six books that will be released between now and that one. Anticipation is high and with gentle marketing emails between now and release date, I can keep that anticipation bubbling. By the time readers have finished with this book in a series, the next book is already written, and often available for preorder, so there is a link in the back of this book, that lets them by the next book.
This sort of advanced scheduling is only possible if you have a production schedule, and stick to it.
You Gain A Sense Of Control
This one is the last and the best.
True story. Last weekend I was in Calgary for a writers’ conference, and on one of the panels I sat upon, the writer next to me turned to me and said, “I have to thank you. Last year on a panel you spoke about your production schedule, and how everyone should have one. I took your advice. It turned my life around.”
As I described in the section about professionalism, I am working well into 2019 already. If I stop all writing and marketing tomorrow, I would still have book launches and income from those book launches, and all the residual revenue that comes from my backlist, for at least six months before diminishing returns set in.
There is a sense of security that comes from that.
In addition, I never have to wonder about whether I’m writing fast enough, or too fast. I know exactly what the best pace is, and when I need to speed up or slow down. (If you follow my weekly work log posts, then you know exactly what I mean. I’m constantly talking about being behind, or being ahead.)
Being able to plan your days, your months and your year gives you a sense of control over your career and your business. The indie fiction world is uncertain and changes daily. Every month or so, there is a new thing to consider. From new booksellers, to booksellers closing down, to algorithm changes, to the latest xxx-gate controversy, there is always something happening that changes the playing field.
What you can control is how many books you put out per year, which gives you a degree of control over your revenue, and your time.
This article is already running long. I will finish off next week with an explanation of how to actually set up your production schedule.
In the meantime, during this coming week, consider signing up for my newsletter. When you subscribe, you will get a copy of the spreadsheet that I use for my production schedule. Play around with it, and plug-in dates and titles. Experiment.
Also, if you are not already doing it, track your word count for this week, so you have a base words-per-hour figure. You will need it next week.
Next week I will get into the nitty-gritty of how to set it up properly.