Why Being Productive And Prolific Pays Off In The Long Term

As indie authors, we’re usually scrabbling so hard to survive from month to month that peering toward the horizon seems impossible.

Usually we are looking for solutions to problems that will let us continue to pay the light bill and our rent, and possibly eat out once a month (or not).

Since 2007, when Amazon launched their first Kindle device, the indie publishing industry has exploded, and settled in. Now we are entering a phase where we are no longer looking around trying to figure out how this all works. Those of us who have been in it for a while are now considering the future.

In other words, longevity.

Creative careers are mercurial and uncertain (algorithm change, anyone?).  Surviving over the long term requires strategic thinking, and not a little hard work.

Being productive and prolific are tools which can help you build longevity into your career.

This blog is all about how to be productive and prolific. And in the early days of this blog, I spent several posts explaining the short-term advantages to being prolific and productive. You can find them here and here and here.

Pretty much everything in these posts was focused upon the short term. For many indie writers, that’s all you can afford to do right now. You’re just focused on moving from month to month.

And that’s fine. Until you have your monthly production under control, and your revenue to a point where it’s semi-reliable, it’s difficult to give any consideration to anything longer-term.

Because productivity and prolificacy are both tools which pay off in the long term, as well as the short-term, it may comfort you to know that while you are working to reach your production goals today, you are also helping your future self thrive.

How Being Productive And Prolific Work Over The Long-Term

Being both productive and prolific allows you to stash.

Stash what?

Everything you can.

Generally, the things that you can stash like a squirrel, saving up for the winter, fall into three categories.

  • Time
  • Money
  • Energy

Although you could argue that money is time:  You’ve spent time and energy writing books that earn money.

Another way to think of it is to consider money as the fixed form of time.

The law of Conservation Of Energy works even here.  Stashing time/money/energy is simply putting in the time and energy now, for later benefit.

A Primary Example: Your Production Schedule

I have spoken many times about building in sick and play time into your production schedule. It’s basically a matter of stashing your time. How you stash time is by working ahead of your production schedule, so that you finish books before their due date. That extra time you save you can use later for anything you want.

In the past I’ve spoken of banking this spare time as a hedge against days when you are too sick to write. If you have enough sick time up your sleeve, a major illnesses won’t have a disastrous impact on your career.

However, as you get used to stashing time by writing ahead of your production schedule, you can start looking at far longer-term aspects.

For Christmas, in 2018, you may remember that I stashed six weeks of my production schedule, so that I could take six weeks off, and relax while family were visiting from Australia. It was a great six weeks!

Even longer-term benefits of stashing your time include taking a sabbatical of six months or year, to travel, or really reflect upon your life.

You can also use serious amounts of stash time to write books completely outside your genre.

Another aspect of stashing time in your production schedule, is to gradually expand the number of weeks between finishing a book, and its release date. This does two things.

  1. It gives you the opportunity to take advantage of marketing and advertising opportunities that are not available for those who are working on a shorter production period.
  2. It’s a simple way of building in sick and play time. If a disaster strikes, you can reset your production period down to the shortest time frame that will let you get a book to market. (For me, that’s just over twelve weeks, absolute minimum.) Then you can building up your lead time all over again.

The easiest way to do this

When you first set up your production schedule, one of the primary decisions you need to make is how often you will release a book. That is built upon your hourly writing rate, and your writing schedule, and how fast you can actually write the book.

For example, I can plot and write a book in under three weeks. In a short trial in the middle of this year, I actually bought my production schedule down to release dates every three weeks. I can manage it, but one of the things I learned was that all the production tasks that come after the writing of the book are just as overwhelming as the writing of the book itself. Bringing the releases down to every three weeks is doable, but there’s no breathing room there.

Partly, this issue is because I do everything myself, except design the covers, and line edit.

Other writers pay assistants to do some of the simpler tasks involved in getting the book to market. Many other authors pay for contractors to format their books, and or upload them to publisher sites.

There are also a great many virtual assistants to help with marketing and other chores.

If I had such assistants, I am sure that I could manage a book every three weeks, because a lot of the burden would shift from me to those who are providing the services for me. In this case, I’m exchanging time for money.

At the moment, because I am a control freak, I keep all those tasks in-house.  Which means that I can only comfortably release a book every four weeks.

A book every four weeks give me room. I can slowly work ahead of the production schedule, and build in greater and greater lead times.

This will apply to you, too. Once you have figured out how often you can release a book, add an additional week into the time between releases. That will let you naturally and easily get ahead of your production schedule.

What working ahead of your production schedule does for you in the long term

This is all part of the stashing process. That stash of time and titles that you have waiting to be released provides a safety net.

Another way to consider it is that you are evening out your output. Regardless of how crazy the input processes may appear to be, with peaks and troughs of effort, you continue to release books at a steady rate.

The algorithms will thank you.  Fans and your whale readers will remain loyal, and appreciate that there is always a new book to look forward to.

In the very long term

Here is a simple thought experiment. What if you manage to get a year ahead of the production schedule?

What could you do that time?

If you were a year or two ahead of your production schedule, then slowing down for four or five years, or even an early semi retirement become possible.

Some Other Examples

There are a lot of things you can stash.  It’s a matter of developing the mindset, of wondering what would happen if you do get ahead of your schedule, or build up a surplus of…whatever you’re looking at. Here are some ideas.

Blog posts

This one is perhaps one of the more obvious ones. If you write a regular blog, or regular emails to your readers, you can always work ahead of when they are due, and build up a stash that is a hedge against the up and downs of the writing life.

Even longer-term thinking involves turning the high content posts and emails you right into an evergreen sequence that new readers to your email list can receive, stripped out over several weeks or months.

For example, my older blog posts and emails make up an evergreen sequence for my readers that is currently nine months long. And I’m still building the evergreen list.  It is entirely possible that I could end up with an evergreen sequence that is years long, sells my backlist to readers, and needs me with very little to do other than tell them about new releases.


Also a really obvious one, but incredibly difficult to do. It involves controlling your expenses, and keeping them as minimal as possible, regardless of how much revenue is coming in. You stash the excess revenue against rainy days.

To begin, aim for six months’ worth of average revenue stashed. Then work towards a year’s cash.

This is a very old concept, but it is the classic way of riding out the peaks and troughs of sales, poor reading seasons, and even disaster books that you thought were going to hit and didn’t.

Super long-term savings can be used for retirement, or high finance projects, such as launching your own publishing company, or funding ambitious projects that require capital outlay.  If you use stashed cash, you don’t have to find angel investors, or go into debt — surely one of the worst things indie authors can do!

Another way to handle stashing cash is to deliberately save up for specific projects. For example, If you decide you’d like to use a virtual assistant, save up a year’s worth of their fees, before you hire them. That takes all the stress out of the uncertainty of the project. And if it doesn’t work out, then all you have lost is some cash.

Short Stories

The majority of indie authors write novels.  It’s what readers tend to prefer, and sales support this supposition.

There are several short-term benefits to writing short stories, which I won’t go into here (I recommend Douglas Smith’s book, Playing the Short Game: How to Market and Sell Short Fiction, as a fantastic resource that explores the short-term benefits of writing short fiction.]

The long, and very long-term benefits to writing short stories include:

  1. Keeping yourself fresh, by experimenting in different genres and styles. Even if you’re committed to writing in a single lucrative genre for your commercial releases, being able to explore and play in other genres and styles stops you from growing stale.
  2. Stretching yourself, and expanding your writing chops. Not only does writing short stories give you a break from your usual genre, it is also a way of developing your voice in a completely new genre. Write enough stories in that genre, and you have a collection of stories that can be published, probably under a pen name, but it is a way of establishing yourself in that new genre. It broadens your revenue base.
  3. When you have short stories stashed, and not yet published, you can take advantage of traditional and indie anthology opportunities. If the story is already written, then it’s a no-brainer to submit to some of these sudden opportunities.
  4. If you have enough stories stashed for a collection, you can use that collection to get ahead with your production schedule by scheduling it as one of your releases.
  5. You are building up intellectual property.

How To Do It

There’s a couple of ways of squeezing story writing into your schedule.

You can actually schedule short story time into your writing schedule. Perhaps a day devoted to it, once a week or once every couple of weeks. Or perhaps every Thursday evening, when there’s no one home, you can write short stories instead of watching TV.

Another way to do it, that you could do as well or instead of formally scheduling time, is to take advantage of days when you finish a book ahead of schedule. If you’re trying to stash time on your production schedule, and you finish a book four days ahead of schedule, for example, then use two of those days to write short stories.  Stash the other two days by starting on the next book two days ahead of schedule.

Story Ideas

Most writers who have been writing for a while usually have a supply of story ideas squirreled away for later consideration.

You can also set up formal time to brainstorm for new story ideas, and put them through a development process to test and see if there’s any merit in the idea.

However you do it, make sure that how you record and keep your story ideas is accessible. A shoe box full of dusty Post-its doesn’t quite do it.

In the long term, there is a quiet confidence in knowing that you will never run out of ideas.   You can also combine ideas into really unique story concepts.

Having many story ideas stashed also means you can to avoid the clichéd and obvious premises that have been done to death. If they’re already in your notebook, your brain discounts those ideas, and reaches for something new, instead.

Boxed Sets

Yes, you can stash boxed series sets.

How you stash them is by finishing a series, and not releasing the series boxed set until at least a year after the series is done.  This saves you from angry readers who just spent their money buying the individual books.

If you can resist releasing the box set after the year has passed, then you can use that box set to fill in holes in your production schedule, or to get ahead of your production schedule.

In the very long-term, you can use the release of a series boxed set to mark an anniversary or significant milestone. Then you can release it with a fair amount of pomp and promotion, and breathe fresh life into the series.

Look for anniversaries and benchmarks associated with your series. They could be external dates — for example, I released a World War I novella attached to one of my series on the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day—or they could be milestones that are part of your series. Perhaps a classic examples of this is the movie Back To The Future, and the big fuss that was made on October 15, 2015, which was the date Marty went forward to in the second movie.

Look For Things To Stash

Nearly anything you can stash has both short-term and long-term benefits.

It just takes a bit of sideways thinking to see the benefit of hanging on to words, time and money for the long game.

But it is so worth it.

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