Friday, October 19, 2012

The Importance of Looking Ahead…and of Not Looking Ahead

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

calendarThe last few years, I’ve kept a very strict writing schedule—mostly because of the deadlines that I had from the two imprints I was working for, Penguin NAL/Obsidian and Penguin Berkley Prime Crime.

Some of the time the deadlines got really close to each other (which no one wanted—not me, my agent, nor my editors), but it just happened that way with the production schedules. 

Sometimes I had hurry-up-and-wait scenarios, sometimes I was editing a book with one series and drafting one for another and promoting something that had just released with one of the series. 

But it was all pretty much laid out for me—outline due to this editor by X date.  Manuscript due to that editor by X date.  Revisions back by X date. Pass pages approved by X date.

I’ve finished two books in late-spring/early summer that will come out in in February and July of next year. Now I’m working on a book that’s due in February and will release in 2014.  In between, I wrote a book for self-publishing, which I’ll put out in November.

After that—I’m not sure what I’ll have on my plate because I’ll be out of contract.  What usually happens is that the publishers like to look at sales of book 2 with the series to see if they want 2 or 3 more books after the 3rd book comes out.  With the Memphis Barbeque series, they watched sales on book 2 and 3 and decided to contract me to a 4th book. 

Hopefully, after February’s release, the numbers will be good and my editor for the quilting mysteries will ask for 2-3 more books to follow the one coming out in 2014…that would extend my work with Penguin into 2016 or 2017.

But that’s totally out of my hands.  If I try to plan for more Memphis books or more quilting mysteries…there’s just no point.  I could sketch out proposals for the next books (sometimes they’ll ask for that in the editorial meetings when they discuss extending the series with the publisher.)  But there’s no way I’m going to make the assumption the series will continue and write the next books….it’s not like I can just change the character names and use the books some other way.  The books are definitely branded to those series.

So…there’s no point in trying to figure out what’s going on in late 2013 and 2014.  Looking ahead, in that respect, does no good at all.  That’s like counting chickens before they hatch. 

But planning ahead for stuff we can control makes a lot of sense.  I’m eager to write more Myrtle Clover books.  Demand for the series is up, sales are going well, and I’m the one who ultimately decides the future of that series.  So my plans, post-February are for right now and unless I find out differently, to write two Myrtle Clover books from March—December 2013 and edit the 3rd quilting book for Penguin for its 2014 release.

Keeping busy by working on new projects is one of the best ways to survive the snail-like pace of the publishing schedule—whether you’re querying, waiting for revisions, or waiting for your book to release.  Not only does it keep your skills sharp and keep you busy, but it can result in more stories to query or self-publish.

Why I like coming up with my own production plan for the next year (although I know it might be subject to change):

Deadlines help me stay motivated.  I found with the self-pub book I just finished that it’s better if I apply a deadline for it like the ones I get from my publisher.

Seeing my plan in writing helps me approach the year in a more organized way—and I can even have a tentative budget in place for costs and possible earnings.

It gives me information/updates to post on my website.  I’ve been actually, pleasantly, surprised that readers actually do seem to want to know what I’m working on.  I noticed other writers putting their production schedules up on their websites and decided to give it a go.  I’ve had nice feedback on that and a decrease in the number of emails I’d gotten asking when there would be a release for one of the series.

If you’re interested in making your own production plan for the next year (or even a five-year plan…I’ll include that link, too), here are some great posts to help you think it through:

Dean Wesley Smith’s: Think Like A Publisher: Production and Scheduling

This is D.D. Scott’s (a successful self-pubbed author’s) production plan for this year: The Indie Epub Journey: Ebook Production Schedules 101

Another example of a production schedule, with the addition of a business plan, from author Denise Grover Swank:  A Business Plan for Self-Pubbed Authors.

Susan Kaye Quinn recommends we develop a five-year plan for our writing career in her post, The Incredible Lightness of Being Indie.

How are you approaching your writing and goals?  Have you ever considered a production plan?  Do you ever commit your goals to writing?  

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