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How I Schedule Writing a Novel in Less Than One Year
Let me start by saying this is my way of working and scheduling to write and publish a novel as a self-published writer within a year. I could just as easily argue (with myself) that taking longer time is better than shorter. This isn’t the only way to schedule writing a novel in one year but it is one of many ways. I think the takeaway from this blog post should be more about the order in which things are done more so than the length of time taken to do each thing.
Self-Edit Process #1
Self-Edit Process #2
Format (Print & E-Book)
Upload / Schedule Pre-Order
DESCRIPTION OF EACH STEP
1. Research | During this time I like to think about the main characters. Create character sheets based on them. I also like to think about locations and cultures and just the dynamic of the story I want to tell. This can often be referred to as the “world-building phase” for many writers. It can also be an easy trap to fall in. I’ve seen many aspiring writers stuck in world-building for years (or decades) and they just never seem to find a way out. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, I suggest giving yourself a set time when you must stop doing all world-building things. I would suggest no more than 6 - 8 weeks as any longer and you may find yourself stuck in this phase and using it as an excuse not to write the actual story!
Length of Time: 6 - 8 weeks [1.5 - 2 months]
2. Outline(s) | I put this plural because there is no one outline. Writing an outline doesn’t automatically mean you must adhere to what you’ve written and you must never stray. Because of this fact, your outline will evolve and change. Sometimes you’ll make those changes to the actual outline itself (thereby creating another outline) or you’ll just make the changes during the writing phase and not bother to update the actual outline you started out with. There is no right or wrong way here. I tend to have two outlines at the start: A simple outline that is just a few paragraphs outlining how I want to start, what happens to the main characters, and where I hope the story will end. Then I do a deep dive with a detailed outline where I break down the simple outline into actual chapters. I use this to determine chapter count which helps me with the length of the story and time needed to write it.
Length of Time: 2 - 4 weeks [.5 - 1 month]
3. Write! | This will either be your favorite or least favorite part. Either way, it’s a hurdle and it must be jumped in order to really get anywhere. For me, it’s the best part because I’m going to finally give my characters life. Up to this point, I will have spent a good 2 - 3 months thinking about this story and creating all the cool people and places where it will take place. Now I get to put words on the page that will one day be put in front of paying readers! How crazy is that?! Okay, so now that I have my detailed outline broken out into chapters I will then give myself a generic (though not so generic) word count I want to hit for each chapter. Going in I already know I don’t want my chapters to be too short or too long and I don’t want them to be drastically different in length from each other. That can be jarring to a reader (even though they may not know what is jarring them). Typically I’ll choose somewhere between 2k - 4k per chapter. I multiply that by the chapter count and voila, I have my overall goal for the word count of the book. I will then look at my previous stats for writing per hour and determine how many days I’ll need if I devote a set amount of writing hours per week. It works out a little something like this:
1 writing hour = 1.5k - 2k words
15 writing hours per week = 20k - 30k words
~90k words book = 3 - 6 weeks
Length of Time: 6 - 8 weeks [1.5 - 2 months]
4. Self-Edit Process #1 | Once the book is written from beginning to end I will then go back to the start and implement notes I made for myself along the way. These notes will sometimes be either written during the time I was actually writing or I will have retained some notes in my head that I want to take action on right away. I’ll also compare chapter lengths for all of the chapters in a chart and if I see any that are too short or too long I will target those and fix them accordingly. This task can seem daunting and I recommend taking about a week or two away from your manuscript after you’ve finished before taking on this self-edit. You’re too close to it and some separation will do your mind good. Come back fresh and ready to go!
Length of Time: 2 - 4 weeks (+2 weeks away time) [.5 - 1 month]
5. Self-Edit Process #2 | Now that I’ve fixed those issues that typically revolve around dialogue and description and tense usage (cause let’s face it, I suck at sticking with the right tense throughout) I will do my second round of self-editing. This round is just as time-consuming but doesn’t require as much brainpower as the first self-edit. Here is where I utilize the powers of Grammarly and ProWritingAid to assist me in catching my grammar and punctuation and occasional typos that I may have overlooked during my first edit. I’m not a trained editor so it would be foolhardy of me to think I can catch these kinds of technical mistakes. Of course, I intend on passing this on to a paid professional, but for the sake of sending my manuscript in its early stages to Beta Readers, paying someone to edit would be a waste of money. For starters, my beta team will provide me with suggestions and ideas that will cause drastic changes to the manuscript. Why pay someone to polish it when I know it will likely have huge changes that I’ll then need to hire an editor to polish again? Don’t pay double the work if you don’t have to. Save your money and self-edit before sending it to Beta Readers!
Length of Time: 2 - 4 weeks [.5 - 1 month]
6. Beta Readers | The length of time you decide to give your beta reader team is up to you. I would recommend asking them ahead of time how much time they think they’ll need “realistically” before entering into any sort of agreement. This way you can gauge how much time you’ll have to drive yourself nuts while you sit around and wait for their comments to come in. And you must wait for all Beta Reader comments to come in before actioning them. Read my blog post about Alpha, Beta, and Gamma readers to discover why waiting for 100% of their feedback to come in is the best approach. I would also suggest adding a buffer of about a week or two on top of the amount of time you are thinking of giving them. Cause we all know that we can’t predict life and people get busy with their own stuff or get sick or whatever. Setting realistic expectations when other people are involved in helping you complete something is the best way to go about it, otherwise, you’ll just end up getting frustrated with the process. Something else to consider is that too much time can be a negative here as well. So it’s a fine line you must play with. If you give a reader too much time to get back to you they may take all of that time and either rush to meet your deadline because they assumed with all the time allotted they would be able to get it all done with plenty of time only to realize time has run out. I know that’s been me one too many times to assume I’m the only one. Or, they might start it, step away for a period of time and come back to it having not really remembered what they read before so their feedback can seem disjointed. Give a timeframe but stress that it’s OK to deliver early. You’d be surprised how many Beta Readers don’t hear that and assume they should wait till the 11th hour to send you the goods.
Once you get their feedback back, then it’s up to you to decide what to do and what to leave on the cutting room floor. Some feedback might be an easy fix while others may require more surgery. A good rule of thumb would be to organize it all by grouping similar comments together and then scoring them from 1 - 5 on what you disagree with versus what you feel should be fixed.
Length of Time: 1 - 2 months (more time for 100k+ words)
6b. Self-Edit Process #3 | I include this as an addendum to your Beta Reader step as you may not feel it necessary to do this. After I’m done with all the feedback from my team I would do a repeat of Step #5 and put my manuscript through Grammarly and ProWritingAid as well as read my own manuscript out loud. Reading out loud helps you to hear errors rather than reading them on the page. It’s a well-known fact that our brains will correct mistakes it reads without our realizing it if we read in our head.
Length of Time: 1 - 2 weeks
7. Cover Commission* | I included this on the list of things to get done but technically you can and should do this while other things are happening. For instance, work on your cover stuff while your manuscript is in the hands of your beta reader team. This way you’ll have something to occupy your days and your brain so you’re not stressing. Everyone’s cover concept is different and you are at the mercy of however long your cover designer needs. I won’t give a length of time here, I just wanted to include it so you don't forget that the cover is just as important a step in this process as anything else. I will say that unless you are 100% sure what you want your cover to be or look like, I’d wait till you at least finish your vomit draft before commissioning it. The last thing you want is to pay for a cover, write your story after, and then have an idea for a better cover than the one you paid for!
Length of Time: Plan for 4 - 6 months (Artist will negotiate terms.)
8. Editor Pass-Through* | At this point, hiring an editor is the way to go. I recommend either a copy or line editor, whichever is most affordable while doing your search for one. If you have writer friends who have published books already, it couldn't hurt to ask them who they used and how much it cost. Most shouldn’t keep that a secret as it helps bring work to their editor. Also, make sure whoever you decide to look into that they are willing to do a sample chapter or two of your work. If they don’t offer this sample editing that should raise a red flag for you. From the research I have done, all editors will offer to edit a sample.
Length of Time: Plan for 4 - 6 months (Editor will negotiate terms.)
9. Gamma Readers | If you’re unfamiliar with what a Gamma Reader is and how they can be greatly beneficial to your workflow when publishing a novel, do read this blog post I wrote all about them and other types of readers you should definitely consider having as a part of your team. If you give Gamma readers a deadline, that would be best because ideally, I would schedule the pre-order on Amazon (and wherever else I may be uploading my book for sale). Be careful when setting your pre-order in this stage, however, since you want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time from when feedback comes in and you action what they are pointing out to you. Gamma readers should ONLY point out typos. This is not a developmental edit or anything like that. Make sure you drive that point home, otherwise you’ll find yourself with more commentary than corrections.
Length of Time: 1 week (less time is better)
10. Format [e-book and print book files] | I format my own stuff but if you can afford to hire that service out, I recommend doing it. I personally love working with Adobe InDesign to format my print book files and I have a pre-made template with all of my presets ready to go so all I have to do is copy/paste my manuscript in the right place. As for e-book files, I just use Vellum. It’s a Mac Only program so if you don’t have a Mac you’re SOL. Also, it’s not a cheap program by any means. You may be able to find another that is comparable to Vellum, but at the moment I have not. I think it was fully worth the cost for me to create an e-book file in less than 5 minutes. You need to decide what is worth it to you to spend money on and which you feel more capable of doing on your own with the tools you have at your disposal.
Length of Time: 1 week (Depends on who is doing the work? You? Hire?)
11. Upload / Schedule the Pre-Order | Now, you can schedule your pre-order before you upload the final file and many people do. I caution doing this if you’re bad with time management (like I am) and you’re likely to forget to upload that final file later. If you do not upload your manuscript within the time allotted when you create a pre-order, on Amazon the penalty is a one-year restriction from creating any pre-orders on your account! That can really put a damper on your publishing if you aren’t able to set up pre-orders. Save yourself all that heartache and stress by simply setting up your pre-order when you know you have your final manuscript file ready to upload.
Length of Time: 1 day (Better to do it all at once, in one sitting.)
12. Marketing Time | When you choose to do this or what you choose to employ when starting is totally up to the person. It’s a matter of a lot of trial and error. There will be things you see other people doing that you’ll think, “huh, I’d like to do that…” and in those cases, do it! If it won’t break the bank, it can’t hurt. For me, I haven’t really done this in the past but there are a few things I’d like to test out now and I will document how it goes for me. Which I think will work best for me and which I could just leave out of my whole process because it doesn’t fit my style or needs. I’m talking about having a “Street Team” that you provide free e-book copies or print book copies for them to take pictures and possibly read and review for you on the date of release. This team can be as small or as large as you want. Larger is better as it will obviously reach a wider audience. You can also do ARC (Advanced Reader Copies) which is when you provide copies that might not be “final” but are damn near close, to people with the intention that they will read it and leave a review before the book has been released. This is allowed in certain instances (like Amazon or Goodreads) but just make sure you follow their rules with it because if it looks like your trying to get 5-star ratings as “favors” from readers, ie with too many reviews before the release date, that can raise red flags and suspend your account. You can also do Book Boxes where you include bookmarks, a copy of the book, poster, mug, candles, and whatever else might be specific to your book and gift them to certain bloggers or vloggers. Now, these typically shouldn’t come with expectations, though you hope that they will share what you’ve sent with their audience. You can also do giveaways of these boxes to entice people to pre-order your book. So much can be done here it deserves its own blog post and it will in the future.
Length of Time: As long as you want! Forever!
Now that I’ve outlined all the basic steps I take (or will be adding to my previous process) to publish a book, let’s break down how long this actually works out to be. Keep in mind there will be a bit of overlap from one step to another cause you can start one thing while you’re working/waiting on something/someone else.
The shortest amount of time is: 27 weeks / 7 months
The longest amount of time is: 40 weeks / 10 months
In both instances, I did not include time for the cover artist or the editor because when you employ these two steps they should happen while you are tackling other steps. But to be safe, it couldn’t hurt to tack on 2 - 4 months to whatever your pre-planned stages are for getting a book to the finish line.
It might seem crazy to think a book can be written, edited, formatted, and published in less than one year, but if you are dedicated and motivated and eliminate those things which are everywhere to distract us, then it is totally possible. But at the end of the day, LONGER IS BETTER! Just don’t take ten years! Just because you can release a book in less than a year doesn’t always mean you should. This is just a way to show what a little bit of focus can accomplish if you really want something.
Will I be able to adhere to this timetable and release a book in less than one year? I can already tell you that with the project I started as of writing this I’ve already fallen behind. But I’m not beating myself up about it, because I’m sticking to the plan, extending the time I gave myself, and moving forward.
Enjoy the journey and the destination will be all that much sweeter when you get there.