"If it was easy, everyone would do it."
We've all heard that a thousand times, but it couldn't be more true for independent publishing. The rules for success in this business, if there are any rules at all, are sublimely simple: 1) write a good book, 2) make sure it's well-edited, 3) put a good cover on it, 4) price it attractively, and 5) repeat the cycle every three months. That's it. After ten or forty repetitions, depending on random luck and some other factors, you'll probably make a fair living.
If you know me, you know I like numbers and patterns, so here's how it works:
The average novel is about 75,000 words long.
I can write about 1,500 words in 90 to 120 minutes. Call it two hours. I suspect that's pretty average for someone who calls him/herself a writer.
It follows that, spending two hours per day on writing new text, one should be able to write the first draft of a novel in 50 days.
Hugh Howey once told me that he spends just as long on his second draft as he does on his first. Dean Wesley Smith told me that he doesn't do second drafts in the conventional sense; his editing is more like clean-up work that only takes a couple of days. Both are successful novelists. Let's split the difference and call it 25 days.
Figure ten days for a third draft, plugging in edits from beta readers, and final polishing.
We're up to 85 days. That leaves five days for breathing and planning the next book.
See, if I answer "yes" to that, then I'm giving myself an out. I'm giving myself the psychological slippage necessary to never hit that pace. Right now, in 2014, those five steps are what it takes to get into the upper strata of independent publishers, the people making six figures or more annually.
Those numbers don't include social media interaction with readers, marketing, promoting to build a mailing list, or other writing-related activities. They also don't reflect getting sick, heavier than normal work loads from the day job, your spouse spraining his or her ankle, your dad landing (repeatedly) in the emergency room, helping four kids with activities and homework, or life in general.
Full-time writers can blast out 3,000 to 5,000 words per day like clockwork. That's a novel draft in 20 days. Of course, full-time writers also find themselves encumbered with rights negotiations, conference events, mountains of reader email, and all manner of distraction typical of a higher writing career level.
The fact is that writing books is easy. Time management is hard. If I were in charge of a Professional Writing course at some college, the first two weeks would be spent doing nothing but time management training. Talent can elevate you a notch or two, but you can succeed without talent. Honestly. However, lack of personal discipline will kill a writing career before it ever starts.
I think a 90-day book schedule is possible for full-time writers. I really don't know how a part-timer with a family can do it. I would love to interview someone who is doing it. For now, I have to berate myself (a little) for not meeting this schedule and use that guilt to spur myself continually to find new ways to improve my efficiency.
Next week, I'll be 50,000 words into my YA sequel novel, and once first draft is done on that, I can polish off and release the first book. I should get both out this year and possibly fit the first installment of my collaborative fantasy project in before the holidays. But it'll be a close call. I wanted to have six major releases this year, and it looks like I might hit three. Whatever it turns out to be, the goal will be to do better in 2015 -- and keep doing better year after year until I'm finally full-time and releasing those books every 90 days. Or less. You never know.
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.