Saturday, February 19, 2011

How much does a part-time self-publishing author work?

In this post, I thought I'd give everyone an idea of what kind of workload my epublishing requires. When I started down this path, I had no idea how much time it would take. I have since learned that it's like having a second job.

My plan is to get at least 3 more novels published this year. I also have the Twelve Worlds collaborative anthology in the works, and I'm going to see if I can find all my old short stories and publish those. It's so much work that I decided to prioritize and estimate work required. Here's a spreadsheet with the estimates, sorted by priority (click to enlarge):

As you can see, that's a ton of work. The hours column estimates how much time I think it will take me to get the task completed. Right now, it's looking like 540 hours of work this year. This does not include several tasks for which I cannot estimate any time.

Since I have a day job, this is all work that I have to do nights and weekends. Usually, I can get maybe 10-16 hours of this work in a week. So, my goal of 3 new books this year is actually at risk. We'll see how I do.

I hope this gives you all an idea of what kind of effort you can expect if you want to push out 3 books a year.


  1. Great post as usual! The only thing I'd question is the time to format for smashwords, Pubit and kindle. For my recent 100K novel, it took maybe 4 hours total for all three. Do you have special images or something else special about your formatting?

  2. Derek,
    This is really helpful. I too have that day job. Three books is incredible, good luck!

  3. Since my books are usually about issues I discuss in my field I don't know when I am working my professional job and when I am working as a writer.

    It helps that I have a passion for what I write about.

    Psychology from all Angles

  4. Edward, I do all my formatting manually, so I can get the book to look as good as I can. It takes me 1 hour to format for Kindle. Smashwords takes a bit longer as it seems to take more finagling. Pubit takes the longest. It took me ten hours to do it the first time because I had to figure everything out. I'm sure I'll get quicker at it. So, I'll probably save some hours in formatting.

  5. Nice breakdown! And excellent planning. Got to have a plan. Then you can see if you met the goals of the plan, and where any breakdowns/failures were, or where you exceeded expectations. Planning = good.

    I'm wondering about the PubIt thing too. Most folks seem to be using Zoe's model of formatting for Smashwords, grabbing the epub from that, editing the copyright page and metadata, and then just uploading that file to PubIt. With that model, PubIt takes about thirty minutes on a bad day. What are you doing that takes an extra fifteen hours? Really curious, because I'd like to get books looking as good as possible, even ebooks.

    You're allowing 16 hours to resolve edits on these books. That's substantially less than most people allow for the revision process. Not that I am arguing, mind you... If the story is solid, no major plot holes or disasters, then revision should be pretty darned easy. Do you ever have structural-level issues which require more time to fix?

    I'm also incredibly curious about your actual noveling breakdown. You're working on outlines for eight hours (I've had variable experiences with outlines, from none to about that long) and writing for 200 hours (which seems long to me, but I'm not sure what all you're including in there). Why 200 hours, for both books? I write about 1000 words an hour, so 200 hours would realistically produce something like 150-180k words (with breaks, stretching, mind wandering moments, etc.). Is that your target, or are you including first pass revisions and such in there?

    Anyway, definite fuel for thought, thanks for sharing! I'm about to launch into writing a short novel - makes me think about maybe doing a daily blog about the process of that...

  6. Derek -

    Understood - I do my formatting myself as well. I usually do Smashwords first, make sure it looks right, but then to change it for kindle, it's literally only adding the cover to the beginning of the file (which you can't do on Smashwords unless you want it to appear double in the epub version), and changing the text on the copyright page.

    For Nook, really the only additional change beyond different copyright text is I put a smaller cover in - it looks wrong in the PubIt preview with a 600x900 one. When I look at it on the Apple Nook app, it's formatted correctly with one exception: the cover is a bit small, so I may try putting a full-size cover in, re-uploading and seeing what it looks like.

    In all of the above, I upload a word document, I don't create or edit html or mobi or epub files myself. and I do my work in Openoffice - I have heard that ironically the files created in Word have more problems than the files created in OpenOffice and saved as Word documents. Some people even work in Word, then do a Save As in OpenOffice before uploading.

    Anyway. . .formatting is an interesting discussion. My goal is to get something straightforward and repeatable, even if maybe it's only 98-99% as good as it could be. I don't think readers care that much as long as it is 99% right.

  7. As far as formatting, is anyone here familiar with Calibre? Does it do a decent job?

  8. You're more disciplined and organized than I am, but I think three full length novels plus at least two or three other projects in one year is a bit much for anybody, especially for part time. Most full time authors can't do that. I don't think I could, even if I focused solely on books.

    I'd suggest planning for the contingency that one of the bigger projects will have to wait until next year.

    Ugh... Now who's the pessimist?

  9. Kevin, I hadn’t tried Zoe’s method. For PubIt, I’ll look into it! I manually create the epub files, which is time consuming.

    On resolving edits: I usually send the 7th draft to the editor. After that many rewrites, I do not have any more structural problems. So, edit resolution is pretty quick.

    200 hours includes everything up to handing off to the editor. My first draft takes me 1 hour per 1000 words. So, usually around 100 hours. Then my second through seventh drafts take the remaining 100 hours, and I usually cut the length back by 10% or so. I plan on having my next two books come in at around 70k, so that will hopefully reduce the time.

  10. PJ, I'm not familiar with Calibre.
    Ed, well, I did write my next book already and it'll be published in a month or so. So, I'm only aiming to actually write two books this year. I like to aim high!

  11. Okay, I might have misunderstood. Taking one novel out of the equation helps a lot.

    I've heard multiple writers mention that they routinely produce 1000 words an hour. I've never been able to do that, but I wish I could.

    It might be a matter of styles; I can see how the writing itself could move faster if you plan everything out ahead of time and know exactly how it's going to go. When I start writing, I know only the broad strokes and the colors on the palette. So maybe the time you spend outlining is time I spend writing, but I write more slowly because I must also process the decisions that you made ahead of time.

  12. I think it's just a matter of different people writing differently, Ed. I just timed myself writing a new story, no outline, only a rough idea what was going on (and still not sure where it's going yet), and pounded out 1602 words in sixty minutes. That's pretty good for me, mind you - the 1000 words is more usual. But I'm actively working on trying to get word count up. I only have so much writing time per day, and I need to maximize that.

  13. @ Derek
    You really should check out Calibre, it works very well. Sigil which is also free is great for really specific edits and running a epub validation check.

  14. Yup, Calibre is nice. I use it regularly to convert pdfs to mobi for my Kindle. One of my 4 year olds wanted to try, so I had her export one of my ms. to epub and mobi; took her about five minutes to get two pretty much flawless exports. I had to read some of the longer words, but it really is that easy. ;)

    Sigil is excellent for fixing any small issues with conversion that show up after using Calibre. It's also what Zoe recommends for converting a Smashwords epub to PubIt (basically have to change the metadata and the copyright page, which Sigil does just fine).

  15. Wow. That puts into perspective the time involved. Lots of great advice in the comments here too, so maybe some of these time-savers will help.

    Time is money afterall.