Do self-publishers even have deadlines?
One would suppose that a self-published author could complete and edit her books at leisure, free from the tyranny and pressure of deadlines. That may be true for the first stumbling attempts, for the complete amateur; but the moment a writer approaches the publication of her books with any seriousness and hopes to make it her day job, deadlines are almost inevitable.
I do not mean the self-imposed deadline – e.g. I want to finish this draft in nine weeks. That works for some, and kudos to them, but if it should take twelve weeks, after all, such a delay is no big deal in the great scheme of things, when no other persons are involved in the process.
The Pre-Order Deadline
However, if you already put your book up for release and advance sales on Amazon or other retailers, promising publication by June 10th, then you have to scramble. Unless you upload the book in time, Amazon will no longer allow you to use the pre-order feature for a year. Worse, the people who ordered your book will get a message that you failed to deliver, putting the blame squarely on you. That is not good for your reputation. It does happen, even to traditionally published authors. I had pre-ordered a novel by Ilona Andrews last year, and according to their website, it was delivered to the publisher but not published in time. Big embarrassment all around and all those sales are canceled. Only your staunchest fans will re-order the book when eventually it does get out.
The Editorial Deadline
Since starting to publish, I have learned to submit all books to a good copy editor and a proofreader. These professionals usually are booked for at least a couple of months in advance. If your book is to come out on June 10, then you might have contracted to send it to the editor on May 16th. She’ll have reserved some days for your book, and if you are late, the whole process may come to a halt.
The Promotion Deadline
Even the best book needs some promotion for potential readers and fans to discover it. You may want to book some advertisements and blog tours, etc., for the launch period. These promotions sometimes have to be arranged (and paid for) weeks or months in advance. If the book is not ready, all that effort and money would be wasted, and you would look like a fool to the people who stood ready to promote your book.
ARC copies should also be sent to fans at least 10 days, better 14 to 20 days, before the publication date. That means you will need fairly clean, edited copies ready to send out. ARC readers are important in that they ensure early (and hopefully positive) reviews and better visibility in the vital first 30 days of your book’s life.
Deadlines and Motivation
Knowing that the book MUST be ready on time, that so much is riding on it, is highly motivating. You are far more likely to put aside temptations like games or TV and focus on that edit when you know that you only have a week left until it must go to the copy editor. A clearly defined schedule makes the whole effort more like work, less like a hobby, but that is not necessarily a disadvantage. I suspect that most self-published writers who can live on their writing income (which happily includes me, at this time) are comfortable with tight schedules and deadlines. Writing for money is no job for procrastinators. Readers these days are spoilt for choice, and getting accustomed to being fed new installments by their favorite authors every other month.
But you never know what might interfere …
Real Life can always throw you a curveball that messes up the best planning. Health problems, family issues, accidents, all kinds of problems keep you from adhering to your deadlines. Some you can work around, others will bring everything to a dead stop.
While you cannot avoid the consequences of fate, for smaller issues it helps to be a few days ahead of schedule, to have a bit of margin that allows you to make up for that missed week when you were sick. Just as a prudent person has some emergency funds set aside for unexpected expenses, they should also have calculated a few extra days to compensate for unexpected time loss. Living hand-to-mouth is never comfortable, whether financially or with respect to your precious working hours.
At the end of the day, the deadline is your friend. It focuses the mind, keeps you from time-wasting distractions, and ensures that you deliver your book to your fans on time. You will not waste years rewriting the same material but learn to do the best possible job within the specified period, and then let go and do the next book, hopefully even faster and better.
There is something incredibly satisfying about comfortably meeting your deadlines and publishing your book or books exactly as and when you had planned, carefully edited and promoted, and ideally, with a good number of early reviews paving the way.
May Burnett is the author of over a dozen historical romances, including the Winthrop Trilogy and the Amberley Chronicles. Currently, she is co-writing a series of urban fantasy novels and novellas with a strong romantic subplot with another author. Since December 2015, six novels and one novella of that series have been published; the seventh novel is due out on March 23rd.