Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Is a Quick Release Schedule Right for Your Books?

By Karina Sumner-Smith, @ksumnersmith

Part of the How They Do It Series

Publishing has changed so much in the last five years (heck, the last two or three years), and books now come out at a faster pace. Sometimes this is wonderful, as readers can grab the next book in a new favorite series faster, but it does put additional stress on the authors. And for new writers, it can add more pressure to write and produce books faster. Karina Sumner-Smith visits the lecture hall today to share her experience with a quick release schedule, and offers some insights into knowing if this is right for you.

Karina is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband and a small dog.

Take it away Karina...

When I heard that my publisher was interested not only in my debut fantasy novel, Radiant, but its two unwritten sequels, I was over the moon. But the timelines came as a surprise: they wanted to release all three books within a year. It had taken me four years to write and revise Radiant. Even though I had left my full-time job for a career as a freelance writer, was it possible for me to write and publish not one but two sequels so quickly?

There are plenty of benefits to a quick release schedule, which is why it’s a strategy used by traditional publishers and independent authors alike. Having books available quickly is great for visibility and gaining momentum, both of which are especially important for new authors. We’ve all devoured a trilogy as fast as possible or “binged” on a favorite series, and a quick release schedule encourages this type of reader behavior. Having multiple books available in a short time period also reduces your chances of falling off readers’ radar, and encourages individuals to immediately purchase or pre-order your next book.

Despite the benefits, there are also downsides to releasing books quickly that can keep this strategy from being a good fit for every author. No one wants to release a book that feels rushed or incomplete, or one that disappoints readers by not living up to series expectations. With shorter timelines, the risk of a missed deadline is greater—and missed deadlines can quickly cascade and throw a multiple-book publishing schedule hopelessly off-track. Even in situations where an author is able to release quality works on time, exhaustion and burnout are very real risks.

So how do you know if a quick release schedule is right for you and your books?

Know your market.

A quick release schedule is a perfect fit for some genres—and not so good for others. Understanding reader behavior is key to this type of strategy. If you are writing genres such as romance, fantasy, or science fiction, where engaged readers love series and gobble down sequels as quickly as they’re released, great! Shorter works, too, often excel as readers are hungry for more. If you write in other areas, such as mainstream literature, historical fiction, or non-fiction, you may wish to proceed with caution.

Evaluate your goals.

Simply put, why are you interested in releasing books quickly? Are you looking to gain momentum? Build your audience? Hit a bestseller list? As with any marketing strategy, a quick release schedule guarantees nothing—especially not without additional support. If you or your publisher don’t have a clear plan on how to capitalize on your release schedule to build momentum, then you may be putting yourself through unnecessary hardship with no clear returns.

For me, I wasn’t as interested in making a splash so much as giving readers the whole story. The plot of my Towers Trilogy relies on understanding the intricacies of the world and magic system, as well as character histories. Too long between books, I figured, and readers’ memories might fade; revelations could be met not with, “Wow!” but a confused, “Wait ... what?” Even so, when looking at the proposed deadlines in my contract, I had to think long and hard before signing.

Calculate the time you’ll need—and build in room for error.

It’s easy to say, “I can write a book in three months!” But is it true?

Calculating the number of days it’ll take to reach your goal length based on the number of words you can reliably write in a day is a great place to start. But remember to build in all those extras: days you know you’ll need to take off, events that will impact the time or mental energy you have to devote to your writing, sick days, time needed to rewrite scenes or chapters that have gone off the rails, etc. Then you need to evaluate the time you’ll require to re-read, rewrite, and revise.

Don’t forget that working at maximum capacity is impossible for months at a time. Without allowing yourself breaks and adequate rest, you actually produce less than if you’d been working shorter, smarter hours.

Also, be wary of a plan that requires you to radically change your writing style or schedule to achieve your writing goals. For example, despite having always worked as a “discovery” writer, I thought that having a strong outline would help me write faster. The result? Disaster—including more than 100,000 words that had to be thrown away and rewritten from scratch. If the schedule you need to keep to achieve a certain release schedule works against your natural writing style, or brings you more panic than excitement, I recommend choosing another path.

Understand your end-to-end timelines.

Now for the bit that caught me by surprise. A quick release schedule has a cascading effect on your other timelines. When calculating how long it will take to write a book, don’t forget that you will also have responsibilities for the other books in the series. I found myself doing publicity events for my debut while simultaneously editing the sequel and writing the final book in the trilogy. While this is common for many working writers, the demands increase the faster you’re releasing books. My calculations on how long each individual task would take ended up being hopelessly off target, as I failed to include the time I’d need to effectively switch between projects. Delays were exacerbated as exhaustion set in and my writing pace slowed.

Another option is to write and edit multiple books long ahead of your scheduled release dates. This is often a strategy used by traditional publishers, who wait for the books to be delivered before publishing them all within a few months. While this may mean a longer delay between your last book(s) and the new releases (or a longer delay between signing that publishing contract and seeing your books on the shelf), this strategy allows you to concentrate your efforts and ensure quality before moving forward with publication.

Proceed with confidence.

Regardless whether you think that a quick release schedule is right for your work or a particular series, proceed down your chosen path with confidence. No one strategy is right for every author, and there are many ways to build interest and momentum for your publishing career.

Despite some challenges and pitfalls along the way, I was able to successfully deliver all three books. I’m glad to have my full trilogy in readers’ hands, but for my next book I’m taking things a little more slowly. Strategies will continue to change as the market evolves, yet the end goals should remain the same: writing strong books, enjoying the process, and connecting with readers who love your work.

About Radiant, Towers Trilogy Book One

Magic, ghosts, and a dystopian future combine in this genre-bending fantasy debut. With no magic, only Xhea’s strange ability to see ghosts enables her to survive in the ruins beneath the City’s luxurious floating Towers. But when she takes possession of Shai, the ghost of a girl who hasn’t died, everything changes. Shai’s body has been kidnapped, her ghost is on the run—and only Xhea stands between Shai and a fate worse than death.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your trail-blazing with the rest of us! :)

  2. Thanks for reading! I hope it helps.