On Writing,  publishing

Think Like a Publisher #12: The Time It Takes

I had a hunch this series was going to take time as I learned new stuff. So now for some new stuff and some more numbers.

Any new business just doesn’t have a clue how long each task will take before they start.

Sometimes a new business can do some basic research to figure out some aspects, but for the most part a new business just strides off into the dark and figures things out as the business goes along.

Well, Indie Publishing is no different. And that flying into the dark is scary at times. This post is an attempt to take away some of that fear, show you what is possible.

As indie publishers, most of us walk a balancing act.  It takes time, hard-fought time to write, and that has to come first. But on the publishing side, that also takes time. The writing must be the most important, but now, in this new world, the publishing must also be given time. But how much time will it take?

Not knowing the answer to that question drives writers to make really bad decisions about their business. They give the publishing over to someone to do for a percentage or worse to an agent. Or they decide they can’t do it and thus leave a lot of money on the table. Horrid decisions all because they don’t know the answer to a few basic questions.

So let’s talk about the basic question: How Long Does It Take?


As writers, we tend to know how long, in general it takes us to write a short story or a novel or so many words.

Of course, each writer is different and each book or story is different, but after a time we tend to know our general speed. We’ve talked about that a great deal on this web site. I tend to be about 750-1,000 words per hour. Depending…

So imagine that someone walks up to you and says, “I’ll give you $50,000 if you write this novel for me in seven days.” You know if you could do it or not. (I’ve written numbers of novels under that kind of deadline, my fastest was a 75,000 word novel in six days. It would take at least $50,000.00 to make me repeat that nightmare.) You would know if it was even possible or worth the money to try.

After the first ten years of writing, we all tend to know our normal speeds when it comes to creating fiction that sells.


So now writers walk into indie publishing and look at the scary nature of formatting and putting a book up for sale in ebook format and we freak out. It’s new, it’s scary, and we have no idea what we are doing. Or how long it will take.

For me, luckily, I had help one day and that person walked me through the basics and I ended up getting a short story published in one afternoon. Ugly cover, formatting problems, but it was up for sale and I was stunned and happy that I had done it. I was a complete Luddite at the time.

I was also stunned that it hadn’t taken me months.

Now understand, I used to own a publishing company called Pulphouse Publishing Inc. We started in 1987 and computer layout of books then was still fairly new. We did a line of books called Short Story Paperbacks and those books took us a long time to get from start to published. Months and schedules and employees.

Yet with electronic publishing I had done it on my own one afternoon for no costs.

And since that afternoon, I’ve been learning how to do this stuff more and more. And the more I learn, the quicker it gets for me.

Today, from the moment I finish writing a short story, I can do a cover, find the art, format the manuscript, write a short blurb, and have the short story published on Kindle, Pubit (B&N), and Smashwords (Sony, iBooks, Kobo and others) in fifteen minutes. If you would have told me that in 1987, I would have just laughed and laughed and laughed and then asked on what planet would this happen.

We are living in a science fiction future, folks.

Short story from finish to published = 15 minutes. (Including cover. For your information, I use zipped word files for both Kindle and Publit, Word.doc files for Smashwords, and PowerPoint to do covers.)

A Collection Published

So, as a publisher, I was curious the other day as to how long it would take me from the idea for a five story collection to an approved paperback book.

Stories were already written and electronically published. Back in the Pulphouse days, starting in 1988, we had a line of books called “Author’s Choice Monthly.”  It was a series of short story collections, the stories picked by the authors, covers done by George Barr. We did one a month for twenty-seven months and spent months of time ahead on each one.  Lots of employee time.

So as I do in the challenge, I kept track of the time it took me to take a short story collection from start to finish.

I had an idea to do a collection of stories called “Five From the End of the World.”

On my mark, get set, go…

— It took me about fifteen minutes to look over the stories I had already individually electronically published and pick five that fit into that idea.

— It took me another thirty minutes to take the five formatted stories from the e-publishing format and covert each of them into a simple formatted .doc file for a collection.

— It took me about fifteen minutes to take another collection, strip it out and create a Word.doc template file for collections which I had not done before. Now I have.

— It took me thirty minutes to do the front matter, set up a table of contents, title pages, and about the author page at the end of the book with promotion for other collections.

— It took me another fifteen minutes to look up and check all the copyrights. One story I had picked was created from a Janis Ian song from an anthology I had written for called Stars, edited by Janis Ian and Mike Resnick. I wanted to make sure I had all the permissions right and dates of that and another published story that was going into the collection.

— Then I wrote the introduction. About 750 words, but that took an hour.

— It took me thirty minutes to take each formatted file for each story and copy and paste the five files into position in the master Word.doc file for book.

— It took me another fifteen minutes to hyperlink the stories, copyright page, and about the author to the table of contents.

— It took me fifteen minutes to find the nifty cover art.

— It took me ten minutes to do the electronic cover and save as jpg. (I do covers like this in PowerPoint. Easy and works great.)

— It took me five minutes to save-as and zip the files, add the copyright extra into Smashwords, then load the files up to Kindle, Pubit, and Smashwords.

Collection Published Electronically = 4 Hours Total.

But not done yet.

— It took me thirty minutes to do the POD cover.

I took the cover art and loaded it into a cover template for wrap-around covers in InDesign. (I have already done a couple short story collections in paper form through Create Space, so I had the template.) I then just imitated the fonts and design of the electronic cover (which I had done in PowerPoint), put the blurb on the back, listed the five stories on the back, changed the spine type, and was done.

— It took me one hour to do the interior of the trade paperback.

I took a template I had from the other short story collections I had done in InDesign, did the front matter, copied over the copyright information, filled in the stories on the table of contents without page numbers. Then I went to the electronic book file, stripped out all the front matter, saved it as a .doc file for POD, and just flowed the Word.doc into the InDesign file.

Then I made sure to change the story titles to my size of font, bold part of the first line, and do drop caps. All done in a style, so it was easy. I had to also take off master page items in places, put page numbers on the table of contents, and fix widows and orphans. (I’m not right justifying, so have no problems that way.)

The book turned out to be 168 pages long, so I had to go back to the cover and fix the spine width because the master was made for a book 120 pages long. I picked some long stories I guess.

I saved both as pdf files, cover as a spread and bleeds, the interior normal no bleeds.

Then it took me exactly 15 minutes to load it to CreateSpace, buy the $39.00 package, get all the sales information in place, upload the two files, and get them off to file inspection.

Total Time from Idea for Collection to Paperback Book: 5 hours and 45 minutes.

Electronic Collection selling for $2.99.  Trade Paperback Collection selling for $7.99.

This morning I got a notice from CreateSpace that the book files were all good, so I ordered a proof and it should get to me in a couple of days.

So now I know how fast, at the moment, I can put up a collection for sale.

In Summary

For my business, I now know the following information to help me plan my time. I have tested all of these, actually.

(Note: None of this counts proofing time. This is just publishing production time.)

Short Story… 15 minutes.

5 Story Collection… 4 hours electronic publication, 5.75 hours total including trade paperback.

10 Story Collection… 4.25 hours electronic publication. 8.25 hours total including trade paperback.

Short Novel… 3.25 hours electronic publication. 5 hours total including trade paperback.

Novel… 6.75 hours electronic publication. 9.25 hours total including trade paperback.

What Should You Do?

Now it’s up to you to test your own time, work on ways to get faster so that the publishing takes less time away from all your writing.

Is all this scary when you first start??? Will it take much longer when you start???  Will you make more mistakes????  Yes.

But none of this scares me anymore. After 190 short stories, collections, and novels published through WMG now, I know how long a project will take, I know I can do it, and now I spend my publishing time also trying to make each project look better so it will sell better.

As a new indie publisher, you need to take the fear away by just carving out a few hours to try some indie publishing. You will be surprised at how doing it yourself, not trusting it to anyone else (or your agent) will free you in your writing.

Plan on making some mistakes up front. But they can all be fixed later.

It’s great fun.

And honestly, it just doesn’t take that long.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith


I want to thank everyone who has supported this series, and at some point you will all get a full copy of this series. Maybe even on a gift card. Thanks!

As a professional, this series is part of the income streams. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean