On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night,  Writing in Public

Topic of the Night: Balancing the Parts of Modern Publishing


Over the last week I have received three different letters from writers worried about the same problem. That problem is simple to describe, but very complex in nature.

How do you balance the writing with the production and promotion of your work?

That sound familiar? I bet just about every indie writer nodded to that. I am no exception, neither is Kris, or any of the other professional writers around town here or in the workshops.

This balancing act we all must do is a continuous battle. We all talk about it all the time.

And I do mean all the time.

Of course, in the old days before indie publishing, these parts were different, but yet there were always tasks that took away from the writing. If you believe in the myth that traditional publishing takes less time than indie publishing per project, I have some wonderful land in swamps in Florida ready to sell you.

Truth. Selling a book to a traditional publisher takes a ton more time and energy than it does to indie publish. especially after you sell it. Go ahead if you don’t believe me, then come back in five years or so and say I was right. I’ll be nice, I promise. (grin)

What are the parts to be balanced in the indie world?

I tend to look at all this as dividing into three parts. Writing, production, promotion.

Any of those three parts get out of a natural balance and there will be issues, both short term and long term to careers.

(Here we come to my opinion. You can agree or disagree freely, but nicely if you would like in the comments. Or write me privately.)

I believe that the balance, a natural balance, should be 80/10/10.

Eighty percent of your time goes to creating new work. Writing. (Rewriting and research are not writing. I have covered that issue over and over.)

Ten percent of your time should go to production. (This is higher in the early leaning-curve days, but once you know how to do a cover and how to contact a copyeditor, and how to layout a book and run it through Jutoh to get clean epubs, the time goes down. Including loading to all the sites in this time.)

Ten percent of your time goes to promotion. And this time should not just be the new book, but books already out. Also updating websites, social media, newsletters, and all that sort of thing. Ten percent is a lot of time for this sort of stuff.

The Problems of Focus

For those who are not writing all the time, who let their critical voice into their offices, who let what others say about their work into their offices, writing is a painful thing at times. So it is easier to focus on promotion of what you already have done.

I have seen a lot of writers in the last four years get all caught up in promotion and almost stop writing.

The one thing you really should have in your office on your wall if this is your problem is “Your Next Book Is Your Best Promotion.”

Very few people after the learning curve time get lost in production.

But wow can the focus get lost in promotion.

An Example

Warning… a little math…

Say you write about 500 words per hour on a novel.

60,000 word novel is 120 hours. Simple. (If you do it right, following Heinlein’s Rules your book is done right there.)

120 hours is 80% of 150 hours.

So you have 30 hours to divide between production and promotion.

When you get going, after the learning curve, you should be able to lay out a novel, do the covers, and get it to all sales sites in 15 hours easily. Chances are it will be more like 10 hours, letting you have an extra 5 hours for promotion side of things.

So you have 15 hours for promotion. That is a bunch of time. Wow.

The Problem of Real Life

Sounds so simple, huh? But to figure this out for yourself, you actually have to understand your real-world time. You have to keep track.

You want to spend 150 hours on a book from start through promotion. Great.

But the best you can do is scrape together 10 hours per week out of your family and job and such. So what do you do?

My opinion… 80/10/10 every week.

Every week.


Spend eight hours working each week on your new book.

Spend one hour doing some sort of production on an older book, your last book maybe that just came back from the copyeditor.

Spend one hour per week doing promotion on the book that came out a month before.

In other words, write all the time, promote all the time, do production all the time.

It doesn’t have to be on the same book, folks. Shock, I know. But most publishers, which you are a publisher, work on multiple books all the time.

What I have watched kill writers is the black/white thinking. The black/white thinking goes like this: I have to finish a book, then do the production, then do the promotion, then at some point get around to starting a new book.

They do all of it for one book at a time, so their publishing company comes to a complete standstill and then has to restart with every new project.

Bad business to start with. Killer for momentum in your writing.

If you have ten hours in a week to dedicate to your writing profession, make eight hours of it always writing. Always.

Then divide the other two hours between promotion and production of other books you have already done and have in the pipeline.

If you do that, all things sort of balance out and the writing of a new book gets a ton more fun without the pressure of promotion and production.

You are doing production on another book and promotion on yet other books.

This is a very freeing and normal business way to organize all this, folks.

Hope my opinion helped.

Keep having fun on the writing.


  • Diana Deverell

    Hi Dean, where do you slot in learning? This month, learning in the form of reading short stories written for the anthology workshop has completely edged out production and promotion–I’d rather read those stories than update my back matter or send out my newsletter, for example. In the past I’ve taken an online workshop as I started a new novel so after the six week workshop ended, I could continue practicing what I learned. Lots more fun than promotion so I suspect I’ll keep robbing promotion to make time for learning unless you have a better suggestion?

    • dwsmith


      Learning seems to be all the time for me, except when focused into something like this coming workshop. Then it even takes over the writing time, honestly.

      But most of the time, it is an hour here and an hour there, constantly as things come up. For example, on our walk today, the three of us talked about podcasting among other topics and I keep learning while exercising. And Sunday lunches take out two hours, but I tend to always learn something at the lunches.
      And since part of my day job is workshops for WMG, I am learning at my day job with the workshops.

      Each person has to schedule in learning as it comes. I wish it was as easy as production and promotion to schedule, but learning is all the time as opportunity arrises and you take the time from whatever is lowest that week or month to do the learning. That’s one of the reasons we made the workshops work out to about 3 hours of a writer’s time every week. That is an amount that can be worked in for most serious writers.

      So great question, no right answer other than all the time when you can figure out ways to get education that will advance your writing or your sales or your production.

  • Vera Soroka

    Finding balance is a challenge. Promotion is not something I deal with right now. I have to continue to publish my work and build a body of work. I’m still learning how to do stuff. I’m working on a novel right now and since I do everything myself, it takes time. My focus is slow right now and I have been trying to get through this novel for mistakes and it feels like it is slogging along. Plus I have to find stock for a cover and I’m not having much luck. It’s a m/m erotic paranormal gothic romance. To find two men to fit the story has been like trying to find a needle in the hay stack. I can see I’m going to have to Photoshop two men together. More learning as I’m just learning how to merge photos. Plus trying to get my website upgraded. Then I decided to do a coloring book this year. I don’t know where I’m going to fit this in but I can’t wait to get started. I’ve got two planned.
    All I can do is take a deep breath and try to steer my focus onto the novel and get it done. It appears I’m not good at multi tasking. It has to be one thing at a time.

    • dwsmith


      I can’t multi-task either, but I can switch focus quickly. So I focus on one thing, writing. Then for an hour I focus on one thing, production, and so on. That is not multi-tasking, that is just switching focus. A different thing.

    • Mary

      Vera, for the stock photo, have you tried the specific romance stock sites? Like hot damn stock or novel expression?

  • Kate Pavelle

    Hi Dean! Nice post, thank you! I’ve been waiting for this one and the break-down is useful. Once again I’ll be keeping track of my hours, just to see. (In fact I’m keeping track of hours for lent, even though I’m not religious. It’s a good opportunity to instill better habits.) I finished writing and proofing 2 books sort of simultaneously (and have 2 or 3 WIPs but those airplanes are moving from the WIP window to the LANDED window, so there is progress.) I did a ton of writing in a retreat in Colorado, great fun, but once I got home I looked at my airplanes and decided to clean house. So I have 2 interiors all done, and 2 covers almost done. Those covers took a while because I’m learning Photoshop, but it’s getting better. (It’s a lot faster and cheaper than begging someone to do it for me AND my way, or paying for custom photos when I can’t find any good stock photos, respectively. And it’s fun.)

    My question is, would you release them pretty much simultaneously? I could delay one (a M/F romance/adventure) and go with the more finished and more V-day oriented M/M romance. There isn’t a huge overlap in readership, so I’d be addressing 2 different genres. However, since it’s all under one name, it feels… crowded. And, totally, I’ve been mostly publishing and now I feel I’ll be mostly promoting, and all I want to do is write because I left my character in a precarious situation 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Release is up to you, but that takes time and time away from writing which is why I did the post. So I would just do them as I got to them. But again, just me. (grin)

      • Kate Pavelle

        Thanks, Dean. I think you have an invaluable ally in the support network you have built up over the years (Kris, a proof reader, etc. even if you do your own layout and covers.) The trick, for me, is to plan my workflow around my creative time so I can write when I’m most productive, and publish when I’m flagging a bit. But then I get sucked into the publishing process! A record, for me, is to get a book out (revisions, interior, and cover) out in 1.5 days. But that’s having paid a proof reader, and he was really good. I can’t always do that. So I have to develop a workable rhythm that I’ll be able to replicate on a weekly basis and just stick with it. The tortoise and the hare scenario applies here.

    • J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Kate, I released 5 titles on the same day in November. I didn’t find that the promotion of 5 titles took appreciably more time than promotion for 1 title. It was simply a matter of booking a few more ads (which can be done very quickly) and scheduling price changes for the titles that would have promotional sales. Easy peasy.

      But the production/publishing work for 5 titles was much heavier than for one title. I am not yet able to write and publish congruently the way Dean is, but I usually need only a week to get the publishing tasks done, and then I am back to writing. In fact, my workflow tends to be: send a story off to my first reader, start the next story while waiting for first reader feedback, take a break from WIP for a day or two when the story comes back from the first reader to fix the mistakes found, carry on writing WIP while the story is with my second reader, take a break from WIP for a week to to publish the story, then return to WIP.

      One might think that I could do a variation on this when publishing 5 titles, but I found I could not. One might also think that since I can publish a single title in a week that 5 titles would take 5 weeks. But it took me away from writing for considerably longer. No sooner would I fix the draft of one story headed for publication than another of the 5 would arrive for its fix-mistakes cycle. I was away from writing something new for a good 4 months.

      And then the retina in my left eye tore… so I am only now starting on my next book.

      I’m not sure how much of my 5-title experience would pertain to your potential 2-title release, but there might be something relevant there. 😀 I can tell you that I intend to follow Dean’s method of releasing each title as I finish it in future. The costs of releasing 5 at once were too high. (It was an experiment. What can I say?)

      • Kate Pavelle

        Thanks, J.M.! Your comment is helpful in that now I know I’m not alone (Dean has a well-established rhythm and it sort of doesn’t count.) Writing/publishing “congruently.” Yeah, that’s the word. As it happens I have 5 titles more or less ready to go, and I’ve been dithering on the other 3, because I really want to put some new words down first. At least I found a good proof-reader, though. That made me happy, I’ve been looking for a while. I hope your eye is doing well, along with the rest of you! (no more first-hand research for that boxing novel, hear? 🙂 )

  • Dane Tyler

    I thought your opinions were very valuable, and helpful. I’m one of those writers stuck in linear thinking – do one book at a time. I have to figure a way out of that, but I’ve done it before. Just need to get back there!

    Thanks, Dean!

  • Maree

    I’ve been lurking for some time, and agreeing with a lot of what you say, but I keep feeling like its a trick somehow, that there must be some secret sauce, or that it’s all well and good when you’re skilled and experienced, but different rules apply to newbies. Honestly the whole write and publish a lot, keep trying to get better, well that seems like a cheat. If it was that simple why wouldn’t everyone be doing it? I’d rather a thousand times to be writing instead of attempting to engage on social media in some sort of fake/genuine way to sell myself.

    But this post coincided with me listening to a podcast ( http://www.marketingsff.com/book-launch-process-and-author-websites/
    if anyone cares.) It’s by some established indie authors, and I was surprised by how little they really do to launch, and how much their advice dovetails with yours.

    Anyway, the same advice from diverse sources and all, I’m being converted more all the time. But still feeling suspicious of advice that so neatly matches my natural inclinations. But maybe I finally have the right skill set for something.

    • dwsmith

      Honestly, Maree, the advice sounds simple, just as Heinlein’s Rules sound simple, but alas, most writers don’t do them for one reason or another.

      Or they lose focus and stop after a few months or a year. And the real key is the working to learn and become a better storyteller at the same time. So many writers just think that producing a lot of words without learning will make them better. Nope, makes them better typists, though. Not much else.

      So sounds easy, scary hard to do. So many, many excuses to not do it, including as you are saying, not believing it will work. Fantastic excuse to not try it. (grin) And I hear it all the time.

      Sometimes simple is the best and most direct way to get to a goal. Write, keep learning, keep writing, and get it all to readers as you go along. And if you add in Heinlein’s Rules, you really win. And have a lot more fun.

  • Stephen Carter

    Wow, thanks for this precise breakdown of what we should be shooting for. I think a lot of indie beginners get sucked into promotion & blogging & building an email list & it just escalates gobbling up more & more time per week, and ends up achieving very little. Three months ago I pulled back massively on the promotion side of things and I guess I’m now at about a 70-15-15 ratio. I’ve taken Bradbury’s advice to write a short story every week (surprisingly difficult) while working on other new serial novel writing. I came to the conclusion to try my own version of your Smith’s Monthly, which is a great way for a writer to showcase their work before publishing each work as a stand-alone ebook, and it disciplines me to be writing every day to always have new content in the pipeline. I’m looking to launch mine on May 1. I love the idea of publishing something new every MONTH, just love it! I don’t mind the production side of things, though I use calibre. All the best!

  • Annemarie

    Research ist not writing. True.
    But where in your 80/10/10-scheme does iit fit in the case of historical novels? Very often it takes a lot of time to find the necesary information. And it doesn’t get less, if you change the country of the story or even the period of time.

    • dwsmith

      You research one book while writing another that doesn’t take research. Or research a book while writing short stories. At least that what Kris and I have always done and always taught. Research is not writing. It’s a simple guideline that will increase your production by factors.

        • dwsmith

          Oh, I understand your question now. Sorry. Real world time, reading time, things like that. I hope all writers are reading all the time, but that also doesn’t belong in the writing or promotion or production time. But it is part of writing. So the research would be in that real world time, done in snippets here and there, or after writing and so on.

          On my daily reports, I never much talk about reading unless I am doing it for a workshop as I am now. But Kris and I read all the time. Often ten minutes here, thirty there, while waiting, and so on. That’s where research goes. In that reading time we all have in our real lives.

          That make sense? That’s why Kris and I are so sharp on trying to kill the research is writing myth. That’s like saying reading or surfing the web is writing or being on Facebook looking at cats and family stuff is writing.

          So sorry for the confusion.

          • Annemarie

            I understand now that you see it outside your 80/10/10-scheme.
            In a way, it makes sense, yes.
            Nonetheless. it takes time and in the end time away from writing, because writing and related stuff have to fit in what’s left after all the other tasks of life.

            Once you mentioned, to get a book right with the first draft, when you need an information, you stop writing and go look it up immediately and only then continue writing, when you have what you need. So it does take time away from your writing.

          • dwsmith

            Yup, tonight I needed a bit of information about something in the novel, some research, so jumped up from my writing computer, moved to my internet computer, looked it up, and went back to writing. Maybe three minutes. Maybe, if that.

            You might want to track your real life time, see where there is thirty minutes or even ten minutes to read and instead of going on Facebook or whatever, do ten minutes of research on something you will need for your story. It really does work. But it never will if you consider research something to take away from writing time. It’s a mindset. And one I have watched so many writers go down to the point they don’t write. Not saying you are doing that, just saying caution.

  • Sean Monaghan

    “Yup, tonight I needed a bit of information about something in the novel, some research, so jumped up from my writing computer, moved to my internet computer, looked it up, and went back to writing. Maybe three minutes.”

    You mentioned this another time. Since then I’ve started doing that. My production is higher since the writing comes faster – even with that momentary break. Partly because I’m not researching later and fighting my way back through the manuscript to put details in. Partly because it seems fit in with cycling, so I’m staying in that creative mode, keeping the manuscript moving forward. I think you mentioned something about not denying your subconscious information – that’s part of it too; freeing the subconscious.