Plan a book launch schedule that you can actually meet (Part 1)
As a book designer, I typically start working with an author toward the end of her/his self-publishing process. Being at the end of the process has one major downfall…rushing to meet to deadlines that may not be completely thought out. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Putting together a schedule will help. It doesn’t have to be fancy or high-tech. There’s no one ‘correct’ tool. A good tool is one you feel comfortable using. A good schedule is one that’s well thought out and organized, and more importantly, visualized in a way that will keep you on track.
3 Project Management principles to the rescue!
Knowing some basic project management scheduling principles will help when building your schedule.
Two activities attached at the hip.
In project manager speak, a dependency is a relationship between two activities in your schedule where completing one is dependent on the other in some way. The most common dependency is a step that cannot start before another step finishes. Here’s an example: you can’t start formatting your e-book until the final manuscript is completed, therefore e-book formatting is dependent on proofreading.
Identify your dependencies as early as you can. Most will be logical, like social media posts for your cover reveal can’t launch without a cover design. Others may not be so clear. If you’re having difficulty, ask your service provider(s) what they need to begin work. Many of the items they need will relate to steps in your schedule, and help you spot dependencies.
Follow the yellow brick road. And by ‘yellow brick road’ I mean critical path.
The critical path is the sequence of dependent items that needs the longest time to complete. If one item in the critical path gets delayed, the end date will also be delayed by the same amount of time. These are the critical things that need to stay on schedule to meet your date. Knowing your critical path is crucial to managing your schedule…it will make your priorities clear.
Crap happens. Buffer helps you plan for it.
Buffer (or ‘contingency’ in project manager speak) in a schedule is time added to allow for things you didn’t foresee. Here’s an example: you’ve confirmed the line edit will take 4 weeks, but you tack on 1 extra week, ’cause it’ll happen in February, and you get the flu every February. You can add extra time to steps, add pockets of ‘downtime’ in your schedule, or you can plan to have everything completed and wrapped up earlier than needed.
True story: I worked on an anthology this summer that had a very specific launch date that could not be moved (it was part of a conference). The publisher wanted a small run of hard back books to give to contributors as a gift, and they wanted to give these gifts at the launch. I scheduled the design work earlier than needed so that the books would be delivered 3 weeks before the conference. There was a printing issue and the books needed to be reprinted, delaying the delivery 1 week. Because the schedule had with a buffer, the books were still delivered 2 weeks before the event.
OK, let’s do this!
Now that we understand these principles, let’s look how they relate to building a schedule.
Break your launch into phases, then break each phase down into steps
Looking at the entire book launch is overwhelming, so borrow this trick from project managers: break it down further and focus on one aspect of the project at a time. Start with breaking your project into the major phases, and look at each phase as a smaller ‘project’. Pick one and break it down into steps and figure out how long they’ll take (either by yourself or with advice). A good rule of thumb: see if you can describe steps as tangible things, like cover design, developmental edit, sample copy, with each having some kind of finished product at the end. Or, see if you can describe steps as action words, like design cover, edit manuscript, get ISBN.
Many people will find breaking down into steps is enough to keep them on track, and more detail would be overwhelming. Steps can usually be broken down even further into tasks that can be performed by an individual (like design mockup, give feedback, revise mockup, etc.). Don’t feel you need to. The key is finding the right amount of detail that works for you.
Major phases for a book launch could be: Pre-production, Book Production, Book Marketing, Launch event(s).
When breaking phases down to steps, try to be as accurate as possible, and keep dependencies top of mind. You don’t necessarily need to show your dependencies, but you do need to know them.
My brain likes to work backwards, so when I’m doing this I start at the end and think to myself Ok, what needs to happen in order for this step to start? Here’s an example: to start cover design, what needs to be finished? Well, to design a cover, a designer would need: basic title information (title, author, publisher), back cover copy, maybe an author bio and pic, any by lines or quotes you want, basically everything you want to appear on your cover. You will also need to choose your printer, because your designer will need your printer’s specifications or templates, so choosing your printer could be considered a dependency. And you’ll need your ISBNs if your designer needs to source your bar codes for you, so getting your ISBNs could also be a dependency.
I prefer to work backwards because I can figure out steps and possible dependencies at the same time. You may prefer to work forwards, so you may need to ask yourself OK, I now have this done…what’s next?
Once you have your steps, add how long each will take, based on your research, previous knowledge or advice from your service providers.
Use the same process to break down the other phases of your book launch.
Add Buffer, get your phases and steps in a calendar and assign some dates
Add in your buffer (I recommend adding buffer so it’s clearly visible). Plot it all out on a calendar, in a spreadsheet…whatever tool you feel comfortable with. You can work from the start date and go forward, or from the end date and work back, depending on your needs. Set due dates for every step in your schedule. Mark the due date of each phase, too. These will give you milestones. Figure out what steps make up your critical path. Highlight your critical path if you can, so it’s clearly visible.
Milestones are higher level dates that also help us stay on track. I like to think of milestones as more firm dates and due dates for steps as more flexible, so long as the milestone date is still met. This kind of active schedule management is much easier to do when you know your critical path and have some buffer built into your schedule.
Tip: When setting dates for steps, remember to skip any days where you (or your service providers) can’t do project work, like weekends, holidays or vacations.
Now you have yourself a schedule and a list of steps with deadlines to keep you on track. You also know all the steps (hopefully) that have to get done to get your book launched, and how those steps relate to each other. Maybe you’ve learned something new about publishing in the process. And, you now have a template to use for your next book launch, too.
Crap! I did it again! I wrote way too much this week, so next week, I’ll break down a phase…or two, if I get carried away again.
Hope these tricks I picked up while earning my Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM) designation help you planning your book launch (or any project for that matter).