Time Management for Writers

Nancy J. Cohen

How do you juggle between writing, marketing, and having a life?

Things used to be simpler when all we had to worry about was selling to a NY publishing house. When I wrote for Kensington, I turned in one book a year. Easy, right? I wrote my Bad Hair Day mysteries and nothing else. No blogs or Facebook posts. I didn’t have a second publisher to worry about making deadlines with double the work. Promotion consisted of mailing out packets of bookmarks to booksellers, letters to reader groups, and personal appearances.

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It wasn’t until my option book was turned down that I started writing in other genres to see what would sell. Now it’s years later, and Wild Rose Press has picked up my romances while Five Star is publishing my ongoing mystery series. I am preparing to self-publish an original mystery and a few other items on my agenda as well. Currently, I have four books in various stages of the publishing process. This means edits and page proofs, along with research, plotting and promotion.


Never before have we had so many options. It’s an exciting era, but it’s also utterly time consuming. Who has free time when we can publish our entire body of works through various formats, and spend hours on the social networks promoting them?

Establishing priorities is paramount. When I’m in a writing phase, I set myself a daily quota of five pages a day. That’s my minimum, and I have to be at least halfway through before I’m permitted to peek at my email via Microsoft Outlook. I have to be finished before going online. This is the only way to get your writing done. Do it first before anything else intrudes.

When I’m in a revision phase, I also set limits. Maybe it’s one chapter per day to edit or 50 pages per day to proofread. Again, this work must get done.

As for the rest of the day, it’s spent on promotion and marketing, interspersed with errands, meeting friends for lunch, or whatever else is on my daily schedule. I’m fortunate that I can write full-time. My retired husband helps out with errands, freeing more of my time. Some of you may not have this luxury. In that case, you have to set your own limits.

How many pages can you reasonably write in one day? How many pages can you edit or proofread on a steady basis? How many days a week can you devote to your writing career?

Do you enjoy social networking and marketing, or would you rather watch paint dry? Does someone have to handcuff you to the keyboard to get you to participate?

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Where it comes to marketing, create a specific promotional campaign for each upcoming title. Follow this template so you’re not reaching blindly in the dark. As for the social nets, pick a select few and check in there often. Visit the other sites whenever you get to them. Schedule tweets ahead of time if you have a chance. I’ll visit Facebook several times a day because I feel this one is the most important.

Twitter comes next for me. I’ll pop in there every now and then and do a few posts. Pinterest isn’t on my daily role call. I’ll pin photos after I do a blog post with pictures I’ve uploaded. Goodreads is on my list but not on a daily basis, as is commenting on other people’s blogs and posts. You have to do what feels right for you.

I’m a big believer in lists. Write down your writing and business goals for the year. Each day, decide what you have to accomplish. These lists will give you a concrete path to follow. Write down the marketing plan for your next book. This will give you a specific focus, i.e. a blog tour or a book trailer. What you don’t want to do is flounder about, because that’s truly a time waster.

So what’s your plan for today? Mine included writing this blog. Marketing task number one is done. On to task number two.


Self-Discipline for the Writer

Nancy J. Cohen

Writers sit in a chair for hours, peering at their work, blocking out the rest of the world in their intense concentration. It’s not an easy job. Some days, I marvel that readers have no idea how many endless days we toil away at our craft. It takes immense self-discipline to keep the butt in the chair when nature tempts us to enjoy the sunshine and balmy weather outside.

We don’t only spend the time writing the manuscript. After submitting our work and having it accepted, we get revisions back from our editor. This requires another round of poring over our work. And another opportunity comes with the page proofs where we scrutinize each word for errors. How many times do we review the same pages, the same words? How many tweaks do we make, continuously correcting and making each sentence better?

These hours and hours of sitting are worth the effort when we hold the published book in our hands, when readers write to us how much they enjoyed the story, or when we win accolades in a contest. As I get older, I wonder if these hours are well spent. My time is getting shorter. Shouldn’t I be outside, enjoying what the community has to offer, admiring the trees and flowers, visiting with friends? Each moment I sit in front of the computer is a moment gone.

But I can no more give up my craft than I can stop breathing. It’s who I am. And the hours I sit here pounding at the keyboard are my legacy.

BICHOK is our motto: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. This policy can take its toll on writers’ health with repetitive strain injury, adverse effects of prolonged sitting, neck and shoulder problems. We have to discipline ourselves not only to sit and work for hours on end, but to get up and exercise so as to avoid injury. This career requires extreme discipline, and those wannabes who can’t concentrate for long periods of time or who give up easily will never reach the summit. They can enjoy the journey and believe that’s where it ends, but they’re playing at being a writer and not acting as a professional.

We’re slaves to our muse, immersed in our imaginary worlds, losing ourselves to the story. And then we have to revise, correct, edit, read through the manuscript numerous times until we turn it in or our vision goes bleary. We are driven. And so we sit, toiling in our chairs (or on the couch if you use a laptop). Hours of life pass us by, irretrievable hours that we’ll never get back.

So please, readers, understand how many hours we put into this craft to entertain you, to educate you, and to illuminate human nature in our stories.

And this doesn’t even count the time required for social media.

I put myself in the chair until I achieve a daily quota. In a writing phase, this is five pages a day or twenty-five pages per week. For self-edits, I aim for a chapter a day but that’s not always possible. I do this is the morning when I’m most creative. Afternoons are for writing blogs, social media, promotion, etc.

How do you get yourself to sit in the chair day after day? Do you set daily goals? Do you offer yourself rewards along the way? Do you ever doubt the time you sacrifice to your muse? Or do you love the process so much that you’d not trade those hours for anything else?


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The Golden Ticket

We attended the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the first time last weekend. I’d only tuned in once or twice to the show so I wasn’t overly familiar with the format. However, I do appreciate talent shows for finding the stars of tomorrow, and I understand how wildly popular this program is to its fans. Contestants at Disney have auditions during the morning, and then there are five shows during the rest of the day, with three competitors each. The audience votes on the winners, so in the Final Show, all those with top scores from earlier performances compete against each other.

Whoever wins this final daily competition gets a “golden ticket”, a chance to audition at the front of the line, so to speak, for the real American Idol. At least this is how I understood the process; I won’t vouch for it 100%. Anyway, three judges participate in the show, and each contestant sings a song of their choice from a given list. You can see their hopes and dreams in their faces. The experience was fun, and I’d go again.

Then I came home and checked my email and found a message from my agent. We’d gotten a rejection for one of my submissions. My hopes for that project plummeted. I felt like the losers in American Idol, with disappointment washing away my dreams. It was a close call, too, because the editor liked my work very much but they were publishing something similar.

We go through this all the time as writers, and yet those who stick to their guns are the ones who succeed in this biz. Look, it took me six practice books before I sold my first novel. Now fifteen published books later, I am still getting rejections. The publishing market has always been tough, and these days it’s even tighter. But we have to go on stage just like the singers in American Idol, throw ourselves into the performance body and soul, and wait with bated breath for the audience results. Do we move on to the next stage, i.e. a contract and copy edits, or do we step back and regroup before trying a different tack?

Truly I sympathized with those contestants during their vocal performances and the subsequent judging. Maybe editors can’t see our faces or hear us sing when they read our work, but our words sing for us. And if we don’t make the cut, well, there’s always the next show.


Guilty By Gutterball

By Joe Moore

Yesterday, Kathryn gave us ten things not to do if you want to get published. I’d like to build on her theme with 8 tips on writing a strong query letter.

For writers, the query letter is probably the most important letter you’ll ever compose. Unlike an email to your mom or BFF, you must spend a great deal of time molding and shaping it into the same caliber of perfection as your manuscript. In fact, it’s even more critical than your book. If you sell your book, it will eventually get into the hands of an editor to be further refined and cleaned up. Your query will not.

So here are a few points to keep in mind before you seal the envelope and lick the stamp or press the send button in the case of an email query.

Length. Agents and editors are busy professionals. They have little time to read long query letters. It’s important that you make your case in one page or less. If you can’t, the agent might assume you won’t be able to grab a reader in the first page of your book, either. So don’t ramble on, just cut to the chase.

Attitude. Don’t come across as arrogant or condescending. Humility can go a long way to gaining respect. You should give the impression that you would be easy to work with. Listing your credentials and credits is part of the query process, but it should be done in a business-like manner and only the ones that contribute to your writing qualifications. No need to mention that you’re president of the local bowling league unless your protagonist is a professional bowler solving a string of murders committed with bowling pins and your book is called Guilty by Gutterball.

Poor punctuation, grammar and spelling. Check, recheck and check again. Let someone else check it. Let 5 people check it. Bad grammar and misspelled words are not a sign of a professional writer. If your query contains mistakes, you’re just making it harder on yourself to gain the attention and respect of an agent.

Unprofessional presentation. There are countless reference guides and writing manuals on how to compose a proper business letter. Query letters are business letters. Showing a lack of knowledge on how professionals communicate will not score you any points.

Be brief. As stated earlier, the agent or editor has a few seconds to devote to your query before moving on to the other dozens she received that day. Get to the point, and do it fast. Identify yourself. What is your desired outcome of the letter? Why did you choose that particular agent? What is your book about? Why would someone want to read it? Why are you qualified to write it? Close with a thank-you and offer to send more. Each of the above items can be stated in one or two sentences. The entire letter should be on one page. And if it’s an email query, it should still be about the same length as a physical letter.

Be ready for the follow-up. Are you prepared to supply the agent whatever she requests; full manuscript or sample chapters, short synopsis or complete outline? If not, you may not be ready to start the query process. And assume that each agent will ask for something different, so have all variations ready to go. Follow the submission guidelines on each agent’s website. Don’t be surprised if they might differ somewhat.

Identify your genre. You must know the genre into which your book falls. Know the difference between a thriller or mystery, cozy or procedural, or any of the other dozens of sub-genre. And please don’t refer to your work as a fiction novel. ALL novels are fiction. Using terms from the department of redundancy department screams amateur.

Billboard. Your query letter is a single-page billboard advertising your book. It very well could be the only shot you’ll get at SELLING yourself and your manuscript. It must be perfect. Just like your story, every word has to count. You may not get a second chance. And just like that billboard on the highway you see as you speed by, the agent has just about the same amount of time to devote to your query letter. Give yourself a fighting chance and make it perfect the first time.

How does your query compare to these points? Any other query letter tips out there?


Open Tuesdays

[image4.png]It’s time for another Open Tuesday while our blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, is on medical hiatus. Bring us your questions, comments and discussions. If you have a question about writing, publishing or any other related topic, ask away in our comments section. We’ll do our best to get you an answer.

And don’t forget you can download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.


I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed

By Joe Moore

From the movie PREDATOR:

Poncho: You’re bleeding, man. You’re hit.
Blain: I ain’t got time to bleed.

image You love to write. You think about it all the time and believe there’s a book in you. Everyone thinks your story ideas are great. You’ve written a few chapters. Your spouse likes them. Your dog likes them. But you never seem to have enough time to get serious about your writing. You keep saying that if you had the chance, you could be a great writer. You just need the time.

Does that sound familiar? Don’t think you’re alone. Most of us felt the same when we first started. We had an overwhelming desire to tell a story. We couldn’t wait to sit down at the keyboard and let the ideas flow. But we couldn’t sustain the routine. Every time we tried to write, life got in the way. The day job that pays the bills. The chores. The errands. The family issues. Shopping. TV. A million distractions. So how does a wannabe writer find time to produce that first manuscript? How can he or she manage to get it done?

Usually the first big roadblock to staring a writing routine is to take on too much. If you have a day job and a family and a thousand other responsibilities, writing is probably not your first priority or second or third. It’s not smart for you to sacrifice those responsibilities by trying to write. Doing so just might cause a negative reaction with your family and friends who suddenly feel that you’re ignoring or slighting them. The goal is to schedule your writing time so it has the least amount of impact on the rest of your life.

First, carefully review your daily routine and find where you can find some time for writing. And here’s the secret. Keep it small to start with. Like I said, don’t try to take on too much. Make it reasonable. For instance, if you determine that there’s only 30 minutes each day just before you go to bed to write, then that’s your writing schedule. It’s not how much time you have available, but how you maintain and manage your schedule. This brings us to the second point.

Let everyone know your writing schedule. All those affected by the schedule must be aware that it exists. Family, business associates, neighbors, friends, whoever. Let them know that the designated time is your time to write. Lay down some rules that you are not to be disturbed during your official writing time. Eventually, they will accept it and the schedule will become part of their daily schedule, too.

Third, you need to stand by the rules and your schedule. Aside from emergencies, don’t break the rule. If it becomes obvious that the rule is not really a rule, you’re doomed. You might as well not have a schedule in the first place.

And fourth, make sure YOU stick to the schedule. The first time you give in to temptation and do something else besides writing, it will be easier to give in the next time. Pretty soon, you’ll be back to wishing you had time to write but don’t know how to work it into your busy schedule.

Always remember that at some point in his or her life, every published author had to find time to write. No one I know was born with endless amounts of hours to write books. We all had to make the time. When I first started writing, I would get up at 4:30 each workday and write for two hours before showering, breakfast and off to the day job. That’s how bad I wanted to be a writer.

Four years ago, I quite my day job to write full time. You can do it, too.

Now that you’re “hit” with the writing bug, find the time to bleed. It’s worth it.

How did you find time to write your first book?? What was your schedule? If you’re just getting started, what are you doing to find the “cracks” in the day to write?


Write On

by James Scott Bell

It takes courage to write.

Not the kind of courage that a soldier displays going into battle, or a firefighter reveals charging into a burning building. That’s elevated courage, the kind that deserves to be honored in our culture. I’m not getting anywhere near to describing that kind of guts.

I’m talking about the non-lethal world, where it takes a degree of courage to do almost anything worth doing. Because for every enterprise of note there are critics and doubters, scoffers and jeerers, ready to pour acid rain on your parade.

It takes courage to write because obstacles and doubts come in many forms and build big brick walls to try to stop your progress.

Dick Simon (of Simon & Schuster) once said, “All writers are scared to death. Some simply hide it better than others.”

And what a couple of weeks it’s been for writers here on TKZ. We’ve had talks about the e-book tsunami and book price wars. We’ve chatted about branding and tried to figure out what makes readers buy books. We’ve had veteran writers sharing openly about their mistakes and the ramifications thereof.

And we all know the publishing business is in major shakeup mode right now. Trying to predict the future of the industry is sort of like trying to judge the family prospects of guests on Jerry Springer—can any relationship survive?

With all this going on, any writer – new or established – can start to wonder: Is the dream worth it? Do I have any chance of getting published? Staying published? Am I good enough? Am I a fraud? Are the odds too great?

Every true writer faces questions like this. And every true writer finds a way to dig down and write on.

Over a fifteen year writing career (twenty if you toss in the uncompensated beginnings) I’ve faced all the same doubts. Through trial and error I worked out a few ways to keep on keeping on. Maybe one of these will help next time you feel like throwing in the towel.

1. Think in terms of one more page. Don’t ponder the future or replay the past. Don’t stew about the industry or the myriad things you can’t control. Think about the work in front of you. Get that page done, then move on to the next. Establish a quota system and stick to it. The writing itself becomes the best way out of the bog of doubt.

2. Get some visual motivation. When I decided I was going to be a writer no matter what, I went out and bought a black coffee mug with Writer written in gold across it. A little corny, sure, but I didn’t care. I wanted to earn the right to be called a writer, and seeing the cup daily reminded me of the commitment I’d made.

In my office now I have pictures of three writers I admire.

The first is of Stephen King, in his home office, feet up on the desk, looking over a manuscript. He’s dressed casually. His dog is under his legs, looking at the camera.

This is my idea of the good life.

Then there’s a picture of John D. MacDonald, tapping away at his typewriter, pipe in mouth. He was prolific (his biography is entitled Red Hot Typewriter) and a master of story and style.

The photo reminds me to keep producing words.

Finally, I have a picture of Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, from the back of one of his novels, arms folded, staring out as if in challenge. He was even more prolific than MacDonald, writing both literary and genre novels.

If I’m not working hard enough, his glare reminds me to get going again.

3. Go to a bookstore and browse. Look at author photos and dust jackets. See what’s come out lately. If you can, make it an independent bookstore, and buy a book from them. They are folks who love books and are struggling mightily right now. Show a little support, then go back to your keyboard and write.

4. Re-read some favorites. I have a shelf of novels I especially love. Sometimes I’ll take one down at random and start reading. I get inspired again with the pure joy of what writing can be. Then I try to make some magic happen on my own page.

5. Remember what Satchel Paige once said: “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”

What about you? What are your favorite ways to keep going? Or are you a writer who has no doubts at all?