Self-Publishers: Are you a Book Planner or a Free Spirit?

POSTED ON Nov 30, 2015

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Fiction writers are sometimes divided into “plotters” and “pantsers” depending on how much advance thought they put into the development of their novels.

The “plotters” like to work everything out in advance. They may develop elaborate outlines, timelines, character portraits, diagrams of pivot points in their story, and know, even before they strike the first key, exactly what the story is and how it will develop.

“Pantsers” on the other hand, get their name from “flying by the seat of their pants” and I think that sums it up nicely. These writers might start with an idea, a scrap of conversation, a setting, or some dramatic situation, then sit down and start writing to see where the story goes, what characters show up, and how the whole thing will work out.

What about self-publishers? They can also be divided in terms of how they approach the publication of their books. Consider:

The Planners

You can always tells when you’re talking to an author who is a planner, because as soon as they get going they have specific dates for all their book planning events. For instance, they may be working towards finishing their first draft by the end of the month, because they have already scheduled an editor to work on the book over the following two weeks.

This author has booked the blogs on which she’ll be appearing during her book launch, perhaps several months away. She’s located other vendors for the services she’ll need, set up a publishing company, has all her “ducks in a row.”

Although all this preparation is impressive, planners are sometimes driven by anxiety. They are keenly aware of all the things that can go wrong, and want to avoid having unplanned events disrupt their timeline.

The Free Spirits

For a variety of reasons, a lot of authors approach publishing with a less structured approach than the planners do. Free spirits are more concerned with the task in front of them, not so much with events that may be a long way off.

These authors may be so absorbed by finishing their manuscript that they don’t engage an editor in advance. While working with an editor, they may pay no attention to the next tasks in the publishing process, content to wait until the moment when they will be needed.

Although it sounds like a slower process, these authors may be more open to serendipitous meetings and spur of the moment inspiration. Although they don’t have the advantage of the advance planning of the Planners, they may have more fun in the process.

The Varieties of the Book Planning Experience

Books are, for those of us who create them, somewhat paradoxical.

On the one hand, most people think that a book is a simple, commonplace object. After all, most of us were introduced to books even before we could read. An adult read to us and, eventually, we learned to read by ourselves.

But due to this long familiarity with books, they seem to be dead simple—words on a page, one page after another until you reach the end.

What’s complicated about that?

But then, when you decide to write a book, then take on the responsibility of publishing it yourself, all of a sudden the picture becomes a bit more murky.

Slowly you begin to realize there are actually many decisions that go into making a book, and they start to show up right away, as soon as you start to visualize the book you will publish.

The questions start, and then never seem to stop:

  • Is it a hardcover, a paperback, an ebook?
  • How big?
  • Where will you sell the book, and for how much?
  • How will you make the book as readable as possible?
  • What will you put on your copyright page? Where does all that stuff come
  • from?

But what’s even more confusing are the next three questions:

  1. What order should I do things in?
  2. How long is it going to take?
  3. How do I organize all the tasks I need to do to stay on track?

Requisites and Prerequisites

One of the most confusing parts of planning a book project is getting the order of things right. Authors navigating this process for the first time ask these questions all the time.

Is it better to get your ISBNs first, or set up your publishing company? What about your print on demand and ebook distribution accounts?

Some things are required of virtually all publishers, other parts of the process only apply to specific authors and situations.

And then sometimes you need to complete one step—like positioning your book within its category—before you really know what kind of production you’ll want to maximize your book’s chances for success.

Planning to Succeed

Now here’s what’s interesting.

As you may know, I do a lot of consulting with authors. It’s smart to talk to a publishing professional before sinking hundreds or thousands of dollars into your book.

Most authors are coming into book publishing from other fields. They are teachers, businesspeople, retirees, consultants, electricians, military, lawyers, doctors, and so on.

They have lots of expertise in their own field, but they don’t know how book publishing works, and why should they? After all, I don’t know much about electricity or medicine.

These consultations are really helpful, frequently an inflection point for the authors, and occasionally life changing.

But by far the biggest problem that makes people book an appointment with me is this confusion about the entire book planning process; what to do and when to do it.

Ideally, of course, you could have an expert (like me) sitting next to you as you plan your project.

  • I could explain when to get your ISBNs, and why
  • When it’s time to work on your cover, I could give you some tips about hiring a designer
  • When you need an editor, I could review with you the different kinds of editors and when they are appropriate.

That would be the best solution, and some clients do end up hiring a book shepherd or publishing consultant.

But that’s a very small fraction of the authors I talk to. Most try to figure out how to do this by reading, talking to their friends, and asking questions.

Making the sequence of events in publishing a book clear and easy to understand, and explaining the various steps and how to get them lined up properly have occupied me for years—on the blog, in my writing, in my training courses, and in presentations and consultations.

Because I put so much time thinking about this, a few years ago I hit on a way to make this process a whole lot easier for many authors, no matter whether they are “planners” or “free spirits.”

There’s a story behind this, one that I’m looking forward to telling you next month. It’s the culmination of a lot of thought and work over the past few years, so stay tuned.

So I’m interested: how did you learn how to publish your books? Did it take a while? Let me know in the comments, thanks!

Photo: Mark Bonica

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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