NOTE: This post assumes you plan to self-publish your book as an author-entrepreneur, as many do. If you are publishing via a traditional publishing house, not all of this will be applicable to you. And if you aren't thinking about self-publishing, why not? Check out this post that offers some reasons why you should be.
Before You Put Pen to Paper (or Open a Blank Word Doc)
The absolute first question you should answer as an author-entrepreneur is who you are writing for. Who is your audience? That answer will drive every other decision you make regarding your book. (Check out this post for some advice regarding your book audience.)
The absolute first question you should answer as an author-entrepreneur is who you are writing for. - @jodibrandon
Next, determine your launch date. Sure, you can start writing, putting together a marketing plan, and thinking about a title before you determine your launch date, BUT without an end date -- that is, a launch date — it will be impossible to set a time line with deadlines for your book production.
With a launch date in place, you can work backward and make a schedule so that your book is ready on that date. The amount of time you should a lot for each step varies, but here are some guidelines.
Don't forget about the research phase when creating your time line. Chances are, you have some research to do before writing. This could mean reading comparable titles. This could also mean conducting interviews. Or this could mean conducting background research on your subject matter. I recommend allowing 2 to 4 weeks for research.
Some people think that researching and writing at the same time will be quicker overall. In my experience, this is generally not the case. - @jodibrandon
Some people think that researching and writing at the same time will be quicker overall. In my experience, this is generally not the case. Without your research at hand, it's too easy to get held up and have sections that cannot be completed. When that happens, it's difficult to get into a writing rhythm.
I have worked with author-entrepreneurs who have written their manuscripts in four weeks. I have also worked with author-entrepreneurs who have taken more than a year to write their first draft. This will depend on how much time you can devote each day or week to writing, how many words you can write in a writing session before your brain says it's finished, what else you have on your plate, and more. I encourage you to start a writing habit now if you don't already have one. This will make book writing easier. Spending a few weeks tracking your writing so that you know when, where, and how you write best is worth the time and effort. It enables you to create what I call your ideal writing session when you sit down to write.
The sooner your book sales page is available, the better. At minimum, though, I suggest four to six weeks before launch. You want to build buzz around your book launch, and this page is the portal for making that happen.
Think about what that means, based on what you want to feature on the book page. Your cover. Early reviews. Your author photo. An excerpt from the book perhaps, or a link to obtain a free chapter. (That is a great opt-in, by the way.) Obviously this means getting all of those elements in place along the way.
Remember that your book sales page is a working document. Add to it as you get new reviews, for example. When the book is officially released, make sure links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any other retailer where your book will be available are active and functioning.
The more book reviews you have, the better. Here's the rub: Amazon does not allow reviews until a book is live. You want reviews prior to that. So after your book has been edited, but often before it has been formatted and proofread, authors send the book in PDF form to a select group of people for early reviews. (Hopefully these people will also go to your book page on Amazon after the book has been published and leave a review there as well.)
Dotting Is and Crossing Ts
Make sure you leave time to order and review proof copies from Amazon, if you're doing a print book through Create Space. When I self-published my book last year, the instructions advised I allow about a week between uploading files, having them approved, and receiving a proof version. In reality, my Kindle proof arrived within 12 hours and my paperback proof copy was shipped within 24 hours for me to review. This is your final opportunity to catch typos, formatting boo-boos, and anything else that doesn't look quite right. You don't want to rush this process, so make sure you allow enough time for it. My suggestion would be 2 weeks before launch.
Team Members and Your Time Line
Keep in mind that many book publishing professionals are booked several months in advance. This is particularly true for editors / proofreaders and designers. Your cover can be designed as soon as you finalize your title and subtitle, but your manuscript obviously cannot be edited until it's finished. (And by “finished” I don't mean just the first draft!)
Keep in mind that many book publishing professionals are booked several months in advance. - @jodibrandon
What many author-entrepreneurs do is decide who they want to work with, pay a deposit, and reserved space on those professionals’ calendars. The danger here is that your start date approaches before the book is finished. Rushing through revision is not a good idea, nor is submitting just a first draft for editing. This is one of the main reasons why I work with my coaching clients to develop an ideal writing session. This enables them, coupled with their calendar with upcoming on-negotiable dates marked, to have a rough idea how long it will take them to complete the writing phase.
Does this give you a better idea of how to map out a book launch time line? Use this post in conjunction with my self-publishing checklist to make sure you don’t forget any steps!