This blog post is about working under aggressive deadlines to deliver great results. The task at hand is writing a book under extreme pressure without compromising quality or giving up your life and sanity in the process.
I share my experience of going from a book deal to book on the shelves in three months. I outline the 8 major steps that helped me accomplish this task and I’m here to tell you that you too can pull miracles under the right kind of pressure. Yes, you reading this, you can and will do whatever it takes to meet crazy deadlines and create your amazing work.
Your best allies are singular focus on the task at hand and deep faith in yourself. Remember those two if you remember nothing else. Now onto the story:
November 15, 2012: A well-established traditional publisher approaches us to ask if we are interested in working with them. They had spotted my Comprehensive Green Juicing Guide on the Kindle store and wanted to re-publish an updated print version with wide distribution.
November 19, 2012: I politely decline the offer, as flattering as it is to be approached by a well-respected traditional publisher. “Why, you crazy woman?”, you might be tempted to ask? Great question. I wanted to keep the rights to my first juice book and besides, I had heard traditional publishing was a painful and long process. The whole prospect didn’t excite me and it did not fit into my current priorities.
November 20-27, 2012: The publisher is very persuasive and I start to like them. After all, I am one persuasive woman and love seeing the same trait in others. So we spend a week going back and forth to craft a mutually exciting agreement and what do you know, it comes together! They agree to leave my first book alone if I write us a brand spanking new book on the broader subject of juicing. Win-win for all. This is the moment I start jumping up and down from joy. Unfortunately, it lasts all of five minutes when I realize that I now need to hire a very expensive publishing lawyer (whaaaa?) to review my contract terms and make sure all the legalese is in good shape so nothing comes back biting me a few months or years down the road.
Step #1 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: Hire a reputable publishing lawyer to review your book deal contract. Do your due diligence here because if you care about your business, this step is absolute necessity. Don’t skip it.
December 6, 2012: We – me, my husband and my fancy publishing lawyer – negotiate with our potential publisher back and forth for a week until everyone is happy. They finalize the contract, I sign my first ever book deal and go celebrate. With a green juice of course!
December 7, 2012: Time to get to work. My manuscript is due to the publishers by January 13. That gives me 5 weeks. I also have 4 trips planned all over the country and 2 speaking engagements in the same month. No problem! In fact, I add to my challenge with this self-imposed condition: My new book, The Healthy Juicer’s Bible, will be a brand new book, new content, new information, without re-packaging content form my first book. I’ve read too many second books by authors where 80% of the material was identical to the first book. Not cool! Also, it will be about 300 pages, a hard-cover beauty with gorgeous photography, and at least 50 mouth-watering recipes.
All I have to do is write a brand new book. In 5 weeks. With travel and speaking engagements thrown in. And the Christmas holidays. Oh and this happening the same time that my husband is quitting his corporate job to join Prolific Living.
Time to pull a miracle, and this is when you disrupt old beliefs about time. The first fact about delivering under aggressive deadlines is this: Yes you can pull miracles under extreme pressure. I had a college professor who said we do our best under pressure. I have tested his theory and it works. Under pressure, you operate in a different state and as a responsible person, you simply do not allow yourself to fail. Period.
Step #2 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: Have deep faith that you can do this. Don’t let anything plant a seed of doubt in your mind between now and your deadline. You are writing that book and that’s all there is to it.
Dec 9, 2012: We are in Franklin, Tennessee for a Christmas party. I am still very relaxed, which is not a good sign. Andy, my husband who has quit his job just two days ago, is showing signs of serious concern if I don’t get busy fast. We spend 4 hours at the Frothy Monkey coffee shop – excellent sandwiches and delicious tea! – and we hammer out the outline.
Step #3 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: You need someone to hold you seriously accountable. You need someone to breathe down your neck, check in with you every day and review and edit your every word. Husbands and wives make great such people. If you don’t have one of those, sign up your best friend but get someone that you fully trust to be your partner in this journey!
Step #4 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: The outline sets the whole tone. Do your outline first. Do it fast but thoroughly and if at all possible, do not make changes to the outline! If you must make changes, remember Step #4. Review the outline with your partner. Finalize it. Commit to it and be done with it in one day!
Dec 12, 2012: We are in Hawaii on what was going to be a relaxing vacation. I take my laptop to the beach to work on chapter 1. I end up staring at the ocean instead. The waves are so pretty. I decide I can’t work on the beach and the book has to wait. The next day, I catch a terrible cold and don’t want to be anywhere near beach for the rest of my Hawaii vacation. Can you say irony? It is the perfect excuse to write. Indoors. For hours on end. I don’t seem to mind this so much because the writing is flowing.
Step #5 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: Choose the right place to write your book. I love to write away from home. Far away states or better yet, countries. And in make-shift offices like coffee shops, condos or hotel rooms, or airport lounges. My writing flows. My mind feels free and creative, away from home distractions. Where do you write your best? Go there!
Dec 19, 2012: I spend most of my vacation in Hawaii writing the bulk of The Healthy Juicer’s Bible. I write between 4-5 hours a day, divided in 2 chunks, morning and afternoon/evening. I give myself a daily word-count minimum and don’t stop working until I have met the goal. And if I am having a particularly good day writing, I never ever stop until I have hit the very end of that stride.
Step #6 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: Create your writing schedule. First calculate how many words per chapter you need to write to satisfy your publisher’s requirements. Check with them if you want to go over that limit. Then calculate your minimum words/day into your schedule and be sure to leave at least 5-7 days for editing and revising, picking all your book photos if any and a little cushion at the end just in case!
Dec 23, 2012: We take two days off to spend Christmas with family. I have finished 75% of the book by Christmas with just over 2 more weeks to go. The publishers have been absolutely delightful to work. Everything is on schedule. We play family games at Christmas and envision holding the finished book in our hands. Envision a lot during the whole process.
Step #7 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: Schedule a short complete break from writing/editing/working. We do our best work under pressure, yes, but because you are under so much pressure, you have got to balance it out by stepping away from the work to re-charge.
Jan 1, 2013: I finish 85% of the book in the last days of the new year at home but then have to stop to prepare for my panel talk at New Media Expo in Las Vegas. I had already factored this into my writing schedule. We spend 4 days in Las Vegas prior to the conference, where I write a little more, but it’s very hard to be productive.
Jan 9-13, 2013: The most intense period of the 5 week period: writing, editing, revising, picking stock photos, suggesting best layout and book index, and last but not least, reading and re-reading and reading yet again the entire manuscript before sending it off to the publisher 12 hours earlier than the deadline no less.
Step #8 to write & deliver under aggressive deadline: Fix everything that will inevitably go wrong in the last 5-7 days. No matter how well you plan, the last week before the deadline is going to be crazy. Murphy’s Law is at work. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. You need to prepare to commit and re-commit and over-commit the last days and hours. Remember from earlier: work in a little cushion for the last week.
Rest of January, February and March: The book is now off your hands and on its way to go on the shelf early March. Now is time to get it *off* those shelves. Two words: Book marketing. This is not to be an afterthought, dear writer. Start talking about the book as soon as the ink is dry on that book deal, and even then, it’s pushing it. Marketing your book in your own original style and way is the best thing you can do for yourself and your publisher.
March 7, 2013: The Healthy Juicer’s Bible hits the shelves on bookstores everywhere, online and at Cotsco’s. My experience working with a traditional publisher: an absolute dream, excellent all around, and could not have been better. I decide not to believe the hype and go for first-hand experience from now on.
That about wraps it up without going into excruciating detail. Unless you want me to. In which case I can write a part 2 version. Now it’s your turn, how do you work under aggressive deadlines? And do you have any experience working with a traditional publisher to add or speak to any of the points here. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments!