Don’t Bite the Basketball

You’d think Serge Ibaka was trying to self-publish an ebook. via Daily Thunder

You’d think Serge Ibaka was trying to self-publish an ebook.
via Daily Thunder

Most authors these days are familiar with the challenges of self-publishing. The sheer number of tasks confronting your first indie ebook can boggle you. Once you’ve got those down, the do-list only gets longer. How’s your social media going? Can you afford a BookBub ad? Are you ready for box sets, producing your own audio editions, and managing a street team?


My critique buddy Mindy Klasky, who is surely more organized that is humanly possible, recommends the business plan first of all. “The Rational Writer: Business” comes first in her new book on writing, The Complete Rational Writer, coming soon from Book View Café. I was supposed to critique this, and it took me an extra two weeks because I stopped critiquing so I could go create my own business plan. Is it wine o’clock yet?

Here is a pretty picture of a kitten to help you relax.

Here is a pretty picture of a kitten to help you relax.

The first goal here is to reduce your stress. Every time you stress out over your do-list, here comes your old buddy chocolate and another two pounds on your hips. More importantly, it may take you days or weeks to pull together the mojo to face the do-list again. Stress is the enemy.

My husband is a project manager, among many things. His favorite advice to me is “Don’t bite the basketball.” He tells me, “Break your do-list down into a comforting array of tasks, prioritized by measures you get to choose, based on what’s stressing you out right now. Because your mental strength right now has a lot to do with what task you can tackle.”

So for indie publishers at every level, here’s a list of coping mechanisms:

Here are kittens demonstrating how to relax.

Here are kittens demonstrating how to relax.

Prioritize by “easy” and “fast.” When I asked bestselling author Debra Holland how to decide which of nine projects I should tackle for the coming year, she said, “Whatever will make you the most money the easiest and fastest.” My do-list has a special section of things I can do when my powers of concentration are not up to uploading ebooks to iTunes, but I still have to nibble my basketball just a bit today.

Throw money at it. Some jobs can be done by someone else. Wow. What a concept. Hate booking blog hops? Hire a publicist. Run off your legs running contests, maintaining your website, and crossposting your social media? There’s a virtual assistant out there in your price range who can take that over. Need custom covers but can’t draw or design? Pay an artist or designer. Freaking out at all the different etailers and the infinite array of file formats, cover sizes, BISAC codes, banking details, and metadata demands? Someone else can handle these things for you, for a percentage of your take.

Here are kittens working out, to remind you that exercise brings endorphins, which are cheaper than other drugs and won’t make you fat.

Here are kittens working out, to remind you that exercise brings endorphins, which are cheaper than other drugs and won’t make you fat.

Prioritize by “cheap.” Are you too broke to throw money at your do-list? Prioritize your tasks according to “easy” above, then take the top items on the “easy” list and prioritize those according to your skill set. If you can do it without spraining a skull muscle, do it yourself. Remember to break each task down into subtasks, so you can nibble away at one or two, when it’s late and you should be asleep but you feel too guilty to knock off work yet. When stress is stopping you from publishing your books, “easy” is more important than anything.

Prioritize by “control.” Some of the best selling authors out there got where they are by being control freaks. They like knowing it’s being done right; or they hate that feeling when you pay somebody who then screws it up; or they resent giving up income when they could keep an extra 15% by learning to do it themselves. If this is you, you may want to prioritize your do-list by how important it is for you to have control of each aspect of your publishing work. Then prioritize that list for “easy.”

When kittens and exercise won't cut it.

When kittens and exercise won’t cut it.

When all else fails.

When all else fails.

Prioritize by income maximization. Are you broke, but today you’re not too stressed out to try learnng one more new skill? Make a list of the programs you could learn that would save you from paying someone. Guesstimate how much money each DIY will save you. Remember that time is money and stress is stress. Dip into each one just enough to figure out how much brainpower it’s gonna take to learn it. Add it to this list, in order of “easy.”

If you make up only one list, make the “easy and fast” list. You’ll be able to knock something off that list on even your worst day. And that’ll make you feel better. Which means you get chocolate now!



Don’t Bite the Basketball — 10 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Jen. Exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed to hear it. (And where did you get my Gracie’s baby pictures?!)

  2. The very idea of a ‘business plan’ shoots my blood pressure through the roof. And with a budget of zero, the to do list either becomes so long it’s impossible, or else shrinks down to “write what you can, fling it out there, and hope.”

  3. Thanks, Jen, for the eternal and necessary reminder of “Don’t bite the basketball.” Choose a much smaller ball to nibble! Sherwood, you write wonderful books and can do them much faster than many of us–that helps a lot. I would give a lot to make this help my stress. Unfortunately, a huge to-do list in tiny steps doesn’t seem to be cutting it. My nanny cat has other priorities he must tell me about–usually at 3:30 am…

    • Oh, ugh, Kathi. Mine occasionally decide I need to wake up and play with them in the wee hours. I shut them out of the bedroom With Authority and then I do it again the next night, in case they wonder if I remember what they did last night. Not a final solution, but it works for a few days.