Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Time to Make Time

Timing is everything.

Getting the right book in front of the right editor at the right moment is what sells books. Sure, talent is a factor. So is an awesome manuscript. But let's face it: NO book has ever been wanted by everybody. Houses turn down books all the time that later go on to huge success. And after a book is published, there are so many intangible things that happen---things that you never could have planned for---that come down to being in the right place at the right time.

But what happens when you have no time?

I've heard about writers who have things called "day jobs" and "families" and apparently these can take up a lot of time. So can "vacations" and "leisure" and "sleep."

But how can you fit any of that in when you're:

  • Writing your next book
  • Revising your previous book
  • Answering email
  • Updating your website
  • Doing your blog
  • Touring
  • Going to conferences and conventions
  • Visiting libraries
  • Dropping in bookstores
  • Sending out your newsletter
  • Doing interviews
  • Establishing a web presence
  • Networking
  • Schmoozing

Well, the answer is: you can't.

Which is why I'm so behind in everything. I still have 567 emails to answer, dating from July to present. I promised two people short stories for upcoming anthologies. I have a bunch of signed stuff to mail out. I'm writing two books and a screenplay. I promised 25 people I'll link to their blogs but haven't yet. I'm teaching a class on Thursday, going to Michigan this weekend, have an internet chat on Monday, going to Madison next weekend (when I'm debuting a book at Bouchercon), teaching a two week class after that, doing a library event the next weekend, going to Milwaukee the next weekend, going to Kansas in November, followed by Muskego, followed by an event in Joliet and an event in Schaumburg, and then it's time for the Holidays, which is when I start doing booksignings.

I'm not complaining. Nor am I alone in this dilemma. All writers have to somehow figure out how to budget their time.

I'd love to say that I have a magic formula that reveals the secrets of staying organized and ahead of the game, but I don't. Often I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow.

But I have picked up a few tricks that might help you, the author, make things a little easier.

  1. Write it down. Friends of mine use a PDA or day-timer. I have a calendar that I write down important dates, such as appearances and deadlines. I often don't know what I'm doing that day until I look at my calendar.
  2. Prioritize. Travel and appearances come first. Then making deadlines. Then booking appearances. Then doing interviews. Then writing. Then blogging. Then answering email. Then mailing stuff out. Then updating my website and blog.
  3. Focus. The hardest part about working from home is that you're at home, and there are plenty of other things you can be doing, like watching TV, reading, sleeping, or establishing a bond with your children. Work time means work time. Everything else should happen after work.
  4. Apologize. The world doesn't care how busy you are. They only care that you missed your appearance or deadline, never mailed then the book your promised, and don't reply to fan mail. I say "I'm sorry" so often that people think it's my first name. Being thankful, gracious, courteous, and apologetic can go a long way to turning someone's bad experience with you into a good one.
  5. Take a break. Burnout happens. If you push yourself harder than you should, your efforts will suffer. The better you treat yourself, the better work you'll do.
  6. Turn things down. This one is tough. I'm lucky to be at a point in my career where I'm invited to speak at events. It's wonderful to be wanted. But that four hour trip to do a library in Podunk where seven people who up may not be the best use of your time and effort. When you're starting out, take everything that's offered to you. But after a few years, try to be choosy. Your sanity will thank you later.

Where do family, day jobs, vacations, leisure time, and sleep fit into the time plan? That depends on you. I'm often at odds with other writers who believe they can't even begin to attend to their career before little Timmy is tucked into bed, they've watched Monday Night Football, they've had a full eight hours of sleep, they've baked themselves brown in Bermuda for two weeks, and they put in 40 hours at their job. And that's fine. But if you want a writing career, you need to make some time for it.

That, ultimately, is the secret. You'll never find time to succeed in publishing. You have to make time. And like most things in life, the more you put in, the more you get out.

And speaking of making time, here's an assortment of things I should have mentioned in earlier blog posts but haven't:

THESE GUNS FOR HIRE, an anthology of kick ass hitman stories that I edited, will debut at Bouchercon. Here's the cover:

You're invited to the booklaunch party. It's just a block away from the Bouchercon Madison Concourse Hotel at Cafe Montamarte, 127 E. Mifflin St, Thursday Sept 28, 8pm-close. Twenty of the authors in the anthology will be there, signing copies. It is the don't-miss event of Bouchercon. Be there.

Who's in this anthology? Here's the author list:

Jeff Abbott - Seize Your Future
Raymond Benson - Another Rock 'n' Roll Hit
Michael A. Black - The Black Rose
Lawrence Block - Keller's Designated Hitter
Jay Bonansinga - There's Somebody Here Wants to Talk to You
Ken Bruen - Punk
Reed Farrel Coleman - Bat-Head Speed
Max Allan Collins - Guest Services
Sean Doolittle - The Professional
David Ellis - The Shining Knight
John Galligan - Man Hit
Victor Gischler - They Always Get You
Ed Gorman - Beauty
Mitchell Graham - The Lourve Cafe
Jeremiah Healy - The Confessional
Libby Fischer Hellmann - Detour
Julie Hyzy - Strictly Business
Rob Kantner - Dead Last
JA Konrath - Bereaved
William Kent Krueger - Absolution
Benjamin M. LeRoy - Letters from Home
Lisa Mannetti - Everybody Wins
David Morrell - The Attitude Adjuster
Monica J. O'Rourke - Bloodshed Fred
P.J. Parrish - Gutter Snipes
M.J. Rose - Not Shy, Not Retiring
Jeff Strand - Poor Career Choice
Paul A. Toth - Nice Kids Carry Guns
Robert W. Walker - Pet Project
Brian M. Wiprud - When You're Right, You're Right

Bleak House is also having a pretty cool Bouchercon scavenger hunt. If you buy THESE GUNS and get 15 author signatures, you can show it to any of the participating book venders at the conference and get a free Bleak House book. How cool is that?

And check out the cool new website and blog at

While you're clicking on links, you should also head over to Spinetingler and check out their featured article. Elizabeth Krecker and MG Tarquini rode along with Barry Eisler and me on part of our summer tour. It was a good time had by all, and strangely informative as well. Want to do a book tour? Read the article first.

If you're jonesing for a fun story about the agony of writing, visit and read one by yours truly. Let me know if you recognize yourself.

If you're a techno-geek but also a cheapskate, head on over to and download a copy of Bloody Mary for free. If you haven't read me yet, you no longer have any excuses.

And finally, I did a podcast for Chicago radio station Q101. It turned out sweet. Check it out at

If you're still waiting for me to answer an email, or add your link to my blog, I'll be getting to those soon. Sorry it has taken so long. :)


Anonymous said...

When and where are you going to be in MI? If you're in Ann Arbor I'll buy you a drink.

JA Konrath said...

Hi Bryon. I'll be at Aunt Agatha's on Friday, around noon. Gimme a call and we'll grab abite.

Patry Francis said...

There's even a to-do list on your book cover!

Thanks for another great piece. I already feel swamped, and my book isn't even out yet.

It's fun though--and at least, I don't have to clean my gun.

Spy Scribbler said...

Piranha Pool ... funny story!

Okay, I was concerned when Harry killed the dog. And now you're killing a writer?? A story writer such as yourself????

Man, with your schedule, it sounds like you're already in the piranha pool! And I thought that after I quit my day job, the 15 workdays were over!

DH doesn't give me an honest opinion anymore. Last time he did, I spent a month revising it, and he discovered that the check came a month later. He and his budget didn't like that. Now he just says, "Perfect! Keep writing!"

Maybe I should call him my dear pimp instead of my dear husband. *grins*

Stacey Cochran said...

Joe, I'd be happy to help you. Just tell those editors who you've promised stories to that you don't have time to write to contact me. I'd be happy to ease your burden by getting some of my work published.

I'm here to help!


Jude Hardin said...

I'm wondering why writing is #5 on your list of priorities. Shouldn't it be #1 (after family obligations, of course)? If you're working on two new books and a screenplay, shouldn't that take up the bulk of your time? I mean, you did the big book tour and everything. Who do you want to be? Don King or Stephen King?
Not trying to antagonize you here, Joe, just wondering why you set up your priorities like that.

Anonymous said...

Piranha Pool is well written, entertaining, clever, very funny. What a great idea. No need to contemplate your bare wrist.

Also, I don't have a cat, but I do have a goldfish - trapped in a small tank. Yeah.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Damn. Another reason to be sore that I can't afford a ticket from Sydney to Wisconsin.

Still, there is the book. Freight should be cheaper for that.

Mark Terry said...

"But if you want a writing career, you need to make some time for it."

Absolutely true. Now I'm a fulltime freelance writer and novelist, but before that I used to write in the evenings after everybody else went to bed, and sometimes before they went to bed. And on weekends. And in fact, now that I'm a fulltimer, I still work on weekends and evenings when necessary.

Your schedule kind of made me laugh, because mine is similar: finish Appendices of nonfiction biz report I'm working on (finished the final chapter, chapter 11, yesterday), update and rewrite all 11 chapters, finish final draft of ANGELS FALLING, work on other novel I'm working on, start research, etc., for 4th Derek Stillwater novel, newspaper interview tomorrow to promote THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, I have 8 short articles to write for one publication, two more articles to write for another, a column to write due tomorrow, and oh yeah, I'm heading out of town for a business meeting next week in Washington DC and I need to get to the gym, and I've got two more interviews scheduled for...

Well, you get the idea, I'm sure. After all, back when I was working fulltime, I wrote most of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK longhand during my lunch hour. If you want it, you'll find time.

Mark Terry

p.s. Loved "The Piranha Pool."

Anonymous said...

I love the scavenger hunt idea. very clever.