Depending on how you look at it, this could have two answers: a lot and not a lot.
I wrote my first four and a half books practically straight through without any distractions other than the ones in my home: cooking, cleaning, playing with my kids, going on an occasional day trip, etc.
These days, I find that while I still have to write my books, I have a lot more to juggle, some of which is writing, and some of which involves writing something just not a book.
Here are a few “non-writing” things writers have to do:
- Blog-This is writing, and it can be a lot of fun, but it rarely helps to get a story moving. Instead, I use it often times as a channel to talk about things I’d never talk about in person to someone or as a means to relate to and interact with my readers–which in plain English means, feel free to comment!
- Social networking via Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (those last two I sorely neglect!)–Sometimes being seen as someone other than a writer helps to look more human and for some strange reason from time to time, I’ll get people who actually want to talk about absolutely nothing on twitter or Facebook with me. It’s pretty neat.
- Answer emails–Whether it’s replying to a request for something, an email from a stranger saying what they did (or didn’t) like about a book of mine, or even just from a friend, I spend a good hour (or more…) answering emails each day. Oddly enough, it’s one of my favorite non-writing activities.
- Edit & Proofread–In my editing process, I read my book approximately six times. While doing so, I’m looking for typos, lapses in logic, gaps in story lines, and all sorts of other things. I’m not just reading it to read it. Do some of these things still get by me? Absolutely. Actually a good number do, that’s why I hire other people to help me. LOL But it’s still time consuming.
- Swap critiques–As a favor, I generally swap one critique right before I put one of my books out. Why? Because I want someone to read mine, too, to look for things I’ve missed. It also helps to read another story other than my own at that point because it gives me a much-needed break and also allows me to read another book. (You’d be surprised at how few books we writers get to read. Sure, we still read some, but at one time I could read a 400 page–or 100,000 word–book in about a day. Now? It takes about two weeks unless I clear an entire day.
- Create covers–(As a disclaimer, I no longer do the hard part of this which is finding the pictures and cropping them.) I used to spend literally days on end looking at pictures and coming up with absolutely nothing. It’s much easier to hire it done. However, even hiring someone else to do it takes time because you have to find someone whose past covers you like and think might understand your theme, then query them to make your covers, describe the plot of your book to them as well as the leading characters, look at proofs, ask for any modifications, etc.
- Upload books for sale–Almost every single platform I sell at: Amazon digital and paperback, B&N, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, and All Romance eBooks, have one to two pages of a “listing questionnaire” that I have to fill out before I can sell each book there. They ask for the title, price, if it’s in a series, if so, what is the name of the series and which volume is it, author name, do I have the right to sell this book, if yes, in which countries, book description, author bio, is it lendable, does it need to be encoded with DRM, describe the book using 7 or fewer key words, what category will this fall into, what is your target age, does it already have an ISBN, if yes, what is the number, publisher name, etc etc THEN you have to upload the book and cover files separately. This can take a while because some sites are faster to upload than others. Just the way it goes. Once they are up, you must always preview them by using their device previewer. This lets you see how they’ll look on someone’s Kindle, iPad, Nook, whatever. If it doesn’t look right, you save your work, get off the Internet and reformat. Because I have all of these different places that I upload, it generally takes me several hours (two if everything is running smoothly, about four if it’s not) to get these up. Fortunately, I only have to fill all these pages out each time I list a new book, if I’m just correcting something in an existing book, it doesn’t take near as long.
- Format book files–All those places I listed before require different formats for the actual book file. Some require a word doc, some require a converted ePub, another a PDF, etc etc. Smashwords will take a .doc and convert it to ePUB, .mobi (Kindle format), PDF, .html, etc. For All Romance eBooks, I have to format them for all those extensions myself. Now, someone might say, why not just upload the .doc to Smashwords, then download all the different formats and upload them to each of the others? That’s genius, right? Sorry, but no. Some of the places (Smashwords included) requires that on your copyright page, you put “Smashwords Edition” or “Amazon Edition” or whatever the store is, you have to claim it’s that edition. Not all places do that, but most do. So since you cannot edit it once it’s been covered by Smashwords, that’s not a possibility. Instead, each book has to be edited to have the name of the store on the copyright page, as well as a few other modifications that each store requires. An example of this is some–Apple and Amazon–will automatically include the cover image as the first page of the book just by using the cover image you upload. Others, B&N and All Romance will not. So for those, you have to insert the image in the front yourself. This was not always the case. Back when I first started with Amazon, they did not include the cover in the book file. Then it because optional, and now they do it automatically. Things are constantly changing.
- Format cover image–All those places I’ve listed before, not only require different file formatting things, but some have specifics on the size of the picture for the cover image. Some want 200×300 pixels, some want it to be 1200×2000 minimum, some want the file to be a certain size of pixels but under a certain file size. Some only take .jpgs other only .pngs. So for each place, you have to go in and resize and resave the images. There are some that you can use the same image you’ve used elsewhere but I’ve noticed recently that requirements have changed on some, which has created more image modifications.
- Correct, update, reformat and reupload files–I HATE typos. Why? Because one typo can create about an hour’s (or more) worth of work. If a typo is located, it must be found in ALL those different files and fixed. Then if any of them need to be reconverted via a conversation software I have that takes a .html and makes it into ePUB or .mobi, that has to be done, then I have to go to each of those sites I sell to and reupload the files. Does this mean I don’t want to know about typos or I don’t correct them? No. I always correct them because I want the book to be as clean as possible, but I do get upset with myself when I find one.
- Maintain Website–Once a month, at least, I have to update my website. Move things around, add a few new FAQs, update links, update story ideas/dates, and other routine maintenance. On average, about every six months, I give my site a facelift just to keep it fresh.
- Newsletters–I’m horrible at these. As any of those who read this and my newsletter can attest, to quote Tom Hanks: my newsletters are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve forgotten about doing one until the day of–or the next day, and half the time I don’t even know what to put in there! But I do try to keep up with them because I hate to be silent and unseen until I have a new book out, because then I feel like all I’m doing is pimping my book and that feels weird.
- Research–Whether it’s the origin of a certain word or to look up an old custom, I spend a good portion of the day doing research. Thankfully with the help of Google and places like dictionary.com a lot can be done online, but I find one of the most helpful ways of research is to read diaries and accounts from people who lived in the time. So many things we think would have never happened, actually did, it was just frowned upon or kept secret. Part of why I read so slow now is the majority of the books I read are nonfiction research books (I know, I sound like Wallace) but I find them fascinating and I often take notes. Also, when possible (mainly when writing with an American setting, for obvious reasons) I like to visit the places I’m writing about.
- The Business Stuff–As most of you know, my degree is in business/accounting while I use a few more than 10 keys these days in my work, I do still use a calculator quite a bit. As the sole provider for my family, I have to pay attention to the business side of things when deciding which books to write next and how to market and advertise. I spend about an hour (at least) analyzing trends in sales, where I should advertise, will advertising even help someone like me who writes out-of-the-box stories? Business things can also include recording receipts for taxes (this is a real pain and a huge time suck).
Most of the listed above I didn’t do or did to a lesser degree when I first started, but all are important. Some can be hired out, but not all of them and not always to your satisfaction. So if you’ve ever wondered why a writer is writing that next book fast enough, it might help to remember that in addition to their family and personal commitments, there’s a lot more to writing than just writing!