When we first met thriller author Jim Heskett two years ago, he already had an impressive six titles out. Since then, Jim has been turning out books at a lightning-fast pace (20+ titles and counting!) all while juggling family, friends, and a full-time job. This week I catch up with Jim to find out how he does it.
Today, two years later, Jim’s got over 20 titles, including his Whistleblower trilogy and his Micah Reed series. In fact, just in 2016 alone, he published 325,000 words, consisting of five books, one short story, and one collaborative novella (with J. Thorn)…while maintaining a full-time day job and enjoying life with his wife and toddler son.
Jim says it took him two years to write his first book, one year to write his second, and then only six months to write his third. And he keeps getting better, as evidenced by his now sprawling catalog.
Nowadays, he takes about three months to prepare a book from first draft to market using a system he’s developed, which allows him to publish five books a year. Awesomely, he’s shared that system in a book for indie authors called The Juggling Author: How To Write Four Books a Year While Balancing Family, Friends, and a Full-Time Job.
The Juggling Author
Burning Through Drafts
A critical component to Jim’s high level of production as an author is planning and organization. Pre-writing and outlining the story in its entirety before starting the first draft allows him to work out the story and decide what scenes will go in, as well as what proposed scenes should not go in. This allows him to cut out unnecessary scenes he would have otherwise written and would later have to cut. Also, knowing what he needs to write makes it easy for him to burn through the first draft of a 60K-word novel in a month’s time.
Jim focuses on drafting only one project at a time and not getting distracted by new ideas and other projects during the drafting process. This helps him get to the end fast.
“When I’m in the first draft of something, I’m totally faithful. I take it out to dinner. I tell it I would never cheat on it, I would never look at another manuscript…”
He also notes that he writes short, preferring to flesh out the scenes after he’s gotten a basic draft down. His first drafts tend to run 30-35K words long for a 60K novel. Not only does writing short help him finish the first draft much more quickly, it saves him time and words if he does have to make cuts down the road.
Jim does three drafts of each book, focusing on filling in the scenes on the second draft and a spit-shine polish for the third draft. The first draft gets sent to a trusted alpha reader to help him identify plot holes and structural problems. The second drafts gets seen by trusted beta readers. After the third draft, it goes to his editor for a final pass.
In between drafts, he works on his book description, noting that often writers will need to write dozens of drafts on their book description to get it just right.
Once his third draft goes to the editor, he finishes the book description, sends it to a cover designer, and starts scheduling social media content, reaching out to podcasters for interviews, and other promotional activities.
Good Organization is Critical
Jim likes to use Trello, a Kanban board-based activity tracker that works as a visual to-do list, allowing him to easily keep track of the multitude of moving pieces involved in publishing a book. He tracks his lists through boards labeled “DO SOMEDAY,” “DO LATER,” “DO NEXT,” “DO NOW,” and “DONE DID IT ALREADY.” By keeping up with it and focusing each day on the “DO NOW,” he’s able to drag each task through the various boards until they finally land in the “DONE DID IT ALREADY.”
“Thinking about writing is also productive time.”
Since Jim is as pressed for time as most indie authors are, he likes to think ahead on the next writing session or marketing task that’s coming up whenever he can. In order to keep the production process moving and books shipping out to market, it’s necessary to make use of any and all time, whether that means thinking about his story on his commute or utilizing his lunch hour to write.
Next Big Thing
Jim’s book The Juggling Author: How To Write Four Books a Year While Balancing Family, Friends, and a Full-Time Job recently came out this year, amid new titles and box sets in all of his series, with more and more books to come as he continues to juggle. Check out Jim’s Amazon page to see his growing catalog.
- In order to make sure he delivers the cleanest manuscript to his editor — thus, making his editor’s job easier and avoiding any unnecessary delays — after he finishes spit-shining the third draft, Jim listens to his third draft using his Mac’s text-to-speech app at the slowest pace he can stand to catch as many little errors as he can.
- If he has time, Jim will also run his manuscript through the Grammarly and/or Pro Writing Aid apps as well, using them as another filter to catch errors.
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