Bonnie here: I just finished the toughest and longest project I’ve ever worked on. My first novel, Fresh Squeezed, co-authored with my friend James Ewing, is published! I’m excited and exhausted. This novel project truly was novel for me, so I thought it might be fun to look back on this adventure from a project perspective. “Was this really a project?”
The definition I use for a project is:
A unique endeavor with clearly defined objectives and deliverables, clear-cut starting and ending dates, and, most of the time, a budget.
After 23 technical books, writing my first novel was certainly unique to me. For this first book, Jim and I had to learn how to tell stories well, develop characters, weave plot lines, build suspense… Gack! What we still don’t know and need to learn about writing fiction isn’t a project — it’s a lifelong learning operation.
We had to sort out working together, brainstorming the story, dividing up who wrote what, collaborating, editing, making the book sound like one person wrote it, and reaching some sort of agreement on every detail. (Two highly-opinionated Capricorn engineers working on a creative project — now that’s a story.)
Even the next book in the series will be a unique endeavor. Besides a new story line, we have to get the next book out in about 10 percent of the duration that it took for the first book. Clearly, some process improvement is in order.
There were clearly defined objectives and deliverables, although Jim and I had slightly different views of what those were. My objective was a highly entertaining, well-written crime comedy that would make us a lot of money. Jim’s objective was a fun book that would make us a lot of money. If you ask us, we have achieved the first part of my objective. The part about a lot of money remains to be proven.
The final deliverable was a published book. While that deliverable never wavered, its shape changed significantly over time. I have 23 traditionally published books to my name, so I envisioned a traditionally-published novel. Jim, on the other hand, was never keen on the publishing industry. Going the traditional publication route would mean, at the very least, three more years before actual publication. (Figure a year or so to find an agent, another year or so to find a publisher, get on the publication calendar for the year after the contract is signed, and then the rather extended publication process itself.) When the manuscript was finally ready for an outside editor’s eyes (spring of 2012), I finally saw the light. (I can hear my co-author’s eyes rolling in their sockets from 1,000 miles away.) I’m too old and too impatient to wait that long, so we opted to indie-publish.
What about clear-cut starting and ending dates? The beginning of this project was more like the process of a sentient life form growing from the primordial ooze. The idea started as a joke. For several years, Jim, my husband Pete, and I amused ourselves talking about what actual stupid criminals do and what our stupid criminals might do. After Pete died, I decided that we needed to actually write the book — as a memorial to his warped sense of humor. I talked to Jim about it and on October 22, 2008, we started writing. To me, that’s the actual start of the project.
We never had a clear-cut planned finish date. (I hear eye-rolling again.) We struggled with collaboration. We revamped the story line. We edited. We re-edited. We edited after the editor edited. Then, we dove into the tasks for indie-publication like designing a cover, laying out the book, following the mind-numbing rules from the printer and Amazon. Sometime in June 2012, we declared “sometime in July” as the target finish date. The book was officially published July 16, 2012.
Yes, we had a budget — as little money as possible. We got creative and produced a high-quality product on a shoestring budget.
Now that the book is in print (I have 11 boxes of them in my garage to prove it), it seems like there is more work than ever to do. However, this work belongs to a new project — marketing the book.
You can read more about the journey to publication on my co-author’s blog.
Better yet, read his blog and read Fresh Squeezed.
Talk back: We can go all project management and ask what makes a project feel like a project. But what I really want to know is how do you like the novel, so I can tell whether the project is a success.