Ten Things I Would Do If I Was Going To Self-Publish Today

I spend a fair amount of time here rambling back and forth about self-publishing, the potential benefits as well as the pitfalls and issues. Mostly, it’s on the wary side of things, which I think is apropos of the current state of digital publishing. I may give the impression that I don’t like self-publishing, but that would be a misnomer. I think it’s potentially great, but there’s the equal potential for epic failure. So, I thought I would put down here (as my current state of thinking on this particular day) what I would do if I was going to self publish right now, given what I’ve learned in my poking around.

  1. Write more than one book. Success in self-publishing relies a lot on momentum. Assuming for the moment that you garner some interest in a first book, you want to be able to follow it up with another.  I don’t mean in six months to a year either. You want to get a second book out close on the heels of the first, which means a month, maybe two at the most. I’d want to follow that up with a third within two to three months.  This provides a six month window to not only work on building readership and establishing a connection to them, but time to write another book. My end goal here is 3 books a year on a continual basis.
  2. Write short. Short stories are a great medium to add to the characters and worlds you create in longer works. Being able to throw these in on occasion is an appreciated bonus to readers and gives you something to put up in those inbetween times. I’d want at least on short of some kind in between each book. Also, keep the novels to a word count on the lower end. It takes time to write an epic. While I love epic stories, it takes a longer time to write them. My goal would be in the 75-90k range. If you really want to write long, break it down into manageable chunks.
  3. Create a social media presence. You need a blog or fb presence, i.e. a fan page. While you don’t need to necessarily have a platform from which to speak, you do need a place to interact with readers, a place to run contests/giveaways and a general venue for building interest in you as an author. Wherever your books are sold, this presence should be easily found, through your bio or information about the book.
  4. Find an editor/copyeditor/cover artist. I’ve spoken about the need for these before on the blog. The vast majority (99.9%) of writers do not have the skills in these areas to do this themselves and do it well. This is one of the biggest problems in the self-publishing world. New writers don’t understand the value and necessity for these things, and until you work with professionals in these areas, you won’t truly get the benefit and need. They make your book better! A LOT better. Don’t insult readers by putting out a poor product, because that is what you do when you put out a poorly edited book with a crap cover. “My first book will be free so I don’t need to worry so much about these things” is not an excuse to not do this. You will kill any chance you have by starting out with a poor impression to readers. I won’t self-publish unless I can afford to get these services enlisted for my books. If this means waiting and saving, so be it. I value my work and the investment of readers too much to not do these things. You should too. There is no such thing as “good enough for self-publishing.” Either do it right or don’t do it at all.
  5. Pay attention to reader feedback. One of the big benefits of self-publishing is the fact that your product can be improved after the fact. Errors can be fixed, content can be added or rewritten, and covers can be remade. If 90% of your readers complain about the pacing in the first half of the book, look for ways to improve. Unlike traditional publishing, you always have control over your content at all times. Take advantage of this fact. Another benefit of reader feedback is that you may get an idea of what kind of story they’d like. I’m not saying you should simply pander to reader desires, but if you created a compelling side character that a lot of readers love, you might consider creating a story about them. If you don’t pay attention to your readers, you will never know these things.
  6. Build brand recognition. Don’t write a thriller and follow it up with a romance. Decide what kind of story you like the most and stick to it, at least initially. You want readers to keep coming back for your books. Many readers stick to story types and will expect you to provide something similar. Don’t throw them a curveball by publishing wildly different stories. You want to build a solid house before you start working on another. I’d put out half a dozen books of one genre before I thought about giving readers something different.
  7. Get your book out there far and wide. I wouldn’t recommend locking your book into Amazon only. I don’t like their programs that lock in exclusivity. I don’t care that it might generate some more money within their store. If you’re happy with what you’re making from there, then fine, go for it, but I want the chance to build readership and to do that means having my story out in as many venues as possible. Anything that increases visibility and the opportunity to bring in more readers is a good thing. Don’t limit yourself. Personally, I’ll never lock myself in to Amazon.
  8. Be positive. Not everyone will like your stories. I’ve had my share of bad reviews on my Deadworld books. That’s just part of the game and you have to accept the fact that not everyone will like what you write no matter how good it is. Some people like to throw the hate around. Again, nothing you can do about this, and responding in kind does nothing to promote yourself. Always be positive in response to readers. ALWAYS. “Your book sucks moldy cheese!” Well, sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but perhaps you’ll like my next book better. Don’t get caught up in defending yourself. There’s no need and it’s counter-productive.
  9. Keep plugging away at traditional publishing. Self vs. Traditional isn’t an either/or scenario. There are benefits to both and there are drawbacks to both. If you’re in a position like me, where resources are limited, having someone who can do all of the non-writing elements and potentially get me to readers I’d never be able to reach is a huge bonus. More readers and a better quality books is a good thing. Yes, you take a big potential hit on money. It’s a trade-off, and one I still feel is worthwhile, even if I do believe authors deserve better terms with traditional publishing. My hope is the changing industry is going to force better terms, but one can’t underestimate the benefits of a good editor/copyeditor/cover artist/marketing dept. You don’t get these in self-publishing without paying for them, and you can pay a lot for good, professional services.
  10. This kind of goes back to #4, but don’t compromise. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “good enough.” If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel your story is as good as it can possibly be, don’t publish it. Saying, “it’s as good as I can do” and knowing it could be better with a good editor or a better cover and so forth, isn’t good enough. Have integrity as an author. Respect the art of the story. Because if you don’t, readers will pick up on this. They aren’t stupid. If you respect the reader and the story, you won’t compromise on anything that goes into your book.

Ok, that’s my general run-down, and given all of that, it’s the reason why I won’t self-publish anything today. I’m not in a position to put out the best book I possibly can. I have put out one, and I regret doing it. It could and should have been better than it is. I won’t do that again. I will likely self-publish in the future, but it won’t be until I’m ready and able to do it.

The New Generation of Self-Published Authors Need to Understand the Whole Picture

As things usually go around here, a brief discussion with my wife (author Tracy Madison) about some publishing stuff sparked a, “oh, that would make a great blogpost!” We were talking about self-publishing in some fashion or another (I believe it had to do with covers) and she brought up the fact that many self-published authors, those who eschew the traditional publishing path entirely, miss out on seeing exactly what the whole process is like and the benefits publishing house can provide.

It brought up the point that we might have a whole new generation of writers who fail to gain an understanding of the process beyond the actual writing of the book. Don’t get me wrong, self-publishing has a great many benefits for those who have the talent, skills, and knowledge to make it work properly.  Knowing that books get edited, covers get made, manuscripts get copy-edited, is a far cry from actually experiencing that process through working with professionals in these areas.

There are a lot of authors out there fresh into the publishing arena that have never seen any  of this stuff at work. They’ve written a story, spent a lot of time and effort to create something they hope readers will enjoy, and can’t wait to get it out there and into reader’s hands. Self-publishing is viewed as a way to get it out there now as opposed to later. Don’t get me wrong, this is a benefit as well as an issue. Traditional publishing is SLOW. They are also very selective. They have to be since there is limited shelf space out there. One can spend months or even years attempting to find an agent and finding an interested editor at a publishing house. While faster, even e-publishers take time. They reject a lot of material too. It can be very frustrating and in the end, very futile.

Getting a first book published is rare. Very rare. It’s quite understandable that after putting all of that effort into it, that it might indeed go nowhere. Self-publishing can remedy that situation. With little effort, one can put it out there for readers to see. This is a huge draw. HUGE. Unfortunately, it also puts a writer in the position of not having the benefit of seeing just what a typical book goes through to get into reader’s hands. Now, while it is certainly possible to educate oneself on this, to learn about what can and should be done with a book once it’s done, the sad truth is, many don’t and/or just aren’t aware enough to actually look.

The simple fact of the matter is, the vast majority of writers, experienced ones included, are not great editors, can’t make good covers, and don’t know the rules enough to be a copy-editor. The result is a poor product that very few people will want to read. Sadly, and I’ve heard this more than once, is that readers don’t care enough about this for it to matter. Worse is the implication here that they aren’t actually savvy enough to know the difference.

Talk about insulting. This is the last thing you want to present to the reader. Unfortunately, I think there is a subset in the growing tide of self-published authors that don’t get this. There’s the thought that you just have to put it out there and they will come. It just doesn’t work that way. The fact is, books need editing. ALL books. They need copy-editing. They need good covers. If, mind you, you want any chance at succeeding. Without ever having seen the process before, however, not ever having experienced it, and seeing the potential cost incurred to get professional services in these areas, new writers balk. They can’t or don’t want to invest those kinds of resources in their work.

Going forward into the future of ebooks, as more and more potential writers see self-publishing as an easy way to get their book out there, we’re going to see a growing pool of writers who do none of the things they should be doing, because they either can’t, don’t want to, or don’t understand what it takes. They’ll suffer the frustration of never seeing their book go anywhere. Readers will suffer wasting their money on poor products. In the end, it will cause more harm to publishing.

So, please, new writers out there, work hard at gaining an understanding of what it takes to make a book good. It’s more than just putting words on the page. There are so many other writers out there willing to help. There are tons of resources out there. More importantly, you have to be willing to invest in your work, if you want a chance to succeed. Personally, I’d like to see you all succeed. I don’t, however, want you to hurt the industry by putting out a product that nobody wants, and makes readers feel that writers don’t care about what they’re paying money for. It takes time, effort and investment. Be willing to invest yourself in your work.

I don’t say any of this to harp on new writers. We all started off at a place of not knowing, and it’s our job to learn as much as we can, not only about how to tell a good story but to polish and package it in such a way that it is also a good experience for the reader. The learning never stops, no matter how many books you write.  It’s very difficult to explain the difference between doing everything yourself (or trying to) and having the assistance of professional editors/copy-editors/cover-artists. It’s a night and day kind of effect, at least I think it is. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can easily do it all on your own. The skill set required to do all of these things well is extremely rare. In the end, the readers can tell the difference. Don’t let them down.

Writing Update-Deadworld 3

15k into Deadworld 3 as of this morning. I finally, finally finished the scene I mentioned before that I was procrastinating on for so long. Hardest scene I’ve ever written, without doubt. These kinds of scenes are good for writers. It helps stretch those writing muscles. Writing an mc that is not your gender is challenge enough to nail down well. Not surprisingly, I’ve had reviews that state I’ve succeeded in this task, while others believe it fails miserably. Such is the life of a writer. For me, it becomes more difficult that usual when the emotional content veers farther away from a “male” pov. Gender exists on a continuum I believe, with a lot of blending, but some female experiences exist out there toward the far end of things that are pretty much out of reach for the male experience to relate to. This scene I wrote goes there. I pondered this scene over and over in my head, literally for weeks. It has taken me nearly two weeks to actually write the fourteen pages encompassing this scene. I think the worst aspect about it however, is getting to the end and having no real clue if it’s good or not.

Writers of course deal with this all of the time. We constantly question the worth of our writing. Sometimes we know we’ve nailed it, but most of the time, I think it’s a very “meh” feeling. It could be better, could be worse, and I’ll come back and fix that later. I’ve no doubt I’ll be editing this scene later. I’ve taken too much time leading into it, which is going to slow down the pace of the larger story arc. I figured I would be through this scene around page 30. It ended on page 51. Emotionally, there’s a lot going on here, but in terms of physical action and moving the plot forward? Not so much. Not unexpected. I’ve learned that I tend to be too wordy in the first third to half of my stories. This is where most of my editing comes in after I finish the book. It takes me a while to get warmed up I guess, to get the story situated. I’m ok with that. It has worked thus far. But what to do when you get through a scene that has provided all sorts of problems?

You move on. I could go through it again, see how it might get better, be pared down, tightened, and so forth, but now is not the time. I believe it’s important that once you start, you need to keep moving forward until you get to the end. Momentum is a big deal in writing. Once it is there, don’t derail it with things like constant editing/revising.  Now is not the time. Once in that story groove, you must keep moving, putting words on the page. For me, the higher the word count gets, the more momentum I have. I love those milestones in a book. The first 10k, page 100, 50k, page 200. Do not discount the simple effects of seeing the words grow on the page. These little things are important too. As are getting through the really hard things, like intensely emotional, sexual conflict.

Seek Writing Knowledge You Will

One great thing about the internets is that it is chock full of resorces for writers. There is pretty much no aspect of writing that isn’t covered. Your stuck on something in your book? Well, the odds are pretty good someone with some know-how has posted about at some point. There is also a lot of crap and misinformation out there too. You can find plenty of folk out there looking to give “advice” for a fee. While some of this is certainly worth the time, effort, and expense, there is a lot out there from folks just looking to take advantage of ignorance.

During the past couple of years, the ability for people who have always wanted or thought about writing a book, to make it happen, has grown exponentially. While it is definitely easier to get work out there in the public tosee and actually make a bit of money doing it, one still has to write the damn thing. Writing a good story is hard to say the least. It’s far more than just sitting down at the computer with a great idea and cranking out words until you type “the end.” Too many writers come into this business with blinders on, with glorious dreams filling their heads, and the fact is, they just don’t know what they’re getting into. While I’m not trying to discourage anyone here who has dreams of publishing a novel (it’s a fantastic dream after all), be aware that this journey is not easy. The ease with which you can publish has nothing to do with how easy it might be to write. So, assume you know less than you do. Writing is a lifelong learning experience. It’s far more than just dreaming of publishing your story. Dream of becoming the best possible writer. Focus your energies on becoming a fantastic storyteller.

Toward that end, inform yourself. A LOT. You can never have too much information when it comes to good writing. Dedicate yourself to learning the craft, because odds are, you aren’t as good as you think you are, and likely never will be. And yes, I’m in that boat too. I believe I’m a pretty good storyteller. However, I know I have a long ways to go in becoming a good writer. For those who are mathematically inclined, the learning curve is exponential, steep on the front end, but never hitting a maximum value. You can always get better. There is always something to learn. Always. So, be willing to learn people. Continually take steps to improve your craft, whether it’s through books, mentoring, school, workshops, conferences, or finding info here on the internet. Double check your sources too. Always verify that your source is legit, and I can assure you, if a source is not, someone out there has said something about it. It’s far to easy to get blinded by your dreams, overwhelmed by the excitement, or just plain not have the patience to try and make sure you know what you are doing. Patience, people. If you want to pursue this craft you have to have it in spades.

Anyway, in the spirit of learning, I’m going to regularly put up writing tips given by succesful and/or well known authors. Because writing is so subjective, some you may find useful, others not so much. They’re more to get you thinking about writing or some small aspect of it. And occasionally, just to poke some fun at writing in general, because with any endeavor, it’s always good to have a sense of humor about things.

Writing Tip of the Day:

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”. — Elmore Leonard