Self-publication is a fairly scary road. You don’t have the protection of a publishing house and all of the benefits that it brings. No marketing department, no art direction, no budget for making appearances and tables at conventions. Your book will likely never be on store shelves. There’s also the stigma associated with self-publishing. Lonely housewives, writing smut and trying to sell it or give it away. Poorly written, poorly edited, poorly plotted. There’s a sea of terrible fiction out there, and you’re throwing your story onto the top of the pile and hoping it doesn’t sink.
In this post, I’m going to talk about the stress and burdens that come with self-publishing and what I do to combat them.
Now, I may be blowing those fears out of proportion. I have an anxiety disorder, and there’s been more than once time where I’ve looked at my husband and asked him what the hell I think I’m doing. I have considered completely throwing my novel out and starting over, or giving up the process completely.
All that being said, there are some really easy steps that you can take to make sure your story doesn’t fall into the depths of the sea of terrible writing. First, get other people to read it. You know all the ins and outs of your characters, as well as the settings and the plot. You’re too close to the story to see its failures. By having someone else read through your story, you’ll get a new perspective on things. I get a lot of feedback from this, especially when it comes to my descriptive paragraphs. I don’t always give full details when I introduce a character or a setting, and having other readers look at my stuff, then point that out, makes it more readily apparent.
The second thing you can do is get your novel professionally edited. And don’t grab just anyone off of Craigslist. You want to find someone with a professional looking website, with a list of previous work that they’ve edited. Most professional editors will also give you a sample edit, where they’ll take a section or sometimes full chapter of your novel and edit it. This gives you a chance to see if their style fits with what you need, and it also lets you know if you’ll get along with them. Professional editing can be pricey, and I think a lot of self-publishing authors balk at it. But just like anything that you want to be successful at, you need to put the time and resources into the important things. This is a VERY important thing.
You’ll also want to get reviews. I haven’t personally reached this point in the process, but it’s one I’ll be pursuing once the book is ready for publication. Reviews, especially ones from professional outlets, give readers confidence that your story is good and will likely lead to more sales.
Then, of course, you have to deal with the creative doubt that I think most writers are plagued with. I struggled with this a lot. Since most of my writing has been fan fiction, I definitely have a sense that what I’m putting out there may not be as good as professional authors. I’m also not a big name fan (a term used in fandoms to describe the well-known or massively popular members of the fandom), so I don’t have a huge following. I regularly check my Archive of Our Own page to see how my statistics are doing, but that’s slowed significantly since I’ve shifted to working on my original fiction.
What honestly led me to thinking that my novel could be commercially successful was an event that happened about a year and a half ago. On one of my writing groups, someone posted about an open submissions period with a publisher. At the time, Burner wasn’t finished and was also fairly rough. I cleaned up the first three chapters, paid to get those edited, and sent the submission it. It was one of 1,500 sent during the open submissions process, which was more than I – or the publisher – expected. Their first cut removed two thirds of the submissions sent, and mine was one that made the cut. It went through second reads, where another editor at the publishing house reviewed the manuscript, and though I did eventually get a rejection letter, it was one of the last round of rejections sent before the full manuscript was requested.
I was shocked. Not by the rejection, but by how far Burner made it. I’d honestly thought I’d be in the first round of cuts, not the last. And because I knew that the manuscript could be significantly improved from where it was, it gave me hope.
Now, obviously, you may not have that opportunity. But I think it speaks to not doubting yourself and your writing. If you take it seriously and put your heart and soul into it, you can craft a solid story. And, even if what you first write is absolute garbage, as long as you’re writing, you’re going to improve. That’s the trick to all creative endeavors: you get better the more you do it.
So what’s my overall advice? Do everything you can to make what you have the best it can be. Trust your instincts. Don’t give up, even when it looks hard or seems ridiculous. If you want to be a writer, you will be a writer. Just keep at it and tell that anxiety to get the hell out of here.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another post, though I don’t know the topic yet. In the meantime, keep writing, keep creating, and I’ll see you again soon.