Self-Publishing: What You Need to Know Before You Start

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to self-publish.  Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry.

Fastest-growing, eh?

Yep.  Seems like you can’t turn around these days without someone sprinting off to publish the manuscript they’ve been working on for years.  Or months.  Or a couple of weeks.  But does that mean that if you self-publish the rest of the literary world is going to “dial you down to dumbass”, as my Dad likes to say?  Does that mean you’ve forever separated yourself from the realm of the serious author?  Not anymore it doesn’t.  But it does mean that you get to navigate a minefield of potential mistakes and problems, and you get to do it all by yourself.

Now, I consider myself to be a successful self-published author.  I’ve got three books out and one coming out the first weekend of November.  And I’ve learned a lot of things during the process of publishing those books.  I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve had some extraordinary good luck.  I’ve also watched other writers make some mistakes and do things right.  These things are super important to know.  So in no particular order, here we go….

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The first thing you need to know about self-publishing is that you’re not the only one who has this idea.  In fact, right now the market is flooded with self-published authors eager to impress the world with the fruits of their imagination.  There are now millions of books out there just waiting to be read.  What does this mean for you?  It means that you have to figure out a way to stand out from the crowd.  Think writing the book was a challenge?  Try getting it noticed above the sea of other books whose eager authors are trying to do exactly the same thing.  The sad thing is that the majority of these books will stay right there in the sea.Now I’m not trying to discourage you by telling you this.  Quite the contrary.  I want you to be well aware of what’s ahead of you so that you can tackle the challenges head-on.  Because this whole thing is an incredible challenge.

Right, so what do you need to do as a self-published author to stand out and catch on?

The first and most important answer is the same thing that everyone out there has been telling you.  You have to write the best book possible.  There’s no getting around it.  So for those of you who are tired of hearing that, here’s a few things that will help you get there.

Patience.  Patience is the only way to write the absolute best book possible.  It takes a lot of time to write a first draft.  It takes even more time to write the second and the third and the fourth drafts.  Words can’t be rushed onto the page.  Yes, it’s a great idea to set yourself a word-count goal for the day and to make it consistently, but that first flush of story is going to deserve to be flushed until you put some more work into it.  That work takes patience.  It takes letting it sit, handing it off to beta readers, and most importantly of all, it takes shipping it off to an qualified, professional editor to whip it into shape.  Don’t skimp on the editor, people!

But patience isn’t just about time.  Patience is about keeping the lid on yourself.  It’s about being diligent.  One of the things that draws people to the process of self-publishing is the speed with which we can get something published.  It’s so exciting to think that in just a few short hours people out there in the world will be able to buy your imagination fruit!  But be careful not to fill up the apple cart before the fruit is ripe.  One of the biggest mistakes I see self-published authors make is focusing too much on getting out there and not enough on refining and perfecting the product.  I’ve been guilty of it myself.  And I’ve had to go back and publish updated editions with all sorts of embarrassing corrections.

You’ve worked hard on that book.  That book deserves to be ready before it bursts out into the world.  If you’re going to self-publish the onus is on you and you alone to set aside the writer part of you in favor of the editor part.  You are your own quality control.  This takes so much honesty and self-awareness that it boggles the mind.  Don’t rush it.

Moving right along….

The other biggest mistake that I see self-published authors make is in the way they use social media.  You might hear the message that in order to succeed you have to be on every platform all the time posting public service announcements about the worldwide benefits that buying your novel will bring.  Um, the only thing you’re going to accomplish by attempting that is burning yourself out on social media and annoying a lot of people in the process.

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Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.  When I first got into this gig last year I went nuts with the whole blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ thing.  I tried to be all things to all people all the time.  Not only did I end up with a sour taste in my mouth over so many of these social media tools, I didn’t see any results from them.In the end I switched to as two-part strategy.  I focused my attention on the social media tools that I actually enjoy: my blog and Facebook.  As a side note, I made a mistake within a mistake of joining every Facebook author group under the sun only to find that I wasn’t able to give most of them everything they deserved.  I learned that it’s far more effective to give your all to a smaller amount of people within a circle of activities that you really enjoy than to try to master all forums.

And you know what ended up happening?  Part two of the two-part strategy.  I made friends with people who like the tools that I don’t like so much.  This meant that when I had news, like the fact that I was running a promo of The Loyal Heart in July, some of those dear friends I had made posted about it on forums I didn’t even know existed.  50,000 eBook downloads later….

Concentrate on what you love.  Pace yourself.  Interact on a genuine level with people who are on the same path that you are.  Help them out without expecting anything in return.  And watch and see what happens.

Of course, you have to be patient while you do this.  It took me a year’s worth of cultivating these connections and friendships before I was able to have the success I had with my promo.  The good news is that I’ve made some fantastic friends along the way.

And that brings me to the biggest potential pitfall, the biggest message self-published authors or authors considering self-publishing need to hear.

Be careful about how you define success.  I know you don’t want to hear it, but the likelihood of you being the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or even E.L. James is about the same as your chances of winning the Powerball Lottery.  It’s okay.  You’ll get through this.  Take a deep breath.  Just because your debut self-published novel does not instantly get optioned by Hollywood doesn’t mean you aren’t a success.

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It’s time to redefine success.  I consider myself a successful self-published author because since I made the decision to take this road I have worked hard and produced consistent results.  I have published.  I continue to publish.  I also continue to learn.  My writing has improved by leaps and bounds.  And yes, I’ve sold books.  Enough to pay for a new transmission when my car died earlier this month (although I really wanted to spend my royalty money on something a heck of a lot more fun).  I’ve also begun to have my fellow writers at events here in Philadelphia come up to me asking for help and advice with self-publishing.  When your peers ask for your advice, that’s success.But just because I consider myself a success right now doesn’t mean I haven’t raised the bar for myself.  Yes, I love self-publishing.  I intend to keep on doing it.  But now another bee has flown into my bonnet.  I want to see if I can get a couple of books in my “backlist” published by a small press.  And I’ve got a couple of ideas for novels that I want to write in time to pitch to agents during next year’s conference season.  And my long-term goal is to just be a writer.  I’m starting that journey by self-publishing.  It’s not an either/or prospect.  It’s a stop along the way.

So huzzah!  You’ve made a great choice to self-publish.  It’s a lot of fun.  Consider this the first step in a fantastic journey that will teach you to be a better writer all around.

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7 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: What You Need to Know Before You Start

  1. That’s a really great article! I agree with you on what you mentioned regarding social media. I see a lot of authors these days abuse it like no tomorrow, especially twitter. I feel somewhat irked by all the repetitive updates and links, especially when they clog up my feed. Eventually I end up ignoring them altogether. I would much rather have the writer talk about themselves and be more personal!

    • I love the description that I’ve seen of Twitter as being a great big party, but one where most people are just walking around handing out business cards and trying to sell you something instead of talking and making friends. I scaled back my Twitter involvement to the point where I rarely post links and mostly just chat with good old friends (and new friends) I’ve made there. Life is so much easier that way! =D

  2. I like especially how you mentioned the value of being good at a couple of platforms, rather than trying to be the best at them all. I have a hard time with Twitter and Pinterest. But I’m getting used to WordPress, so that’s a good start!
    I’m still not sure if I will self-publish or not, but it is great to read this.

    • Thanks, Jennifer! Yeah, you can’t be everywhere at once and still write!

      I chose to self-publish because there’s just something about the format that speaks to me, sings to me! But it’s not for everyone. And I’d like to also publish traditionally someday too. There are just so many options out there and it’s a joy to explore them all. =D

  3. Recently, my husband and I were talking about my career path and we are seriously considering this as an option, and like you said, its a stepping stone to where ever we go with our writing. And I definitely want to make sure I do it right. I’ve got a MS I’ve polished as much as I know how, but I know it needs more. I’m contemplating my next step. With self-publishing, I love the idea of being able to add illustrations or work on my own deadlines. We shall see. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

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