On this blog, and throughout my free guide – INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS – I make the point that if self-publishers want to have any chance of success they have to present their work in the most professional manner possible.
That means a good cover designed by a pro, spending money on a professional editor, formatting your e-book correctly, and conducting yourself appropriately when marketing your novel.
There are many self-publishers who skip some or all of these steps and, as a result, there is a lot of crap out there.
On the other hand, you can follow all of the steps, to the letter, and still fall flat – with either poor sales or poor reviews killing your career before it even had a chance.
Publishing before you are ready.
The number one mistake that new writers make – according to agents – is sending out a manuscript before it is ready.
In the past, the writer only had two real choices. Write something new, or revise it. Now there is a third choice – self-publish it.
I’m a huge fan of self-publishing, and I think it’s amazing that writers now have a way to bypass agents and the huge publishing conglomerates and achieve virtually the same reach (in terms of e-books) just by publishing through a few websites.
I’m also a huge fan of the control it gives the writer over every aspect of the publishing process. Writers can decide how their story is presented, and what price it should sell at.
They can also decide whether something gets published at all.
This is a huge responsibility. Writers – for their own sake – must use it wisely. I have a novel – A Storm Hits Valparaíso – and it’s killing me every day it’s not on sale.
I know that sales levels for novels tend to be much, much higher (and they can tap into the higher royalty rate), and I have huge plans for it when it eventually becomes available to the public.
However, I also want my readers to get my best possible work. If I put out sub-standard stories, they will never read another one with my name on it. If I put out great stories, they will read everything I publish.
I could publish my novel now, and I’m sure it would do okay. I have had lots of people read early drafts of it, and they really enjoyed it.
But it’s not ready. And I know it can be a lot better. So I owe it to myself (and my readers), to keep working on it until it is.
Self-publishers need to be very disciplined. They need to look beyond the short-term sales potential and think how every release helps them build a career. And you can only build a career if you have readers coming back for more.
But how do you know when your work is ready for prime-time?
This is tough, it really is. Writers are the worst judge of their own work. They either think everything they write is crap, or amazing, and they can often hold both opinions simultaneously, without contradiction.
It’s quite a trick, but necessary to handle the dichotomy of generating enough confidence to write and complete something, and enough scepticism to edit it effectively.
You need to have beta readers who are honest with you. And you need to be honest with yourself.
Sometimes though, even this has limits. I knew I had a particular problem with this novel – a nut I couldn’t crack – so I sought outside help.
Over the weekend, I received an editorial report on my novel (not from my regular short story editor, but from one that specialises in manuscript appraisal whom I had engaged previously).
These things are always tough to read.
The standard advice is to read them once, not lingering on any particular part, then leave them in a drawer for a day or two. When you have subconsciously digested some of its findings, you will take it out again and read it closely.
When you have taken it all in, and finished turning the air blue, you can start sketching out a plan of attack. I specifically asked the editor not to sugar-coat it, but to be forthright about the flaws, and not feel the need to pepper the report with false positives to make me feel better.
It’s clear my novel needs considerable work, but I think if I can address the concerns raised, I could have something really strong on my hands.
It was a classic case of a beginning writer biting off more than they can chew, without even realising it.
I have seven main characters in a standard-length historical novel. You will notice that most novels will have one main character, two or three at a stretch. There is good reason for this.
The reader has less opportunity to get to know the characters, and the writer has to work really hard to achieve the requisite level of engagement in the restricted space afforded.
There are additional complications with all of the characters starting in different locations, their respective narrative strands only gradually weaving together, and the whole story being spread over a twelve-year period.
Finally, the action revolves around a war that readers haven’t heard of in a setting they are unfamiliar with.
That’s a lot for a new writer to take on, and I was certainly less skilled in the summer of 2006 when I first started working on it.
I believe I have grown considerably as a writer since. While the task ahead of me is daunting, I do think the novel is salvageable.
The report has given me a couple of pointers, and I’ll think about this properly when I read it again tomorrow, but I’m keen to get to work on this pretty soon.
That’s got to be a good sign.
And when I am done – however long it takes – I will be able to publish it, stand behind, and say proudly: this is my best work.