I came out of the woods Monday morning to a few waiting questions in my various in-boxes. I noticed a theme: I just started writing my novel, and I’m curious about self-publishing.
When I wrote Finish the Damn Book, I made a special chapter in there about the realities of the publishing process. I wrote that chapter for a reason. The publishing process isn’t something that needs to be ignored, but it probably shouldn’t be the focus of your attention while drafting your first novel.
Now, I’m going to interject here, that when I was making my first attempt at writing a novel, publication was something that was on my mind. And I learned quite a bit about the process while trolling the Internet between writing sessions, so believe me, I know where you are coming from. I also don’t want to detract you from learning about this new industry that you are dipping your toes into, but the waters of self-publishing are much rougher than they appear on blog posts and testimonials (specially from companies that “help” authors self-publish, hehe).
In my opinion, you cannot learn to self-publish well without having a solid template to follow. Essentially, self-publishing is doing several things at once. First, you are taking the job of director over your entire book project. If that doesn’t seem daunting, then you likely haven’t researched enough yet. You are also starting your own business, so all of that garbage is included. You know? Taxes? Forms? Might think about hiring a CPA. Then what kind of business to form? How to design and test your cover design. Marketing. Social promotion. Business cards. Signings, talks, guest tours, speaking engagements. And who’s going to do the editing? Oh my!
Learning is good while you are drafting your first novel, and I totally recommend learning what you can when you can, but don’t let it interfere with your writing.
Learning can be Procrastination
While looking up some grammar tricks, like comma placement to control the reader’s breathing habits, can be super helpful, gathering info on publishing is a deep rabbit-hole that you should be careful around. It’s easy enough to get distracted during your writing time. Add to that some unresolved worry about final word count, agents to query, or how much money you might be able to budget for your self-pub cover, and you’ll have a mess in your head every time that you sit down to write.
I think all of us have a hungry semi-subconscious mind that likes the fiddle with puzzles while we’re trying to work on something else consciously. Mine seems to like math problems. My brain is constantly tabulating word counts and whispering things like, “You might want to put a chapter break in here at some point, getting a little long.” It will calculate price differences, and try to sort out fiddling problems where I’ve collected all the data, but it needs to be compiled and compared apples to apples. I could spend a whole day trying to figure out the best way to spend $10,000 on a book release, and strategies for raising that money.
When I say semi-subconscious, this is what I mean. Your conscious mind is where your focus would stay in a perfect world. The task at hand. The current project. Things within arm’s reach, like that first draft file on the laptop in front of you. Your subconscious is doing things like regulating your breathing and heart rate, as well as untangling some subtle mysteries that it has been tinkering with, which at any moment could produce some “ah-ha” moments with the right stimulation, that will secretly appear in your conscious mind. The semi-subconscious, at least as I’m using the term, is that place in the middle, meddling with ideas that shouldn’t be the primary focus, the stuff happening past arms-distance, but not on the other side of the planet. This is where procrastination is born.
This semi-subconscious can be annoying. It’ll remind you that the laundry needs to be done, there’s one dirty dish in the sink, that pesky lawnmower-boy is 2 days late showing up. Your brakes are wearing down. Next oil-change is getting close. It’ll provide you with a wonderful list of honey-dos to keep you busy enough that you won’t have any time to work on your novel today.
If you are exploring the self-pub rabbit hole, especially without understanding the basic points of traditional publishing, then your semi-subconscious is going to have a banquet of nagging questions that will need answering. You’ll spend more time hunting for those answers than you will on your novel, and then what? You never finish your damn book!
But, Learning is Good!
Yes it is. And it’s normal to utilize the wonderful Internet to answer many of those newcomer questions that you’ll have on your journey, from how to properly use a semicolon, to why you would want to, to word counts, to cheap advertising ideas. But you have to buffer all of this learning.
When I started writing seriously, I learned really quick that I needed to get my actual writing time in first, and then go looking for answers. That probably helped to shape my viewpoint of “drafting fast.” I started with time limits, say 1/2 hour of physical writing time actually punching keys before any Internet searches. And all searching had to be time limited until the writing session was over. Now I go by word counts.
Keep your queries basic at this point. Don’t try to figure out publishing in an afternoon. Trust me, it isn’t going to happen. Maybe just do one little nugget. Search for an agent, just to see if you can find one (that will teach you how to hunt for others). Check out my resources page, and have a look around for general writing tips. Watch a writing video or podcast (but not too many!)
But don’t let the quest for self-pub strategy consume your nascent writing career. Just like you novel, chip away a bit here or there. Find one little piece of writing wisdom, and then get right back to the storying. After all, what good is all that knowledge, if you end up losing steam halfway through your novel? What if you had spent that time daydreaming about your characters instead of having bestselling authors ask for your autograph? The more focused you are on your STORY, the better your odds of making it to the publishing step. So as always, learn a little when you can, ideally every day, but stick on your story like a detective stalking a killer to bring him to justice. If the story is your compass, then you can’t really go wrong. Make it as awesome as possible, everything else is secondary.
And on that secondary note, learn how trade publishing works. You can self-publish if you want, that’s fine. But make an actual decision to do it by knowing the other options that are out there, and what the real trade-offs are. Compare how much work Harper-Collins puts into a book versus how much you will put into getting yours on the shelf. Learn the big-company method for going from manuscript to novel, then (if you still want to self-pub) scale it down to your book. And definitely learn what Vanity-Press Publishers are. Stay away from that Kool-Aid.
Best of luck to you.