Things I wish I knew when I started self-publishing

First, some background. I’ve been a technical writer for well over twenty years. Software manuals, online help, and so forth. It’s a form of writing that barely nudges the satisfaction index. In 2009, partly to preserve my sanity, I decided to write for fun. In that year, I penned what would become the first chapter of my first novel and posted it on Literotica. Several chapters later, I’d garnered enough of a favorable response that I thought I might be onto something.

In 2013, I took the plunge and posted my first novel on Amazon, followed by several others. Writing erotica is a hobby for me. I do it when I’m not working (and sometimes when I am) and in the quiet wee morning hours when most sensible people are not thinking about anything even vaguely erotic. It’s fun. I get to exercise a different part of my brain. I get to fantasize about sex. I put imaginary people in difficult situations. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to act out a scene with my unsuspecting partner. I write for myself and if others enjoy it, great. That said, I have to admit that some small deluded part of my soul hoped for fame (though notoriety would have been good too) and some small fortune. I’m probably not alone in that. After several years of doing this, fame/notoriety and fortune are still elusive. Which brings me to the things I wish I knew when I started…

You’re competing with free
Every day or so, Bookbub sends emails that usually contains a free title or two. Authors on Twitter and Facebook promote their freebies. If you felt like it, you could amble over to Amazon and choose from hundreds of free novels. Honestly, given the state of things, readers would never have to pay for a book ever again. (Disclosure: I do occasionally purchase novels, usually from writers I know and whose craft brings me pleasure, but my e-reader is also filled with freebies that I may or may not get to). And that’s the point: no one needs to buy anything anymore. In that context, any purchase of an indie title is a gift, a blessing, a small miracle, particularly given the fact that…

You’re competing with countless writers (a lot of whom are better than you)
Well, competing isn’t really the right word, but you get the point. There are countless writers of skill and accomplishment who nonetheless reside in the cellar of the Amazon’s sales ranking. Then there are the established bestselling authors with the weight of traditional publishing houses behind them. The fact is that there is a finite number of eyes and a seemingly infinite number of books (getting more seemingly infinite by the day because ebooks, unlike printed books, never go away). How’s an unknown indie writer to compete? In a word, you don’t. While indies occasionally pen massive best-sellers, that kind of success will probably elude you. Even if you publish regularly and build a small readership, you probably won’t be able to give up your day job. You write because you enjoy it and because you can’t not write. If you take a few readers along for an enjoyable ride, that’s probably as good as you can reasonably hope for, because…

Nothing you write precious
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your novel is the next undiscovered gem. Chances are, it isn’t. If you have several books under your belt, try this: re-read your first one. In all likelihood, you will encounter things that you wish you’d done differently. You may find mistakes. You might even be horrified. Time and experience has made your precious gem a cubic zirconia. The point is, you hone your craft with every book. Hopefully you get better. (My life as a tech writer taught me that no manual (or book) is ever finished, it’s just published). Once a book is published (warts and all), it’s out of your hands. Move on. Related to this point is that…

Your editors/beta readers are always right
Again, nothing you’ve written is precious. If you have any sense, you’ll recruit a number of readers to go through your masterwork before you publish (and even then, there will be mistakes). If you have money, you’ll hire an editor (and even then, there may be mistakes). If one reader stumbles on something you’ve written, others probably will as well. Change it. Only a fool ignores such comments. And even if you do all these things…

Some people will dislike your work (and there may be a good reason for it)
Praise is great. Five-star reviews are lovely. But crummy reviews have value as well. If you receive a review that complains about grammatical problems or you’ve triggered someone’s fragile sensibilities, take a deep breath, leave it for a couple of days to get over the inevitable fit of pique, and then read the review again. Don’t bother getting angry or resentful, because (trolls aside) there may be something to it. Like comments from editors and beta readers, you ignore bad reviews at your peril. Let the bad review inform your next work or consider re-publishing a new-and-improved edition.

It’s a slow painful process
Don’t be impatient. The world won’t come to an end if you don’t click Publish today. When you finish a book, leave it alone for a month or two. When you click Save for the last time, you’re probably so sick of the thing that you can’t look at it anymore. Start writing your next book. Read something from a writer who is more accomplished than you are. Then, if you have the stomach for it, read your draft over. Carefully. You’ll be amazed at what you find. You might be disgusted and scrap the entire project or you might impress yourself.

If and when you do click Publish, expect nothing and take the small successes with gratitude and grace.


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2 responses to “Things I wish I knew when I started self-publishing

  1. Great blog, KT! A must-read for every writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelly Aiden Scott

    Thank you so much for this. A nice dose of reality that I still found encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

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