It took me a long time to embrace the label of “author”. As in, I probably had eight or nine published books out there before I stopped mumbling about my accomplishments when asked, and started answering with a sense of confidence and joy.
Since November 2011, I’ve published 25 novels/novellas/short stories under 3 pen names. I’ve completed three series. I’ve sold over 10,000 books, and had tens of thousands more downloaded for free. The craziest part of it is that I’ve done it all on my own (with help from very talented cover designers, editors, and beta readers, of course). I’m the captain of my own publishing ship- which is scary and exhilarating all at the same time.
So it’s come as no surprise to me that as more people understand what I’ve done and observe my (very) modest success, they’ve started to ask me questions on how to do what I’ve done. In my early days, when I was looking at the steps for self-publishing, I read every blog and forum post on the topic, devoured the few books that were there, and prowled the internet for every resource I could find. These days, there are a lot more people who have self-published, and a lot more info to be had. Still, it’s nice to be able to be able to talk to someone who has first-hand experience directly.
I could talk about this stuff until the cows come home. Seriously. I have an enormous stash of info in my head of what I’ve learned, what’s been successful, what I’d do differently, and what I’m planning to do next. (What’s the next stage of my career based on what I know today kind of stuff.) I believe I can literally drown someone in the details.
I have one qualifying question though before I launch into all of that. Because no matter what, it is truly Step 1 for any journey down the self-publishing path:
Have you finished writing the thing you want to sell?
99% of the time, I’ve found that the answer is “No”.
Then the next thing they’ll say though is “I really just want to know about the process”.
Here’s the thing. The process will never get off the ground unless you have a finished manuscript to work with. Again- I can drown you in lists and resources of what you can do to package up your work, how to get it uploaded to the various retailers, and some insights on marketing and promotion. I have a whole host of tips and tricks around what to do and what not to do. But all of that is meaningless without something tangible to sell.
In fact, I think focusing on the publishing process before you have finished your writing project can be detrimental to the whole thing for a few different reasons:
- It gives you a reason to procrastinate. Hey, I’m a writer. I find that I will give myself almost any excuse not to sit down and get my words in. I’m a freakin expert at that. Don’t give yourself a shiny new object that takes your eyes off the end goal: finishing the story.
- It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Google “Self-publishing” and do a little scrolling. Everyone has something to say on this topic- whether they’ve actually done it or not. Everyone’s an expert. It’s really hard to separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, or spot the people out there trying to shill stuff to newbies who don’t know any better. The process can feel big and scary and hard the first time around (and I’m not lying- it is). But, it’s a whole lot easier to navigate when you have a finished manuscript in hand.
- It’s easy to get discouraged. Once you start reading about the mountain of work that is required to self-publish, the self-loathing that sets in with your first bad reviews, and the amount of time that is spent trying to get eyeballs on your work, you’ll likely want to throw your hands up and give up. (Been there too.)
- You’re delaying the experience of typing “The End”. There’s nothing like it, and I still get goosebumps when I type those words on any of my manuscripts. People are in such a rush to publish that they forget the joy that comes from being a storyteller. You miss out on the amazing rush that comes from being a creator. It’s heady and very cool, and you’ll want to enjoy every second of those moments with your characters before you hand them over to the world.
So net net, here’s the best piece of advice I can give you if you want to publish a book.
Finish it first.
Worry about the publishing process later.