So you can take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve had four writers ask me about self-publishing in the last week. All four of these writers have recently completed or are completing their very first novel. All four of them have self-publishing floating around as an option or they have decided to go with it for sure. Some of these writers seemed fed up with the state of legacy (traditional) publishers these days. Some of these writers specifically asked for my honest opinion.
My honest opinion is that everybody is different, but if you’re considering self-publishing your first and only book so far, it might be a bad idea. Unless you’re 83 or dying of cancer and you seriously don’t have much time to write more books or try to publish another way, self-publishing your first book just seems crazy to me. Here’s some of the things you should consider.
The Long Haul
You’re in this for the long haul, right? You’re going to write more books, right? Then write some of them first before jumping into an irreversible state. Sure, you can fix typos and other problems fairly easily (although sometimes it can cost you…), but once people have read your work, you’ve established yourself. That book is up on Amazon forever as soon as there is one sale. Even if you unpublish it, the cover is at least still there to view (if you publish in print, not just eBook), as well as your name and all the book reviews. Goodreads won’t let you delete your book if there’s more than a certain number of reviews. Forever. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but my first book sucked. Yours is probably five billion times better than my first one, but I’ll tell you one thing – those valuable lessons I learned about writing and publishing in between the time I wrote my second and fourth – unbelievable. Sure glad I didn’t jump in too soon. I self-published my fourth book, by the way. It was only at that point I truly felt ready in all respects.
When you do finally publish, stuff happens fast. All of a sudden you have even less time to write and work on more books than you did before. All of a sudden everything changes. Completely. Your emotional state is different. Your time changes. Your priorities change. Even in traditional publishing, it’s a good idea to have more than one book lined up ready to go. If you can crank out perfect books in 2 – 3 months, I’m seriously impressed. If you’re like me and it takes months and months to write a complete novel (not including edits and most revisions), then you should probably have some more books ready. This is, of course, assuming that you want your career moving at a steady pace. Most successful authors are successful because they keep publishing one book after another. That’s what can “make” you as an author. Some authors seem to be lucky to make it big off their debut and people somehow remember them even if they take 5 years to write the next book, but those authors do seem few and far between, and there’s usually a lot of marketing and money behind all of that.
I think it’s important to have a nice plan in place before you publish. It’s so very, very exciting to put your book out there, but have you planned what comes after that? Publishing is a career, or at least most writers see it that way. If you have a plan, is publishing other books in that plan? If so, do you have plans for them? Are they at least drafted? Have you made plans for taxes, long-term marketing and publishing budget, setting up a legal business, your website? Readers love to know when your next book is coming out, and wouldn’t it be nice to put that in the back of the first book you put out so you can try and guarantee an established audience who’s going to buy all of your work because they know they can expect more to come out soon?
Honestly, I didn’t think a lot about this stuff when I self-published Cinders. I sure wish I had. But I’m glad I at least knew Cinders was the right book to publish at the time, and I don’t regret it for one second. It just would have been nice if I’d had more of a plan for other books to come after that one. I’m also very lucky and glad that I had other books written by the time I published Monarch. Now I have three books coming out in three years and that’s comforting. But guess what? I’m still stressing out about that fourth book – the one I haven’t written yet, nor have any idea what it will be about. But it’s nice to know I have time to write it now while other books are coming out.
I think the biggest mistake writers make is thinking that they’re running out of time. They get really antsy. They watch their birthdays slide by one after the other and they’re still not published. The truth is that, yes, publishing can take a very, very long time. Especially traditional publishing. It’s kind of insane how long it can take, so it’s depressing, absolutely. But I also think that it isn’t a bad thing to publish later than sooner. In the end, a few years probably won’t make that much of a difference in your career. It’s still going to take you as long to write books, right? So get some ready first and then publish them in a way that gets them in front of your readers at a good pace. If you’re traditionally publishing, it’s a great idea to write books while you’re querying or on submission and waiting.
And, of course, this is all just my opinion and you can wave your hand at me and say, “Bah!” Some of my good author friends did self-publish their first and only book, and they’re doing just fine as far as I know. I also know this post falls into the “advice people just choose not to take” category, which is fine, too. Still, I like to put this out there because it’s nice to share what I’ve learned, at least. But if you ask me if you should self-publish your first-ever novel, these are the things I’m going to tell you. I’m also going to direct you to these posts:
My Little Revision Secret (if you’re dying to see your first little baby in print, this might be a good solution instead of self-publishing)
Then If That Fails, I’ll Self Publish (a post with my thoughts on self-publishing for the wrong reasons)