My Self-Publishing Adventure Episode Eleven – A Summary of What I’ve Discovered
I began work on the story several years ago when I still had a day job, working on it at night and on weekends, seldom drafting more than a chapter each month. Often, not even that. This was not getting the job done, so as soon as I could, I left my job. I had to work my ass off and kiss a lot of others, but I got promotions and eventually qualified for early retirement and a pension I was fairly sure I could live on. I said ‘thank you’ to my former employer (well, I said good-bye, anyway), and I escaped from the land of PowerPoint presentations and office cubicles. Now I could devote more time to writing, and I did.
Within three or four months, I drafted the final chapter of what ended up being a 240,000-word tome. It was a great story. I thought so, at least, and I still do.
Before I submitted any queries, I researched what publishers were looking for. To my dismay, my masterpiece did not meet specs. It was far too long for a traditional publisher to consider, so I started cutting. I eliminated scenes and subplots. I cut out exposition. Anything that could be removed without sacrificing the central story or characters was slashed. I changed the prose to make sure every remaining scene was written as succinctly as possible (unlike this blog post).
I was left with about 170,000 words. Still too long for a first novel, I thought. The book had four distinct acts, so I broke it after the second act and made it into two 85,000-word novels. This also did not meet publisher requirements because I understood they wanted novels between 100,000 and 140,000 words. I couldn’t get there without either padding each of the two parts or cutting out things from the combined work that I thought were essential to provide readers with a satisfying story.
While I was struggling with this, I joined a writers’ group and learned more about what publishers were looking for and about something else — self-publishing. I had never considered this before, but the more I looked into it, the more I came to believe that my story was perfect for self-publishing. To be more honest, I suspected even more strongly that my story would not suit a traditional publisher. In addition to the length issue, it was cross-genre between science fiction and fantasy but not ‘science fantasy’ like Star Wars. It was pure science fiction but in a primarily low-tech setting, and it was humorous. This made it different and therefore risky from a financial point of view. Publishing professionals may claim to be looking for something different, but the only way they can predict what will sell is based on what has sold before. My book was not like any I knew of at the time, so I held out little hope that anyone in the traditional publishing industry would take a chance on it. Because of this, I decided not to search for an agent or a traditional publisher. I would publish the work myself. Self-publishing became my first choice.
Don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is easy. If you want to put out a quality product, it’s not. You create your story the same way traditionally published authors do with thousands of hours spent on research and creative development. Self-published authors, however, are also responsible for all editing, cover development, formatting, promotion, marketing, and distribution. I’ve written separate posts on these so I won’t belabor them here, but all of these things are tough and require more time and money than you might imagine. And even after you have done all of this, you may still end up with a final product that is a good story, but still not up to ‘professional’ standards. Let’s face it; a self-published writer is only one person. Even if they write an exceptional novel, chances are they are less than expert in some other necessary area, be that editing, cover design, or whatever. Traditional publishers have teams of experienced professionals to take care of these things. Self-published authors do not. If a writer is rich and lucky, he or she might be able to find and hire qualified professionals for all of these tasks, but I doubt many of us are able to do so.
Getting back to my personal experience, I slogged through most of this. I spent a couple hundred dollars on a professional cover artist, but I was dissatisfied with the result and ended up doing the covers myself. I found a professional editor, but really got back little except something like, ‘looks good to me.’ Formatting wasn’t too tough, although it took a few tries to get it right. I’m still lost when it comes to marketing and promotion, and I’m doing little of that. I didn’t quit my day job in order to sell stuff. I did it so I could write, so that is what I’m spending most of my time on, trusting that a few people will find my books on Amazon and be interested enough to read them and, once they do, like them enough to tell others.
I published my first novel myself as both a single work titled Defying Fate and as two separate books, The Warden Threat and The Warden War. The combined story was still too long to make it available at a reasonable cost (which my frugal mind equates to less than $10 for the paperback), so I decided Defying Fate would be offered as a Kindle exclusive. The Warden books could be produced separately as paperbacks for less than $10 per copy, so I published them through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The e-books are outselling the paperbacks better than ten to one.
So, what have I discovered on my self-publishing adventure? What have I concluded? The first and most important is that self-publishing is hard, harder than you probably imagine. It saps your time and your energy, and it can be extremely frustrating. I’ve also learned that I can do it, but now that I’ve proven that to myself, I hope never to have to do it again.
Difficulty is not my primary reason for seeking traditional publication for my future work, though. Last Friday, a former coworker asked me casually if I had anything ‘really’ published yet. Really published? Yes, damn it! I worked my ass off and published two books by myself! And they’re f…ing good! Read the f…ing reviews! That’s what I thought. What I said was far more sedate.
The fact remains that most people don’t consider a self-published novel as truly published. It lacks legitimacy. It lacks a professional publisher’s stamp of approval. This may be unfair and unjustified, but this is what people think, and this is why I will seek traditional publication in the future.
I completed the first draft of my third book, Amy’s Pendant, in April. It is a Young Adult science fiction novel of about 74,000 words and therefore more in line with traditional publisher expectations than Defying Fate. I discovered three publishers that accept unagented submissions, and I sent queries to them. I’ve heard back from one. A rejection. I’m waiting to hear from the other two. If these are also rejections, I’ll start trying to find an agent.
I’m currently drafting my fourth book. It is another adult oriented novel and a sequel to The Warden War. When it is completed some time next year, I’ll send queries to agents and publishers. I believe my stories are good and I believe there are readers who will enjoy them. I hope to find a traditional publisher or agent willing to take a risk on me and to help me perfect and share what I’ve written. If I have no luck, I’ll self-publish if I must to make my stories available to those who like them, but it won’t be my first choice again.
My Self Publishing Adventure