A little over a year ago, I published–with much fear and trembling–my broken fairy tale collection, Shattered. (I felt sick to my stomach after I clicked the Publish button. If it hadn’t been for the fact I’d had other people working with me on it, I’d have unpublished it within the first few minutes.)
Since that time, I’ve gone on to self-publish a few more books and made some mistakes along the way (which I did so you don’t have to!). So, without further ado, I present my top 3 self-publishing mistakes (cue the trumpets).
The Downside of Diversifying
Earlier in the year, I talked about putting my eggs into lots of little baskets rather than the one big one (*cough* Amazon*cough*). To that end, I’ve started serializing my science fantasy novel, Quartz, and written short stories for specific anthologies and magazines. Unfortunately, this meant that I haven’t published an e-book since the launch of Mourning Cloak, at the end of January. Once Mourning Cloak fell off the recent releases lists on Amazon, sales dried up (Ouch, April. Ouch.)
Solution: I should be publishing an e-book (novel, novella, short story, collection) every 2-3 months. Right now, I’m working on a follow-up to Shattered. The fairy tales I’m breaking? Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid.
Scared of Sequels
I’m not a sequel writer.
There, I said it.
I know, I know. I’m a fantasy writer. But still.
I write a novel or short story or novella and instead of reusing my world or my cast, I simply move on and build another world and cast from scratch. Barring a handful of short stories featuring the same character, I don’t do sequels.
But readers like sequels. They ask me for them. I’m thrilled that they’re so invested in my characters that they want more of their story, but I’m terrified of breaking the first story or disappointing my readers’ expectations.
That’s a block I need to get over.
Solution: I wrote the first draft (zero draft) of a follow-up novella to Mourning Cloak. I’m determined to get Ironhand into shape and out to the world by late summer/early fall. After that, I’m going to write Flare, the sequel to Quartz. Once the sequels are out of the way, then I’m going to give myself permission to play in a new world (looking at you, Riven!).
It’s a rare author who hits it out of the ballpark with their first book. In the indie world, especially, most writers are successful because of their big backlists.
I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I was tracking my raw first-draft numbers. They aren’t impressive.
Look, I’m going to be brave and post them up here:
- January: 5,661 words (really pathetic)
- February: 16,683 (much better)
- March: 13, 817 (okay, why’d I backslide here??)
- April: 15, 533 (and this after being sick and undisciplined for the first half of the month!)
- May: 10, 548 (better than January, in spite of going to a con, testing for school, and getting ready for vacation).
Ideally, I’d like to write 25K worth of raw first draft words a month (a half-NaNo).
Solution: All right, this is the tricky part, isn’t it. Sure there are all sorts of motivational tricks to get you writing, but what it all comes down to is this: How much of my other activities am I willing to give up to make this happen? How much is writing worth to me right now?
Is it worth giving up sleep over? Worth giving up the time I spend researching, thinking about, and doing school with my children? Worth giving up my RSS feed and Dr. Who episodes for?
It’s a decision that’ll be different for everyone. For me–well, I’ve done NaNo. I know what it is to breathe, eat, sleep your story. I know what it’s like to have it spin through your head constantly and how hard it is to emerge from the story zone. And that’s not what I want in my life right now. I have young kids who deserve a mom who’s not checked out for most of the day. I can give a few hours a day to writing, but I can’t let it take over my life like that.
Simply put, writing isn’t my day job. Mothering/homeschooling is. It’s within these limits that I need to work on increasing my productivity (which I’m not doing too badly with now that we’re back from Disney and it’s summer vacation).
What about you? If you’re a self-publisher, what mistakes have you made? What mistakes have you seen other self-publishers make?
Liana Mir says
1) Not taking the time to develop a backlist.
And I do mean taking the time. I tend to write short and no denying it, particularly when I haven’t finished a Liana Mir novel yet. It takes time writing to really get the hang of the different ebbs and flows of various writing lengths, and I wish I hadn’t pushed for simple production of complete pieces up front, but gone for more work, more scenes, longer pieces. I’m doing that NOW with this challenge, and I’ll be in a much stronger position to pull together books and collections soon.
2) Not developing a consistent writing habit right away.
By consistent, I don’t mean dates. I mean posting. I have never written every day. It’s just not my way. I’m a spurt worker in most senses of the word and require downtime, percolation, etc. to do any kind of work, even housecleaning, but in the long run, it makes me a whole lot more productive. When I got back into original fiction, I started with serials, which in hindsight didn’t really work because the audience/feedback really wasn’t there yet. This challenge reminded me a lot of how I managed to create a huge body of fanfiction last time I started back into that kind of writing in such a short amount of time. Feedback drove more story ideas.
Reading fanfiction begets writing fanfiction, so I find that scribbling tons of disparate bits and pieces in a world makes it a whole lot easier to write more in that world. Kingdoms and Thorn has exploded for no other reason than I wrote a single drabble and it caught pygmymuse’s fancy and then the character caught her and one comment led to another story and another and another.
That’s what I mean by consistent. When I started in fanfic, I posted several times a week, whenever it suited me and I had another chapter ready. And I was completely incapable of sitting on any chapter; it took more than a year before I even had patience to wait on a beta. Now with this challenge, the posting pressure is back and the feedback is sufficient to keep me going because no one story has to capture all my readers and because no one story has enough invested like a novel would for me to need more than a single comment or two to feel like someone enjoyed it.
3) Delaying picking a writing/publishing strategy.
The key to really getting started with this kind of work is to pick ONE thing and do that until you have a fan base, then once it’s steady and successful, branch out. I did the popcorn kitty thing for a long time in my seeking for a direction. It turned out this challenge has given me one. I now really know where I want to go with this stuff as soon as I can get the bigger work written and shorter works collated.
Thanks for sharing your tips and waymarkers. They helped me think about some things that figure into my current blueprint for moving forward. And I do want to move forward.
Congratulations and blessings on your own writing and that new collection!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Liana. We really have to work with our own processes instead of against them.
Liv Rancourt says
I’m not self-published, and as I’m building my backlist, I’d say my biggest challenge (and one I’ve made plenty of mistakes around) is finding the balance between writing and promotion. You can’t focus on one to the exclusion of the other, unfortunately.
I loved Shattered, and look forward to seeing your next set of stories!
I don’t do much promotion, mainly because I don’t quite know where or how. Advertizing costs money, commenting on forums and posts takes time, and finding reviewers is a huge task. So far, I’m focusing on building my readership slowly, one person at a time. Do you have any promotional tips that give good returns for the energy invested?
Suzanne Stengl says
I’ve only indie pubbed 3 books so far and I’m basically happy with the journey. My mistake (if I want to think of it that way) is marketing at the beginning. I’ve heard that you need to have at least 4 titles before you invest time in marketing. Having said that, it’s fun to send out occasional tweets. But I’m trying to hold off on promotion until I have more writing to sell.
As for self-pubbing in general, I encourage everyone to get Professional Edits. That is probably your biggest expense, even more so than your cover.
Congratulations on your publications! I’ve also heard the advice to get a good backlist up before doing any serious promotion. It makes sense to me.
Suzanne Stengl says
PS – I think I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. I am always SO impressed with any writer who has small children. I don’t know how you get ANYTHING done, let alone a huge word count.
Just enjoy the writing you do accomplish. The rest will come and the little guys grow up pretty fast!
Thanks, Suzanne. I’ve reconciled myself to a slow build. By the time my youngest is out of the nest, I should be able to ramp up my writing. 😀
Ellen Gregory says
It’s interesting to read about your journey, Rabia. I’m still deciding which way to go, but my productivity is ridiculously low. Until I can figure that out, I’m probably doomed. :-/
Definitely focus first on writing and finishing your stories, and enjoying the process!
Seth Swanson says
I haven’t gotten anything published yet. I’m hoping to change that in the next year, but I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of work ahead of me. I try and read as much as I can about the industry, the craft and the journey as much as possible, but I have no idea how things will play out for me. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll even get published traditionally. Good luck to you in your goals, and to everyone trying to make a story.
I agree–work on your craft and ENJOY the writing in these early years. The agent/publisher query-go-round or lack of sales (as an indie) can be a great drain on your emotional energy later down the road.
S.M. Hutchins says
Thank you for this assessment. It’s interesting to see your approach and what is working. Your word counts may feel low to you, but I say, “hooray!” because it’s a huge accomplishment to get any words on a page. Good luck with your works in progress!
Lisa Ahn says
I am grateful for the words you’ve put out there! And, as a fellow mom and homeschooling writer, I definitely get that push and pull feeling. I’m in the same place you are, right now, wanting to be present for my kids, wanting to write, trying to strike a balance. I don’t keep word counts, but I am sure yours are MUCH higher than mine would be, probably because I re-write each sentence 18.5 times!!
My wordcount for June is miserable. Been on vacation, been sick, been busy with camps and such. Ah well. Such is life. 🙂