Self-publishing is an awesome tool for writers. No longer are the Big Five publishers the gatekeepers of literature, filtering out fantastic books that will never see the light of day. The ability for anyone to publish anything is pretty neat.
So of course that means it's an ocean of wonderful prose waiting to be digested, right?
Yeah, self-publishing is a double-edged sword. There's a LOT of crap out there. We all know this. It comes with the territory. Traditional publishing companies filtered out all of the poor writing for us, and now the firehose is open and gushing.
It should be easy to accept. You've gotta take the bad with the good, right? But there are aspects of the self-publishing industry that frustrate me to no end, and I'm going to rant about them.
Self-publishing is not a shortcut. You don't get to write a manuscript, upload it to Kindle, and call it a day. If you do this, you are an asshole, watering down the collective group and making the rest of us look bad.
So you've written a manuscript. Neat! What should the self-publishing process look like from this point?
- REST. You need to let the manuscript 'rest', which means tucking it away somewhere and letting your brain forget it. Because you're going to need fresh eyes when you...
- EDIT. This should be obvious, but too many just skip this step. Yes, you need to edit your book. Your first draft SUCKS. That's okay. It's supposed to suck. The first draft is to tell yourself the story. The subsequent drafts are to help tell the story to the reader. Go through it from start to finish, analyzing the story, the flow, the sentence and paragraph structure. Typos too, but those aren't as important as the rest. At a minimum, you need to edit until you have a second draft that's far different from the first, and in reality it should be more like three of four.
- BETA READ. So by the third or fourth draft, your story is feeling pretty good. That means it's ready, right? NOPE. Your own opinion is biased. You need to get some fresh eyes on it, because what makes sense to you probably doesn't make sense to the reader. You need at least three people to read your draft, and point out:
- What excited them
- What bored them
- What confused them
- EDITS. By now you should have a big list of things your beta readers pointed out. Plot holes, inconsistencies, general parts of the story that need to be redone or cut. That means it's time to edit again.
- BETA READ. If you had to make any major changes based on reader feedback, you're probably going to need another round of beta reading. Sometimes you can get away with simply sending the new parts back to your first beta readers, asking if they think the changes are good, but ideally you get a new group of beta readers together. Fresh eyes are best.
- EDITOR. When you're satisfied that your manuscript is clean, it's time to hire a professional editor. Most self-publishers skip this step, and it's arguably the most important one. Yes, you need an editor. No, you cannot do this yourself. Your book is not a blog post; it's an immense stack of words. There will be errors. It's impossible to edit your own work anywhere near the level a professional can. As a writer, your eyes will have a habit of sliding past your mistakes and typos. Our brains are made to do that. If you don't hire an editor, your work is going to be riddled with errors. It will stick out, and not in a good way.
- COVER. Time to do the stuff a publisher would normally take care of. Most importantly, the cover. People shouldn't judge a book by their cover, but they absolutely do. Yours needs to look professional. It doesn't have to be fancy; there are plenty of minimalist covers out there that look fantastic. But don't just slap something together in MSPaint because you're in a hurry to publish.
- DESIGN. Do you know how to format your book so that it looks flawless on a variety of devices? Are you creating a paperback version with Createspace or Ingramspark? What font are you using? There are wrong answers here. I've seen countless self-published work where the author didn't even bother to make sure the uploaded version was spaced properly on the Kindle. Spoiler alert: you probably can't just take your MSWord version and upload it directly to Amazon. Use a program like Scrivener. Do some research. Use a widely-accepted font, like Garamond. Don't be lazy.
"Post-Collapse went through three drafts, three beta readers, and one professional edit. I hired an artist, but turned the art into an actual cover on my own, which was a much longer and more difficult process than I'd anticipated.
"If you want a decent book, hire professionals, or be prepared to lose sleep. There may also be crying. But a final product you can be proud of is worth it. Anything else is a waste of time."
Not only is it a waste of your time as an author, but it's a waste of time for your readers. Nothing is more frustrating than picking up a book and realizing a few pages in, "The author half-assed this."
When this happens to me I put the book down, add the author to a mental list, and repeat the list to myself as I go to bed like Aryan goddamn Stark.
If you want to be able to boast, "I've written and published a novel," and you don't care about anything else beyond bragging rights, then yeah. Skip these steps. Upload your first draft and call it a day. But if you want readers to enjoy your work, and if you want to look as professional as the traditional publishing companies, it's not a mystery. It's not complex. It takes a lot of time, but it's easy if you're willing to put in the effort.
Self-publishing is not a shortcut. Please don't treat it like one.