In 2011 I made the decision to self publish my novel to a resounding failure. What went wrong, what could I have done better, and what did I learn along the way?
- Self-doubt is real- In the immediate aftermath of failing at any dream, your mind will reel with self-doubt. A lot of negative thoughts will hit you at once and you’ll find yourself wanting to give up. Don’t do it.
- Ignore the Comments- Not everyone is going to like your work and the reasons why are often personal– in the words of RuPaul, what other people think of me is none of my business… use this to your advantage.
- Perfectionism is a fool’s errand- Perfectionism is this shiny little notion that you can create something universally beloved, yet even things that are loved by tons of people, have haters. Nothing is universal. There are things I have disliked or (won’t even try to read/watch) simply because EVERYONE is obsessed with it and I just get sick of hearing about it. It’s not personal, people just have different tastes.
- Marketing is imperative (readers won’t just find you)- Just because you wrote an amazing book, doesn’t mean readers will just magically flock to it. Word of mouth is a great promotional tool, but you can’t depend solely on your friends telling other friends and hoping everything will just fall into place. Sometimes you have to be willing to put yourself out there more. There are plenty of writing blogs that feature other authors, magazines to publish essays or excerpts, Facebook groups, and forums to show off your work. Use these tools to grow your brand and get people to find you.
- Utilize your social media – I have a confession, I kind of hate social media most of the time. But I use it because it’s the way in which you get your message to a wider audience. Hashtags are your friend; a lot of writers aren’t the biggest fans of social media, but if you’ve managed to cultivate some type of platform, it might be a good idea to keep that going and use it to your advantage- if you’re not sure how to do to something do your research (but more on that later).
- If you don’t like it, why should anyone else? – I didn’t really like the version of the novel that I actually self published. But I was so sick of editing and re-writing that I just thought, screw it, and went with it anyway. Sure there were some who loved it, but my not loving it made me weary to even try to promote it and ultimately it just died in limbo because of it.
- RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH- There is admittedly, a learning curve to publishing yourself, from marketing, to what your process should be, where to go and what editor/designer you should contact to help you. Research is 100% necessary. The great thing about the internet is anything can be found at any time and about any subject. If you have questions, chances are you’re not alone. Google is your friend; if someone you trust talks about someone they went to for an editing service maybe look into it.
- Conflicting Advice- The negative to the above approach is of course, that not everyone will agree on what is and isn’t the right way to go when it comes to self publishing– so you may need to try and find a consensus or check the pros and cons for yourself. Not everyone’s journey will apply to you and that’s okay.
- If you look at it as a last resort, that’s not the best attitude to approach it with– One big mistake I made, was looking at self publishing as sort of a… well everything else failed, what have I got to lose? mentality. Going into self publishing with a defeated attitude almost guarantees it’s not going to go well. Why would it? It goes back to point 6. If I don’t like it, why should anyone else?
- Success is how you define it and it takes time- Patience is a virtue that I don’t often have. Especially when it comes to my work. I’ve worked hard for over a decade to get to where I am today, but my successes thus far don’t look quite how I’d imagined them in my youth. But that’s okay. That doesn’t minimize my success. It’s important to be able to recognize that it takes time and ultimately it’s okay to re-evaluate what you consider to be success.
- Don’t compare yourself to others, their road is not your road- Around the time of my self publishing journey, a good friend I’d met through blogging was also self publishing her novel. She had randomly decided to write it out of boredom and self published it to a considerable amount of success roughly six months to a year later. I was happy for her, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous at the time. I had been working for years, how could she just swoop in and be great? The problem is, her path isn’t my path, and my path isn’t hers. She put in the work. She joined a writing group, made friends with bookstores, and actively campaigned to get her book into spaces where I just sort of hummed about it. She was successful because even though I had been working longer, she worked smarter. Success isn’t about how long you do something it’s about doing it well, and putting in the effort and not being afraid to take chances.
- The worst someone can say is no- There’s a good chance you’ll hear this a lot if you’ve been in writing for any length of time. I’ve been rejected by multiple agents, multiple times, and though it can be difficult to hear, it’s good practice for other avenues where you may hear no a lot. It’s okay. If a bookstore doesn’t want to put your book up that’s okay. If someone doesn’t want to host a signing or write a review, that’s not the end of the world. It never hurts to ask.
- Leverage your contacts- I happen to be friends with an amazing artist, so when I decided to self publish I decided to ask her for her help in creating the cover art. I was also friends with a brilliant editor who was able to edit my book too. Ask around, and leverage whatever contacts you find… self publishing can be pricey and if you have a friend who is willing to help you for a more modest fee or even for a returned favor, it’s a good idea to utilize this.
- Don’t let one failed book stop you- It’s easy to be intimidated by the failure. There’s a part of you that feels like this is a sign, maybe I’m not cut out for this/meant to do this, but don’t let one failure stop you from your dreams. As J.K.Rowling pointed out, failure is inevitable.
- Invest in yourself and in your work- If you’re lucky enough to have any kind of financial success put no less than 50% back into your work, into marketing, blog ads, Facebook ads, Instagram whatever you can afford. The more you market the book the better your success, your earnings should go to your work more than you.
- You can’t know everything- Even if you do everything right, or think you did, failure still is apart of life. It’s better to have failed than not to have ever tried.
- LEARN- You may not succeed the way you think you ought to. Learn from it. What went wrong? How can you do better? Every mistake, every misstep is a possibility for learning and success in the future.
- Bonus: Two things… you can submit your book to Publishers Weekly for review before it comes out– also through KDP and CreateSpace you can create a pre-order for your book up to 3 weeks before launch, and create buzz for your project.
At the time, I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was making the right decisions, and following the path to success, but in hindsight I can see that there was a lot I got wrong, and a lot I’ve learned since. Failure is still always a possibility, but only if you don’t learn from your mistakes.