What 5 things have I learned from Self-publishing?
Now that’s a question that could have a short answer and it could have a long answer. So, let’s see where this takes us.
The very first thing I learned was that I was in for a huge, I mean really huge disappointment, because I was terribly naïve, short-sighted and ill-prepared for what lay ahead of me. They don’t call it “The Vanity Press” for no reason. The fact that I was just plain lucky to have happened upon one of the premiere self-publishing companies in the world, did not mean that I had a clue about what needed to happen after I sent them my manuscript.
I have always been a dreamer. The one issue that came up repeatedly in the parent-teacher conferences of my youth was that I was a day-dreamer. The reality of school held no interest for me. Apparently, a certain dose of that has endured. I had visions of the first people to read my book spreading the word far and wide about what an amazing read Dear Mom and Dad, was.
Here was where I should have remembered a lesson I learned long ago. If something you do is good, if you do something worthy of notice, people will tell others, but only a few close acquaintances. On the other hand, if you screw up, make a fool of yourself, do something shameful the same people who were so careful to spread good news; those same people will tell everybody they come in contact with. Therefore, in this case, since it was rather good, very few people outside of my immediate circle of friends ever heard about it.
Lesson #1 then is be prepared for disappointments and criticism. They are inevitable but not insurmountable. You can’t be “thin skinned” as Granny used to say.
The manuscript isn’t the only thing that requires preparation. You need a plan and for that plan to work you need realistic assessments of what it’s going to take to make your baby a best-selling winner. You need to know where you are going with the effort and what you want readers to absorb and remember. When I started writing Dear Mom and Dad, I had no outline. I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish and after one chapter I realized that I wasn’t accomplishing a thing. So I stopped writing and spent nearly a month creating an outline. This is something that any author needs to do but it’s really critical for a self-published author.
Lesson #2 was, have an outline. Know where, and why you are going with your book.
The next thing I learned is that I was not prepared for the investment I was going to have to make beyond getting my book published. The investment for that turned out to be a drop in the bucket. If I’m honest here I will tell you that I guess, I thought I was going to sell a million copies after a measly $2,100 investment. If I had really thought it through I would have researched what a major publisher invests in publicity when it takes on a new book project. With what I know now I imagine that an investment of that kind is far beyond what most self-publishing authors are prepared to spend.
Lesson #3 then is it takes more than a couple of thousand dollars to make a book a best seller.
The fourth thing I learned about self-publishing is that it takes perseverance. Even with a big investment it will take time for the seed money to germinate. The more specialized your subject matter is, the longer it will take. Self-publishing is another way of saying self-promotion. What I should have remembered was something I heard the late Dr. Wayne Dyer talk about what he had to do to get his first book on the book shelves and in the hands of buyers. He would go into a book store and ask if they had the book without telling them who he was. When they said, “No, they didn’t have it.” He would introduce himself and tell them he just happened to have a box of books in his car. Then he called the publisher to find out when the next printing was scheduled and they said it wasn’t, he asked why not, since they were sold out and he knew they were because he had bought them all himself.
Admittedly things are a bit different than they were in the early ‘60s but the principle remains.
Lesson #4? Hang in there Cupcake. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
There is never ever going to be a consistent substitute for hard work. Writing is hard work for most of us and the hardest part of it is actually sitting down to do it. And, once you do the next hardest thing is to stay on message. We all tend to think that what we have to say is so important that however long it takes is how long it’s going to take. When I was finished with the original draft of Dear Mom and Dad, it filled a 2-inch binder completely. Published in that form would have meant a 700-plus page book. Cutting into my baby was tough because, after all, what I had to say was important. Of course it was … Cupcake. However, brevity being the soul of wit is also the soul of making your point effective. I lost track of how many times I edited that original version to get it down to the 270 pages which eventually went to the printer.
If you are self-publishing and you really want a polished product a professional editor can be a big help when it comes to punctuation and style. But if you’re like me and working on a shoe string budget that may not be doable. If you have a good friend who happens to be a journalism/professional editor like I did, don’t hesitate to ask. For me it was a Godsend because Linda Talley-Branch was not only my friend but had been one of my late wife’s best friends and knew us and our relationship well enough to make some very important edits and suggestions.
Lesson #5 summarized: It’s hard work to edit/refine your own work, but staying on message is critical.
I learned a lot more than these five things but they are the most important … especially if one is writing about one’s self. So … don’t just read … WRITE!!!