Over the past few weeks I’ve talked about the pros and cons of both traditional and indie publishing, what’s really involved in self-publishing, and what you can get away without. This week, I’m going over the things NOT to do if you’ve decided to self-publish.
Don’t Publish Your First Draft
I’m sure most of you know this already, but let me just reiterate… DO NOT PUBLISH A FIRST DRAFT. First drafts are messy, riddled with both grammatical errors and structural problems. They’re great for building off of, but they are not for displaying. At least in the vast majority of cases. I’m sure there are authors who edit as they go or something like that and put out really “clean” first drafts, but the average first draft is not of a high enough caliber to publish confidently. Definitely take the time to edit your book until it’s something you truly feel you can be proud to share. And even if you’re a younger writer and your best isn’t equal to the best of a more experienced writer, that’s okay. Just make sure that you’ve put in as much effort as you can to put out a quality book.
Don’t Give a First Draft to an Editor
As I said in a past post, it’s not an editor’s job to fix all your messes. “That giant mess is your job; the editor is to catch the issues you only don’t notice because you wrote it and you know things the reader doesn’t.” Before giving your story to an editor, make it the best you can on your own and maybe work with beta readers. Fix as many problems as you can on your own, and then give it to an editor to catch things you missed, whether because you’re too close to the story or because there are things you haven’t learned yet. (And hiring an editor can be a great learning experience!)
Don’t Leap Into Editing Blindly
When you do hire an editor, don’t do it without looking into options and communicating with the editor you want to work with. When I was first intending to publish a novel in early 2018, I hired the first editor who offered to work with me and didn’t communicate with her what I was expecting. I ended up with a copy-editor rather than a developmental editor, so she fixed up the words but the story itself was still a disaster. (She did an excellent job of copy-editing, and I don’t place any blame on her.) When looking for an editor, you should know what sort of editing you’re looking for (developmental, line-editing, or copy-editing) and you should make sure your editor works with your genre. Most editors will offer a free sample of their work, which will help both of you sort out whether or not you’re a good fit.
Don’t Make Your Own Cover
This is more of a general rule thing than an absolute. (I guess all of these things are, really, but this one in particular.) Most writers are not graphic designers or artists. I’ve also known a good number who are, but they’re not the majority. Most writers don’t have the skill to make professional-level covers (myself included), and sub-par covers attract less attention than professional-caliber covers. So if you want your book to look as good as it can, I’d recommend hiring a professional cover designer to make you a high-caliber cover.
BONUS: I also don’t recommend getting covers featuring people unless the characters are part of original artwork. They almost always look forced onto the cover and less professional. (Or maybe that’s a personal preference thing; I know a lot of people get covers like this. But I generally steer clear of books with this style of cover because they look unprofessional to me. So I don’t know. It could be personal taste.)
Don’t Announce Publishing Plans Until You’re Sure
Another mistake I made with my novel in 2018 (House of Mages) was announcing that I was publishing when I was still on the first or second draft. After that announcement, I went through a stage of despising my draft, made a myriad of mistakes in the editing process, had no timeline to follow, bought a cover too early… Just… don’t announce your intentions to publish until you’re confident in the quality of your work and you have a plan in place for getting it to the final stage. I can’t tell you exactly when this will be; with some books it could be the fourth draft, with others it could be the thirty-second (and no, I’m not exaggerating). But be sure you’re confident in your work and it’s not only book-baby love from a just-finished book before you announce publication plans.
BONUS: Don’t buy a cover until you’re sure you’re publishing, either. If you change your mind and already have a cover, that cover will sit around unused unless and until you pick the book back up later, and chances are the cover won’t even fit anymore by the time you’re done with a reboot of your book.
Publishing is a long, long process. It gets faster the more you do it and learn what process works best for you, I’d imagine, but it still takes a while, and there are often unforeseen setbacks. If you try to rush through publishing, you’re going to miss things, you’re going to cut corners, and you’re not going to put out the best-quality product you could. I’m not saying your book should–or can–be perfect, but you don’t want it to be thrown together, either. So take your time. Learn the lessons along the way. Enjoy the process. And then, when you get to the moment of publication, you can be proud of all the work you’ve done and the quality of your work.
And that’s a wrap on this series! What did you find most helpful? Was there anything you’d like to read about in more detail? Let me know in the comments!
Want to self-publish as professionally as possible? Sign up to my newsletter and download the self-publishing checklist!