My very first novel was self-published in early 2013. I recently removed it from Amazon (it had been enrolled in KDP Select). There are a lot of things I wish I had done with that book. Funny how hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? Sorta not really.
One good thing is that I’ve learned a lot from my experiences, and I’d like to share them with those of you considering going the self-publishing road.
That novel was a product of the 2012 NaNoWriMo. I finished 54,000 in about two weeks, and I was thrilled to have finally completed a novel. I’d tried and tried and tried to finish previous projects in years past, but never could quite make it. So thrilled, in fact, that I rushed through a lot of things that needed time and a little more of a delicate touch.
Lesson #1: Take time (lots of time if you need it) to rewrite and edit until your fingers and eyeballs bleed.
I think I was so excited to finally have a completed draft that I sort of skipped this part. I had done a lot of editing as I wrote, but I failed to take the time to let my manuscript sit for a while before coming back to it with fresh eyes. I was so eager to get my work out there that I didn’t bother really taking the time to edit my manuscript and go through it with a fine tooth comb. I ended up spending a lot of extra time once I had already self-published going through and re-editing parts. It created a lot of headaches down the road.
A great tip: once you’ve completed your first draft, take a break from your novel. At least a week, more if you need it. You’ll be able to come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes and a fresh mind, ready to catch mistakes, whether grammatical or plot-wise.
Lesson #2: Invest in an editor.
I know, I know. We’re writers, therefore we should be super beings when it comes to grammatical errors, plot holes and characterization, right? Wrong! Listen up, people. You’re a writer, not a jack of all trades. I know it’s easy to think that you can write, edit, and do all the formatting for your novel by yourself. Cut yourself some slack. We, as writers, need a second set of professional eyes to look at our manuscript.
Do, however, take the time to do your own round (I suggest 4 or 5 rounds, really) of editing for grammatical errors and typos once you’ve given your manuscript a rest for at least a week. Another great tip: comb through your manuscript in several mediums — computer screen, ebook (see this post on formatting your novel for ebook. If you have a Kindle, you can upload it to your account as a personal document and read it that way on your e-reader), paper. Another great way is to read your entire novel out loud. You’ll hear any clunky clauses or awkward wording that needs to be changed.
Lesson #3: Have someone help you format your novel for ebook if you don’t know how to do it.
If you’re computer savvy, take the time and really, I mean really learn how to do it. Read up on it as much as you can. If not, have someone help you. I can help you, if you’re desperate. I learned how to format documents in Microsoft Word simply by trial and error, and I mean lots of trials and even more errors. It was a constant battle. I’d think it was formatted correctly until it was uploaded to Amazon and then the stupid Table of Contents wouldn’t work in Kindle Previewer. Trust me, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and frustration if you learn how to do it properly the first time.
Lesson #4: Have someone design a cover for you.
This is another moment when we realize we are not jacks of all trades. A professional cover will truly make your book stand out. I’m fortunate that I have a sister who designed the cover for me for free, although we both missed that the title was misspelled on the spine, which brings me to my next lesson…
Lesson #5: Proofread and preview EVERYTHING. SERIOUSLY, EVERYTHING.
If you’re using CreateSpace for your paperback copies, you can buy proof copies for the cost of what it takes to print the book. Once you have a physical copy in your hands, go through it with your most critical eye. Seriously, look for ANY typos or errors. Really, really look over your cover to make sure it’s absolutely perfect. Really, really look through the entire thing. Don’t make your title available for purchase until you’re absolutely, positively, 100% sure it’s PERFECT. Nothing screams “I’m an amateur!” like having glaringly obvious mistakes and typographical errors. I truly mean this in the nicest way, but having a less-than-stellar book might really hurt your reputation as an author.
Have a friend or family member go through it for you. Hell, have several people proof it for you. Make sure you are completely happy with your book before you make it available. And take your time with it. I know you’re excited to finally have your work out there, but trust me on this. Don’t rush your work. Rushing only leads to more mistakes, which lead to more headaches.
I’m now writing my third novel, and currently have queries out to literary agents for my second book, Waiting for You.
I truly wish you the best of luck no matter which publishing road you travel. What lessons have you learned in your journey as a writer? I’d love to hear them in the comments!