I've moved to another two blogs, one on writing, and one on general stuff like this one. Please come visit! MY NEW BLOGS:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Self-Publishing a Novel: Some Thoughts

Let's face it: getting a novel signed to a publishing house can seem insurmountable, especially if what you're writing is a little out of the mainstream. Waiting for months is par for the course, even when you've signed with a good agent who is working his or her tail off. Once signed, you may be unpleasantly surprised at how little the publishing company seems to value your book: So-and-so Big Name Author is getting a ten city tour, and you're lucky if you can finagle a few extra books to send to local review sites. It doesn't help when you hear amazing success stories like Stephanie Meyer's (Twilight et al): she said she wrote this for fun, sent it to her sister to read, and six months later it was on its way to becoming a blockbuster.

In this amazing age of the internet and publishing options, it's tempting to think of doing it yourself, especially if you've gone through the traditional channels and can't seem to get traction. We've all heard the success stories of self-published books: The Christmas Box was written by Richard Evans as a sweet Christmas story he wanted to share with family and friends. Eragon was written by a 15 year old homeschooled kid for a project, and aggressively shopped around by his family. The Shack was another *inspiring* story written by William Young for friends and family. (BTW I have my own theological views on The Shack that diverge from many friends, but what can I say? I don't want to get into a debate now about this book).

So, to paraphrase Billy Coffey (waving), what have I learned about this process?

There are many nuts-and-bolts steps you can take to produce a self-published book, and I'll go over what I did on my own journey in future blogs. However, the most important thing I learned, that NO ONE seems to talk about, is before you start putting money down ask yourself:

Is My Novel Ready To Be Published???

You would be surprised. I happily support self-published authors, but have to admit that the quality of writing usually leaves much to be desired. These aren't fatal problems, but the author might need to cut about a fifth of the manuscript, put in better transitions, and write a satisfying ending. Even the biggies; have you read them? I saw the television movie The Christmas Box before I read the book; I found that the book meandered without the same satisfying and sharply cut story. Eragon seemed to be a take-off on Lord of the Rings, and gosh, it had a lot of excess verbiage. The Shack seemed to be better written, but even this wasn't so much of a story as a philosophical conversation.

In other words, I'd argue that just maybe they weren't quite up to a publisher's standard? In my opinion, these books took off because they all had a great premise, even though the writing left much to be desired.

Oh, it's hard to say this, and I know I'm just asking for sharp criticism of Lever by the same token. Actually, please do let me know -- it helps with my writing. But getting back to an objective evaluation, my experience with the self-published authors I know is that they are often anxious to put the book in print now, now, now. You can't really blame them, but still, I gently try to dissuade them when I feel this is the case.

For Lever, I hired a professional editor who did a so-so job. Then, my friend Jane got the manuscript. She was very sarcastic -- "Oh, I know HE'S going to die" -- but by golly, showed me how to do a good edit. After these readers, I went through the manuscript six times over 8 months, and cut more words than I want to think. I only cut three scenes; the remainder was things like passive voice, any words ending in -ly, anything that wasn't related to the story, etc. etc. BTW I've been told a number of times about a few info dumps in Lever, and have to plead guilty here -- I refused to take them out because it had been so doggone difficult to get some of the information and I thought it was cool. I broke my cardinal rule: if two or more people say it, then do it. Mea culpa. See? It's hard to be objective about your work, but you must be! (Hopefully those few passages don't torpedo the whole story).

My agent, who was supposed to be very good, never said word one about spiffing the manuscript first. Oh well.

So, before you try to self-publish, ask yourself: is my novel REALLY ready? It costs a penny a page to print; these costs add up quickly. Be objective, and hold out the standard that your book will be as good as anything traditionally published -- because it must be.


Andra M. said...

To go a little further, since so many automatically see self-published as below-par, our books need to be better than traditional.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Amy - Thanks again for yet another extremely-helpful post. Private email on its way.

Jessica Thomas said...

Did you self publish thru a company that you created? I did not realize you self published (which shows you have done a professional job). Had you considered

If my manuscript does not get any "bites" I am open to self-publishing. I feel okay about that because I think I have created a product people will enjoy (even if it turns out to only be a few people, lol). My biggest hang up is the little editing details--odd ball grammar rules, commas, the random incorrect word that is spelled right, but that Word, nor my eyes catch.

I like the idea of lulu because there are no up front costs. (Well, except for the final editing.) It sounds like perhaps you put some of your own money down, tho?

Billy Coffey said...

I've given some thought to going this route, but it just seems like there's so much to do and, therefore, not mess up. Luckily, I have you to lean on.

And thanks for the shout-out!