Many writers pour blood, sweat, and tears into their work for months or even years, finally reaching a point where they are just done with it and want to launch it out into the world. The reality, however, is that feeling “done” with a project doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as “ready,” especially when you’re talking about a commercial product.
You may very well choose to self-publish your collection of personal essays for reasons unrelated to wanting a writing career or making a profit. If that’s the case, then you needn’t worry quite as much about your writing being “good enough.” Though if personal excellence is important to you, the advice below will still apply. However, let’s for the moment assume that, like most people, you are hoping to publish your work to some acclaim and commercial success, whether in partnership with an established publisher or through a self-publishing effort.
Unless you are an experienced writer—meaning that you’ve had an education in writing techniques through an academic program, excellent editor-writer relationships, workshops, a regular critique group, or otherwise—chances are good your essays or short stories won’t be at their best if your eyes are the only ones that ever see the work before publication. To give yourself your best chance, you will want professional help to make up for the areas where you lack the necessary skills. Consider finding a freelance editor who will give you an honest appraisal of your writing. If having your entire collection edited is too expensive, find an editor who works specifically with short stories and essays and have him or her review one at a time. The feedback will undoubtedly help you improve the rest of the collection.
At the very least, I strongly encourage writers who are getting ready to self-publish to seek professional copyediting. It won’t help if your essays are flawed at a fundamental level, but it will at least ensure your prose appears professional and is clean to read without embarrassing typos and discrepancies. (Those pursuing a book contract needn’t take this step unless your basic writing skills are very poor—which, I have to tell you, raises some fundamental questions about your readiness for this step in the first place.)
Of course, there’s nothing to stop anyone from figuring out how to format a manuscript and get it up in the Kindle store without spending a dime. It won’t hurt you to do that. All it costs you is time. BUT, if that’s all you do with a little scattershot marketing here and there, I promise that you will not see the results you dream of. Similarly, if you’ve never taken a workshop or joined a critique group, if you have no platform…basically if you haven’t invested in your writing career, then it’s highly unlikely you will get that six figure book deal and see your name on the bestseller list.
So really, the question of “good enough” needs to be accompanied by your goal, as in, “good enough to attract an agent’s attention” or “good enough to satisfy readers at my desired price point.” Because everyone’s goals are different for their personal essays or journals, the measure of whether or not your writing is “good enough” will necessarily vary.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.