In this short series, we’ll explore some things you must consider if you want to take your personal writing to the next level and pursue publication, whether with an agent/publisher or through the independent route. See the introductory post to this series with links to previous installments here.
Many writers who dream about seeing their work in print give up early—they aren’t willing to spend the time and money it can take to create good quality work, find the right agent and/or publisher, or establish a viable self-publishing plan. They’re afraid to invest a lot of resources into something that may not sell. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right way to look at a business venture, which is exactly what publishing a book is.
The old adage is true: You have to spend money to make money. You also have to spend time and energy to make money. Now, you don’t want to start shelling out foolishly, of course. You want to make a smart investment, and that starts with a lot of research about the publishing business.
Give yourself and your work the respect each deserves by educating yourself about the industry.
Dan Poynter’s book on self-publishing, The Self-Publishing Manual, is a classic, as is Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher. There’s also the Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry, which offers advice good for both self-publishers or those pursuing a book deal. Finally, Angela Render’s book Marketing for Writers is a detailed, step-by-step workbook that takes you through the basics of optimizing your Web presence and building a platform good for before, during, and after publishing a book. Check out my list of links and recommended books for more helpful resources.
Research your market in order to get a sense of the odds in favor or against your success.
Do similar titles exist and if so, do they seem to sell well? How does your work and platform compare to other authors with books like yours? Time to get real—if you’re writing essays about parenting and every comparative title is published by an author with his or her own television show, nationally syndicated column, or a list of credentials longer than your arm, then your challenge is more like Mt. Everest than a bucolic hill. If you’re on a tight budget, you must be very clear about your chances of success and be willing to either beef that budget up, invest a significant amount of time addressing shortcomings or obstacles, or consider a different project all together. Not every idea is destined for greatness.
Consider your access to inexpensive options and resources, and assess your own skill-set honestly.
If you have a little design experience or think you have a good eye, it might cost less to attend a conference or take an online course in book design than it would to hire a designer. If you don’t want to spend money on professional editing, perhaps you could join a local critique group or writing workshop—it’ll take more time, but you’ll get objective feedback, which is crucial for improving a work. You’ll want to put your limited funds toward things you truly aren’t able to do yourself, tasks you can’t easily perform with minimal instruction, and anything for which you don’t have the time to do properly. You should also invest where you get the biggest bang for your buck: Whereas anyone with minimal computer skills can probably create a readable interior that, while simple, does the job sufficiently, it’s a lot more difficult to create an eye-catching cover that conveys a sense of the book’s subjects or themes.
Define “success” and assess whether professional publishing is the right path for your work.
Most people who talk and write about self-publishing, myself included, typically assume that “success” for the self-publisher of a collection means you’re selling books and building an audience for future work, earning enough money to cover expenses and hopefully making a profit over time. But when it comes to personal writing, the goal may be more emotional—perhaps publishing your essays will give you closure for a painful time in your life, or maybe you simply want to share your life stories with friends and family. In these cases, it’s much easier to work with a shoestring budget.
However, this series of posts and the advice they contain is directed at those who wish to take their personal writing to a professional level, and so the bottom line is simple: If after careful analysis you determine that you have something worth selling and think you have a shot at doing it well, then you will need to invest time and money into making a real go of it. It’s a gamble, absolutely. Even the most professionally designed, well-written, well-edited, and fully promoted book can fail—it happens to the big guys, and it happens to self-publishers too. However, every successful self-publisher has invested time and money along the way. In the vast majority of cases, you will get out what you put in.
Next time we’ll look at some ways you can gauge and ensure your personal writing is good enough to take to the professional level.
photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc
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.