Last year, I wrote a post about my goal to publish my first novel by May 2020. I am happy to be able to say I have achieved that goal. I’m even slightly ahead of schedule! Fortune’s Shadow, my debut urban/paranormal fantasy novel, is now available for preorder at multiple ebook retailers (including Kobo, Apple, and Amazon) and will be released into the world on April 26th!
With exactly one week to go until launch day, I thought I’d share seven lessons I’ve learned from going through the process of self-publishing my first novel. (I hope that this will help any of you who may be thinking about doing the same!)
1) Don’t worry if you can’t write every day. You’ll still get there.
One of the things that initially stopped me from fulfilling my dream of publishing my first novel was my stubborn belief that I just didn’t have the time. And when I did have the time, I felt pressured, which made it difficult to have the mental energy to be creative. I was surrounded by all this advice implying that you had to write every day. But by the time I was finished my work day, there was no way I was in the mood to sit down at a computer (again!) and write.
So I made a deal with myself: Every Saturday morning, I would sit down and write a scene. One scene. Sometimes I could finish it that morning. Sometimes it took more time throughout the weekend. But the ability to start and finish a chunk of writing every week made me feel positive about my progress and allowed me to set things aside during my work week without having to feel like I was leaving loose threads lying around. The next week, I’d look over what I’d done the week before, make a few edits, and then write the next scene. It took months to get through it. But every week was progress.
2) Have at least some idea of an outline as you write.
I know some people are pantsers and prefer to just write and write until all of their ideas are down, without worrying too much about where it’s going. That is perfectly fine, but frankly, the thought of having to spend time rewriting my story multiple times based on a messy first draft was overwhelming to me. I barely had enough time to write as it was! So I bought Scrivener, which is a useful tool for mapping out an overall rough plot structure (although you can do the same thing in Word), and created some plot milestones based on the wonderful writing resource Save the Cat.
At first those plot milestones were simply words on a virtual card with no content. When I started, I only had a clear idea of the first four chapters and the midpoint. But as I wrote each scene, I was able to gradually fill out the rest of the details, and being able to write from Point A to Point B made finishing an entire novel achievable.
3) Don’t be afraid of feedback.
Self-published books are sometimes perceived as having lower quality than traditionally published books because they haven’t been through the “official” gatekeepers of publishing. But you don’t need your book to go through a gatekeeper to know if it’s any good. What you need to know is that your book will be enjoyed by the ultimate judges of your work—the people who will buy your book. I was determined to make sure I wrote something that stood up to the level of traditionally published books purchased by my intended audience.
Was I afraid of sending my words out to multiple people for judgment ahead of publication? Of course. But I did it anyway, because I wanted to know the truth before I published it, not after. I sent my draft to several people for beta reading. When I reviewed all the feedback, I found that some people commented on the same big things (plot refinement ahead!), while others found different smaller things to improve based on their individual experiences. In the end, almost all of the feedback I received was useful and positive, and it energized me as I updated my draft to make it an even better story. It is truly thanks to those beta readers that my story shines.
4) Line up your publication team well ahead of your release date.
When you’re self-publishing, you’re not just the writer—you’re the publisher. That involves a lot of steps, and I had many things to keep track of as I pulled together my project plan. I did this while I was still writing my first draft, so I could figure out how I was going to get my book out by my release date. The timing of some of the activities was flexible because I could handle the details myself (getting my ISBNs, drafting my author blurb, formatting my ebook), but there were other things where I would need to bring in experts: my editor, my cover designer, my proofreader, and my interior designer for the print version (which will be out in the summer—stay tuned!).
The average time I had to book people ahead? Four months. Why? Because the people I wanted to work with are excellent professionals who are in demand.
Because I planned ahead, I was able to get a fabulous cover from the amazing Ravven, truly insightful line and copy editing comments from fiction editor Maggie Morris, a thorough final proofread from Jess Shulman and a beautiful interior design from Krista Walsh.
5) Use your opportunity to learn new skills.
Self-publishing your novel can be a test of your confidence. I knew there were things I would be absolutely hopeless at—like designing a professional cover—so I made a deliberate decision to go with someone else. But what about other things? Could I really format my own ebook, when I knew nothing about epub coding?
I decided this would be a great time to find out. I took an excellent seminar series on ebook production by Editors Canada that helped take the anxiety out of understanding ebook coding and publishing. And although I ended up submitting my Word document through Draft2Digital’s epub conversion tool, this was only the first step, and I was able to then use my training to fix formatting issues and make my book look perfectly presentable. (When I do this again, I may even get fancier!)
6) Consider going wide.
I know some self-publishing folks go exclusively with Amazon and that works for them. I wanted to publish more broadly (especially during this time, when book publishing in general is being challenged), but I wasn’t sure if this would affect my sales. Then I read something interesting from a fellow Canadian author, who mentioned that they consistently get more sales from Kobo than they do from Amazon, because Kobo (through Indigo) is a big component of the Canadian ebook market.
Makes sense, I thought.
In the end, I set myself up with both Kobo and Amazon under their direct royalty structure and then distributed my ebook to other retailers and libraries through the Draft2Digital platform, which takes a 15% cut of my royalties but manages everything for all the other platforms.
My book isn’t out yet, but based on preorders alone, I am getting more sales through Kobo than I am through Amazon. I’m also higher up on the listings of their Contemporary Fantasy category because the market is smaller, and there are more chances that someone browsing will spot my book. I’m getting sales through Apple, too!
Obviously you need to find a strategy that works for you, but so far I’m really happy about how this is turning out.
7) Enjoy your moment in the sun!
This is such a weird time to be publishing a book. I can’t release the print version yet because proofs of physical books are being delayed. Everyone is going through personal (and often financial) challenges. Book retailers are struggling. Publishers are delaying launches. I almost didn’t go ahead.
But when I mentioned this to my friends on Twitter, they told me how much they appreciated seeing my excitement about my book during this time. They felt this was exactly the right time for an entertaining escape read. And since my book is going to be available for library distribution, anyone who wants to read it but can’t buy it can ask for it at their library instead, which I love, since the library is my happy place.
So I decided to go for it, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. My dream is coming true, and nothing can stop it!
I believe it’s more important than ever to enjoy our creative achievements right now. So don’t be afraid to share your good news and market your work.
And if you’re writing that novel, and you’re just not there yet, please know that I’m cheering you on all the way. 🙂