In my short history of self-publishing Science Fiction eBooks, there are several things I’ve learned. Profound mistakes to be more exact. I share below, three important things which are a must if you are serious about becoming a writer.
I don’t give a lot of advice on writing because there are tons of writers out there doing just that. But these are things I wished I’d known before I ever started writing and definitely before my first self-published eBook. Had I known these things, I could have saved myself some embarrassment, lots of money, and maybe a friend or two.
#1 To Do: Create Your Own Reference Library
Sure I took creative writing in college, and a multitude of journalism courses, but no one ever told me to start by obtaining a library of books pertaining to writing, and most positively pertaining to self-editing.
So my number one suggestion before you ever save that first word in Microsoft Office, whether you are going to self-publish or go traditional, build a reference library.
No matter how much or how little you want to invest in your reference library, the following, in my opinion, are must-haves. I will start with first on the list by emphasizing if you don’t have this one, it’s a must.
1. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and David King
2. On Writing by Stephen King. (He gave me the courage to put that first word down.)
3. The Chicago Manual of Style or Idiots Guide to Grammar or Essentials of English or if you can get your hands on a good old grammar book. But invest in some reference book you trust to resort to when you have a question about grammar. And as good as you think you are at grammar, you will still have many questions. Like: Is this right? It doesn’t look right. Is it lie or lay? Passed or past? (The above link is to the 17th edition of the Manual, which I wished I had, it’s the latest edition. You may, however be able to get by with an older, used copy of the Chicago Manual.)
These first three are must-haves in the order they appear. The following three add in any order you desire, but Lawrence Block will answer so many of your questions—even ones about procrastination and whether or not to do an outline, or whether or not to write a novel or a short story—you will be glad you read him first.
1. Telling Lies For Fun & Profit: A Manual For Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
2. How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
3. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
Most of these I bought as used books on Amazon to curve expenses. I wanted to be able to scribble notes in the margins and hi-lite favorite statements. All are enjoyable reads, except the grammar book.
#2 To Do is a Don’t
Don’t ask family, friends, neighbors, family to read your manuscript. Did I say family twice? Those you hold dear will not ask to read that which you hold dear. Or it is unlikely, but don’t ask. Save yourself.
Lawrence Block in Telling Lies For Fun and Profit says it best:
And I won’t deny your neighbors will take you more seriously if you tell them you’ve written a novel. (Of course if that’s the main concern, just go and tell them. You don’t have to write anything. Just lie a little. Don’t worry—they won’t beg to read the manuscript.)
One of the hardest things with which I have had to come to terms—and I’m not sure I have—is the fact that those I love have no real desire to read my written words.
Field of Dreams
About now you are either agreeing with me due to your own experiences, or you’re saying, “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. My friends and family will read it.”
To borrow a movie quip from Field of Dreams: Write it and they will read. Doesn’t apply. Someone may read it, but not necessarily who you thought.
Through Linkedin, I am a member of a couple of writing groups. Writers discuss all the time the concern that my sister, my brother, my mom, my best friend, my husband didn’t read my book. Or the other thing, they didn’t review or comment on my book. Save yourself. Don’t expect it.
Run, refrain, avoid asking those you love to endure your passion of the written word. This may be the hardest thing you have to do regarding your career as a writer, but it will save you much heartache and self-doubt.
Why, You Might Ask
There are reasons for this anomaly I’m sure. One of which may have to do with their love for you and not wanting to hurt your feelings if they hate what you wrote.
I wished I had read Block before the friend—that I no longer consider a friend—and who is an avid reader—turned me down with a flick of her hand saying, “I don’t read science fiction.” My dreams, like a fly on the kitchen counter, smashed with a dirty wet cup-towel.
Save yourself a smashing. Don’t ask. And if they ask to read it, and are sincere about reading it, not out of obligation, consider it a gift.
BUT for your sake as well as theirs, before you ever allow anyone to read it, hire a BOOK DOCTOR. Notice I empathize BOOK DOCTOR. And I can’t empathize BOOK DOCTOR enough, even if your goal is to go traditional publishing instead of self-publishing. And even if you have no money get a BOOK DOCTOR.
#3 Do Invest in a Book Doctor
If you are a starving writer, you might be saying, I can’t even afford ink for my printer. How in the heck does this lady think I can afford a Book Doctor?
This is the way I rationalized it. Basically you are starting a small business. Any business will need an upfront investment. This is that start-up fee. And it’s a tax write-off.
Now, you could invest hundreds in writers’ workshops or college creative writing courses. But there are a number of us who would tell you to just save your money, go on a vacation, or hire a BOOK DOCTOR. When you find your god, aka BOOK DOCTOR, you will learn more from her/his/their first edit (or evaluation) than any workshop or course could teach you.
And it’s a one-on-one on your work not a class full of other struggling writers.
Make Sure It’s the Best It Can Be
It’s hard enough to get a publisher or agent to even look at your manuscript. If you are lucky enough to get a second glance, it better be in the best form possible. And if you decide to self-publish, you will avoid an embarrassing realization such as mine.
After ePublishing my first novella—and feeling very confident because hey, coerced family members had read it and proofed it for me—there couldn’t be any errors—still. A former student of mine opted to buy it and read it. Very kind of him. After completing it, he wrote me back: I really enjoyed it!! Great surprise ending. I’d love to help proof your manuscript for book 2 whenever you need someone.
I had been his teacher! Not English teacher, thank goodness, but still. Do you feel my pain? I removed my ePub novella from distributors and sent it to a Book Doctor. There were numerous errors and revisions that she very graciously pointed out and taught me how to correct and never once did she say, you idiot. Which she had every right to say.
So quit fraking around, get a BOOK DOCTOR. You need one, no matter how good you think you are. The business it too competitive to do otherwise. And it’s a business. Get use to the idea, especially if you plan on self-publishing.
Self-publishing without a Book Doctor is like owning a car wash with no water. Or having an elaborate restaurant with no food. Great place to be, but not getting the job done.
A Message in a Bottle
Famous author, Neil Gaiman once said.
When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick skinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back. —Neil Gaiman
As always, I love hearing your advice and/or suggestions on writing or self-publishing. And if you have a recommendation for the Reference Library, please comment.