Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Stories Don't Expire - Don't Rush to Publish

I recently encountered two writer-friends who had finished their first novels and were interested in self-publishing. These friends were savvy, not (necessarily) jumping right into self-publishing, but they were also curious, wanting to know the facts and weigh their choices.

Fact #1: Self-publishing is now a viable career option for authors.
I've known this for a couple years now, not just personally through my own career, but also through watching the careers of dozens of other writers launch with self-publishing alone. Through these anecdotes, I knew it was possible, and not just for outlier mega-successes like Hugh Howey. But one of the things I love about Hugh-the-person (separate from Hugh-the-writer, whose works I also adore... currently reading his newest Sand... go get it!), is that Hugh has been a consistent advocate for writers, from the first-novel newbies to veterans who have 20 years of publishing under their belts. Hugh's recent Author Earnings data-scoop from Amazon (he's made the data publicly available for anyone who wishes to download) is just one more example of that. The money-shot graph from that first report (he has a second and third out, and more on the way) shows self-publishing isn't just a possible option, it's taken over a substantial part of the market:
For the top 7000 titles on Amazon, authors make more money from self-publishing than all of the top five publishers. Combined.

I'm not going to quibble with the data - it's by far the most comprehensive data we've seen so far, taken straight from publicly available information on Amazon. There are several conclusions in the report, and I'll let you read it for yourself, but here's the main thing: this report shows that indie authors are commanding a large fraction of the market. Which means: self-publishing is a viable career option compared to going with a publisher.

This report takes the anecdotes I've been seeing for years and puts data behind them. Thank you, Hugh Howey.

Fact #2: Your self-published titles never go out of print (unless you want them to).
I have a friend whose first book with a small press was pulled from the virtual shelves, even before my friend's contract was up. Why? Because my friend opted not to renew with that publisher (mainly because of a poor experience). The book isn't technically out of print... yet it's unavailable in ebook. I know other authors who got contracts in 2010, published in 2012, and are already out of print (both ebook and paperback) in 2014. Fortunately, those rights have reverted to the authors.

When you're self-published, you control how long your work is on the market. For most people, this means forever. Even a title that only sells a few copies a month is providing some income - and there's no cost to leave it up there, providing residuals. 

This also means your books are forever.

Which brings me to...

My Advice to First-Novel Authors: Don't self-publish (yet).
Bravo for finishing your first novel! Even better if you've polished, edited, and feel like it's ready for publication! Can you self-publish? Absolutely! And maybe that's the right choice for you - I certainly don't know everyone's situation, and they are all different. But for most first-time novelists, that first novel is a huge growing experience. The second one will be as well. Even the third.

My and my first published novel, back in the prehistoric era of 2010.
(Note: my first written novel will forever remain only on my hard drive. My first published novel is the second one I wrote, but by the time I published it, I had written two more.)

My best advice: write two or three novels before you decide to self-publish.
I understand completely the urge to get your works out in the world, and now with self-publishing a viable option, I understand the desire to get started in your career. But publishing is a lot of work. And you're still finding your groove as a writer. Give yourself the gift of time to finish that second or third novel, to feel more confident in your craft, to mature as a writer. Because once you publish, it's a constant battle to find time for the writing (on top of life, the universe, and marketing your book).

And here's the thing: your stories don't expire.

That first novel you're dying to kick out into the marketplace? It will still be here in a year, after you've written another novel (or two). And you'll have a much better perspective on whether that novel is the one you want to start your career with. (Also: check out my Seven Questions to Ask Before Self-Publishing.)

And if you decide to publish that first novel anyway, please remember to keep writing.

It's why you're in this in the first place, right?


  1. Oh yeah... definitely. My first few will never make it out either, unless I eventually opt for a FULL rewrite. And I have a friend who is pulling a couple of her early books as she feels like she has learned so much and doesn't want 'sub-par- stuff out there with her name on it. So there is that. But there is ALSO the greedy nature of eReading folks... I think you have the best chance of breaking out if in that first couple years you can put out maybe 3 books a year... keep feeding them out there, which, to ensure quality, really means you should have 3 or 4 about ready before you publish ANY. At least that is my perception. I'm still debating what I will do with my YA stuff, but if I decide to self publish it, I won't start until I have 3 or 4 ready.

    1. Releasing multiple books quickly can definitely be a good strategy to get started with... although I released my first few books 6-7 months apart (as I wrote them) and did just fine. It's hard to know the right balance - you want your work out there, garnering fans, but you also want to make sure you're ready to start doing that. And give yourself the best chance to launch into the marketplace.

      Indies tend to obsess over strategies - and a certain amount of that is fine - but I find it keeps us from keeping the long-term in view. What you write, when you'll write it, and how you'll publish it - all these have different answers when you're intent on immediate results vs. long-term results. I also find the long-term perspective keeps my blood pressure more even. :)

  2. Such great advice! I loved seeing a chart that really summarized my own recent perception of things. I have several writing friends from each route listed, and as an Indie author who took her time getting there (three years, to be exact), I can now say I am very pleased with what's come of it.

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  4. I'm taking the full rewrite approach followed by another full rewrite and then a full rewrite. I then plan to rewrite it again at which point the changes will necessitate another full rewrite. Once the book is complete I plan to write and rewrite the second in the three book arc, which will again require a review of the major plot points in the first, thus opening the first to a follow on sequence of full rewrites. Beta readers and professional editing comes next, leading to additional rewrites and a short stay at the happy farm. Once released I will again...
    BTW--- are there any betas out there looking for a tween sci-fi to markup?

    1. Ha! Yes... the endless twiddling. I hope you don't get caught in the vortex of rewrite and some day will let the world see a novel in Munk Vision.

  5. I deleted my initial post because it required a rewrite.

    1. Boom! *the sound of the internet exploding*

  6. I really like the idea of writing and polishing several books before seeking any avenue of publishing--querying agents or self pub. I know I needed a lot of help with that first manuscript that took me 2 years to get ready. Now it takes me a 1/4 of that time, but it's still hard work and I'm still learning. What's unfortunate is when you see books that aren't ready; I just saw a blog tour post featuring a book with an adorable cover--spot-on for the genre, and the author had a good webpage and all that. But the excerpt of the book posted on the blog had several grammatical errors in it. The writing weak and very elementary. All that work and the product wasn't ready.

    1. I know, and that part makes me sad – because people don’t realize when they’re not ready. All that being said, people go out all the time with books that I think aren’t ready… and sell. *shrugs* the market is strange, and this is art, and if you’re in a hot genre all best are off.

  7. Great advice. I have one book up, but I still remind myself to take my time and not rush into publishing more.

  8. Great advice, but I know when I am finally in that position, it's going to be really hard to hold myself back!

  9. Good advice, Sue. My writing has matured so much now that I'm working on my 5th novel, and I still have a ton to learn!

  10. Such great advice, Susan! I was the opposite--I was frozen by fear and unable to take the leap. Until I read your post "taking the leap" :)

  11. Good, good advice! Especially the write two or three...

  12. I definitely agree that some authors jump the gun and push the button on their book launch way too quickly, sacrificing quality (i.e., poor editing and book cover, no marketing plan, etc). Bottom line: Have a plan in place BEFORE you blast off. Great advice!