Can you imagine the extradimensional bliss of watching your book become the next hot thing? While many authors dream of being the next Mark Dawson or Hugh Howey, in our hearts, we all know how rare that kind of success really is. But while the common wisdom tells us to shoot for the top, planning for more circumscribed publishing goals isn’t a sin.
The truth is that levels of success exist in publishing just as they do in other creative fields—and you can set your sights on the approach that fits your lifestyle and goals. Are you a hobbyist? A semi-pro? An aspiring pro, a career pro? Your answer will determine how you go about writing, publishing, and marketing your books.
Every author wants to produce the highest quality within their reach. But when you know your own publishing goals, you get make the results even more specific. Edit, design, and market specifically to reach your goals. It doesn’t make sense to emulate the strategies and tactics that work for a best-selling traditionally published author if your goal is to turn out a self-published title every few years while holding down a day job. Your publishing strategies should match your publishing goals.
The hobbyist author
Did you ever consider approaching writing and self-publishing as a hobby? It’s easy to fret over how much money you’ve spent self-publishing your books, but I’m not convinced the sum is much different from what the dedicated cyclists, fiber artists, or action figure collectors I know spend per year. And treating writing like a creative hobby lets you work your writing around the rest of your life instead of feeling guilty for not doing it the other way around.
Even if you lose money self-publishing and discover that you’re not cut out to be an authorpreneur, if your goal is creative satisfaction and that’s what you’ve achieved, that’s money well spent. Hobbyists in other areas (cyclists, knitters, brewers—whatever) spend just as much on equipment, materials, travel, workshops . . . Who says writing doesn’t deserve the same kind of commitment?
There’s absolutely no reason to feel sheepish about spending your money on editing and cover art for your books. You do it because you want to write and you want the books you publish to reflect your love of the art. That’s reason enough.
The pro or semi-pro author
If you hope to recoup or make money at publishing, you have to come to grips with the fact that you’ve chosen to become an entrepreneur. No more hiding behind “I’m an artist.” Even if your book gets traditionally published, you’ll be beholden to a level of professionalism that demands you know your way around the publishing industry.
Whether you’re semi-pro with a day job or a full-time author (lucky you!), once the matter of your profit is on the table, no more showing up to write when it’s convenient. Every manuscript represents an opportunity to improve your craft. You have books to produce and marketing and promotion to keep rolling, and if you slack, so will your visibility and your profits. Show up every day and do the work.
Surround yourself with good people
Being a self-publisher does not mean being do-it-yourselfer. While you may be able to take a stab at certain tasks if you’re working at the semi-pro or hobbyist levels, professional-quality publishing demands professional-quality production. Readers will turn their noses up at an obviously amateur production—if they can even find your book, a serious risk if your DIY marketing kung fu is weak.
But how much professional input does your project really need? That depends on your publishing goals. The higher your aspirations, the more strictly you should adhere to professional-quality production standards. Editor Louise Harnby describes what quality self-publishing looks like; how you scale from there is up to you.
Finding the right mix can be confusing, so surround yourself with like-minded authors. If writing best-selling commercial fiction is your goal, look for writers groups with experienced authors who are publishing steadily. If you want to be traditionally published, follow and learn from others who have. Find your tribe, and they will help you see the way forward toward your goals.
Focused publishing goals
Once you’ve set your sights on your publishing goals, don’t be stingy with your efforts. Don’t settle for less, and don’t excuse failures by claiming to have been aiming lower. Amazing success stories are rare by definition; you’d be a fool to hitch your hopes to that particular wagon. Work for what you want.
Yeah, it’s hard to keep ego out of it. You’ve told everyone you know that you’re writing a book. Now the eyes of the public are upon you. Take a musician’s approach: don’t hinge your entire career on the success or failure of one song. You need more than one arrow in your quiver.
Very few people (here’s that one-in-a-million thing again) make it big on their first novel. Of those, most of what you perceive as first novels are actually their third or fourth (or twelfth) manuscripts. It takes a long time to write a book, and every single one is a learning experience—even the ones (especially the ones) that don’t get published. That’s a long period of writing and learning. Don’t assume you’ll be the exception who can skip that development process. Foster an improvement mindset.
You’ll never be satisfied with your publishing efforts until you get straight with yourself about your publishing goals. Do you want to get your family’s story on the record? Do you enjoy the process of writing and publishing and hope to make enough money to recoup your costs and continue your efforts? Would you like to replace your day job with writing and publishing? Set your sights on specific goals, and channel your energy into the parts of the process that will help those things happen.
Good luck and good writing!
Looking for help and encouragement with your manuscript? I offer coaching, evaluations, and editing for authors of all skill and experience levels. Let’s talk about your project: firstname.lastname@example.org.