3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel

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Today we have a guest post from my fellow Corkonian self-publisher Pat Fitzpatrick on the 3 things he wish he knew a month ago, i.e. before he self-published his thriller, Keep Away From Those Ferraris. Take it away, Pat!

It’s over a month since I self-published my new thriller, Keep Away From Those Ferraris. Now that I have some distance from all the madness, it’s time to warn others what it can be like. Because what it can be like is a form of nervous breakdown.

I’m a middle-aged Irish man. So the last thing I’d thought I’d end up writing about was my emotions. But then strange things happen when you self-publish your first novel. Mainly you go plain mad.

My guess is that traditional publishing is a breeze in comparison. There you have a publisher who decides when your book hits the streets. Your book cover is done and dusted so there is no point in worrying whether the woman on the front is showing too much flesh. (Or too little flesh, given the way things are going.) And you have a team of experienced publishing professionals to talk some sense if you lose faith.

I had none of these supports. All I had was a final draft with corrections from my editor and the notion that two weeks was oceans of time to get my book up on Amazon. I was wrong on both counts. Here is what I would say if I could go back two months and give pre-publication me some advice.

ferrari

1. Dodge the Drafts – Somebody has to Shout Stop

The ‘final’ draft turned out to be the seventh-last draft. I reckon this is the single biggest issue when you self-publish – nobody ever shouts stop.

I also work as a feature writer for a newspaper here in Ireland.   I have two editors to tell me that if I don’t give them copy in the next five minutes, I don’t get paid. (They dress it up a bit nicer than that, but we all know what’s going on.) So for example, if I am turning in a 3000 word piece on hipsters in Ireland, I will write three drafts and do a final proof read and spell check before sending it off. I’ve been at it for years, so I know what is required to keep the quality up without wasting time.

It was different with this novel. I kept picking at the final draft, as if it was a never-say-die scab. Every time I got to the end, I’d go straight back to page one and click through it again to see if I could skelp out another surplus comma.  I was like a hamster, on a wheel, in the movie Groundhog Day. The result was the potential for more typos, except I had used my editor card already. I was in a hole and kept digging.

Catherine Ryan-Howard eventually bailed me out. We met on a TV show in Cork (it’s not as exotic as it sounds) where she showered me with some priceless self-publishing insights. The real diamond was publish my book at the end of November to make the most of the ‘I got a new Kindle for Christmas’ crowd. It was like somebody finally shouted stop. I found my inner editor who guided me through a final-final draft. The rule was simple – stop picking at the scab and only change a sentence if it makes you feel physically sick. I found three. And I hit publish in early December.

Side note: A key thing that worked for me was to convert the second last draft to e-book format and read it on a Kindle. I had a pen and paper on hand to record any changes that really needed to be made. The fact I couldn’t just type them in there and then gave me some perspective. This stopped a lot of madness.

I am working on the sequel now and want to have it published by this December. This time round there will be four drafts – three before I send it off to the editor and one more before I press go. Deciding on four now means I can’t just skip through a second and third draft with the notion that I can fix it up later on. With any luck, I’ll dodge the 5th draft. Not to mention 15th one.

2. Keep the Faith

The run up to publication is a roller-coaster ride.  One minute I’m pumped up and working on the opening line in my Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech. (‘Alright Stockholm!!’ – I fancy the stadium rock approach.) The next minute I’m be on the verge of actual tears because my book will never find an audience. In one of those moments I decided my next project should be a Young Adult Vampire Zombie Trilogy set in Tipperary. Thankfully, that moment passed.

The problem is of course that your book stops being a book after the first few drafts. It becomes a collection of words that are only as good as your mood. If you are reading the same 70,000 words over and over again, your mood won’t be that good. That’s all that’s going on here. I’m struggling to think of what I can do to remedy this loss of faith the next time out. The best I can come up with is a banner on the wall by my desk. It will say “The Book is Fine, you are just tired and suffering from a mild dose of self-loathing.” Let me know if you have a better alternative.

3. Let it Go

One of the most famous historical artefacts on the island of Ireland is called the Book of Kells. It contains the four Gospels, transcribed on to vellum (calfskin) by Irish monks around 800 AD. It is said to contain a deliberate error on each page because only God is perfect. I went to view it recently with a friend in Trinity College Dublin. This guy had spent some time living in Tehran and pointed out that classic Persian rugs had a similar blemish for the same reason.

Bear with me, there’s a point here. Nobody’s perfect. Any work of art is just our best shot at perfection. Wait until it’s actually perfect, and you’ll end up waiting forever. Traditional publishers understand this, which is why deadlines rarely move. Self-published authors need to build it in to our thinking if we ever want to get the job done. This doesn’t mean publishing a first draft written on cheap wine and expensive coffee. You still need to read, re-read, pass to an editor and read it once or twice more. After that, you need to press publish and start working on the sequel. That’s probably my biggest takeaway from the mad month I spent before publishing Keep Away From Those Ferraris.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to come up with something to go after ‘Alright Stockholm’ in my speech to the Nobel crowd.

Pat Fitzpatrick blogs about self-publishing and other oddities here. You will also find links to his novel there if you would like to see how all this turned out, or click the cover image above to go straight to it on Amazon.com. Thanks Pat! 

43 thoughts on “3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel

  1. Trish Loye Elliott says:

    Great post with some great advice. I needed this. Thank you. (And I’m also going to put that saying about the ‘mild case of self-loathing’ up on my wall. 😉)

  2. Lazarian Wordsmith says:

    Pat as an ex IT man like you myself – I learned early on that the program I was writing, my baby, needed to be kicked into life and let loose, even when I knew all the BUGS had not been ironed out. A bit like the recent UB software patch.

  3. Danielle Lenee Davis says:

    I’m reposting this because I received an error the first time. – I just self-published my own first novel and I’ve been there. Great advice. Unless I’m misunderstanding your statement, you CAN take notes on the kindle. It’s a bit tedious, at least for me. It creates a separate file that you can print out if you’d like.

    • Pat Fitzpatrick (@Pdfitzpatrick) says:

      Cheers John. Any news on a new book from yourself? I saw your High Road to Tibet up on the shelf while enjoying a few pints of Beamish stout in Callinans Pub at the weekend. The owner Rob said he will throw up a few copies of Keep Away from those Ferraris. It could be the start of a new type of indie bookshop. The Indie Bookpub.

  4. shaelum says:

    Very good advice, Pat. Self-publishing is like learning to ride a bike without a cautious parent hanging onto the saddle OR stabilisers on your wheels! Ride or crash, but the important thing is to get up to speed and let go…
    Of course, as a newspaper contributor you also know that once your words are published the buzz wears off pretty quickly; one day later for a newspaper feature, perhaps 2/3 months later for a novel. Soon the hunger to begin the process all over again starts to growl…
    Best of luck with your novel, from a fellow Corkonian scribbler…

  5. Lesley Hale says:

    Very good advice. I couldn’t believe the mistakes I picked up once I read my own book on a Kindle. I used the click and highlight approach, and then worked through the list. There were about 15 mistakes, which I suppose is not much compared to some books I’ve read on Kindle, but this book had been proofread and proofread, so I was surprised.

    • Danielle Lenee Davis says:

      Isn’t it amazing how much you pick up when you read it on a Kindle? I did it to try getting out of my ‘editor’ brain. Sometimes, I found myself slipping in and out of ‘reader’ and back into editor though.

  6. Silverleaf says:

    This is great advice, all of it, even the banner. I spent NaNoWriMo month writing about my 5 years spent living in Ireland and have a plan one day to re-read those 50,000 words and, hell, maybe even self-publish. When I get that far, I’m sure I will revisit your words of wisdom.

  7. Widdershins says:

    ‘I need to come up with something to go after ‘Alright Stockholm’ in my speech to the Nobel crowd’ … how about this? … “I’m the King-of-the-World!” 😀

    … great post. I would add something like … remember to breathe. i.e. taking a time-out from EVERYTHING.

  8. annstanleywriting says:

    I love the line about self-loathing. This seems like great advice – we do have to let go when it’s time. Still, some of the best novels have gone through many more edits than five. I suspect that that’s especially true for the first one. For me, writing the first one has been quite the learning experience.

  9. isabelburt says:

    Thank you Catherine, and thank you Pat. That was a dose of healthy laughter as I struggle with my sequel. Everything was spot on, and it was so good to hear it from someone else. Thanks for making me smile 🙂

  10. Lazarian Wordsmith says:

    Reading comments about eBooking your novel and then reading it, I began looking at my Adobe Library. Like writing a draft and sticking it in a drawer for a while and then re-looking at it, I found Absolution V1 eBook (which I wrote a few years ago) …bloody hell..it’s not bad, in fact it’s bloody good. It’s about a guy who kidnaps a priest to be absolved of killings he did…before the cancer gets him. If things after chapter 21 are as good as up to that then it’s Createspace for the vacation market!!!!

  11. jackiemallon says:

    Great post.
    I published my first (how mothers say “gave birth to my first) in September through Kindle White Glove programme and it has been the steepest, most careening learning curve I’ve been on in a long while–like climbing the Sky Road in Connemara in fifth gear in a race car! But my friend who signed a 4 book deal with Harper Collins, now onto his 4th book, who has nightmare stories about his experience with his “legitimate” publisher: unanswered calls and emails for three/four months, the unspoken threat that he will be dropped if he doesn’t do exactly as they say, the demands to replace passages of his manuscript with sex and violence (yep, those old chestnuts), the fact that he sold Spanish translation tights 2 years ago but has yet to see a dime of it…Conclusion: Publishing is not greener on the legitimate side of the fence.
    I am now working on my second and for all the reasons outlined above, am finding it much more difficult that the first. But a sense of humour about the whole process certainly helps!

  12. kindredspirit23 says:

    I don’t see you saying “Don’t self-publish”, just warning about it.
    I intend to self-publish my collection of horror short stories next year just before Halloween.
    I will truly keep your thoughts in mind. I have published several short stories, so I have an idea of how to write them and edit and when to stop.
    Great post,
    Scott

  13. Cassandra Black says:

    Great post! I love this line: “The rule was simple – stop picking at the scab and only change a sentence if it makes you feel physically sick.” Also, reading it on your Kindle is a good idea, too. It IS hard to press that “stop button” when you self publish. But I remind myself: “If I don’t get this book out in January, I won’t eat in March.” Keep up the great insight for us all. Thank you! Cassandra

  14. Lorna Sixsmith (@IrishFarmerette) says:

    I had a deadline for my self published book too which was 18th Nov! It nearly killed me but I knew if I hadn’t had the deadline I would still be picking at it – and it wouldn’t necessarily be any better! When I do it again, I will give my beta volunteer readers more time to read it for typos. I’m a fast reader and I just presumed they could all read it in a few days!!
    I did have an editor but as I was self-publishing, I made some changes and additions after she had seen it and a few typos crept in!

  15. Gretchen Grossman Mobley says:

    I had no idea I wasn’t the only one who suffered from the obsession to make every word on the page earn perfect placement. I’ve hated my book, I’ve loved my book. I’m sorry I wrote it, I’m glad I wrote it. My final draft came after I had the actual proof in my hands, the book ready for publishing, and I decided it read much differently than it did on the computer screen, and not as well. At that late date, I began slashing all the more. It’s like a sickness to be so compulsive about every single thing. It’s finished now and I’m waiting for the last proof. I won’t be going back in. Thanks for making me feel like I’m still sane.

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