If you haven’t had the chance to check out Old Fool’s Errand, my short story about a crotchety failed astronaut latching on to a second chance at the stars – and a one-way trip to Mars, you may want to take a look, as things are getting pretty real:
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, is now back to take a shot at being the first person on a foreign planet.
Now, to be clear, I am not by any stretch of the imagination calling Tereshkova a failed astronaut – far from it! – but it’s another, exciting chapter in the Mars saga, and another step towards a real-life Old Fool’s Errand.
It’s been a wild few months since Hard Drop first emerged on Kindle (and Nook, and Kobo), with some huge ups and a few disappointments here and there. So now, looking back on the steep learning curve, I feel qualified to offer a tenuous opinion on the subject. I hope the below is positive, interesting, and perhaps useful to other self-pubbers like myself out in the market. Without further ado, a few self-publishing thoughts:
1. Always edit one more time. If there is any doubt in your mind that you have edited enough, go back through the document. It is just too easy to miss something, or for Word to incorrectly ‘correct’ something, or to forget you never finished your sentence on p. 137 during the last set of revisions. Things fall through the cracks. I’m not advocating hiring an editor per se, but at the very least you should be completely sick of spell-checking and googling questionable words because you’ve forgotten how to spell them from looking at them too long. Why? Because, at the end of the day, even a very generous reader will give you 2-5 spelling errors, max, before they decide you’re just another self-pubbed hack. As for formatting? One strike is all you get.
2. Be grateful. This one can be hard to do, but it is very important. Especially as a first-time author, even if you are convinced you are the next Stephen King / Stephenie Meyer / J.K. Rowling, remember that the rest of the world is not. Your readers are taking a chance on buying a self-published book with no track record or frame of reference (beyond the trial chapter(s) and your blurb), and more than that – they’re doing it in spite of the fact that, more than likely, you’ve tried the traditional publishing route and not gotten an offer. Never mind that it’s increasingly difficult to crack that sphere if you’re not writing Wizard/Vampire/Fight to the Death YA (and even if you are!), they don’t know you from Adam/Eve, and you are not entitled to their money. So be grateful for each sale, respect your fans, and…
3. Ignore the haters. There will always, always be someone who does not like your book for some reason that makes no sense to you. It’s too long, it’s too short, it wasn’t suspenseful enough, it ended on a cliffhanger, they didn’t like your choice to make up a language for the aliens, they didn’t think it was realistic the aliens would speak English, etc. etc. etc. Ignore the haters, they do not add to the conversation in any meaningful way, and the reality is that the market will make its decision about you with or without them. Do not change the way that you write because of one negative review, and whatever you do, don’t stop writing (or let writing become less enjoyable).
4. That having been said, reviews usually do have an element of truth to them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as acknowledging that your story isn’t for everyone, that yes, you really have made choices that some people disagree with (e.g., your vampires sparkle in the sunlight). Other times, you need to be a bit more honest with yourself about the structure of the story, or the character development/backstories, or (see #1) the amount of editing you’ve done. Mind you, I’m not talking about the star ratings here – those are subjective and questionably counterproductive. I’m talking about the actual text of the review. Ignore the hate, but do take a second to distill the useful feedback that sits somewhere in the one-paragraph screed about how completely you’ve missed the mark.
5. Keep writing, keep improving, and keep having fun. Writing isn’t always fun, mind you, but it is fun to have created something, and to share what you’ve created with other people. Meanwhile, self-publishing offers something that traditional publishing wasn’t really able to: the ability to track the improvement of your quality (or, more accurately stated, the degree to which your writing matches market tastes) on an incremental basis. Take a moment to objectively consider your reviews (positive and negative), consider what’s selling elsewhere in your genre, look over your own writing, and try again. If you do it right, there are a number of ways (short stories, novellas, free chapters, or various social media ways of interacting with your growing audience) to test yourself before you commit to writing a full-length novel. Keep moving, keep improving, and have fun.
That’s where I am right now.