Win #NaNoWriMo? Time to celebrate! Especially if it’s your first novel.
by Anne R. Allen.
Did you win #NaNo? Is it a first novel? Congratulations!!!
Only about 3% of people who start novels actually finish, so you’re a major winner right there. You’ve done something spectacular. So break out the bubbly and savor the moment!
After that…what comes next?
Should You Self-Publish that First Novel?
The self-publishing revolution of the past 10 years has been a major gift to writers, and I believe most writers will be self-published or “hybrid”-published sometime in the near future.
But easy self-publishing is not always a boon to new writers who hope to make writing a career. The pressure to publish fast doesn’t allow writers to grow and learn. You can get stuck in a writing pattern or even a genre that doesn’t properly use your talents.
Worst of all, it’s usually a recipe for failure. Publishing is a business. If you self-publish, you don’t only need to know about writing, you need to know about selling, budgeting, advertising, copywriting, guest blogging, etc.
You also need to know enough about the business to see the red flags in those high-pressure ads from vanity publishers, phony agents, and other predators who can empty your pockets and crush your dreams.
Don’t Take Advice from Uninformed Amateurs
Your friends and family have probably seen ads for books and courses that promise “Kindle ebook riches.” They’ve also read newspaper stories about “overnight self-publishing millionaires”.
What your friends don’t know is the “Become a Kindle Millionaire with Ebooks!” stuff is years out of date—and mostly aimed at nonfiction authors. Or that those “overnight Kindle millionaires” had lots of books written before they first hit “publish.” Or that most were well-known traditionally published authors before they went indie.
They also don’t know that vanity “subsidized” presses are usually heartbreaking ripoffs.
It’s amazing how many people who know nothing about the publishing industry feel qualified to give advice to new writers. They think it’s all easy-peasy once you write “the end” on the last page of that opus. They may even tell you you’re holding yourself back because you’re afraid of success.
Successful indie authors can add to the pressure, saying stuff like “every day you’re not published, you’re not making money.”
And the unsuccessful ones don’t help either when they say stuff like, “that review wasn’t fair. Maybe the book was bad, but readers have to cut newbies some slack.”
No. They don’t.
If the book wasn’t good enough, what was it doing in the marketplace?
If you bought a sweater online and it had only one sleeve, would you give it a nice review because maybe it was the garment worker’s first day on the job?
I didn’t think so.
After You Finish Your First Novel: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts
- Rush to publish. (Just in case I didn’t make myself clear. 🙂 ) Not a good idea.
- Especially with a vanity press.
- Or contact somebody like Ruth or me and say, “everybody in publishing is a crook, so drop everything and spend a week critiquing my book for free and tell me where to send it so they’ll tell me I’m a genius and give me a million dollars. (Don’t laugh. This happens ALL the time.)
- Rewrite or hire an expensive editor. Not right now. Let it rest until you can read it with fresh eyes.
- Push it on everybody you meet and beg them to tell you “what they really think.” They just might.
- Stop writing short pieces and sending them out. Work to publish short fiction and essays. There’s gold in them thar shorts. Stories are important for getting your name out there and networking (especially in anthologies.) And those credits are great in a query letter.
- Forget to look at the big picture. Keep an eye on the prize. That prize is a career, which involves your next book, and your next. You’re going to be way better ten years from now than you are now. Trust me on this.
- Read in your genre to find out more about comps for when your novel is ready to pitch.
- Also read in radically different genres to see if there’s another genre you’d like to explore—this would be the time, since you’ll get cemented into one genre once you publish.
- Explore books on craft so you can do some self-editing before you send the opus off to a long-suffering editor.
- Read books and blogs like this one to learn about the publishing industry so you don’t get scammed when it’s time to send your work into the marketplace
- Start a blog. If you don’t have a blog or a website yet, start one. This is the perfect moment to start blogging. It raises your profile, is great writing practice, and you may meet your future agent, reviewer or co-author there. (And it’s easier than you think! See the ON SALE Book of the Week below.)
- Network with other authors on social media and learn about the business. There’s lots to learn. Talk with both trad-pubbed and self-pubbed authors. Don’t take any one person or group’s word that one path is right for you. Some genres do much better than others in indie publishing. If you write literary fiction or children’s fiction, your road will be a lot harder going the indie route than if you write romance, mystery, or thrillers.
- START WRITING YOUR NEXT NOVEL! You put in all that work learning to write. You don’t want to stop after one book any more than you’d want to stop playing the piano after learning to play one piece. PLus it’s a whole lot easier to sell books when they’re part of a series or a body of work. Single titles are a hard sell. So start building inventory!
Patience Makes Bad Cinema, but Good Careers.
Here’s the thing: every author has a first novel. Occasionally it ends up published to enthusiastic acclaim.
But that pretty much NEVER happens immediately after the author types “the end.”
That scenario only happens in movies—because the stuff that happens between typing that final page and publication would make really boring cinema. It’s hard to make patience into compelling onscreen drama.
In real life, you need to consider the following:
- Once you publish, you’ll have less time to write. Whether you’re self-publishing or going for a traditional contract, actually selling a published book requires a huge amount of marketing and promotional work. Your “just writing” days will be over.
- It’s difficult to promote a singleton title by an unknown author. None of the standard marketing plans work for a single title. BookBub and other bargain newsletters do nothing for authors with only one book.
- Writer’s Block. Even if your first novel is published by a Big 5 house and ends up on the NYT bestseller list, you can get a massive case of writer’s block. I know a wildly successful author who went through this.
- A first novel is probably not your best work. The book marketplace is much more competitive than it’s ever been. With an amateur cover and edits, your fledgling effort would likely die and stop your career before it starts. You’ll be a better writer later and can make it a better book. Or maybe it never will see the light of day. That’s okay too. See my post on Practice Novels.
First Novel Infatuation
Sob! 🙁 How can you think of not publishing your baby? Your book is different. It’s wonderful. Everyone will love it as much as you do.
I know exactly how you feel. I did too.
But the truth is that almost every working author has a first novel that didn’t make it into print.
And we’re usually pretty grateful for that.
We were once as madly in love with our novels as you are with yours. We knew they were perfect…PERFECT. They were life-changing, world-shaking literary masterpieces. Everybody was going to be transformed forever by the magnificent storytelling and insight.
But somehow nobody who read them seemed to get it.
Our moms said, “That’s nice, dear. Your spelling is excellent…”
The BFF said, “I got kind of confused in the part where the squid people from Betelgeuse showed up in chapter 12. I thought it was a cozy mystery.”
Relatives said, “Why is there so much sex? Can’t you write more like Jane Austen?”
342 agents said, “This project is not right for our list at this time.”
Then we put it in a drawer and wrote another novel.
And it’s still there, gathering dust. Every few years we pull it out, read one of those scenes we remember as being pretty good, and try to work it into a story or something that might slip into the WIP. And for people who do find some salvageable stuff in there, Ruth Harris has some great advice on how to do Radical Revision on your novel.
But most of us are simply glad that we finished that book before the self-publishing revolution.
I’d completed five novels before I finally saw one in print. (And I’d written bits of dozens more) Some of my fledgling efforts have been lost in the dust of time. Others have been reincarnated as short stories, and others were still gathering dust in my garage until I had a bonfire recently. A great release.
The first novel I finished was an episodic coming-of-age novel full of esoteric literary references.
It’s amazing how pretentious we can be at 22. And how miserable. I scribbled my opus in little Italian notebooks on trains and cafes and youth hostels as I traveled around Europe during my post-college quest to find myself. It was, not surprisingly, about a depressed 20-something young woman traveling around Europe on a post-college quest to find herself. The notebooks disappeared in one of my many moves, but I lugged them around for at least a decade longer than I needed to.
There was no plot, as I remember. But lots of sex. And of course mass quantities of drugs and rock and roll. It was the 1970s.
See why I’m grateful there was no easy self-publishing back then?
I’m not saying your wonderful first novel will suffer the same fate as mine. But I am urging you to give it some distance before you try to publish it And remember that no time spent writing is wasted. Every sentence you write teaches you to write better sentences and every book you write is a triumph, whether it sees print or not.
Now break out that bubbly. You deserve to celebrate!
Featured image: Hip, Hip, Hurrah! by Danish painter P.S. Krøyer, 1888
How about you, scriveners? Do you have any advice for the first-time novelist? Did you ever publish a book before its time? Do you have one sitting in the files you’re glad didn’t see the light of day? It would be fun if readers wanted to add some confessions about your “dust-gathering” novel in the comments. 🙂
NOTE: On Monday, December 3, I’m switching Internet providers and will be offline for most of the day. But I’ll get to your comments when I come back with my faster new Internet!
by Anne R. Allen @annerallen December 2, 2018
And I’m poisoning people again on my book blog. This month I’m talking about potassium chloride. Yup. That stuff in Mrs. Dash’s seasoning can kill!
And many thanks to our friend Nate Hoffelder of the Digital Reader for naming this blog to “The 36 Best Blogs on the Business of Writing“
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