Over the course of the last four months Stephanie and I have been having some amazing email conversations about being writers – what’s involved, what’s needed to succeed, what does it all mean? These conversations taught me a great deal as Stephanie has a background in marketing however it was her vision of what writing truly is that has stayed with me. I was so impressed I asked her if she would do a guest blog on the subject. She said yes 🙂
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Stephanie Allen Crist on The Art, Craft, and Business of Self-Publishing.
Self-publishing is easy: You write it, you publish it, and then the readers come. Or they don’t. You won’t know which until you try. The outcome is out of your control.
True, perhaps, but not quite so true so as you might think. Self-publishing amplifies the dubious nature of the writing life. You have all the uncertainty of the writing processing, whether you pursue traditional publication or self-publication. Self-publication also turns you into a business person in a way that traditional publishing does not. Both are uncertain prospects, but the ways of coping with those sets of uncertainty differ.
You start by writing a novel. Is the story right? Are the characters right? Did you choose the right words? Did you use enough words? Did you use too few? Did you get the pacing right? Is your theme clear? Will readers be able to envision your setting? Are all the scenes necessary and effective? Did you miss an important scene? Do your chapter-breaks work? Does your sub-plot work? Do you end your story in a satisfying manner? How is your character arc? Does your character even have an arc?
Then, you publish your novel. Now, you’re putting yourself forward: showing what you think, what you feel, what you imagine, what moves you, what ignites your passions. You reveal something of yourself that, once you share it, you can never quite hide again. And you don’t know how others are going to take that. Will they understand you? Will they care? Will they be moved and ignited? Or will it fade into the abyss of “nobody cares?”
Readers come or they don’t. You make your work available. You promote it. Will it sell? Will readers generate word of mouth? Will they enjoy it? Will they want more?
Now, perhaps you’re one of the writers who will see the problem with this scenario. Perhaps you noticed that, for this undisclosed “you,” the questions got fewer and less intense as the scenario progressed. Many writers, especially soon-to-be-published writers, focus so much on producing their novel that they don’t really know what to do with it once they’re done. They turn to self-publishing, because there are no gatekeepers, because there is more potential for profit, because it’s less intimidating, because they have more control, because it’s faster, or because they don’t really understand their options.
There are a lot of good reasons to pursue self-publishing. Chances are that anyone starting their writing career now—anyone who is in it for the long-haul—will self-publish at some point in their career. But self-publishing isn’t a default, it’s a decision. The criterion for this decision has little to do with art or craft. It’s a business decision.
Writing is an art form. Writing is a creative way to communicate that goes beyond the individual words in the same way that a painting goes beyond the individual brush strokes. If you want to succeed, you need to communicate something your readers will enjoy and appreciate. You can’t just slap something together and expect it to sell. If you want to build a career, you need to communicate something of value. Your story has to matter to you, so that it can matter to your readers.
Writing is a craft. Writing is a set of skills you build and master over time in the same way that photography is a set of skills you build and master over time. If you want to succeed, quality counts. Spelling and grammar count. A suitable, attractive cover counts. An easy-to-read layout counts. A story that is structurally sound counts. Characters that evoke empathy count. An intriguing plot that entertains the reader counts. You can’t just rush off a first draft and expect it to sell. If you want to build a career, you need to produce a novel that doesn’t detract from the story. You have to invest your time and resources to produce a high-quality product, so that your readers can find your story, purchase it, and then read your story without distractions.
Writing is a business. Writing is a business that requires an investment and a strategy to earn a return on that investment in the same way that a mom-and-pop shop requires an investment and a strategy to earn a return on that investment. If you want to succeed, you need a product that people actually want. You need to be willing to invest your time and your money in producing the best product you can, which will require building your skills and buying the services of those who have the skills you don’t. It also means that you will need to invest your time and your money in getting the word out to potential readers. You need to find the right readers and you need to learn how to reach those readers in a way they can appreciate.
Together, the art, craft, and business of writing mean that sometimes you have to make hard choices for the future of your career. For example, you may have to choose to put that story you really want to write on the backburner, because you know you lack the skills to pull it off. You may have to choose to write a less ambitious story you know you can pull off, because it will help you build the skills necessary to tell the story that burns inside of you. Or, instead of investing in yet another writing conference that will fulfill your need to socialize with other writers, you may have to choose to invest in a copyeditor who can help you clean up your manuscript. There are a lot of choices out there, and the decisions you make now will influence how successful you are in the future.
Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity for writers, but it’s only as much of an opportunity as you make it. Be the artist, the craftsperson, and the businessperson your writing deserves. Your future readers will thank you.