Self-Publishing: Some Lessons Learned
Updated: Apr 10
Over the years, I've made plenty of mistakes in basically every aspect of my life. While I won't admit most of those to the internet (lest I be jailed), I will freely share those around self-publishing. With Self Published Fantasy Month coming up, especially, I hope that others might find a way to avoid some of my missteps. This is all with the caveat that I'm not a pro, nor a wildly successful self-pubbed author. Even so, I think this advice is good regardless!
Find a community
This was probably my biggest mistake when I started writing. I wrote in isolation and didn’t think to search for like-minded people. I don't know what assumptions I was making--maybe these communities didn't exists. Maybe they would be competitive or unwelcoming (like r/fantasy can be). Either way, I just stumbled around, gathering bits of information here and there from unvetted sources. It was hard, intimidating, and altogether unpleasant.
It wasn't until I entered the SPFBO at the urging of my editor Jennifer Collins, that I found the community I'd been looking for. Despite the fact that there would be 299 'losers' of the contest, I felt like we were all winners by being able to get to know one another. The comradery opened my eyes, and I was thankful for it. Since then, I've developed a bunch of friendships with folks from all over the world. The Grimdark Readers and Writers group, along with Fantasy Faction, have been very welcoming and full of all-around cool people. I've been able to meet some of the 'big name' authors, too, and pick their brains a bit. I even started using Twitter, which I'd been skeptical about. It's all made this experience much richer for me, and hopefully I've been able to contribute to the community as much as I've drawn from it.
The short of it is: writing should not be done in isolation.
Covers: Buyers Beware!
My first experience having a cover created for Solace Lost was a disaster. A pure and utter disaster. I put up a job on UpWork and had a huge number of people apply. I went through, looked at ratings, and found one who would do unlimited revisions and I thought his other covers were pretty cool. The experience was awful; he obviously didn't read the prompt and the entire burden was shifted onto me. After the fifth or so revision, when I had to point out that there were POWERLINES in the background of my late-medieval fantasy, I just gave up, paid the fee, and was out $350 bucks.
Referrals from others is everything. Having no connections, I ended up finding Rene Aigner actually on Brian McClellan's (Powder Mage) blog. As you can all see from the covers he's worked on, he does fantastic work. I wish I'd gone that path originally, and that would be my advice to those early in the self-pub game. If you are going to have someone do your cover, find someone of repute! There are so many great communities that can help you find that person, and so many people willing to make these recommendations.
Also, Rene did a portrait for the birth announcement of our son. Damned cool stuff!
(Covers below, all thanks to an awesome artist who could take my bad ideas and turn them into good ones)
Experiment with your writing
It's easy to get tunnel vision around an idea or story, and then try to force your characters down that path. That was my original approach, and I was pretty unsatisfied with the ending of my first book. Then, I decided to just let what should happen, happen. I let the characters take over and react how they would react, do what they would do. The result was very different from my (loose) plan, but so much better. It changed my entire plan for the second book. And, the end of the second book changed my entire plan for the third.
One of my English teachers in high school would write on the board, every single day (in a different position or font), 'writing is mind travel, destination unknown.' It seemed a crazy thing for him to do, and, in the tradition of high schoolers, we'd all roll our eyes, but there's truth to it.
Whether you do it in your main books, or experiment with short stories (I did one, "Painless," for a short story contest. It was fun), it can help you expand your skills and, most importantly, love what you are doing that much more.