If you’re here, you’re likely an avid reader or a writer yourself, and you’re probably familiar with the wild west of self-publishing. Being able to circumvent the gatekeepers has been an amazing boon to seeing works published that a publisher concerned with their bottom-line wouldn’t touch. Over the years, traditional publishing encouraged people to emulate popular works while eschewing anything considered niche or that didn’t have a chance to ‘break out’ and become a hit with a larger audience. This alienated minority readers to the extent that all books seemed to have the same protagonists. Straight, white, male.
Today, traditional publishing has been more inclusive, but not in the way you think. Inclusivity has been watered down in such a way that everything published today needs to be ‘safe’. Now we have authors adding disabled characters, their token gays, POC, and neurodivergent characters simply for the sake of reaching as many people as possible. You can always tell when a writer wrote a character simply for the sake of meeting a quota, rather than knowing anything about the struggles of that character.
There is a lot wrong with the traditional publishing route, but what it gets right is the quality of the prose. Quality of the actual story is subjective, and I’ll reserve that comment for another rant. But for the most part, if you pick up a book that has been traditionally published, you’re getting a quality product that may have seen many editors before gracing the shelves.
Unfortunately, editors are expensive, and few self-published authors are interested in the investment. They simply want an outlet to unload draft after draft, throwing them against the Amazon wall until something sells. I’ve looked through a number of these books being advertised through the writing community on Twitter, and from the very first paragraph, every single flaw sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. This is stuff that even one revision would have fixed, had the author understood what to look for.
Too many publish these drafts and haven’t done their research on how to self-edit. I’m still floored by the amount of people that think once they finish writing that first draft, it just needs a spell check and it’s good to go. This is the reality of the self-publishing mire, and it’s no wonder many readers are put-off by spending money on anything published this way. It’s an unfinished product. Who wants to buy something that’s not finished?
Another terrible side-effect of this Wattpad-ish style of publishing first drafts is that prospective readers have to wade through mounds of unfinished works to get to the polished gems. Their books often times are professionally edited with rounds of beta reading, revisions and rewrites. However, the stigma of self-publishing unfinished work affects even the most polished indie novel, and that’s unfortunate.
If you are looking to self-publish, there are many things you can do if you can’t afford to drop a couple grand on developmental and line editing:
- Read books, blogs, whatever you can get your hands on about the art of writing. There are even authortube videos out there that are valuable resources. Granted, some of them don’t follow what they preach, but what they have to say is actually valid.
- Once you understand story structure and proper prose, start reading books with a writer’s eye. Look at how other traditionally published authors write and take the time to dissect their stories.
- If you’ve finished your first draft, let the story sit for a couple months and start another WIP to keep improving. When you go back to read through your novel, you’ll discover just how much better you’ve gotten and how much is wrong with that draft. Read through the whole thing and make an outline of it, highlighting areas that need changed. You’ll see any plotholes or inconsistencies throughout the story. You’ll want to make a note of them for when you go back in and start rewriting/revising. Perhaps you’ll want to change the entire chapter or scene, but it might have rippling effects throughout the story. It’s good to keep track of this for that reason so you can make a note of what needs to change in either past or subsequent chapters.
- Take all those notes and outlines and make a plan. Take it chapter by chapter so that you’re not overwhelmed. This is going to seem so daunting, and it is. When I wrote my first draft of The Mark of Amulii, I realized the entire book had to be rewritten. When I rewrote it, I levelled up more in my writing and determined that most of it needed to be rewritten again. It might seem frustrating, but if you truly care about your story, you’ll want to do everything possible to make sure it’s as good as you can make it.
- Once you’re done with the revisions/rewrites, let it sit again for a couple weeks. This is also a good time to find alpha readers/critique partners. Critiquing someone else’s work gives you a lot of insight on some of the issues with your own work.
- Once you ‘re done with that phase, comb through your story again with all the comments you received from CP’s and other readers. Yeah, some may be harsh and hard to read, but grin and bear it. If you need to, separate yourself from the work again for a while and come back to it. Once you’ve cooled down and had some time to digest the comments, you’ll see that they have a lot of value. You’re reading an unbiased review from someone who is in no way as close to your story as you are.
- Start another revision, taking it chapter by chapter. This is the time you’ll want to get the manuscript as polished as you can. Start working on prettying up your prose. I like to think of the draft and first revision as a sketch and line art if this were a drawing. In this revision, you’re adding shading and tone to give the image a more three-dimensional, lifelike effect.
- When you’re done, it’s time to find beta readers. This part is hard, especially if you don’t already have a following. Also, you’re putting something you’ve worked hard on in front of regular readers, which can be emotionally draining. This part is so vital to the writing process; YOU DO NOT WANT TO SKIP IT. Put on your big boy/girl pants and do it. Get your work out there. Read up on where to find betas and how the process works before you jump into it. Get around 5-10 people to read it. The more the better.
- Now it’s time to comb through the flood of different comments. Some will be good, some will be bad, some will be useless, while others will be incredibly helpful. You’ll know which is which. Take those suggestions that helped you the most and apply them to the next revision. At this point, revisions are getting easier because you’re not having to rewrite entire chapters. You might have to kill your darlings or rewrite some scenes, but overall, what you’re doing now is adding color to the artwork. You’ll go through and see where readers got bored, and either make cuts or speed the pace. You may also have introduced inconsistencies you didn’t realize in your previous drafts.
- After everything is done, if you can afford it, hire a line editor. I know it’s expensive, but if you want to make sure you have professional-looking prose, you’ll want to have a professional help you here. Line edits are much more thorough than simply checking grammar and spelling. Look into each type of editing to see which one would benefit you most.
Optional: I HIGHLY encourage all newer writers who are seeking self-publishing to have at least one of their stories developmentally edited. This is the most expensive edit you can get, but what you learn from it is invaluable. You’ll learn your weaknesses and strengths, and how to properly structure a story. Sites like Bubblecow are great places to find more affordable developmental editing, but it is still an investment. You could even try Reedsy to scope out cheaper freelance options. The-EFA is another AMAZING place to find tons of freelance editors that specialize in just about anything you can think of. You’ll find some great rates and quality here.
If you’re serious about writing, invest in yourself. Save money for these crucial steps. Don’t half-ass your way to Amazon and wonder why nothing’s selling or the reviews are less than flattering. Nothing will be perfect, even professionally edited books may have mistakes, but you’re giving your book the best chance at life. Even after as many revisions, rewrites, editor’s and proofreads, I still find problems with my book, especially since I’ve gotten better at writing.
But learning when to stop editing your book and let it fly from the nest is another topic for another day.
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