Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost thirteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you. Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish.

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words. I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books, and who only go to pitch agents when they attend conferences at the expense of attending the craft sessions.

Additionally, too many new writers I meet do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”

I see a lot of new writers who believe their story is the exception, that the rules make for “formulaic” writing. No, rules are there for a reason, and, if the writing is too formulaic, it has more to do with execution than the rules.

Three-act structure has been around since Aristotle, and there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers. Stories have clear beginnings, middles and ends. Without a clear story objective, it is impossible to generate dramatic tension, and what is left over is drama’s inbred cousin, melodrama. Yet, many writers start off writing a book without properly understanding the basic skeleton of story.

Writing fiction is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. Yes, characters should struggle with inner demons, but that does not a plot make. Struggling with weakness, inner demons, insecurity, addictions are all character arc, not plot arc. There should be a core story problem that we can articulate in ONE sentence. The plot arc should serve to drive the character arc. If the character does not grow and change she will fail, but it is the core story problem that drives this change. Without the problem, there is no crucible.

Yes, we are artists, but we need to understand the fundamentals. I played clarinet for years, and yes it was an art. But this didn’t excuse me from having to learn to read music, the finger positions and proper embouchure (the way to position the mouth to play).

The better we are at the basics, the better we know the rules, the more we become true artists.

I’ve received contest winners whose first pages were filled with newbie errors. Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.


Sometimes there are reasons we are being rejected and we need to take a hard look and be honest. Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they are ready. If you really want to self-publish, I am here to support you and cheer you all the way, but remember, we have to write better than the traditional authors.

Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business

I see a lot of writers rushing into self-publishing without properly preparing to be a small business, yet that is exactly what we are. When we self-publish, we take on new roles and we need to understand them. We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting.

One of the benefits to traditional publishing is they take on all the risk and do the editing, proofing, etc. When we go it alone, we need to prepare for some expenses and do our research. We can be told a million times to not judge a book by its cover, yet that is exactly what readers do. Additionally, we may need to look into becoming an LLC. We need to set up proper accounting procedures and withhold the correct amount of taxes, unemployment, state taxes and on and on.

Mistake #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”

There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry.

Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way. I know Bob Mayer and Joe Konrath lecture writers to do less social media and more writing. To an extent I agree, but here is the thing. These guys were branded traditional authors who could slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of their names when they decided to go it alone. If you can’t slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of your name, prepare for a ton of work.

Not only do we need to write good books, but we need to write prolifically. We also need to work our tails off on social media. If you study the successes of the Amanda Hockings and the H.P. Mallorys, they worked like dogs. They wrote a lot of books and also created momentum with social media and newsletters.

When we self-publish, we need a much larger platform because we don’t have New York in our corner. This is one of the reasons self-publishing isn’t for everyone. We need to look at how badly we want the dream, and then ask how many hours are we willing to work? What are we willing to sacrifice?

Mistake #4 Misusing FREE!

There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness the power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain. This goes with my above point of us needing to understand the business side of our business. When we do choose to give away stuff for FREE! it needs to serve longer-term business goals.

Mistake #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH

When Joe Konrath and Bob Mayer chastise writers to get off social media and get back to writing more books, they are giving fantastic advice. One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book.

They fill up #MyWANA and all the writing hashtags with link spam promoting their books. They keep futzing with the cover, the web site, the promotions. They do blog tours until they drop, and they do everything except what is going to help that book sell a ton of copies…write more books.

Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes
about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge part of why John Locke became successful.

This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic. Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do.

Remember Why We Do This

Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative. Just because we self-publish doesn’t mean we cannot publish other ways, too. I feel the author of the future will actually be a hybrid author, and I do believe that the ability to self-publish is challenging all of us to come up higher. We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.

A little humor from the fabulous David Kazzle

My own story…

What have been some of your challenges with self-publishing? In what areas is it forcing you to grow? Have you had to outsource? What sacrifices have you made? Tell us your story!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital Worldand get prepared for 2014!!!!


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  1. I’m totally with you on the importance of being a hybrid author. One of the best pieces of advice a literary agents ever gave me was to have my feet in both traditional and indie ponds.

    1. Great agent 🙂

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  2. Ha! I love your video – thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in my delusions of grandeur.

    1. Delusions of grandeur is all that keep us going. Just keep pressing, and write BETTER than the others…

        • Anonymous on December 28, 2013 at 10:14 pm
        • Reply

        BEST ARTICLE EVER! on self publishing. I belong to close to 500 groups on Facebooks, at least 50 of them writing oriented and the hardest conversations to get started beyond the latest vampire idea, the latest zombie idea, the last sci-fi idea is about the craft of writing, writing well, writing literature and equally important—that you’re in business now! I started an online bookstore several years and closed it down basically because I couldn’t maintain my inventory numbers and profit margin—but I was right on the cusp of ebooks so I filed away all of my knowledge and waited. A few years later having taught for years, I noticed my workshops, classes and seminars were packed. So I started a cable tv show and blog and youtube videos. It dawned on me after keeping those plates spinning that it was time to pull my fiction and notes and schoolwork into publication forms, pointedly pb and ebooks.

        I sat down and knocked out the first one in a week, revised it and it’s been selling—then I noticed I was fast going to become a one trick pony so I culled notes that didn’t fit into the first one on sexual instruction and relationships into a second and then a third and then I dropped a collection of short stories and then half a dozen more and then half a dozen more—keeping my eye on the fact that my non-fiction supported the smaller sales of my fiction and that 60% of my sales is in ebooks. The initial bookstore and an MBA have me spreadsheeting, social media-ing, Constant Contact, Clickbank, Blogger, YouTube, television incessantly but multiple books allows me to target a work to one area, to another to differing demographics, I’m now in the tail-end of releasing the last of my catalogue to total 140 books by February and able to negotiate not only control but my royalties to profit, rather than praying for sales. My first textbook is a week away from publishing as I work through the proof copy after the initial edit (I learned that too—if you’re selling someone a product that you’re pricing between $5 to $129 (so far my range) it’s got to be high end quality work. It’s got to sing with usefulness or a fantastic, accessible fictitious story. It’s got to be good.

        I walk around with Development Notebooks, marketing notebooks, textbooks I’ve bought on strategic entrepreneurial growth, affiliate creation, social media maximization and even more importantly where to put profits into other business forays. This is a triumphant blog in that it codifies so much of what I’ve learned and adhere to—it’s nice not to be in my own little bubble world but hear/read—think on this multiple levels, not just gee, I love to write or this will be the next Twilight. My thought is that 140 to 200 books selling (and revised editions to happen every couple of years) for 28 to 50 years with a static marketing plan to keep rotating them through will turn my students, viewers, clicks on webpages, tv, etc. into a nice chunk of change and freedom to write even more.

        I even am thinking, thinking, silently planning of directing my second film, I did one in high school college, on maybe one of my books that’s fiction. Of course I’m recording and branching into ebooks, VOD and DVDs for the non-fiction and starting to dip my toe into learning about foreign licensing for next year and multiple language production!

  3. I agree completely! I will be self-pubbing for the first time this coming year. After seeing many published books which could have spent more time in the production stage, I am proceeding carefully. Writing is only part of the process. If I’m going to put my work out there for public consumption, I want to create a book that I’m proud to call my own. And since the business aspect of self-pubbing is my weakest area, it’s all the more reason to take my time.

  4. Thanks for the advice and insights. I’m nowhere near this point in my writing, but I will file this away for the future.

  5. Hey Kristen, great blog! I’m a hybrid author too. Not so much by choice, but I was with Drochester and when they crashed and burned I decided to go indie. I love the freedom, but it is much more work! I use your book, “We are not alone” as a reference and have recommended it to others. Good stuff in there!
    Thanks for your tips!
    Lisa Cooke

  6. So well done, again. Some of these I made too, at first. You are right. Lessons in humility, but I strive to share them when I can, so that other authors don’t to the same things. I still fall, but I’ve learned a ton, much from you both via your blog and book. Whenever an author says “Let’s talk Marketing,” I ask “Have you read Rise of the Machines?

    I’m now a hybrid author, and I think it is the way to be going forward. 2014 will be a great year. All the best to you and yours.

  7. I have read Rise of the Machine and I found it very informative. I have been around a while but it would appear I have much to learn. Thank god I read much more than I write.

  8. Really brilliant, as always! I don’t think many self publishers (or those who begin any new business, really) understand how much work it is. I was fortunate enough to have a ready-made audience due to the success of my pet website, but when I changed genres into urban fantasy, it was like starting over. Some readers could be converted, but it takes time. Meanwhile, book two of the series has taken twice as long to write due to keeping up with the demands of life, promotion, paying gigs and more promotion. I keep the faith though, and the long hours are starting to pay off!

    1. Kristen, I forgot to mention – when I first started, I made the mistake of doing a one-time free promotion and had over 17,000 copies downloaded within 48 hrs. I almost died. Lesson learned – don’t make your book available for free. I knew this ahead of time, but fell victim to the hype on all the “how to do promotion” sites. I don’t think all those people would have bought the novel, but I think it was still a costly lesson.

        • Jason M on December 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm
        • Reply

        Stacy, the only mistake you made was using the power of free before you had 2-3 other books available. I recently set one of my books free … and gave away nearly 43,000 copies in five days, hitting #1 in the Kindle Free store. Sales of the other 4 books in the series were lifted immediately and have yet to come down. The one on sale is selling incredibly well too.

  9. Kristen, great post and good reminder. We indies do need to do everything at least as well or better than trad-pubbed authors. Having been traditionally-published and now being solely independent, I have found it interesting that I actually get MORE editing input now from my friends and colleagues than I ever did from the NY house who first bought my books. Who knew?

    1. Well said Melissa. The dreaded “Indie-Author Stigma” is everywhere.
      Just made a blog post about my process.

  10. Kristen; You’re absolutely right about new authors publishing before they are ready. When I started writing fiction a few years ago, the craft end of my writing was lacking. I recognized that and took time to take some courses, join critique groups and study books on craft. Steven King’s book ‘Steven King on Writing’ was one of the first I picked up and remains one of my favourites.

    Your blog is a hard-hitting look about self publishing and marketing, but your words ring true for me. Developing a marketing strategy, both on the ground and through social media, is an ongoing process, and the obstacles are formidable. The only reason that any of us would keep doing it is because we love to write.

    On Thu, Dec 26, 2013 at 5:02 AM, Kristen Lamb’s Blog wrote:

    > Author Kristen Lamb posted: ” When I began writing I was SO SURE > agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost > thirteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more > lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you. Self-publishing > is A”

  11. Thanks for the great advise. I jumped in without doing my homework and it has been a challenge. I have entered contests and received different critiques and made the mistake of only looking at the ones that boosted my ego. It is so awesome to see someone who likes your your work and gives you praise but you must also look at the ones who’s harshness makes you cringe.

  12. This goes into that folder labelled: Invaluable Resource. Thank you for the tough love. I work on the editing end of the business, turning away far more manuscripts than I accept simply because the author has barely achieved draft status. Invariably I recommend taking classes, joining local writing groups, forming a circle of educated beta readers, and write-write-write. Now I can add *this* to the list of must-reads.

  13. Reblogged this on What I love about Life.

    • Lanette Kauten on December 26, 2013 at 9:31 am
    • Reply

    I haven’t self-published, but being published by a small press comes with some of the same issues that were brought up. Gaining traction on social media is very difficult. I interact freely with people (both friends and strangers) on Twitter, FB, and two writing websites, and sometimes I’ll promote my book, but I don’t push it continuously. I’ve contacted book bloggers and haven’t heard from any of them. The marketing person my publisher hired lined up four book bloggers for me in just a week, so it helps to have someone who understands marketing. But my biggest frustration is that I seem to have a good rapport with a lot of people. We chat and banter, which should garner interest. I realize the number one thing we can do as writers is to write a good book because it doesn’t matter how friendly we are, we’re not going to sell many copies if the book stinks. However, I won a five page critique from the talented and gorgeous Ms. Kristen, and she spoke highly of the prose but pointed out that there were too many names in the short narrative. She also thought there should be more of a lead in before dumping the readers into a crazy family. I took her advice and have had critique partners and two editors go through it since. However, it’s only my first book, and I wrote another while shopping that one, and I’m working on the second draft of a book I’m totally head-over-heels in love with. So I’m going to keep going because I figure I have another 50 years of creativity left in me.

  14. Great post. Appreciate the advice on the power of three!

  15. When I first wrote my book 10 years ago, I wanted it published immediately–so glad that didn’t happen. Ten years of writing growth made for a MUCH better read. I still find things I would change even after self publishing The House on Tenafly Road, but I can clearly see in the manuscripts I’ve written since the slow elimination of newbie mistakes. Now I have the newbie marketing mistakes to get through 🙂

    • Susanne Leist on December 26, 2013 at 9:54 am
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen,
    It appears that I’ve made most of the mistakes that you have mentioned in your blog. I’ve missed one: I haven’t given my book away for free. It is against my nature and my MBA in finance to give away anything for free.
    I self-published without a clear plan in mind. I didn’t want to send out hundreds of letters to publishers and agents. Without contacts in the publishing business, I didn’t believe that anyone would bother looking at my work. I know what it feels like to send out resumes without inside connections. It becomes a long shot.
    After my book was in print, I joined reading and review groups. Even though Outskirtspress edited my book, it still needed a lot of work. So far, I’ve made two big groups of edits and plan to submit one more.
    I’m doing the whole process backward. The book is being fixed after it has been published.
    Hopefully, I can make up for lost time. I will continue to push forward.
    Thanks for the inspiring article,

      • Jason M on December 27, 2013 at 6:54 pm
      • Reply

      Susanne, in your MBA courses, you undoubtedly learned the term “loss leader”. Think of a temporarily free book as exactly that — provided you have several titles in the series.

  16. This article and ‘Rise of the Machines’ together are the best pieces of advice I have ever read.

    • K L. on December 26, 2013 at 10:05 am
    • Reply

    This is the truth–writing is hard and takes years of commitment for what is all too often a disappointing rejection pile. You have summed up the lessons well, and topped it off with a cartoon that had me and my husband laughing a sad, wise little laugh, and listing the people we want to send it to.
    Thanks for the wisdom and commiseration. 🙂
    mahereenie @ yahoo . com

  17. This is great advice. I agree that the self-publishing world is becoming over-saturated and that authors need to take their time when releasing their work. My first novel was self-published. My second novel was published by a small press. They both required hard work on my part when it came to getting the word out. It’s funny – to write you must be introverted. To market you must be extroverted. I’m stronger in the first area, but getting stronger in the second.

  18. Hiya, I read this with great interest as I’m getting ready to self-pub my first novel.
    I have been writing for a long time, but only switched to English (Dutch is my first language) about 12 years ago. Writing and reading fanfiction for over a decade has allowed me to grow in my craft and I now feel confident about that childhood dream of publishing a book. Until now, I never really knew where to begin, but thanks to so many changes, I can do it on my own.
    My first short stories were published in 2 separate anthologies and well received, so it’s only giving me another boost.

    As for the ‘rushing into it’, I won’t fall for that trap. I wouldn’t want anyone to be presented with any less than what I would expect when I buy a book. Self-pubbed or not. If you want to do it, you have to do it right. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it.

  19. Excellent article. I’m just writing. That was the good advice I got during my journey. ‘Read, write and worry about publishing later.’ I’m almost done with the second draft/rewrite of my novel and know I’ve got at least a third to go. I know platform is good and I work on that too. Thanks again.

    • Randy Rothfus on December 26, 2013 at 10:43 am
    • Reply

    Great article. Practicing what you preach makes it all the more “real”. I for one really appreciate all the information you are so willing to share! Thank you.

  20. I always enjoy your informative (and many times, fun) posts, but this is one of your best. I published my first novel 2 1/2 years ago. I did the interior, had someone edit it and hired a cover designer. It won awards and was a community read in two separate areas. I’ve worked hard for it and am happy with how it has been received.

    I’m about to publish its prequel. This time I am taking my time. I’ve delayed publishing it in 2013 so I can get ALL the copy edits and editor notes done. I added a beta reader who is a head librarian and loved the first novel. When this new one comes out in hopefully January, I’ll have the marketing plan in place and a third novel in the pipeline for publication (though I’m still pitching it traditionally). I like the idea of hybrid author. I have essays and articles published in anthologies and magazines (paid). Being more cautious and measured this time, I hope to reach that goal of three books on the shelf. Am excited that readers are asking and waiting for the next one.

    • melorajohnson on December 26, 2013 at 11:07 am
    • Reply

    Well, it makes me feel a little better that I’ve spent so much time learning the basics and just writing since I actually understand things like Scene and Sequel now, lol. I’m still finishing my novel while I decide to shoot for the agent/editor route or self-publishing. Of course, I already have the second novel started. Does that make me strange?

  21. Amazing post! Thanks for all the advice and info. 🙂

  22. Excellent information. I work with authors and write reviews of nearly every book I read. i have one self-published author with whom I’m working to get better control on her ‘business of writing’ and am pushing her to write more. That covers two. Sadly, I have a review to write for a book with a publisher that is not bad writing, except it reads like a collection of writing assignments. I kept telling myself “It isn’t your favorite genre.” and looked for anything good. A publisher has committed paper resources to some very 70s angst writing typical of a first book, offered poor typography and sent me a copy for review. I’m going to inflict pain before the end of the year because I want better things on my mind.

    • Fred R. Rodriguez on December 26, 2013 at 11:44 am
    • Reply

    Great article. In 2010 I realized that was going to live. I began writing my first book. Since then I took classes, read books and articles, and edited as much as I could. My reading habits since I was a child were at least 2 to 3 a week. I think I have that ready for a first read by a professional. Now I am designing a marketing campaign. Being the top producer in the company, where I spent so many years, taught me that you need to think about the customer more than yourself. I literally made myself a brand. This is equally important when writing. Who are the people you are writing for and how are you going to reach them.

  23. Reblogged this on Daniel F. Bowman and commented:
    Wow–great advice. It’s a long process that just begings with the final editing
    I wonder if there is anything like “4 Hour Work Week” for writers. There are ways to speed up the process, but I wonder what cuts the most time by focusing on what is most necessary.
    The end video is hilariously honest!

  24. Excellent post!

  25. Thanks for the article! Fear of Mistake #2 is why I haven’t self-published yet. I have my LLC, but I’m still trying to figure out the taxes and accounting, including separating all the business finances from my personal ones. I’m cautious by nature, so this entire process will consist of well-researched baby steps.

  26. Hi Kristen – For Christmas I asked for a got several books on writing. After the cooking and dishes and warm fuzzy time I sat down and read “Save The Cat”, as you and others have suggested. Now I want to cry. Thank you for your hard words – Silent

  27. This is hilarious!!! OOO looky that! Auto correct works!!!

    • Jennifer Rose on December 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm
    • Reply

    Totally agree about too many self-publishing before the book is ready. For example, look no further than Morgan Rice’s “The Sorcerer’s Ring” series, which is a seriously good, thrilling and fun read. At the same time, it is filled with elementary errors, like the wrong choice of the three ‘their/there/they’re’ words, an actual “_____” instead of a name at some point, etc. etc. I put up with it till the third book, but the amount of errors finally got on my nerves, pulled me out of the story, and started making me question too much if what I read was really what was meant to be read… Bummer!

    • Melissa Lewicki on December 26, 2013 at 12:56 pm
    • Reply

    I agree with Janet Oakley that this is one of your best posts. Very helpful. Thanks.

  28. Jennifer, I totally agree. As an ex-English teacher but forever grammar guru, I can’t keep reading if I find too many errors. I recently picked up one of the most beautiful books (memoir) I have ever seen. The binding and cover were works of art; however, there were so many mechanical errors on the back cover, front inside flap, and first page that I knew I could not get through it without throwing it.

    1. You can’t underestimate the value of a good critique group after a few self-editing passes. I’m always amazed at the amount of errors when I use the preview feature on Amazon.

    • Michelle on December 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm
    • Reply

    As a traditionally published author considering self publishing I appreciate your post. Thank you.

  29. Thank you for having the brazen anatomy to speak the unvarnished truth. I have said a few of these things time and again to my group, particularly re: editing, and often get met with blank stares.

  30. I’ve been self-publishing anthologies with stories written from large groups of people. It is incredibly time-consuming, so I am sacrificing time with my family and even some of my own writing time. However, I am learning so much about the editing process, formatting, and the publishing process that is all worth it, and the bonus is that I already have a long list of books out there with stories by me in them (including anthologies published by others) for when I have my novels ready to publish..

  31. Thank you, for taking the time and blogging some really sound advice. I enjoyed the two videos, laughed self-consciously at the first one and hide behind my chair while I watched the second one. OUCH. But seriously, thanks again! I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

    • Gale Albright on December 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm
    • Reply

    This article is spot on. Especially Mistake #1 Knowing When We Are Ready. I was reading books by the time I could walk, practically, making great grades in English, spelling better than everyone else. Of course I thought I could write! I’ve had to learn the lessons of writing through trial and error. Just reading great literature doesn’t mean I can sit down and start writing great literature. It’s a humbling experience. I’m still learning.

    On Thu, Dec 26, 2013 at 7:01 AM, Kristen Lamb’s Blog wrote:

    > Author Kristen Lamb posted: ” When I began writing I was SO SURE > agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost > thirteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more > lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you. Self-publishing > is A”

  32. Great article! You’re right that those mistakes are pretty much everywhere. I did not understand the business side at all…at all. I’m dreading tax time.

    While I got a huge hand up in the form of Hugh Howey giving permission for me to write in the WOOL world, I wrote the books because I just wanted to tell some of the story a different way. I had no idea that writing and then publishing and THEN hearing from readers full of enthusiasm was so much like getting addicted to crack.

    I don’t know that I’ll ever be rich and famous, or that I would even want to. I have a great career but this has been like finding something I never knew was missing before. The book contract offers and such are just icing on the cake that I never expected. Articles like yours are a good way for me to keep figuring out what I don’t know so I can learn it.

  33. So many writers I work with have an excuse for why they can’t promote their work. I keep giving the business perspective but so many refuse to consider themselves a business, they want to be artists and nothing more. Thanks for saying it again! Someday it’ll sink in.

  34. Reblogged this on Visions and Revisions and commented:
    Here is good advice from Kristen Lamb to authors who want to self publish.

  35. I only started writing better after having my short stories rejected by numerous editors then investigating why they were rejected. I think every writer should start off by submitting short stories to publications before jumping into the self-publishing arena. I’ve read too many books by new DIY authors that have numerous mis-spelled words, improper formatting, boring exposition and plots that go nowhere. It makes me extremely cautious about trying new authors and actually ruins the whole market for everyone. I think every writer preparing to self-publish should HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR. Great post Kristen!

  36. YES! You can’t just write ten books and throw them up there. You must do the marketing too. I actually did an experiment to see if simply releasing a new book and announcing it on my newsletter/blog/FB/twitter would work without all the other marketing strategies (blog tours, etc). My sales were about 90% less than the book I released 6 months earlier. The point of marketing is to position you in a place where you don’t need to do much marketing-the machine is automated. Some people start out with an automated machine, so they don’t see or understand the work involved to building that fan base from scratch.

    With my newest release, I’m doing a 42 stop review tour, putting the first book in the series up for free (Wattpad is making it their lead book), and doing an ad on Bookbub (as well as all the other freebie sites). Just from putting the first book up for free (all of the other marketing hits the day of book 3’s release), all my books are now ranking on the paid lists.

    In my experience, you need to have 3 books out and then start manipulating the system (AKA Amazon) to your advantage. I plan on always having a book out for free, short stories for 99cents as lead in to the series, Bookbub, Wattpad, and blog tours. My sales are shooting through the roof!

    Something that simply wasn’t happening when I had 3 books out and I did next to no marketing.

    1. You’ve helped answer one of the questions I had when I read this post. I just can’t believe pumping a book on twitter is going to translate into real sales.

      1. It doesn’t. There are far better ways to use Twitter than spamming non-stop.

  37. It’s refreshing to read a list of mistakes for newbies that introduce areas most people don’t mention. I’ve been grateful that I haven’t self-published yet, and have been able to learn more about the business side, as well as getting feedback from others, to help me hold it back some. Thanks for another great article Kristen!

  38. I reblogged this on Turning the Pages, Great Advice!

    • Keith English on December 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm
    • Reply

    This couldn’t have popped up in my news feed at a better time. I’ve already put a few hundred into the cover of my anthology and have critiqued and been given peer edits on each story several times. I hope to self publish this long labor of love in a few months. Great advice!

  39. I agree with your points. As a self-published author of 10 novels, it’s a real struggle to juggle everything publishing requires. I think learning the business end is probably the most important. Spending the money to get software to help with cover creation, editing, formatting, and putting it all together is vital. The more you know how to do things on your own means the less you have to outsource and reduce your own profits. And once you’re good at producing your own books, you can advertise your services to other authors and it will eventually help you recoup the cost of your investment. A good wine takes time to make, and so should a good book.

  40. Very helpful, thank you! I’m considering self-publishing my first novel, but I have a lot of things to learn!

  41. Thanks for another interesting and inspiring blog post. What you say about not resting on one’s laurels is so true – write another title. Sometimes it is too easy to get swamped with social media marketing and promotion; there is the danger of becoming a marketeer and forgetting why we started out – to write. Thanks again and all the best for 2014. I have reblogged this post here on my blog:

  42. I very much agree and am glad to be reading this advice. I’m pretty new to the writing biz (as it should be called), not in creative writing itself but trying to balance it between writing and treating it like an old-fashioned J.O.B. It’s a wake-up call, and I feel a bit awkward with the fact that I haven’t been reading fiction in awhile since getting self-absorbed in writing. It feels like a 48/7 job, working all the media venues, and it’s super tough. Hopefully I have time to read a few fiction books and books on writing/publishing after writing. Never too late to do that. 🙂

  43. This post comes at a perfect time for me. I’m *thinking* of self-publishing a novel, perhaps by the end of 2014 if all goes well. Everything you discuss in this post is something I’ve thought (and worried) about. I’m anxious about self-publishing because I know it will be a lot of work. I have a graduate degree in English, have freelanced as an editor, and worked as a technical editor. No way am I *not* going to hire an editor for my novel. My own professional editing experience has taught me that I should never rely on myself to edit my own work. And I really appreciate your thoughts on making one’s book available for free.

  44. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Kristen offers great advice on five mistakes that many self-published authors make. A good post to read if you are considering self-publication for the first time.

  45. Well, I have spent most of my savings working out how to do this! I hired 4 artists over the year, one of whom does the novels under my pen name, so as to get a cohesive look for the covers. I bought Jutoh for a reliable powerful ebook editor. I made many mistakes, sold a few books, and so far have made a whopping loss. Going into 2014 I have some collaborative ideas, and have just helped edit another author’s poetry and photographs into an ebook.

  46. So true. Pushing that “Publish” button too soon is such a common, an potentially career-killing step. Likewise, not being willing to invest money in an editor (and making sure you have a good one–I know someone who probably provided his editor with a summer home, a new boat, and a vacation to Europe and the book was filled with both story and basic typos/spelling/grammar problems). You don’t get to be a doctor without investing time and money in your education; cutting corners on that which produces a quality product is self-defeating.

  47. Reblogged this on Whispers in the Wind.

  48. You’re so right. While self-publishing is generally faster than the traditional route, it shouldn’t be so fast you don’t have time to get the basics in place–the writing skill, the social media platform, and the marketing effort (cover design, etc) to get it right THE FIRST TIME. I know there are more and more authors (many of whom have pursued traditional publishing or are even agented) who are venturing into the self-pub world, and they are aware of the effort it’ll take to come out of the gate with a bang. I know I wanted to hit the ground running, and part of that is making sure you have reviews/endorsements lined up, as well as writing/cover/blurb that can compete with traditional books. I think that as self-pubbed authors, we have to aim for the top…and never stop writing more books. Great thoughts today

  49. I’ve almost completed my first novel (several years in the writing) and although I want to try the traditional publishing route first, I have to accept that this may not happen, so I found your post informative and relevant. Thanks!

  50. This will come off as snarky. I don’t mean it to. I apologize in advance. But really, who are you? I came across this because someone shared it on facebook, but honestly, “Best Selling New York Times Author”? I just took a peek. The book on this page is 100,000 at the moment in Amazon Kindle rank. How do you define the term “New York Times bestselling author”? You don’t appear to have published much fiction, at least none I can find on Amazon. You’ve blogged and written about writers using social media, as a gazillion others have. How does this make you an expert on what makes a good story?

    1. I never claimed to be a New York Times Best-Selling Author. My first two books hit #1 on Amazon in many categories. Rise of the Machines was in the Top Five on Amazon (which is a very accurate ranking) for many weeks and in multiple categories. At least once a week it goes back up into the top 50, if not top 10 (depends on when you look at the ranking). People are enjoying Christmas, not buying books right now. Alas, no book stays on any best-selling list indefinitely. Would be lovely, though.

      Though I did have one of the top NYC agents, NY couldn’t publish a social media book because their lead-time is a minimum of a year.

      I’ve written easily two million words, published well over 900 blogs and worked for many years as an editor. Also I am a columnist for Author Magazine. But, if you don’t care for the blog or the advice, there are many other fine sites that might suit your needs, though I do hope you stay :D. As far as fiction, I’ve published award-winning short-stories and am currently contracted to continue a very successful thriller series. Yet, my expertise is generally from the position of an editor, since that is where I began my career.

      As far as why am I an expert? When it comes to social media, my methods have sold millions of books. When it comes to fiction, I’ve turned aspiring writers into best-selling novelists. The rest? Up to you. But it is good to question WHY people are experts.

    • ronnie c on December 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for this …I’ve been rejected once…I have a short story in with a publisher now…and a novel ready for publishing after it’s edited…if I get rejected enough times I was thinking of self publishing, but was told it’s a hard road to take…

  51. I don’t have the technical expertise to self-publish, Also I value my (independent) publisher’s editors and cover artists. But – success hits at book 3? I think not. I have had 5 books published in the past 3 years (and all have received 4 and 5 start reviews – not from family or friends either!), and I know others with many more than that who are still struggling to sell, despite excellent reviews. There is a very fine line between promoting one’s work and over-promoting, and in the end I don’t think anyone really knows what ‘works’. I live in hope for my 6th novel which will be published next February!

    1. That’s a generality. More books=more chances of succeeding so keep pressing!

  52. As a self-published writer getting ready to release that third book you talk about, I agree. Traction comes over time. But the hardest part of self-publishing is that the tools you have are less strategic than the publishers use. For instance, if you want to time your release to a specific date, forget about it. Work with date ranges.

  53. Reblogged this on Paws4Thought.

  54. This came at a good time. I’ve just finished my first MS and have been wondering whether to take the plunge into self-publishing or to try hard for an agent and a publisher first. After reading this it only solidifies the fact for me that there is a whole lot more to think about than just getting that book wrote, though that’s a good start 🙂
    Happy holidays,
    Jacquie Biggar

  55. Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    some great advice here

    • Carina Bissett on December 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm
    • Reply

    Wonderful advice! Thank you. I think it is too easy to get trapped in the business side of writing. You have to keep writing and writing and writing. I suppose it’s all about balance — whatever that is. Thanks again.

  56. There is still hope.

  57. Your article is wonderful and I agree with all your great advice. I self published my first book in August 2012, knowing very little about this industry. In my enthusiasm, I am sad to say that there were mistakes in my first book, but I was treated very kindly by generous readers who were prepared to overlook them. It taught me the valuable lesson of being proof read. I now have a team of six women who scan my work meticulously and I now have two more books out there, typo free and a fourth about to be released in January. My books have done extremely well and I am a dedicated advocate to self publishing, and helping others to make their dreams come true.
    Yes, it is very hard work, and I spend a lot of time on promotion when I want to be writing, but the rewards are incredibly satisfying. The feeling of self achievement alone is amazing.
    Articles like this are valuable resources for anyone who wants to be an Indie author and I thank you for sharing with us,

    Catherine Taylor,

    • kingmidget on December 26, 2013 at 7:45 pm
    • Reply

    “You can’t put junk out there.” I’ve self-published two novels. Each of which took me a minimum of two years to write to a final draft, followed by more months of major edits. I’ve spent a lot of 2013 reading manuscripts for other self-published authors and marvel at their need to publish immediately. Yes, there are a few very talented people who can write a quality full-length novel in a few months. But there aren’t many. I wish self-published authors would slow down, breathe, and give their stories more time to grow before rushing to publish. To me, that’s the only way to avoid putting junk out there.

    1. I can’t answer. I have seen writers work for YEARS on manuscripts that were still unpublishable. I do agree that we need to slow down and at least get beta readers and editors, but some people have no problems writing quickly. Fahrenheit 451 was written in a matter of days and is a classic.

        • kingmidget on December 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm
        • Reply

        Both possibilities — years of effort producing something unpublishable and a quick masterpiece — but in the vast and mush middle are decent stories that take time. Traditional publishing needs to speed up its turn-around time, while self-publishers need to slow themselves down. The single biggest reason I gave up on traditional publishing is my lack of patience with months and years of waiting.

        1. COMPLETELY AGREE. I had a BIG agent for TWO YEARS, but NY couldn’t bring my book to market in a reasonable time. So I published alone. A lot depends on the personality of the writer, the content, and how quickly we can write. There are writers who just cannot turn out multiple books a year. They are an EXCELLENT for NY. On the other hand, there are writers who are very prolific and write excellent books and indie and self-pub is a better match. Finally we are not in a ONE SIZE FITS ALL WORLD, but we DO need to be educated before choosing a path.

  58. Reading posts like these makes me glad I’m taking it slow and trying to learn all I can before I publish. One area where I’d love to see more info though is “Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business”. I’m trying, but there seem to be fewer resources when it comes to this side of things. I’m curious – have you blogged on this in the past (I looked, but I didn’t see anything), or could you?

      • tmycann on December 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm
      • Reply

      Check out Dean Wesley Smith’s blog for some very good insights into how to approach indie publishing as a business, from the perspective of someone who’s successful at it. 🙂

      1. Thanks, I will!

  59. From my own experience as a self published author I have to agree with most of what you say in this post. Great blog!

  60. This article really hit home with me. I self-published my first book a) before it was ready, and b) before I was ready. I have since been working on my craft and have started several other books. My biggest regret about the first book is that, though the story is great, I short changed my audience, the book, and myself by publishing it when I did. I have learned much since and have much more to learn- as your article proves. Thanks for the advice to us newbies!

    • Joyce Gobin-Hutchinson on December 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, I’m glad found your blog through a friend on Facebook. I’ve watched your video…thanks for making it fun to watch. lol… I’m self publishing my first community poetry book in a matter of a couple of weeks… I hope… been working on it for six months at least. I am also editing, formatting and doing a lot myself with a partner, but will welcome what the team has to offer. I like the advice about continued writing and not too heavy on the promote what you just wrote. I know there’s lots to learn I will take what you’ve offered and do some homework.. I’m mainly a painter but writing has been a wonderful way to diversify the art of creating. I am looking forward to your emails from your blog and more. 🙂 Cheers to a great 2014!

  61. I am one of those who remains dubious about the value of social media…so often social media is just singing to the choir (people who are already one’s readers) or into a vacuum (tweeting to 20,000 random strangers is just so much spam….the only book I ever bought based on tweeting was Tom Siedell’s, but he is clearly an exception to the rule). I agree with your assessment that writing the next book is better use of time than MOST author’s use of social media. I am willing to believe that YOU know what you are doing on social media, because I often read your column, but that makes you an exception to the rule too. And, um, haven’t bought your book either. (Though to be fair, I might have if I didn’t already have a publisher interested in my book…once I, you know, finish writing it.)

    Must say, I really enjoyed the humour video–amazed I hadn’t come across it before, given that it accurately describes about 20% of my client base. Painfully funny. I posted it to my blog with tip of hat to your column for bringing it to my attention.

  62. I’m surprised to hear about writers who won’t read fiction. My love of writing stemmed from my love of fiction as a child.

  63. I disagree with many points you make in “Mistake #1.” Firstly, a writer does not need to understand about Jungian archetypes to write a novel. I say this as a retired psychotherapist: you just do not need that information. Jung did not invent archetypal figures as they appear in the history of human storytelling. He merely named and discussed them in ways that fit with his views of human psychology, which also spill over into the borders of the spiritually mystical, as he believed in something he called the Collective Unconscious, which is a theoretical construct with no basis in physical reality. Personally, I love his work, but I would not ever say that a writer must understand about his archetypes in order to write a book, because that is a very deep and rich part of his theory that I dare say most people claiming to understand, understand only very superficially or not at all.

    Secondly, whenever someone makes a statement beginning, “there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that …”, I want to see their sources, which I tried to do. Your link goes to another blog site, from what I can tell, that is not a neuroscience site. Also, the article is no longer there. I would like to see the “lot of evidence”.

    Thirdly, none of what you say about “three-act structure” is relevant to Modernist or Post-Modernist literature, which is much of what’s being read these days outside of genre fiction. Additionally, some of the best genre fiction I’ve read lately leaps right out of a traditional narrative structure, which keeps it lively, challenging, and interesting. You seem to think that readers cannot cope with anything but what they expect to see happen, structurally speaking. I would say many readers would (and do) find that a crashing bore.

    I still read traditional narrative, but not solely. None of my reading friends read only traditional narrative, either. Also, there are many ways we have diverged from Aristotle’s “Poetics” since he wrote them, and ever since they became available (giving birth to literary criticism as a form), critics have diverged on their opinions of his ideas. Generations should be free to invent their own forms and to experiment. What you seem to suggest is that everyone should write in a prescribed fashion, which is just death to literature (and the arts generally, too, in my opinion).

    I do not read a lot of “expert” internet writers on writing, because of these types of comments you have made, which I think are misleading. I read this article only because a friend sent it to me. I think many of your points (other than the first) are valid and useful, when it comes to marketing information. But perhaps being a great marketer is different from being a great novelist. Many literary-award winning novelists would not fit within your constraints.

    1. Thought this might interest you. It’s an article by Tim Parks discussing the limits of the traditional novel:

      1. I would not agree with all that he says there, and I myself still enjoy traditional novels as well as other forms; but, it’s food for thought and many of the comments are compelling reading.

    2. We have to understand the “rules” before breaking rules. When a writer doesn’t know an antagonist from an apple, that is a problem. It isn’t art, it’s self-indulgence. Archetypes have been around for thousands of years (Jungian and otherwise). Yes, deviate. Meatloaf used his training in opera to make his music art. Jazz musicians were often schooled in classical forms and then added that to their riffs. BUT THEY STILL WERE NOT EXCUSED from learning the basics.

      When we don’t understand personalities and archetypes, we can risk writing characters that are one-dimensional tropes or that act in ways unsuited to the personality. For instance, I once edited a work by a new writer who had a character who began as a misogynistic rapist killer who then went on to move west and start running casinos and indulge in money laundering, but there was no logical explanation in the narrative for such a gross deviation in behavior. Even the FBI knows that a person doesn’t suddenly stop raping and chopping up women to take up card games and blackmail. As a psychotherapist, you should appreciate the necessity for writers to understand humans, behavior and how to then use that knowledge to create arc.

      And if you would like to “see a lot of evidence” regarding the Neuroscience of story, I recommend James Scott Bell, Joseph Campbell, Jonah Lehrer (despite his controversy), Larry Brooks, the beloved and late Blake Snyder, and Proust.

      1. I replied to the wrong comment, so I am moving this. My apologies for that.

        Regarding your final paragraph: the people you mention are not neuroscientists, but novelists, so your answer is confusing and unhelpful. (I have read much of Proust and Campbell, thanks. I’m not very interested in the others.) I’ve also read journal articles and books by neuroscientists, and I was interested in the study/studies that you mentioned, which I assumed you were linking to when you made your statement, but none were there. I wanted to read these, but I guess you no longer have access to those resources, so that’s fine.

        You specifically mention Jungian archetypes, which is why I responded to that.

        Regarding what you believe I “should appreciate” as a psychotherapist: well, I appreciate many things, not the least of which is that humans and their behaviour and rules of creating art — and what should or should not “be excused” — is a vast sea of complexity. I simply disagree with your reductionist view on what does or does not make for good narrative structure.

        What you have described regarding the story of the rapist killer sounds like a case of bad writing. My argument to you, which stands, is that your own ideas of “mistakes” in point 1 do not much fit with my own ideas or that of many others, because many talented and well-regarded writers do not adhere to such rules — especially regarding structure.

        Also, while it is true that some experimental visual artists, musicians et al. have sprung from a classical tradition, it is also true that many did not. They started, very simply, from precisely where they found themselves in space and time and social context: the result being art that is fresh, vibrant, original, and unconstrained.

      2. In reference to:

        “When we don’t understand personalities and archetypes, we can risk writing characters that are one-dimensional tropes or that act in ways unsuited to the personality.”

        I just wanted to say that I have found the opposite to be true in a lot of cases. If you study the shortcuts, you have a tendency to use them. I started out in writing by inhaling every copy of Writer’s Digest and The Writer and writing craft book I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, by the time I was fourteen years old, I was fabulous at making every word count and eliminating filler and writing clean copy and editing, etc., etc.

        Then I had to unlearn it all. I still struggle with clarity issues to this day because I thought I was supposed to make every word count and only later learned how terrible such “rules” are when carried to their logical extreme. I am also now a chronic underwriter and am thoroughly bored with the generic fiction you are here espousing.

        The one thing I never messed up because I kept hearing that it was my strong point was characters. I KNOW my characters like nobody’s business, but I never develop them from a skeleton, which is a recipe for a stereotype. When I met the archetypes for all of ten minutes, I quickly recoiled and never went back. They’re cliches. They’re one-dimensional, flat, and useless for anything but plot-centered fiction.

        I take the old-fashioned method of character development for the bulk of my characters. (Most classic genre writers based them on real people.) I consider them people. To quote a comment I made elsewhere once:

        “My characters aren’t real to me until I’ve gotten under their skin. I play out their stories in different worlds, in different ways, what ifs, premises, etc. in my head, seeing through their eyes. When who they are, the core of them, is solid to me regardless of anywhere they end up (with permissible broad variations for fantastically varied upbringings and backstories), then I’m comfortable letting them bump up against anyone in anyone world I end up commandeering their appearance in. :grins: I’m hard on my characters. I put them through the worst possible, the best possible, and then see what can’t be broken without them being someone else.”

        I don’t think everyone needs to do that, but en brief, an archetype is an easy way to throw in a character that turns out to be cardboard. It’s not the rules. It’s a shortcut.

        As for what gives me the “authority” to write declarative sentences, I will simply say that I have written more than 2 million words of fiction, original under multiple pen names and fanfiction, and spent a good year being one of the most popular writers in my fandom. On all of my stories in all my plentiful feedback, it’s the “fascinating” characters and takes on characters I get complimented on. I never build from a cliche. I build from people and so those characters come alive.

        Which is the long way of saying that understanding craft is not the same as understanding jargon or understanding film and tv formulas to apply to your fiction.

        If all you mean is writers need to understand how a story works, how to write, and what makes a good character, then you should say that. If you mean everyone needs to study a particular approved theory before they can write well, then you’re wrong. There are so many rich literary legacies that ignore the particular “rules” you’re espousing in favor of their own traditions. Very little, if anything, in this world is without exception.

        1. Oh good grief. Why is everyone so pissed about learning the BASICS? Diversify. Break rules! But this doesn’t excuse us from knowing writer ABC’s. Very thoughtful comment and if this was a CRAFT blog, I might engage further. But since it is an article from an editor who’s edited THOUSANDS of writers who believe they are ready for publishing and aren’t? I will delay. I’ve run a 20 page contest for almost FIVE years. Three of those five were EVERY WEEK. Out of ALL those submissions, TWO were ready to look for an agent (but still needed refining). Yes, you are a writer. I write from the perspective of a FIFTEEN YEAR EDITOR. Most thought they were ready and 98% were wrong.

            • Aften on December 31, 2013 at 1:58 pm

            I already commented, and have been following the comments coming in on this post. Honestly, I know nothing about writing and I value the insight and advice provided and made available to people like me. This post is truly needed for someone as myself who tinkers at writing. I need to be informed, I crave the advice and experience of those who have it, Even more appreciated is the editor perspective that I truly lack. I may not ever become successful at the hobby I love, but I hope to at least continue my hobby with skill and learning. It seems wise to follow writing guidelines and technique, especially for me- who is unestablished and inexperienced. Thanks again! Just want to give you props for sharing good advice.

        2. I just flat AGREED that we need to study and understand craft, and I established pretty firmly that I DID study far more than just the basics, but also rejected Jungian archetypes because they are NOT the basics nor are they the rules or the “right” way of doing something. They’re cliches and stereotypes and skeletons from one literary tradition among many. It’s like saying someone HAS to learn to create something from a set of templates and only a particular set of templates that isn’t always applicable.

          I never said those writers understood their craft or were ready to publish. I said in fact that if you meant knowing craft then that’s true and you should have said it. I said it politely too, not pissed.

          I continue to flat disagree that jargon is craft. You need to learn how to write and to tell a good story and to know what one is. You need to understand what makes a good character and you need to understand the tools of language, techniques, etc. I never disputed that. I disputed the one point that Jungian archetypes are prerequisites for not building a one-dimensional character. Unfortunately though, Jungian archetypes ARE one-dimensional characters.

          1. I think Jungian archetypes are a START. We must begin SOMEWHERE. Do we have to remain there? No. Never said that. In fact, true artists don’t. I refuse to argue that understanding plot, basic archetypes and POV is jargon. It’s the beginning point that many wanna-be writers wish to skip. Skip those steps, and it sets you further back. Sort of like Chemistry 101 sucks if you don’t get the Periodic Table. As a long-time editor, I would have been HAPPY if people even stuck to Jungian archetypes. But they didn’t. They were all over the MAP. Get the basics, and build from there.

            And I don’t mean to seem antagonistic. I think your approach is brilliant. But many people who seek to be writers want to skip to the top without appreciating fundamentals. I’ve witnessed this THOUSANDS of times. Characters out of context, psychologically inconsistent, etc.

            It’s like trying to get a person who wants to play guitar to “riff” when they don’t know the basic finger positions. Your point is VERY valid, but I am talking about what halts most writers. MOST don’t take time for the basics.

          2. I appreciate your perspective, but I repeat, I NEVER said not to understand plot and POV.

            Jungian archetypes? Pretty much jargon. Scene and sequel? That’s jargon for one set of definitions for those words. When they first showed up, I noticed how confusing they were for those raised writing on a different jargon. I know scenes and transitions and exposition and dramatic monologues, etc. and have written “sequels,” but was writing them long before someone stuck together a theory about them and repurposed a perfectly good term for something that already had other better names.

            The classic writing terms have survived because they are self-explanatory and not jargon. “The Mentor” requires a theory to make sense (jargon). Pacing requires some understanding of how to do it but means the same thing in other contexts. Same with scene, point of view, transition, dialogue, etc.

            I have noticed that every successful 15+ book fiction novelist I’ve ever read disagrees with you on this: they are inclusive of ALL types of writing techniques and never suggest you MUST understand and use Hollywood’s and that those are the fundamentals of writing all fiction. P.C. Wrede in fact just finished a whole series on plot types, which validated a truth I have often discovered for myself: three-act is beyond not the only one out there. LeGuinn also provides a much better view of such things in her book, Steering the Craft.

            Writers need to learn craft. I never said they didn’t. You would have my FULL agreement if you didn’t reduce that to one single theory that is altogether patently useless for literary-style or non-Western fiction.

          3. Again, it wasn’t a CRAFT post. It was a post regarding what was hurting people who wanted to self-publish. You win. You are smarter than me.

          4. I have made no effort to make this a craft post, and I am certainly not smarter than you (though being heavy on the sarcasm myself in real life, I’m quite aware that you are not complimenting my intelligence but implying I have a need to be right).

            In your post and your comments, you made one point that I disputed. One. Only one:

            You MUST understand archetypes as that is basic writer’s craft or else risk having one-dimensional characters.

            Uh, no. You must understand people to write characters and should know what makes a character well-rounded. That is basic writer’s craft. Archetypes are an option, but not a requirement.

            I’m amazed that you keep making this discussion about something it’s not. You are the one who has said writers must have a grasp of the fundamentals of craft. That’s true. Saying that fundamentals are one theory that is not universally applicable and that it is a REQUIREMENT for all writers to learn THAT THEORY if they want to write well is not true.

            That is all I said, all I disputed, and is not about how do you feel about how should we best write characters.* My repeated iteration that I believe in writers learning their craft is in response to your repeated iteration that I’m suggesting they don’t.

            *which would make it a derailing discussion of craft

          5. Which means we AGREE and should be drinking something FUN! ((HUGS)))

  64. So much of this hit home. I certainly queried before I was ready, but I learned a lot in the process of reading between the rejection lines. I recommend querying even if you plan to self-publish, it can be enlightening! Now I’m back at editing again and have been more selective with Beta Readers. My big fear with self-publishing is HOW and WHEN do you know you’re ready (that you’ve done enough editing?) Any advice for that???? Thank you again 🙂

    1. Regarding your final paragraph: the people you mention are not neuroscientists, but novelists, so your answer is confusing and unhelpful. (I have read much of Proust and Campbell, thanks. I’m not very interested in the others.) I’ve also read journal articles and books by neuroscientists, and I was interested in the study/studies that you mentioned, which I assumed you were linking to when you made your statement, but none were there. I wanted to read these, but I guess you no longer have access to those resources, so that’s fine.

      You specifically mention Jungian archetypes, which is why I responded to that.

      As a psychotherapist, I appreciate many things, not the least of which is that humans and their behaviour and rules of creating art — and what should or should not “be excused” — is a vast sea of complexity. I simply disagree with your reductionist view on what does or does not make for good narrative.

      What you have described regarding the story of the rapist killer sounds like a case of bad writing. My argument to you, which stands, is that your own ideas of “mistakes” in point 1 do not much fit with my own ideas or that of many others, because many talented and well-regarded writers do not adhere to such rules.

      1. In my third paragraph, I was responding to your comment about what I “should appreciate” as a psychotherapist.

      2. Jonah Lehrer IS a science writer and has written multiple books about art and neuroscience and how the two are related. Despite his disgrace, the books are very good. He used poor judgement. And since you wanted evidence regarding story related to neuroscience, I gave you people who’d written about this subject.

        If you want more, then I recommend “The Gutenberg Galaxy.” It’s close to a thousand pages but well-stocked in research. Marshall McLuhan was a genius and explicates how communication changes the physiological structure of the brain as well as the structure of society. Neil Postman is another excellent resource.

        And bad writing is birthed often from lack of a knowledge base. Had the writer studied more psychology, he might not have made such an error. And granted, great writers don’t always adhere to rules. I never said they had to. I stated they had to UNDERSTAND THEM. Otherwise we are no better than a six-year-old pounding on a piano and calling it a “nocturne.” We agree to disagree. And since I’ve edited thousands of works, I can attest that a lot of the “mistakes” were birthed from a failure to understand the creation process more than a lack of talent. We can have pages of beautiful prose, but that is rarely enough to make a good story.

        And blogs, by their nature have to be reductionist ;).

        1. Sorry, I had to repost because I screwed up the thread flow. My mistake! Thanks for your replies and the interesting convo. I can settle on agreeing to disagree. Good luck with your work. Cheers.

        2. Sorry, but being a science writer is not being a neuroscientist. I take exception to this statement, which is specific, and not just a general comment on the physiological effects of reading great books: “… there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers.”

          When you make statements like that, I think it’s important to say where you got your information, especially since I am fairly certain that there are no neuro-scientific studies that have made the observational claim that you make here. I have read, of course, McLuhan and Postman (as well as Proust, extensively) and while there are many things to say about them, none are relevant to this claim you have made here about the hard-wiring of the human brain to a three-act structure. It’s a somewhat absurd claim that has just been brushed past as if it were accepted knowledge. If you ever do find valid source material to support such a claim, I would be interested to read it, and would eat my words.

          Blogs are only as reductionist as a blogger makes them, actually.

          1. You win. You are smarter than me.

          2. Great job sparring with Whittle. I generally dislike attack trolls, but understand how fun it is to have healthy debate and since she accidentally posted to my thread, I thought I ‘d just drop in a kudos to you! 🙂 I’m sure as you know, who between you two has 30K followers and best selling Amazon books 😉 Thank you Kristen for your continued generosity, love and support!

          3. Yeah, there is a point where I need to defend my assertions, but then it gets to the point where I don’t need to. I’ve written two million words in blogs alone and have earned the right to use declarative sentences. If he doesn’t like it? Find another blog or he can write it himself. ((HUGS))

  65. Hi Kristin! Great blog. I like this post. We all need to be considering the truth written here. (Btw, there’s a typo when you say, “they power of free”…I think you mean “the power of free”. Enjoy the holidays!

  66. Hi Kristin,

    I an emerging indie writer. When my second agent left agenting before she got me a book deal I decided to go it alone. Your post is very realistic and inspirational. My novel is coming out in the new year and is entitled, The Mother-in-Law Cure. In the mean time I’m writing web fiction that incorporates Boston tourism entitled

  67. Brilliant post. I still haven’t decided whether I want to try and publish traditionally or self-publish but this post certainly has given me a few things to think about 🙂

    • Melissa Lewicki on December 27, 2013 at 12:09 am
    • Reply

    I’ve been thinking about this post all day. When I was in high school and college, I operated on the premise that it was from God to me to the page. No revision or editing required. And I got A’s and was praised for my writing ability. Obviously, I need to rethink that premise.
    Tomorrow I begin the rewrite/revision of my first completed fiction novel. Wish me luck.

  68. It’s always good to see that something I kinda figure out on my own validated by someone who has done some study on the subject. I started looking at traditional best selling authors and realized most of them weren’t until they had a few books out. (I kinda figure the 4th one is where the traction hits, but it could be #3 … and then #4 nets them the big contract.)

    Also nice to run across another Save the Cat enthusiast. I’m mostly skeptical of people that have claimed to “crack the code” for how to write something. But I find most of them are written by academic types who are basically trying to reverse engineer the answer, because they’re not actually writers. I liked Snyder because – although coming to some of the same conclusions – he came at things as a writer. And I could relate to that much more.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts….

    • Melissa Lewicki on December 27, 2013 at 12:21 am
    • Reply

    This is embarrassing. “Fiction novel”? What was I thinking?? I need an editor for blog post comments. I have to go to sleep now. Happy New Year, y’all.

  69. Brilliant article! I absolutely agree with every point you have made. I never even considered self-publishing as an option before I gave it a try, putting out a free book I had previously published on my blog in chapters. Half of my books currently are with a publisher, and half are self-published. I have had to learn a lot of the back stage hard work, but am fortunate that I am handy with GIMP and software in general so I only have to invest my money in a good editor. Still, it’s the social media part, the legwork of creating a following that always kills me, since I am not naturally a social person. If I had the money to invest in PR professionals I would! =)

    Thank you for writing this. I will be sharing it with my writer friends.

  70. I know why you say to focus on writing more books, BUT I’m seeing authors who can’t write one book properly taking this advice and rushing off to write another book. So we’re getting even more terrible books on the market. What self-published authors need to hear most is that they need to seek professional opinions on their work and then listen to those who are kind enough to tell them the truth, like ‘actually, your book isn’t worth publishing.’

  71. I think td Whittle missed the point here too. It’s not specifically about whether or not you know about archetypes or follow ‘rules’ (though be aware that without a beginning, middle and end you don’t actually have a story), it’s about whether you know enough about writing to write a good book, and that, I think, is Kristen’s point. Pointing out well known or popular books that fit outside the usual guidelines does not help the fledgling writer who really just needs to learn the basics. If more of them did, less of them would get offended when reviewers tell them the truth – if they’re lucky enough to find one who will.

    1. No, I did not miss the point. I replied to precisely what was said, which is quite didactic, and which leaves out entire literary forms, or dismisses them implicitly as “wrong” because they do not adhere to these rules — if take what has been written here as it is written. Also, I believe that if you are going to position yourself as one who tells others how to write, you should be clear yourself.
      I think both this post and these replies are speaking to a specific type of writing, and that that should be clarified.

      Really, what is said here may apply to traditional narratives and some genre fiction, but not other forms of fiction, which are vital, relevant, and sweeping the literary scene at present. You are mistaken in thinking that your statement establishes what you’ve said as fact regarding “be aware … that you don’t actually have a story” … and would do well to read Lydia Davis, or other post-modern or modern fiction which absolutely challenges that, before stating it as fact. Have you ever read any of the French existentialists, for instance? Or Ulysses, for Heaven’s sake?

      I am not arguing for the sake of arguing. The problem I have with this post as well as some of these comments is the way some of you are speaking of “facts” about things that are NOT fact but opinion. It is true that many people support those opinions, regarding how narrative should be structured, what makes a story a story, etc. It is equally true that many other people disagree and write books that are nothing at all like what is being discussed here. Even a cursory dive into modern literary criticism would show you that.

      1. Kristin, I apologise for (again) replying to the wrong post and having to re-post my reply. I am finished commenting anyway.

    • Jennifer Douglas on December 27, 2013 at 1:54 am
    • Reply

    Hi Kirsten,

    Thank you for your great blog 🙂 I am a Literary Publicist and have shared your blog on my Facebook page encouraging all to read it. You speak words of wisdom.

    You may like to come and join me on Facebook.

  72. An excellent article that does not mince words. I wish all writers would read this, it would save them, and the poor readers, a lot off time and money. Thanks for sharing.

  73. I just write novels. I don’t worry about publishing, self-publishing. Or even marketing.

    In this age of social media blitzkriegs, you just get lost in the clutter of cyberspace. And nothing you write will ever stand out as a result.

    1. No, I did not miss the point. I replied to precisely what was said, which is quite didactic, and which leaves out entire literary forms, or dismisses them implicitly as “wrong” because they do not adhere to these rules — if take what has been written here as it is written. Also, I believe that if you are going to position yourself as one who tells others how to write, you should be clear yourself.
      I think both this post and these replies are speaking to a specific type of writing, and that that should be clarified.

      Really, what is said here may apply to traditional narratives and some genre fiction, but not other forms of fiction, which are vital, relevant, and sweeping the literary scene at present. You are mistaken in thinking that your statement establishes what you’ve said as fact regarding “be aware … that you don’t actually have a story” … and would do well to read Lydia Davis, or other post-modern or modern fiction which absolutely challenges that, before stating it as fact. Have you ever read any of the French existentialists, for instance? Or Ulysses, for Heaven’s sake?

      I am not arguing for the sake of arguing. The problem I have with this post as well as some of these comments is the way some of you are speaking of “facts” about things that are NOT fact but opinion. It is true that many people support those opinions, regarding how narrative should be structured, what makes a story a story, etc. It is equally true that many other people disagree and write books that are nothing at all like what is being discussed here. Even a cursory dive into modern literary criticism would show you that.

  74. Great article, which I totally agree with. We all think our first novel is the most amazing thing ever written, until we write another one and then another one and keep learning. I think I sold the fifth book I wrote and there was a very good reason for that. 🙂 I’m NY published, small press published, digitally first published, and I self publish too. I choose which platform best suits the project and I’m glad to have so many choices.
    In my humble opinion those who are mega successes in self publishing like Bella Andre, Amanda Hocking and Gemma Halliday etc work their socks off, write well, run a business and promote 24/7. It’s not for everyone. But taking the time to learn about the craft of writing,and the business of publishing and writing the next book is great advice.

  75. It’s all good advice for people who want to write for a living, but very few people write for a living or can make a living out of writing. I’ve been hobby writing for over 30 years and self publishing means that I can finally get readers. I’m happy to give the work away free and glad when anyone is willing to pay.I write for fun and for enjoyment, the way some people knit, hunt or bake. Finally I did a degree in literature, taught English for 16 years in state schools and taught creative writing too and the idea that there should be any rules about what people write is a nonsense; of course if one has ambitions to be a money making writer then everything you say has some elements of truth as money making books are boringly formulaic as they have to be to sell to Joe average in a mass market; for those people who can write for fun and enjoyment and for whom self publishing is a chance to have people read their work, then none of what you say applies, as it’s just a bit of fun. Please don’t enter me for your draw, by the way, no offence intended, but I’m happy with the stuff I’ve written, and that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned. Curiously enough though I do sell a fair few books on Amazon, but not enough in any month to register very high at all in rankings and I think that says a lot about the whole Indie Publishing market place.

  76. Do the three books need to be in the same genre?

  77. The President of the Nebraska Writers Guild posted your article on Facebook, with good reason. There’s much great information in your writing, composed with intelligence, publishing savvy, and humor. Of course, I’m getting your “Machine Age” book! Thank you so much.

  78. Thank you for your blog post. This is exactly what I need to know. I’m totally committed to not making these mistakes.

  79. Reblogged this on Carole Gill Official Author Blog and commented:
    I just read this reblogged by Author, William Cook and I have to say this is the best writing advice I have come across. Thank you so much for this post.

  80. Kristin,
    This latest post was so timely for me; I am simultaneously writing my first non-fiction book and starting a social media marketing campaign. It is a lot to do at one time, but I do understand the significance of the marketing aspect. I also have to force myself to make sure my book is worth marketing, so as much as I want to publish it quickly, I won’t allow myself. While my mother, a writer/journalist, has been editing my book, your article has helped me to decide to pay yet another editor to weigh in and edit it as well. I’m wondering what you know of selling one’s book rights? I have an interested party. I have no idea if this is something I would want to consider. They have also offered to publish it for me, and give me royalties. This book being my first, I have no idea how well or badly it will do if I publish and market it on my own. Do you have a fountain of information on this subject that you would like to share with us??? FYI, my book title is “Have Home, Will Travel” and the subtitle is “The Ultimate International Home Exchange Guide for Families.” It’s a niche subject, falling under the umbrella of Peer to Peer Travel Services.

  81. Great post! I found this on Scribophile [thanks Ashley Capes]. Reblogged with a link back from my WP site.

    Totally agree about learning the craft, and also the need to be better / more polished than trad pubs.

    I considered going on a long rant about my seemingly vain attempts to break into the New Adult category, but why clutter up your beautiful site? I can rant all I want over on my pages 🙂

    Def following you now though! Thanx for the insight…

  82. Some great advice, here. I wrote my first novel online, with lots of criticisms that lead me to rewrite entire chapters, but I can tell that I still need to rework it a fair bit before considering self-publishing. Do you have advice for critically analyzing your plot once the first draft is complete? I’d think that would one of the hardest things – tossing out masses of already polished prose.

    1. This is my question too, but it got buried beneath an avalanche of troll guano. LOL. When do you know it’s READY to self-publish?

      1. Find beta readers. Seek out people who love books and your genre and ask them for feedback. Other writers can be okay, but they might edit your voice right out of your work. I will have first chapter critiques for sale soon. Generally I can tell a lot with just 5-20 pages.

        1. Thank you! I queried after my “friends” LOVED it, and now realize, after many informative rejections (but requests for partials and fulls), it wasn’t ready. More editing and experimenting with tense and 1st vs 3rd person.

          I knew I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had no idea how far I was from not knowing what I was doing. LOL. First Chpt Critiques sound interesting…can’t wait.

          Balance is hard too. You’ve got to keep writing new, but keep editing the old. I suppose there’s a tipping point when you learn the craft and have LESS editing to do?

  83. Self-published author here with a short list of books. I’m getting there! This is great advice. I learned with book #1 that I like the publishing/business part too, and also that without “National Geographic sponsored” in front of your name, you won’t be Peter Jenkins and sell millions of books about a long walk. haha. My ego recovered and I’ve done well, even so. Branched into fiction, and so far so good. Working on book 4 in a cozy mystery series. Right now I’m suffering from cold feet to put out the money to turn the mystery ebooks into paperback too.

    • Patty H. on December 27, 2013 at 10:00 am
    • Reply

    Such a great blog, Kristin! Thanks! One commenter said they had a short story rejected by an agent–once. Now they are thinking of self-pubbing. No one likes rejection, but it’s what you do with it that is important. I have friends who won’t submit because they are afraid of rejection and get defensive when they get critiqued–and they want to self-pub. Sigh. Please, submit, get rejected (lots of times!), listen, learn, edit. And then, maybe you are ready to self-pub.

  84. Kristen, thank you…your tips are always excellent. I let go of my Manhattan literary agent–a good one–after i realized she probably would not be able to sell my novel–despite all the praise it was getting from certain Manhattan publishers who had read it in its earlier incarnations – the genre was not an easy one to push — eastern spiritual fiction. I finally opted to self-publish without almost no knowledge of how to go about doing it…fortunately a couple of kind friends chipped in and it’s out and doing pretty well…amazingly, i knew all along that pushing just one book just would not cut the mustard–and i am already working hard on my second–while a third–perhaps the big mama of them all–is simmering in consciousness. Love your blog!

  85. Hi Kristen, Thanks for the excellent advice. I’m en route to becoming a hybrid author and must resist the temptation to release early. I will be bookmarking this post and referring to it often. Thanks again 🙂

    • M. B. Dahl on December 27, 2013 at 10:09 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for your article. My book was published by a small independent publisher, but I found all of your tips extremely applicable to my situation. Thx!

  86. What an appropriate post for year’s end. You’ve summed up self-publishing as it exists in 2013. There’s so much excellent information here that it’s difficult to absorb it all, but it’s more than worth the effort. I’ve concluded that self-publishing is for me and I agree that it’s a monumental amount of work. I shall have to rise to the occasion. With that in mind I’m making changes in my life that will facilitate my efforts. Thank you for a year’s worth of excellent advice.

  87. Great post, Kristen! As someone who’s did marketing in the “real” world, you’re spot on. The one thing I’ve discovered is that the subgenre you write in directly impacts sales. Historicals aren’t all that popular these days, so I’ve not seen a rocket explosion of sales. But it’s a steady growth, and a street team takes some of the pressure off me marketing wise by doing word-of-mouth advertising. I plan on publishing another paranormal from my Berkley series (they didn’t want anymore) to see if that change up makes a difference. Thanks for illuminating this aspect for new writers.

  88. I can’t believe I’m just now discovering your blog! Great info here. I hope all authors looking to self pub read your blog :)Thanks!

    1. Fabulous to meet you!

  89. In reading this blog, I’ve read some of the best advice a writer could find. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  90. Reblogged this on The Eclectic Zaftig Chick and commented:
    Came across this and thought Kristen had some very valid points.

  91. Reblogged because this post is awesome. Very good valid points on the world of self-publishing. I might strive to be a hybrid author too as I haven’t tried self-publishing yet. I love the point of free reads too. I did one through my publisher after I had several books out. I choose to go with a holiday theme one.

  92. Fantastic article. Thanks so much for sharing. Great tips in here. 🙂

    • Carolyn Birrittella on December 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm
    • Reply

    Great advice as always. I’m planning to publish independently in 2014 and appreciate you sharing your wisdom.

  93. Thank you for this. I’m still in the editing process of my first novel after getting suggestions from the small group of friends making up my beta readers, and I’m not sure how I’m going to try to publish when I’m done. It’s good to have all of these things in mind, though!

  94. I found this article very easy to relate to. I wrote my first novel six years ago, and I thought it was so awesome and was expecting publication within the first year of completion. How little did I know. I joined a writers group and learned how much I sucked. There is one new member of our group who does the self-publishing thing, and after hearing his stuff, I can tell he sort-of jumped the gun there. I know I am not ready for self-publishing, not because I don’t have anything published or worthy of publishing, but because I just don’t have the time to advertise myself as well as I think I need to. This is a great article. Enjoyed it a lot. I am following your blog now, so I hope to see more good things to come.

  95. Hi, Kristen. Great advice! I’m not sure which path I will try for publication, but I’m leaning heavily towards self-pub. Thank you for helping me feel better about slowing down to learn structure and craft. And, yes, successful writing requires talents beyond merely getting A’s in English. 🙂

  96. How did I not know about this blog before? Thankfully a friend of mine shared this on Facebook, so I know about it now! I have one ebook out there with very modest sales, and I’m planning on releasing two next year (one a sequel and one unrelated) so these tips are great for me. 🙂

    1. Great to meet you!

    • Nancy Beck on December 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm
    • Reply

    Came over from The Passive Voice’s blog. 🙂

    My number 1 challenge is writing despite all sorts of personal worries (mostly financial). Being stuck in a temp job I don’t particularly like doesn’t help either. 😉

    If I had to re-do all this, I would have had my first series edited before I uploaded, even though I consider myself to be a pretty good self editor. It still makes sense to have others to look not only for typos but other things, like continuity. It’s taken me 2 years to get to this point, and I just want my life to stabilize just a little (I’m not asking for much, lol) so I can concentrate more on my writing in 2014.

  97. Reblogged this on raven newcastle.

    • Liz on December 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm
    • Reply

    I have to say, this post has re-opened my mind to the idea of self-publishing. When I was younger, I had to present a presentation on writing and I spoke to some local self-published authors. I would always ask about their editing process and one of the authors told me he didn’t need an editor because he knew english. After purchasing his book and looking through it, I was surprised to find it filled with elementary grammatical errors. It was not just one or two throughout the book. The entire story was written in poor english with incorrect punctuation. Even periods and apostrophes were in the wrong spots or not there at all. I realize this was one author, but I spoke to many of them and many of their books they had already published were not ready to be published. That sort of put the idea into my head that self-publishing was lazy and the easy way out and I didn’t think much of it, but, after reading this I find my mind has been altered. I now see the steps these authors didn’t follow and how self-publishing is far more than just getting the book printed. When done correctly, self-publishing can be a great way to become a published and I’m considering it for my book.

  98. What a fab article! Thanks for the excellent advice which makes complete sense. Now for the hard work, putting it into practise…..

  99. Great advice. I too wish I’d had my series at least three books done before self-pubbing. I’m trying to not make the same mistakes as I move forward. Like the writing craft, learning the business takes time and, for me, forgiving myself for not being able to learn it all now. Two years in, I’m learning more and more every day and hope to continue for years to come. Thanks for sharing your knowledge! 🙂

  100. Hi Kristen – Great advice all around. Too many newbies jump the gun and become disillusioned when they aren’t met with a ticker tape parade on their first run out of the gate.

  101. Really enjoyed this post Kristen, it takes time to develop any skill/craft and writing is no different. Thanks for the reminders and new advice. Success is rarely an overnight thing and with so much product out there, those of us with big best seller dreams have to really work and treat this business with as much respect as we want from readers, editors, publishers, etc.
    What a lovely opportunity you have offered, as well. Many thanks and blessings in the New Year ahead!

  102. Thank you for this article. One of my professors in the MPW program at OU linked this article on your blog in an email to us, and everything you said in the original post rings absolutely true with what I’ve paid to learn thus far. In my eyes, that not only validates your assertions, but also the education I’m receiving in my master’s program.

    It’s helpful to have a ball park figure on how many books to have ready to self-publish. I will finish the final revisions on my first narrative nonfiction book this coming semester, and have a related short story also coming together in February. I’ve waited so long to believe that someone might wish to read my writing that I’m willing to strategically wait a little longer to begin with a solid marketing strategy.

    I do teach English Literature to high school students, and teachers understand that you have to think about your thinking, namely indulge in metacognition, in order to truly understand why something works or doesn’t work, Your advice on stepping back and looking at how a piece of writing is constructed, and which structures would enhance or cripple it, is crucial to successful acceptance. Turning these skills to my own writing has been delightful and horrifying at the same time, and I appreciate very much your advice.

    Happy to have found your blog!

  103. Wow. Is there room for me to leave a comment?

    I think most of what you say, Kristen, needs to be said more often. I’m sick of seeing someone write a novel in two months–or one–and then publish it on Amazon. I have to wonder how much thought, re-write and editing (“my editors are fantastic”), has gone into those many novels a writer puts out in a year just to jam Amazon with their name and works. I use at least a year, possibly more, before I put a book out there.

    And using the social media to death to get people to buy is a huge waste of time. I really would rather write than do this, but when I do, I try to do it sparingly so people don’t become sick of me. It doesn’t really work that well, anyway. Got too many people out there giving away freebees…

    And on that subject I really have reservations about the idea of giving my work away for free. If people are getting free books to read, then why would they pay for one? I don’t like the idea of giving away something I’ve worked hard on. No. I refuse to do it. I’ll knock the price down, but that’s it. Maybe when I have several books out in a series, I might consider it. I’ve only given away to individuals who have won the promotional copy. That’s usually how I do this.

    I tried for 4 decades to get into the traditional market. For some reason agents just are not crazy about my writing, and yet when I had a publisher (very small), my books sold well, and I do have good reviews. So, I figure I’m doing something right. I follow plot, structure and so forth, although some of the things you’ve mentioned were not something I’ve ever come across… and I took courses in creative writing early on. Probably missed this stuff.

    I read a lot. Not just in my genre (urban-fant.), but mysteries, and suspense too, some YA, and enjoyed Harry Potter, as well.

    Anyway, I think I’ve come away with something for having read this, and have become a follower.

    1. Lorelie, there is ALWAYS room for another comment, :D. Free is a great tactic, it just needs to be more than handing away our art. It’s a wonderful way to encourage people to buy a series or a trilogy. Give the first book free. Great to meet you!

  104. Great advice! The biggest one on the list, I’ve found, is indie newbies not understanding the business side. Lots of folks have told me, “I got into writing to write, not to worry about all that marketing and business stuff.” And usually those are the ones who wonder why they’re not selling more.

    I love to write, and if that’s all I did, I’m sure my friends would enjoy my books, but I want to expand beyond that crowd. Sometimes we have to delve into what we might not like to truly become successful.

    Writing is the fun and (sometimes) easy part. Being successful requires so much more.

    • Deb Pines on December 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm
    • Reply

    Great piece!! As the author of a self-published murder mystery set in Chautauqua, NY, that has sold nearly 600 copies, I’ll add my two cents. The book cover, I agree, is KEY to gaining credibility with readers. Also I’ve found my best promotional efforts have focused on my target audience — mystery readers and Chautauquans. Rather than efforts aimed at my neighbors, spin-class pals or readers, in general.

  105. I’ve been self-published for a year and nine months. The first drafts of some of my books spill out of me in weeks while others take months. My best-selling book went from draft to publish in four months, but that was the exception, not the rule. None of my books take less than eight months from start to finish now. I put each draft through 5-10 editing phases, have a huge beta group who I encourage to shred them to pieces, and an editor who does an excellent job. However, the result of all my work has led to multiple awards, including an IPPY and a couple of eLit Awards, as well as third place in a huge RWA chapter contest. Also, I had been writing for over ten years by the time I published my first book. Most of that earlier work was crap not fit to be toilet paper, but during that ten-year span, I took two extensive writing courses, which lasted about four years total, and read a TON of books on writing craft. So by the time I finally wrote my first self-published story, I’d been studying fiction writing and publishing for over a decade, honing my skills from nothing to something worth reading through hands-on writing projects and assignments.

    With that said, I agree that too many self-published authors rush to publish. I’ve seen one gal finish the first draft, and then self-publish the work three weeks later. You can’t put a draft through good edits and proofs in three weeks. That’s insane. And many don’t understand how much work goes in to being a self-published author. I work 12-18 hours each day, and that’s seven days a week, even though I might only put in 6 hours on Sunday during football season. Admittedly, I LOVE what I do and know I was meant to write for a living, so long days don’t feel like work to me. But I would rather write than go shopping or to the movies. I would rather write than do just about anything else. 🙂

    Obviously, if I’m putting in these kinds of hours, I don’t work outside the home. I started writing seriously after losing my job in 2010. After publishing two books, a friend offered me what was supposed to be a short-term job working as an admin assistant. A year later, I was still there, but when I made more in three months selling books than I did in a year of working the day job, it became clear I needed to rethink my profession. I decided to “retire” so I could focus 100% of my time on my writing. I’ve got over 40 books in my head, and I’m not getting any younger, and since I’ve proven to myself I can do it, the time was now to jump in. I’m still learning, but it’s by reading blogs like this one that I continue to do so. Thank you for a terrific post.

  106. Self-publishing is a long term strategy so being a one-book-wonder really doesn’t work. Great article. 🙂

    1. It happens, but playing career lotto might be a tad risky, LOL. And, if we are writers, we should love writing, right?

      1. “And, if we are writers, we should love writing, right?” Absolutely! However I’ve noticed that I feel more trepidation with 2nd, 3rd books etc than with the first. I had nothing to lose with the first one, but I know so much more now, and somehow the psychological bar has been raised. Does that make any sense?