Fiction Friday: Lessons about self-publishing my first novel

A Story to TellLast week I published my first novel on Amazon Kindle. I self-published, something often looked down upon by authors, writers in general and the culturally elite. But I did it anyhow because I figure life is too short to sit around and talking about writing a book, or how to write a book, or talk about other writers and how they write books, and then talk some more about how to get a publisher to publish your book, how to find an agent, how to get a contract, blah, blah, blah and then NEVER do it. (Yes, I realize that sentence was a run-on!)

For this week’s fiction Friday I thought I would share some lessons I’ve learned from delving into the world of self-publishing.

I’ve seen a lot of those writers who talk about how and what they want to write, but never write it, – especially on Youtube – and last week I turned 42. I’m really tired of talking about it and just wanted to finally do it –  for the heck of it, I guess you would say. Of course, now I wish I had taken a more time, but, so far, it’s fun and I have other novels I am working on and will be taking a lot more time on.

Do I hope to make money from the book? No, not really. Would it be cool if I did earn some money from it? Sure. But I’m not counting on it and that makes it a lot more fun. I’m definitely not counting on selling paperback books since the process of uploading one and having it formatted correctly on Amazon is very difficult and, so far, is driving me crazy. The paperback is definitely not formatted correctly, but I’m hoping I can remedy that this weekend.

Formatting a book for Kindle isn’t as difficult because there is an app you can download for it from the Kindle Direct Publishing, which you sign into using your Amazon account, if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can obviously set one up. You can also add an “add-on” to Word to help format the book for paperback but that’s where I got confused because I am stumped on how to add headers and page numbers. Hopefully I will figure it out for future books.

We live in a broken world, Blanche. Only God can mend us. We just have to pray he mends the broken hearts because that’s the only way to mend this broken world.”

First,  a little about online writing forums. Writing forums can be both good and bad. Writers get a lot of advice from other writers in writing forums, some of it good, some of it bad and some of it completely bizarre. I’ve found a lot of advice in writing forums to be negative and discouraging honestly. They encourage you to write, but then they set up about a hundred hoops you need to jump through before you ever do anything with that writing and they tell you all those hoops are required. If you don’t jump through the hoops, you’ll never make it as a real writer. Sometimes I think maybe it is okay if I’m never a “real writer” if there is so much drama to be one.

After you’re in one of these groups for awhile you could start to lose sight of everything you loved about writing and if you’re not careful you will be like me and question everything you’ve already written and everything you’re going to. When I starting writing A Story to Tell I just enjoyed seeing where the story was going and looked forward each night (which is when I find the time to write) to “telling” (writing) another part of it. Then I made the mistake of sharing part of it in a writing group.

“This is so cliche,” one person wrote.

“This is laughable. You can’t be serious,” another one wrote.

Not exactly encouraging. I almost wanted to give up, but then I remembered this is supposed to be fun and I’m writing it for people who need a distraction from life, not for literary critics.

Other advice in the writing forums included writing then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting and rewriting until your eyes bleed. After you rewrite you share it with strangers, called beta readers, and those beta readers tell you everything they hate about it and what you should fix. So you rewrite to please the beta readers, according to the people in the writing forums. And then you give it to another beta reader who says what they don’t like so you change what you wrote. Apparently, in the end, your book is no longer yours but written by a ton of beta readers. I’m being sarcastic, of course.

You really don’t have to take the suggestions of all the beta readers, but it is a good idea to have someone else read your book and help you with possible plot holes or errors. They are simply suggestions and usually are meant to help you improve. I learned with this book that in the future I need to be very careful of the beta readers I choose and to give them plenty of time to read said book. Otherwise, I will receive an angry (though warranted) message from the beta reader and when trying to explain myself will stick my foot further into my mouth. Not that I speak from experience. Also, beta readers should be strangers but friends and family can help catch typos and grammar issues (like missing commas, which I always have an issue with). I’ve learned through this experience to choose beta readers who are familiar with and enjoy the genre you write, as well. Otherwise you may completely bore your beta reader or have them provide suggestions that wouldn’t work for your book.

The biggest lesson I learned from publishing my first book is that everything in life you want to accomplish is a royal pain the bottom, super complicated, and that sometimes it is a royal pain in the bottom and complicated because we let too many people in on the project, all of whom have their own opinions on our books, our photography, our creative project and our lives. We have to remember that we can’t please everyone and we shouldn’t when it’s our story to write.

Yes, make sure your work is proofed and maybe even ask for suggestions on how to improve, or tighten the story line, but in the end don’t let the opinions of others change the vision of the story you have.

I’m sure I’ll have more lessons to share later, including a lesson on how to set up page numbers on Word documents because I still haven’t figured out how to do that.

I am working on the second part of Blanche’s story now, but won’t be ready to share it for a while. Next week, I plan to introduce a character from another novel I’m working on, The Farmer’s Daughter.