First off, a shout-out to the Creative Girls Adventure Book Club, who somehow found this page in all the wide dark forest of the Internet, and were kind enough to email me and tell me they found my ruminations useful. It's motivated me to make my first update in ... I don't want to think about how long. They suggested a link, which I'll post below. It's an article about taxes, a topic on which I'm manifestly unqualified to comment. I will say that Canadian writers should give some thought to making sure Amazon and other distributors aren't witholding American taxes on your sales. Canada has a tax treaty with the US, and you'll throw away almost a third of your earnings if you don't fill out a bit of IRS paperwork. Learn more here: https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Self-Employment-Taxes/A-Tax-Cheat-Sheet-for-Kindle-eBook-Self-Publishing/INF29515.html.
More links: Brandon Sanderson is one of the most successful and acclaimed writers of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, and he's also a very good teacher. You can watch him deliver an entire college course on writing science fiction and fantasy novels, online for free. It's an astonishing resource, and I highly recommend it. Writing About Dragons - http://www.writeaboutdragons.com/brandon_w2012/
Brandon and some other talented people also have a podcast called Writing Excuses, with years of juicy archives, where they deliver fifteen-minute mini-lectures about different facets of the writing process. Writing Excuses - http://www.writingexcuses.com/
I've started following a blog aimed at fairly advanced writers, primarily novelists. It's called HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.
Randy Ingermanson at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ has some pretty awesome resources for writers. I'm a subscriber to his Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine. A lot of people swear by the "Snowflake Method" for outlining a novel, which Randy developed. It never worked for me, but too many people find it really useful for me to discount it. When you visit his page it looks like he's all about selling you something, but the truth is, most of it is free. He'll sell you something if you really want, but mostly he's giving away his expertise. Most of us writers got a lot of help from others along the way, and we can't pay it back, so we pay it forward. We also love having an audience, of course.
Finally, if you need to write a blurb or some back-cover copy, check out Libby Hawker's YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tf4fKJAlGFU. She also wrote a very highly regarded guide to outlining, called Take Off Your Pants: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UKC0GHA/. Don't be put off by the title. It's a reference to "pantsing", or writing by the seat of your pants, without an outline. She makes outlines a bit less scary for pantsers.
I can't claim to be a leading expert, but I've learned a few things about writing and self-publishing over the years. If you're set on traditional publishing, there are plenty of resources on the web.
Jump down to publishing tips
You'll find that writers will contradict each other, so you have to take the advice you find with a grain of salt. That being said, I can offer a few tidbits that most writers tend to agree with.
Write. Write lots. Write regularly. Challenge yourself as a writer, and try to write the kinds of things you think you don't know how to write. Start out by writing what you like, but eventually, when you've written a few things, stretch your writing muscles by writing outside your comfort zone.
Don't obsess over trying to get page 1 or chapter 1 perfect. Lots of people get bogged down on the first chapter, or page, or paragraph, and never get past it because they can't get it perfect. The best way to write a good first chapter is to write the entire book, and then go back and tweak the beginning a bit. Give yourself permission to write badly. You can fix bad writing. You can't fix an empty page.
Read lots. Read what you like, and read stuff you don't like. Read really good fiction, and read some bad stuff as well. If you only read traditionally published books, you only see things done well. It's when you read bad fiction that you see the same mistakes over and over. That's when you'll start to see those mistakes in your own writing, and you'll figure out how to fix them. Fan fiction online is a good source of terrible prose.
You'll need to develop a thick skin. You'll get terrible feedback. People will hate what you've written. If you accept that now, and understand that it's just part of the process, then it won't be as upsetting when it actually happens. There are no books that aren't hated by someone.
Feedback can be priceless. It can be very valuable. It can also be utterly useless, or even destructive. Figuring out what to listen to and what to ignore is an essential skill that takes a long time to master. I'm in a writers' group where we critique each others' manuscripts, and I hear the others contradicting each other all the time. "It's too much description." "It's not enough description." "The hero is whiny and unlikeable." "The hero is perfect. I really like him." There can be great value in critiques, but always be ready to ignore things. Some people just miss the point. An excellent book for one audience is a terrible book for another audience.
Don't be afraid to put your work out there. Submit to contests, magazines, anthologies, whatever. Self-publish. Then, forget about it. The story will do well, or it won't. Once it's submitted, let it go. All sorts of really good stories get rejected for all sorts of silly reasons, and you need to not have an emotional investment. Your attention needs to be on the next thing you're writing, not the last thing you wrote months ago.
Have fun. Writing can be the greatest job in the world. You get to make up entire worlds, you get to create something out of nothing. You get to have an impact on people you'll never meet. You may change the way people see the world, decades after you're gone. Writing can be an awesome experience, so don't forget to enjoy it.
Others have said it better, so here are a few resources I recommend before we get into my contributions.
Joe Konrath is an author and self-publisher and a tireless advocate for self-pubbers. He's been sharing numbers and techniques and his insights into industry trends for quite a while. If you're serious about this game - and a visit to Joe's blog will get you serious - you should think about reading his blog from start to finish. It's called "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing" and it's at http://jakonrath.blogspot.ca/.
KindleBoards Writers' Cafe is absolutely jammed with knowledge. I strongly recommend it. http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board=60.0/.
David Gaughran is a reliable source of indie-centric information about the industry. He's also the author of a couple of highly-useful books, Let's Get Digital and Let's Get Visible. They both deserve checking out. His blog is at http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/.
Check out the Self Publishing Podcast at https://selfpublishingpodcast.com/ or on YouTube for an alternative way to learn all kinds of things about self-pubbing. It's distinctly NSFW, which is to say, loaded with swearing. But it's loaded with information as well. They interview all kinds of people and deliver some really priceless information. The creators, Johnny, Sean, and Dave, are also the authors of a really good guide for self-pubbers. It's called Write, Publish, Repeat, and it's excellent.
You might consider Dean Wesley Smith (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/) and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch (http://kriswrites.com). They have blogs that are loaded with information and a certain amount of possible BS. I have mixed feelings about the two of them as information sources. They know plenty, but they have a tendency to shoot from the hip and to speak at times based on the way they feel things ought to be, rather than the way things are. DWS, for instance, is openly contemptuous of low-priced or free introductory books to draw in fans. It's a proven strategy that works, and works well, for huge numbers of independent publishers, and Dean just sneers at it. He sneers at the Kindle Boards writers' cafe, too. Take him with a grain of salt.
Why self-publish? I'm not a self-pubbing evangelist. I'm not one of those vitriolic indies with a frothing hatred of traditional publishing. I won't call you names if you go that route. There are many advantages to traditional publishing, and it's not a route I've entirely given up on. However, self-publishing offers a number of significant advantages, and I haven't bothered sending any query letters to any agents or publishers in quite a while.
All kinds of writers have had their careers mishandled in all kinds of ways by the traditional publishing industry. Now, to be perfectly honest, the main reason I'm self-publishing is because traditional publishing has, so far, mostly ignored me. Self-publishing has allowed me to actually put my work in front of readers, and quite a few of those readers have come back for more. That's enough to convince me.
Self-publishing also lets you release works that are unpublishable in the traditional way. Like novellas, for instance. There simply isn't more than a token scrap of a market for works shorter than novel length in traditional publishing. Serials are another example. The time-honoured episodic story with cliffhanger endings is making a comeback. You won't see them on the shelves of bookstores, but a rich variety of stories are thriving in the new marketplace.
As an indie I get to publish at my own pace. I can react quickly to trends, I can experiment, and I can control every part of my writing career. Of course, the flip side is that I HAVE to manage every part of my career. This game is not for everyone.
How To Do It
I'm not going to get into the very basic nuts and bolts. Poke around a bit on Google and you'll figure it out soon enough. I'm going to share my insights at a slightly higher level.
This may be a touchy topic for some. First of all, try not to release crap. There's enough of it out there. Get someone to proofread it. Go through it yourself, more times than you think you need to. I guarantee there are typos, dumb ones, that you've missed. The kind of thing that, when you see it, makes you slap your forehead and say, "How did I miss that? Five times?" Think about hiring an editor for content, rather than just catching typos and comma errors. Now, a good content edit on a novel might cost you a couple of thousand dollars, and your novel may earn you eight or nine dollars a year. Still, you need to do the best you reasonably can. The novel as it stands when you finish writing it is almost certainly not up to scratch.
Beta readers can be priceless. If you can't find any, consider online critiquing sites like critters.org. There are good free sites where you critique other manuscripts in exchange for having your own critiqued. There is value in giving critiques, too. It'll help you improve as a writer. Now, critiques can be destructive. You need to be ready to ignore the stuff that's misguided, mean-spirited, or just plain wrong. But there will be gems in there, too. The challenge is in figuring out which is which.
Here's the flip side to the quality issue. Self-publishing rewards fast writing in a way that traditional publishing just doesn't. Especially for new writers trying to break in, there's no advantage in the traditional publishing model for writing more than a book every year or two. I can remember when I, and all the aspiring writers I knew, would fiddle endlessly with a novel, trying to find that magic combination of words that would unlock the gates to published nirvana. And writers who had book deals wrote at the rate of a book a year, because that was all the publisher would release.
These days, that seems like a real waste of time. Now, every writer has his own natural pace, and whatever your pace is, that's the pace that works for you. Some will write faster and some will write slower, and that's okay. You can't, for the most part, make yourself write faster (although there are techniques you can learn that will boost your productivity). The keys points are these:
- There is no practical upper limit to your productivity. Two books a year is no longer twice as many books as you can publish. Ten books a year is also not impractical.
- Quality and quantity are not necessarily as closely linked as you may believe. There are writers out there creating ten novels each year, and maintaining high quality levels. The myth that fast writing is necessarily and always bad writing is just that, a myth. (Still, strive for quality, and don't assume your first drafts are gold, of course)
- There are people - vast, vocal legions, in fact - who assume that everyone who writes faster than they do is a hack. Don't be bothered by those people. Don't become one of those people, either.
Look for more tips later, on cover art, KDP Select, promotions, and miscellaneous topics.