Getting Started as a Self-Published Fiction Author

“I want to be a writer like you! How do I get started?"

As an author, it’s a question I hear a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring colleagues, but once the pressures of my own career started mounting beyond what I could handle, I realized I couldn’t keep devoting as much time and effort to explaining the basics of the industry - especially when they are changing minute-by-minute. Someone starting in 2015 is probably going to have a completely difference experience than I did, starting in 2012. 

It’s also a very broad question. Some people want to know about craft - the basics of structuring plots and narrative, or even style and grammar. Some people have been writing for years, but they’re not sure how to finish a book. Still others are just looking for publishing and business advice.

This post is for anyone who wants to get started in indie fiction publishing, but isn’t sure where to begin.

CRAFT

I have a few go-to book recommendations for those who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to the basics of writing fiction. You can get them in convenient Kindle format, or find them at your local library.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Lynne Truss) 

Basic grammar and punctuation advice presented with a sense of humor.

How Not to Write a Novel (Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman)

A tongue-in-cheek guide to some of the biggest mistakes people make when writing fiction.

On Writing (Stephen King)

Part memoir and part writing advice, this book is engaging and informative even if you’re not a fan of King’s fiction.

Save the Cat (Blake Snyder)

Plotting advice - meant for screenwriters, but applies to all fiction.

I know everyone else in the world will tell you to get it, but don’t read The Elements of Style. Just don’t

MOTIVATION

For some people, it’s less about the actual writing, and more about making the transition from “aspiring writer” to “writer who’s actually finished an entire book."

There is no easy answer here. Sometimes, it may help to join up with a marketing collective so you have a deadline that you need to meet. This may or may not work, and it can cause stress, so approach with caution! It’s easy to network with other writers on forums like Kboards or the self-pub loop on Yahoo.

If you’re having trouble focusing on your writing, you might want to look into productivity techniques like Pomodoro, or try out an app like Brain.fm

Just know that it’s normal to feel paralyzed as you approach the end of a book - especially your first book. Writing a bunch of chapters is one thing, but once you start to realize the whole thing actually needs to hang together and MAKE SENSE, it’s intimidating. Approach it like eating an elephant…one bite at a time.

BUSINESS

People often ask me if they should self-publish, like I do, or if they should query traditional publishers instead. That’s not a question I can answer for anyone else. Personally, I have been 100% self-pub until very recently. Self-pub is going to be more lucrative for most authors, and you retain much more of your own intellectual property. However, it is a lot of work and responsibility that not everyone is prepared to take on.

That said, my advice will be tailored towards self-publishing, because:

1) There is already tons and tons and TONS of advice out there for people who are looking to query agents or publishers. The Query Shark blog, by Janet Reid, is one of my favorites for learning how to hone your query-writing skills.

2) Since I didn’t take the traditional query route, but was rather approached by my agent after I was successful as an indie, I don’t have much useful experience in this arena.

So, with that in mind, here’s what I think.

The best advice I have for anyone who’s trying to figure out the publishing and marketing side of things is very simple: look at what’s working for other people, and then figure out how to make it work for you.

This doesn’t mean you should exactly copy others, of course. It also doesn’t mean that something that works for somebody else will necessarily work for you. But it’s important to study the bestsellers in your genre and figure out WHY they are successful - reading customer reviews is a great way to do this. Once you understand what readers are looking for, and why, you can figure out how to create your own version.

It’s easy to study how other successful authors are marketing their books. Just look at the bestseller lists on Amazon. Notice the similarities in the cover art for certain genres and subgenres. Do readers seem to prefer warm colors (reds, pinks, purples) or cool (blues and greens)? Pictures of people, or pictures of objects? Illustrated covers? What kinds of titles are grabbing attention? What kinds of blurbs? When people talk about their favorite (and least-favorite) parts of these books, what do they single out? 

The same goes for promotional strategies. Many authors will be very candid and detailed about their plans and experiences on forums like Kboards or the self-pub loop on Yahoo. They’ll explain their reasoning and often share their results, so you can decide what makes sense for you.

FINAL NOTES

Whatever you do, mindset is the most important thing. If you look at someone you see as mega-successful and think “oh man, I could never do that…” You’re tripping yourself with your own shoelaces. Don’t! If you find yourself getting mired in self-defeatist thoughts, read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. And then read it again. And then listen to the audiobook while you sleep. And tattoo it on your face. Once you truly realize that you’re capable of anything you set your mind to, you’ll be free to pursue your goals and dreams.

MASTER LIST OF RESOURCES:

Kboards Writer’s Cafe (forum)

Self Publishing Yahoo Loop (forum)

Eats, Shoots & Leaves (craft book)

How Not to Write a Novel (craft book)

On Writing (craft book)

Save the Cat (craft book)

Query Shark (query and blurb writing blog)

Pomodoro (productivity technique)

Brain.fm (productivity app)

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (self help book)