This is the Hardest Part of Self-Publishing Your Book

This is the Hardest Part of Self-Publishing Your Book

Linda is giving a lucky reader a copy of her new book, How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie. She’ll pick one commenter on this post at random after one week. (UPDATE: Congratulations to winner Karen!)

You know what’s really sweet about self-publishing?

You control everything.

There are no gatekeepers telling you what you can and can’t publish. No one telling you what to charge, and no one taking most of the money and giving you a paltry 15 percent royalty. No ten-month lag time between starting your book and seeing it published. And most important, no annoying editors and fact checkers correcting your writing and asking for endless revisions.

That’s the line the publishing “gurus” feed you, anyway. You know, those marketers who tell you you can achieve instant riches through self-publishing … and you can buy their course to learn how!

The reality is that creating a compelling, sellable book is most often a team effort.

What are the chances you’re good at every single aspect of publishing a book, from cover design to proofreading? (Hint: Pretty slim.)

I learned about the importance of outside feedback while working on my newest book, How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

Warning: Endless revisions ahead.

My first draft was awesome! Oh, wait…

I thought my first draft was great, and proudly sent it to my business partner, Diana. I was all ready to bask in her praise and then send the manuscript along to my 20 beta readers!

She tried to let me down gently.

Diana told me the Do-It-All Plan in my book wasn’t making sense. I shared too much personal information in some places and not enough in others. I used too many em-dashes and ellipses, my advice was too generic, and a lot of my tips required spending money.

And those were only a few of the issues she pointed out.

After Diana’s close eye, this excerpt:

Important note: You don’t have to get up early. I know every personal development book and article in the known universe says you must rise at 5 am if you want to not be a total loser. And somehow, people who go to bed at 1 am are seen as either lazy or workaholics, while those who get up in the wee hours are heaped with praise. Well, I say we D-I-A women all need to do what’s right for us. If you’re a night owl, try staying up a little later every night until you feel tired the next day, then move your bedtime back a bit.

Became this:

Important note: You don’t have to get up early. I know every personal development book and article in the known universe says only losers sleep past five a.m. and that people who go to bed at one a.m. are lazy or workaholics. Well, I say we D-I-A women all need to do what’s right for us. If you’re a night owl, try staying up a little later every night until you feel tired the next day, then move your bedtime back a bit.

But the second draft was fabulous, right?

I rewrote the entire book, printed out all 200-plus pages, and had my writer husband look it over.

He covered my manuscript with so much red ink it looked like he had sacrificed a goat on it.

He fixed typos, tightened up the copy, and helped the writing flow better.

Thanks to that awful red pen, this:

But we’re misled to believe we can’t or shouldn’t do it all, even if that’s what we really, really want. After all, doing — and caring about — lots of things can lead to (gasp!) stress.  

Became this:

But we’re misled to believe we can’t or shouldn’t do it all, even if that’s what we really want. After all, doing and caring about lots of things can lead to stress.  

Surely the third draft was ready to go! Umm…

I finally sent the manuscript to my 20 beta readers, and compiled all their insights.

Like these:

  • My jokes fell flat.
  • The Do-It-All Plan still wasn’t quite right.
  • The chapters were not in the correct order.
  • My intro was too braggy.
  • Some small chapters needed to be combined into bigger ones.
  • I swore too much.
  • And much, much more.

I went through the book and made it just about every change my beta readers suggested.

This:

The First Rule of the D-I-A Plan: You do not talk about the D-I-A Plan. Er, I mean, complete any Level of the D-I-A Desire and you are done with that Desire and it’s time to move on to the next one…unless you’re so inspired you want to go on to the next level right away! (And that’s actually the only rule, but I wanted to get in that Fight Club reference because I’m a dork.)

Became this:

In the D-I-A  Plan, you’ll be adding one Desire — one new goal, event, experience, skill, or accomplishment — to your life at a time. For each Desire you’ll be filling out the corresponding Desire Worksheet, and using the other Worksheets as instructed in the next chapter to help keep you motivated and on track. Once you’ve reached your Desire, you’ll then move on to the next one in the same way.

Now it was ready, right? Right?

Well, then I sent the book along to the proofreader I had hired.

He ended up being more of a developmental editor, and had a ton of good suggestions on making the subheads work, rearranging the chapters, and more.

He also mentioned I had more than 150 parenthetical asides that I thought were hilarious, but that actually distracted readers from the main message and made me come off as less than an expert.

I went through and made most of his changes, and when I printed out the resulting draft, I then had to clean up all of the new typos that had made their way in during the final editing process.

So this:

Go (back) to college. If the skill you want to pick up is more complicated than what you can learn by reading a book or taking a single class, or you want to go deeper into the subject or even turn it into a new career, consider going (back) to college or a trade school, or earning a certificate.

Became this:

Get schooled. If the skill you want to pick up is more complicated than what you can learn by reading a book or taking a single class, or you want to go deeper into the subject or even turn it into a new career, consider earning a college degree, attending a trade school, or earning a certificate.

It took me four weeks to write How to Do It All — and seven weeks to edit it.

I originally believed my first draft was perfect. After all, I’ve been writing full time for almost two decades!

But looking back after reading the final version, I can see that the original manuscript was a mess.

You may be looking at these examples of my edits and saying, “They got rid of all the personality!”

I thought the same at first.

But the edgy, humorous writing style I had been relying on became tiring in a 60,000-word book. Now, my personal style still shines through, but without the crutches of swear words, parenthetical asides, and lame jokes.

Don’t do it all alone

Writers are often blind to your own errors and the quirks of your writing.

You blip right over those phrases you tend to overuse. Passages that would confuse readers are completely clear to you, because you wrote them!

And of course we always miss typos, even if you rake over the copy 20 times with your own eyes.

It takes an outside perspective to make your writing as good as it can be.

Those marketers who tell you that you can churn out a book in a few hours, toss it onto Amazon, and create a sustainable income? They’re either lying, or have been unbelievably lucky with their own books.

Seek insight from others, and your writing — and sales — will be much stronger.

How much time have you spent on your own self-publishing journey? What advice would you give to an author just starting out?

Traveler and blogger Chris Guillebeau

Featured resource

Unconventional Guide to Publishing

Chris Guillebeau introduces the plan you need to finally share your book with the world. Make this your year of becoming an author.

85 comments

  • Sonya H. Moreno says:

    I need all the help i can get im getting a bit discouraged.

    • Cheryl says:

      I’m feeling discouraged too…

      • That is completely NORMAL for writers! It can take a while to ramp up to a good income (or whatever your goal may be) — and we face so much rejection to boot.

        Please remember that rejection isn’t personal, and it’s not a reflection of you or your writing. Also, the one thing the most successful writers have in common is that they are PERSISTENT. The mediocre writer who never gives up will always do better than the great writer who packs it in.

        Believe me, I know. I had a very disappointing experience with the launch team I hired for my new book (the one that’s in my new bio). You know what that did? It fired me up even more to make this book a success. I’ve hired a freelancer to reach out to all the outlets the launch team should have in the first place and am marketing with renewed vigor.

        I hope you’ll do the same. Get motivated, get fired up, show the naysayers they’re wrong!

  • I self-published my first book in 2008. My best advice is to pay for the best tools. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to get by with freebies.

  • Tal Valante says:

    Good article, Linda. I love how you showcased the progress of your manuscript.

    Good editing is always a team effort. No matter how experienced you are, as you write, you’re blind to your own mistakes. You have two options: putting the manuscript aside long enough to forget it, and then coming back to it with fresh eyes; or having someone edit it for you. The first option takes a lot of time. The second usually costs a lot. Choose wisely according to your resources, but don’t skip this critical step. 🙂

  • I have enough trouble editing my user group newsletter by myself. But, when I decide to self-publish I will remember your advice.

  • Editing costs can be kept low if the editor advises briefly first on structure and style, then asking for a rewrite. The effort taken to rethink and rewrite can pay off in making the copy editing and proofreading process much shorter, thereby saving you lots of time, frustration and money.

  • Neil Larkins says:

    I have been writing for about fifteen years now and have yet to find a single beta reader. I joined a writers club (the only one in my area) fourteen years ago and no one there has consented to be a beta reader, even when I offered to read their work. Even my wife refuses to be a beta reader as well as my 49 year-old daughter, both for their own reasons. No friends, people who say they like my work, former classmates, fb friends or anyone I have met or “liked” in all these years has agreed to do this. As for hiring a reader or editor online, that just isn’t possible with my limited income. Anyone care to offer some suggestions for my sake as well as those who are in my situation?

  • Lauren Montgomery says:

    I’m a young writer and just getting started. I love your articles and they really help me! Thanks so much for your input!

  • I wish I could see I didn’t feel completely deflated. But I do… I think there is so much information out there that a lot of the time it can feel like information overload…. I have so much to say but feel like I’ll never be able to get it out there. x x

    • Don’t worry about all the info out there, just write! Only turn to the articles and blog for inspiration or help when you need it. It the information is getting in the way, then it isn’t doing what it is supposed to. Sit back, relax, clear your mind and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter. Do some spring cleaning in your head. If your story wants to be told, then tell it. Just sit down and write. Worry about the other stuff during the editing stage, get the story out first and it will become a lot easier.

  • Clair says:

    Linda, I’m exhausted just reading your post!! : ) but appreciate every single word. I have a friend who published a book though the regular channels and it was such a nightmare that she is self publishing her second book. I have an idea for a book and will refer to your suggestions and advice frequently. Thank you for taking the time to care about other writers. Not to be caught in publishing quicksand makes you a lifesaver!!

  • D. M. Read says:

    This is a subject on which I could really use some information! I’m an indie author who definitely needs help with marketing. The problem is, I’d rather write than spend time doing that. Need to get myself into a more professional frame of mind.

  • After a yeat long healing journey from a breast cancer diagnosis received in February of 2015, I am in the initial stages of writing about it. My intention is to encourage and uplift others who find their lives suddenly (and, in this case, frighteningly) upended. It is a story of transformation…of personal alchemy…and of discovering the hidden treasures to be found in devasting circumstances. This article, arriving in my Inbox this morning, is a wonderful help. Thank you.

    • Ashley says:

      My first self published book was about my Cancer journey in 2000. I didn’t start it until 2005 and it was late 2010 before I published. Keep pushing through. It was such a great healing process while it help so many others.

  • Lisa Kimrey says:

    Thank you so much for your transparency, Linda. I am starting a new career as a writer and have a book and blog in progress. Your words give me such encouragement! It is a lot of work, and it pains me when people do not ‘get’ my ‘humor’ (I think I am hilarious!) (And I love parentheses-and dashes). Thank you for sharing your hard work and the reasons the revisions work better.

  • Amber Dennis says:

    Wonderful post. I have done editing for many writers and it’s always such a tricky process. I know what it’s like to pour yourself out onto the page and when someone hands you back a copy oozing with red ink, it’s so tempting to give up. Yet in my experience editing, I tend to be more hardcore about cleaning up something when it’s good than when it’s not. Some pieces are so poorly written that no amount of red ink will make them work. When there’s real substance, it’s a fulfilling task to know that you have a piece with good bones and all it needs is a cleanup to make it sparkle.

  • R D Terry says:

    Linda,

    I really really really appreciate this post. I’m a soon-to-be author and I’m horsing around on finishing the first book. I still have 3 chapters to complete. I think I made a mistake in showing my potential editor my “first draft” before it was even finished. Prior to email it, I told her that I had not made any edits yet. I knew I wasn’t really ready to show it to anyone.

    When I got her comments back I wanted to sit in the middle of the floor and eat brownies and ice cream all day. She made some phenomenal observations, but I couldn’t help but feeling like she could have been a little more gentle in a few lines of her critiques. “Damn! I’m a first-time writer,” I thought. My whole day was shot to hell. I was in a cluster of emotions. I started rallying the troops (my mom and my high school English teacher) to put salve on my wounds. In that moment I felt like I needed to be in therapy while writing this first book to empower teens and young adults.

    Emotionally I was battling being criticized. I started my whole “fight-or-flight” song and dance.

    Your story helps, as it teaches me that we can have levels to the editing process. Also, it helps to know that this was your journey even AFTER writing for nearly 2 decades. I also am more conscious to break sentences up. Naturally, I can be long winded. However, my reader (especially my young reader) will not be as patient.

    I’m encouraged to build a Tribe of Editors to review my manuscript before publishing by book. My greatest hope is to get it out into the world THIS YEAR!

    I feel like I’m behind, but I won’t quit. Thanks for the push! Thanks for being real!

    • R D Terry,

      I feel like I have to fight off that eurge to share my unfinished work all the time. I get so excited by my story that I just want to share it. I have decided not to show my work to anyone until the first draft is done and I’ve edited it at least once. I know there are scores of errors and inconsistancies that I need to fix. I’ve gone back to reference what I wrote before and thought “GOD! What was I thinking?”, then added red text to remind me that I need to change it. I can only imagine what others would think about it at this point.

      Don’t let it get you down. Get it done and then go back to try and catch any big mistakes. Then remember that your editors are making mark-ups to help you, not hurt you. (I know I’ll have to remind myself the same thing a few times)

      I think we are all going through similar things, so remember you are not alone.

      • Great! I got too eager to reply and ended up with spelling errors. It is “urge” and “inconsistencies”.

        Spelling errors in a writing blog comment section… talk about embarrassing! See, you aren’t alone.

  • Linda says:

    I write fiction and I would love to see if your suggestions work for this type of writing. I’m unemployed and the lack of $ coming in precludes several paid editing steps.

  • I’m another new author in the making. I’m in the travel industry, My book Going Local – Experiences and Encounters on the Road is with my editor, who is too busy now for me. Indeed, this is difficult. I was told to consider Booklocker or Ingram Sparks, as for a newbie, figuring out Create Space can be a daunting task? As my book is a space book about inspiration, case studies, interviews, I will be adding photos. I have also had hit and miss results with Fiverr folk. I’m also seeking out a second set of eyes to redit.

  • Lindsay says:

    All the ‘padding’ (elipses, jokes, self-criticism) is an attempt to hide the fact that you yourself don’t think your text is good enough to stand on its own. If it isn’t, better to find it out fast. If it is, then it doesn’t need all this padding. Strip it and strip it again. Think of it like a curvaceous woman who wears tent dresses. Then agrees to a skirt and a baggy blouse. Then agrees to a long jacket, then finally puts on the strap-top and looks FABULOUS.

  • Yavante says:

    How long exactly, does “writer’s block” last? I haven’t written in over a year because life interferes with my plans of being a writer.

  • Robert th. Lazet says:

    Yah, this is why I am still writing…euh editing and editing. Well Editing and rewriting. But articles like this keep me alive. Thanks

  • As a freelance editor, I have to say that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to break the news to an eager writer that his or her “baby” is ugly, but sometimes, a frank appraisal is the only way that baby is going to grow up to earn a living.

    Your friends won’t tell you the unvarnished truth. Neither will your “supportive” writer’s group. A professional editor will.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    http://www.epiclesisconsulting.com
    http://www.epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

  • Patti says:

    This post was a real eye-opener for me. I’m considering self-publishing and I’ve put so much time into just the first draft, I figured by the time I finished the final draft, my book would be perfect. Thanks for the warning. Now I know it’s essential to have others read and edit for me and not to be discouraged by all the changes they will inevitably recommend!

  • Karen says:

    It is so comforting that even seasoned writers put out drafts that have to be torn apart and put back together by editors. And man, editors are so invaluable.

    Thanks for the glimpse at the process.

  • Margay Roberge says:

    I would say it’s never too late to learn something new. Always keep an open mind and try different things until you find out what works for you.

  • I find the editing process to be the hardest part as well. Been self-publishing for two years, have a great editor and a few beta readers (they are harder to find than I had anticipated). Where I really get nervous is if they don’t send me a lot of corrections and suggestions. I worry that they are going easy on me! 🙂

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