Some Lessons I Learned From Self-Publishing My First Book

CM Strawn 3/26/2023

To Plot or Pants

I partly plotted and partly pantsed the first novel I wrote. For those unfamiliar with these terms, plotting is outlining before writing, and pantsing is writing by the seat of the pants without a guide. There are advocates on both sides, and they are both right.

When I began writing my story, I pantsed it with no more of a guide than a general idea of the story I wanted to write. I didn’t know what would happen next until I wrote the scene and was delightfully surprised as I went along.

After writing the first few chapters, I discovered the corner I was writing myself into, so I turned to plotting and outlined how I thought I wanted the book to develop. Now I had a better idea of the story I wanted to write, and I began outlining each chapter as I came to it. Because my outline was flexible, I was still delightfully surprised as my story started to take shape.

Plotting made writing my novel much less stressful.

Write the First Draft Fast

Struggling over each paragraph, sentence, and word while drafting the first iteration wastes time and effort. I tried to make the first draft the last and was rewarded with aggravation. After finishing a paragraph or page, my story would take an unexpected turn, and my finely polished work became worthless. I had to go back and revise what I had already written, costing time and patience.

I learned that the first draft is supposed to be messy, even sloppy, making it easy to slaughter the slop during revision. This fast writing got the story down while fresh in my mind. The first draft wasn’t pretty, but I was able to shape it into the story that I wanted when I began revising.

Revise, Revise, Revise

With the first draft completed and the story firmly attached to the page, I began revising. All the gray areas that were unclear or didn’t make sense were either changed or chucked. The story was solid, but the prose lacked luster, so I remodeled anything that I thought would cause the reader to get confused, stumble over words or phrasing, or lose interest, and my trash bin was full.

Revising enabled me to stick to the plot line and avoid the squirrels that attempted to divert the characters from their appointed tasks. One thing I have learned after over thirty years as a trucker is to stick to the map, and the best way to get lost is to ignore the map.

Edit After Revising

Grammarly is one of the most valuable tools I have discovered since I started seriously writing. Not only does it find errors in spelling and punctuation, but it also suggests options for better sentence structure, phrasing, and grammar.

I made the mistake of not editing my first novel before I published it on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). When I began reading the paperback, I was mortified to find blatant errors in punctuation, typos, redundant words, and the list goes on. I quickly unpublished, revised, and edited the book again using Grammarly. Republication is going to happen soon.

Let Someone Read It

During my writing process, I imposed upon the graces of my friends and relatives to read my book and tell me if it was any good. The services of a good book editor would have saved me time and effort, but for my first book, it was cost prohibitive. Even if I had waited to publish and reread the book, I would have undoubtedly found and fixed many of these blatant errors.

Another good place to find beta readers is in writer’s groups. I am intimidated by successful writers, so I avoid exposing my ignorance to the more experienced wordsmiths. I know I am shooting myself in the foot to use a cliche, and I have holes in both feet. So, on my to-do list is joining my local writer’s group.

Edit and Revise Again

Because I didn’t do the necessary work before publishing my book the first time, I suffered the embarrassment of displaying my ignorance to the world. With that lesson learned, I will ensure that my future work is of the highest quality I can manage.

Before publishing the book that has been combed over repeatedly, look it over one more time to catch anything that might have been overlooked. I keep finding minor flaws each time I go through my book. Aggravating. My book may never be error-free, but that is because there is no perfection on this side of eternity.

Publish Carefully

There are many ways to self-publish, but the most popular is Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or Amazon KDP. KDP has provided a simple method for authors to self-publish their books, but it isn’t as easy as it may sound. There is a steep learning curve.

I should have paid more attention to some of the steps I overlooked in my haste to publish my first book. This led to me unpublishing the book because of quality issues that could have been avoided if I had taken more time to learn KDP and edit the book better. The moral here is don’t get in a hurry and take the time needed to learn before publishing.

Self-publishing my book has allowed me to learn the craft of writing, editing, and publishing. Since I learn by doing, I made mistakes along the way, but the journey has been fun.

Do I recommend self-publishing? Yes, I do. But it isn’t for the faint of heart, and it is full-time work. But for me, it is most fulfilling.

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