A Little Self-Publishing Reality Check

A year ago I decided to self-publish some of my short stories that had come close at pro markets, but hadn’t received that coveted “Yes, we’ll buy it.”  I figured I’d rather control them than sub to semi-pro and I’d been hearing a lot about how much money people could make self-publishing.  I also wanted to be able to talk about what I was writing.

So, I did it.  I pubbed five short stories in October and November of last year and then put out a collection of those short stories and accompanying essays in December.  I can’t say I sold a lot of copies.  Then again, I can’t say I advertised them a lot either.  And, I lost all momentum in January when the day job called and took over my life for seven months.

That’s the background.

What prompted me to write this post is how I spent my day yesterday.  I’m letting the novel sit for a few days before digging back into the next draft and should’ve been writing something.  (I have some goals for the year that need to be met.  Not all under this pen name…)

What I did instead is work on publishing matters for my self-pubbed material from about 9 AM to about 9 PM.  (With about four hours of breaks in there for puppy play time and food.)

In that eight hours, I managed to:

– Upload a new trio of short stories: Quirky Quickies: Volume 2.  This required taking three short stories, reading them, making any final edits/tweaks, dropping them into a Word doc that has the right styles set up, formatting them, uploading the file to Amazon, and then reading through the preview copy/editing the file/uploading the new one about four times.

– Reformat two non-fiction books I have under a different pen name and rewrite the intro to one of them.  And then upload/preview/fix/reupload/preview/fix a few times over for each.

– Reformat the five short stories and the short story/essay collection and upload to Amazon.

That took my entire day.  It was one platform.  Today I need to replace the versions of the short stories I have on D2D and then I’m going to try to load them on Google Play.  That’ll probably take all of today.

What was I changing?

– Back matter.  I decided not to pay for an exclusive domain name for the mhleewrites website, so it defaulted back to a wordpress address.  That means all of the links I had in the back of each book had to be changed.

– Also, when I started writing a few years back, I decided to use old school formatting.  (Double dash instead of em dash, dot dot dot instead of ellipsis, etc.)  I realized I’d let some of that carry through into my self-pubbed works and wanted to fix it.  I also replaced two spaces with one because I think the tide has finally shifted enough on that one that one space is the new default.  And I wanted to format things so the first paragraph of each section is aligned left and then the remaining paragraphs are indented .5″.

It doesn’t seem like a lot to do, but it was.  Especially if you take the time to preview the file and make sure you got it right.  And I think I probably still have an error or two here or there that slipped through even with as much time as I took on each one.

Think about this.  That was only about 90,000 words worth of writing that I was messing with.  Think about the people with entire catalogs of novels up.

See, that’s the part that often gets left out of the self-pub conversation.  You hear all this great talk about having control of your work and being able to get something out there right away and keeping a higher percentage of you revenues.  It’s all true and it’s all great.

BUT.  You become your own publisher.  (Or you have to pay someone to do these things.)  You also become your own advertiser.  (And cover designer and blurb writer and title chooser). It all takes TIME.

Time away from writing.  Time away from family or friends or other sources of income.

I don’t regret self-pubbing.  I’ve learned so much through this experience, I can’t even tell you.  But I think its important to understand that the people who are killing it at self-pub tend to have an insanely strong work ethic and an ability to not only write a great novel (or short or serial) but package it and promote it as well.

(And many that do really well, though not all (I can think of one exception), have YEARS of writing experience behind them.  Either through trade pub or trying to get trade published and coming really, really close.)

I’m not saying don’t self-pub.  I’m just saying you need to know what it takes to do it and it’s about far more than just writing a good book or story.  (Something that most people cannot do right out of the gate…)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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