Important Questions to Answer Before Pubishing


A while back I published an article the 13 Point Roadmap to Becoming an Indie which is not necessarily the perfect place to begin. The first question writers ask should be “do I want to go the traditional route (major publishing house requiring agented submissions,) or will I entertain/or only pursue an Indie route?” If the answer if the latter, then the 13 point roadmap is the path once you’re ready to begin the journey. The former is a completely different pit of misery (dilly dilly,) and much has been written about it (in a nutshell, you need an agent in order to query publishers and those agents have their own submissions process. Be prepared to hear “no” and get countless form rejections. Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times and Gone With the Wind was almost twice that… and the traditional publishing world has only gotten more difficult to break into in the 75+years since those.)

Something that many writers overlook, and I discuss a lot in my book The Indie Author’s Bible, are some of those difficult internal questions (which are the things I love talking about at panels/Q&As, etc.)  I talk about them in the context of knowing whether you want to be a writer or an author. I don’t feel they are necessarily always synonyms. Know your writing goals: ask the tough questions before you pick your publishing path, and even then, revisit the questions regularly along the way. Are you writing to be read by other people (author) or are only producing a book for your own pleasure(writer)?

Either response is fine, and the knee-jerk response is to always say “I’m an author!” Suspending the notion that writing is also an art and therefore subject to artistic whims, writers must always consider their audience. An author’s audience is different than a writer’s. If your pleasure in producing a book is your highest goal then you are a writer… and you might not realize it—we often lie to ourselves about what our goals are. Authors’ primary concern is the reaction of the readers; they are not satisfied until their book is ready for the market.

These are the difficult questions that authors will ask before the book has begun the publishing process:

  1. How will you get quality editing?
    1. Too many people cut this corner and release books that are not professional and/or don’t meet industry standards. This gives all independent authors a bad rap. Plan on hiring an editor. Yes, even traditionally published books have 1-3 grammar/spelling errors per book… 1-3 per chapter are simply not allowed and many self-published, self-edited books are somewhere closer to 1-3+ per page.
  2. Are you willing to subject your work to the cruelty of reviewers in a critique group?
    1. If your book is going to be at its absolute best you must give early readers permission to point out its weaknesses. Criticism is painful—but usually true. Separate the book from your identity and help it be at its absolute best getting honest feedback. Better to get it early than have reviewers roast you on your Amazon listing’s rating section.
  3. Are you really qualified to do the art and formatting?
    1. Your cover is the first thing you get to say about your book. Get feedback on this, just like you would on the writing. If it isn’t at its absolute best (both appealing to the audience and also professional) it will result in people refusing to open your book (people do judge a book by the cover. It’s easier to change your cover than to change all people everywhere.) The formatting must also be good. Font size, margins, and line spacing are important. Do your research as you put this together.
  4. You wrote ‘the end’ but did you do enough revisions?
    1. Maybe you edited the snot out of it and even hired a line editor to spot errors you missed. That is different than revision. Sometimes it’s not grammar, spelling, and punctuation that hold a book back: sometimes it’s the pacing, character voicing, story elements and order of events… as you self-edit the story the first few times (I always shoot for at least three passes before I look to line-edit) these things will become apparent. They may also seem obvious to beta readers and critique readers.
  5. Have you thought about the book from the objective point of view of a reader?
    1. You need someone detached from the text. Authors, especially who have just completed a draft or revision, are emotionally close to the text. You need an objective point of view from someone who didn’t just spent 6mo-6yrs pouring into the work. There’s a line about editing really being the act of “killing your babies.” (You must be willing to trim out some things you really love about a story but actually weaken it overall.) Think about a crime story written as a solid 5 on a 1-10 skill level… crime readers might find great enjoyment out of it, and the author really loves those few lines he penned that are truly an 11 on that 1-10 range. Cut those lines. They prove that the story is really a 5. Make it consistent and 5 will feel like an 8; inconsistencies in the writing make people wonder “how come he/she didn’t write so skillfully everywhere else.” Yes… this is why authors hate editing.
  6. Do I have legitimate credentials to write this book: am I recognized in the field? If not will I work on gaining that recognition BEFORE I launch the book?
    1. Everyone is a poet. I believe music is in us—it’s part of my theology. We are all made in the image of a creative God who (according to etymology) “sang the universe into existence.” The opening passages of the biblical Genesis are actually poems. Still, not everyone should write poetry. It can be a tedious field and there is such a small demand. For poetry to sell well you must have some sort of established credential that readers will recognize. The same can be true for nonfiction. Maybe World War Two interests you… or you enjoy discussing philosophy… nobody cares what you will have to say about nonfiction unless you have some verifiable credentials that point to your legitimacy. This is not always a hard and fast rule, but err on the side of caution—don’t just have a book: have a reason why the book had to be written. Credentials also help with fiction, but creative fields are less restrictive.
  7. Are you willing to listen to qualified voices about the publishing world even if their advice isn’t pleasant or you don’t want to do what they say?
    1. The above point is a perfect example. If your reaction to “you need credentials for readers to take you seriously on XYZ” is to say “Screw you, I’m one in a million and my book is great—stop being so negative,” I’d like to say this: While breakouts happen, you are not the exception… you are the rule. (Maybe you are the exception to the rule, but if you cater to the rule instead of the exception your reception in the publishing community will be that much more spectacular.)
  8. Do I have a timeline in mind and how much will it wreck my world if that date is delayed by 6 months to 1 year+?
    1. Publishing is slow and tedious—and that’s the Indie world. Writing, rewriting, editing, getting feedback: all of these take time. You can cut corners, but your end result will suffer. Publishing your own book is a marathon, not a sprint. If you just want it published and want it now you can do that… but remember the first few paragraphs above? That makes you a writer and not an author. If delays wreck your emotional state of being, you should reevaluate whether or not your personal identity is wrapped up in your desire to be an author. If you are emotional, you will get burned out by the process and fall apart every time someone is critical of your book.
  9. How will you prepare for the book’s eventual launch?
    1. Have a plan. Have a plan! Have a plan. If you want to succeed as an Indie you must not forget that marketing and platform building should be a part of your launch. As an Indie, unless you hire a publicist, you should prepare to do all of that work… think about it as a business person and prepare ahead of time. Doing interviews at blogs, sending press releases, advertising free book giveaways? All of those things take time to set up in advance. Stay on the ball and do things early. Did I mention it’s important to develop some kind of plan?

Once the book is out, there are new questions to ask.

  1. Do I have a legitimate platform to be able to sell this book to?
    1. If you’ve been blogging or participating in social media to develop a following you will have a better ability to move books. If you haven’t done that yet, it’s never too late to start. Word of warning: there are wrong ways to do this: it sounds counterintuitive, but if you spend the bulk of your time talking about your book your platform will fail to get traction. Your platform should be more like a television show than the commercial break.
  2. What is the reasonable price for your book?
    1. I talk about this elsewhere, but you need to do the research by reverse engineering the math so that you’re not losing money as an author by being so competitive with pricing that people “have to buy this book.” Trust me, once you factor in printing costs, shipping fees, and distributor discounts that too-good-to-be-true price doesn’t exist. You also can’t gouge readers and make it unreasonable (because you’re going to end up on Pirate Bay within a week, anyways.) Split the difference and give people a good value for the story.
  3. How will I market/advertise/make it so new readers discover me?
    1. People won’t read you if they can’t find you. There are plenty of ways to advertise… all of them are easier if you’ve dedicated time to maintaining your platform and/or have legitimate credentials for your field. Whether it’s paying for ads or a full-blown book tour, have a plan and seek new readers who are passionate about your subject.
  4. What number of monthly/annual sales will make me content?
    1. Knowing where you want to get to gives you a great way to measure success. Set attainable goals that can always be modified later. If you never set goals you won’t be able to fail… but you won’t have a way to be successful either. Your identity and emotions shouldn’t be wrapped up in this, but it certainly helps you craft your ad planning and future development. When you know where you’re going you’ll find it easier to get there.
  5. If it all goes poorly, will I continue to write?
    1. I find it prudent to often remind author’s that their self-worth is not wrapped up in the success of their book—forgetting that is a big way to tailspin into burnout. There are many things that factor into an author’s life. Having unrealistic expectations are the chief way to fall into a funk and lose interest in something that once seemed like your life’s dream. Things may seem to go badly for a moment, but if you stay strong they may get better. Never judge your totality by a temporary state. If nothing has worked over the course of a long time and multiple books look for advice… it’s usually not the writing: it’s more likely the presentation, editing, promotion, or a host of other business things that can be fixed. But maybe it is the writing. That’s okay too. Take a writing class and improve. Everything can be worked out with some edits.
  6. How much time (and energy) will I invest in promotion?
    1. Building platforms takes time and emotional energy. It’s easy to say “I don’t feel like it today.” This is important to being discovered, however. Develop a plan; write it down; stick to it. Set an alarm if you have to, but dedicate some regular time to those tedious things that will help you connect with readers. It may feel off task, but this helps you be seen and get read and that is very much in line with your objectives.
  7. What else is published that is similar is currently on the market?
    1. Don’t view them as competition—nothing is really new, and an established work demonstrates there is a market. Remember that books are a consumable commodity, like food. These make great comparisons for shoppers and help you target advertising and begin conversations with people. DO NOT be so vain that you tell readers “there’s nothing like it on the market!” That’s not a sales pitch that works and will frustrate you. Is your adult book about a struggling wizard just trying to keep his bills paid? Then own it: “My book is like Harry Potter for grown-ups!” even if it’s only a little like Harry Potter. And trust me… grown-ups love Harry Potter.
  8. Who will want to read your book/what is your genre?
    1. Not EVERYONE will like/want your book. You cannot effectively market your book to an audience of “everyone who likes to read.” The more specific the better. Many people who only read certain genres will venture into something new and it’s better to be upfront and as detailed as you can regarding the genre niche. Think about it like a TV commercial. Your ad opens on a guy: “This product is for everyone. You really need this product, I can’t tell you too much about this product but everyone relates to the subject material in different ways—you’d be a fool not to buy it.” Nobody will buy it… there’s no reason to (and you’ve already been fine without it so it’s not really a “must have.”)
      A better way is, “This book is all about a mid-30s wizard whose behind on his bills, thinks he has a lump on his neck, and can’t seem to hold down a job. This magical, urban fantasy story for grown-ups will make you laugh and be glad you’re not this loveable loser.” People will either relate to something in the story or be intrigued enough to cross the gap. Maybe they hate those sorts of stories. That’s okay too. Now you know that you’re wasting time. Limit your wasted time/effort and move onto the next person.

There are many questions to ask. It’s okay if you don’t know the answers right away—but you ought to be prepared to entertain them and if you have at least given these things some cursory thought beforehand you will be better prepared and equipped to handle the challenges of being an independent author/Indie and carve out your niche in the publishing world.

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