Today’s question comes from H., who is just starting out on a path to publication:
You’re putting the cart before the horse.
An unpublished writer has one primary goal: to finish the manuscript. Nothing happens until there is a complete story and it’s written down. Once the story is finished, you have two options.
I recommend trying this option first. Always. If you google a bit, you will find triumphant stories of self-publishing success, where writers go on about how traditional publishing didn’t want them and look at them now hitting the lists and making mad money in the self-published world.
The point is: they tried traditional publishing first.
Why should you do this: because you want to be the best writer you can.
Hearing that the manuscript you sank months of your life into is not good enough is painful. Pain forces us to improve. As you start collecting rejections, you concentrate on trying to pinpoint where you suck. Why aren’t you getting published? Is the beginning not gripping enough? Are you rambling on? Is this a story that you have read multiple times before and now you managed to write another clone? What do you need to fix to make it good enough?
And if you do manage to land an agent and then sell the manuscript, being paired with a professional NY publishing house editor teaches you an entirely new way to look at your work. You learn to be ruthless and you finally start to understand how to invoke a particular emotion in the reader.
This doesn’t happen with self-publishing, unless you can get a very experienced, professional editor. And even then, that editor works for you instead of the publishing house. That degree of professional dependence often shaves the edge off the edit. I’ve experienced this and it made me miss the NY viciousness.
Once your book is published by a traditional house, they will promote it. Even when it seems they don’t do anything, they are doing something. Let them build your audience. If you want to do self-publishing later, you can. But get a reader base first.
How to do this: learn how to query an agent. Identify an agent who represents works in your genre. Most authors have a website where they list their agent or the agency is often thanked in acknowledgments. Query following the agent’s guidelines and hope for the best. While you’re waiting, work on a different book.
Why you should do this: because this is the only way you can get the story to the reader.
Self-publishing heavily favors authors who already have a reader base, so if you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of other authors. A lot of self-published authors churn out crap. There is no politic way to say it. They churn out crap and they do it fast. And, as previous posts showed, some of them don’t write their own books and aren’t particularly choosy about what they put in them.
But you’ve been rejected everywhere else and you are confident in your work. If you are ready for others to read it, and you saved some money to do this properly, go for it. Self-publishing gives you freedom to explore. And money can be very nice.
How to do this: find a strong independent editor, find a copy editor, hire a proofreader. Google is your friend. Look at self-published books you liked, ask their writers who their editor is. Get first edit, revise, send your file to your copy editor, and look for a good artist. Pay a small fee to someone who can properly format the books. Resist the urge to do a split contract where the artist or editor gets a percentage of your earnings. This type of contract will cost you a great deal of money over the lifetime of the book.
You have chosen a path, and your manuscript is either sold to the publishing house or is in production for a self-published release. Only now you have to worry about promotion: websites, snippets, social media, free stories, etc.
From the reader point of view, until you have some work for them to read, something they can order in the near future, they don’t really care about your snippets. We occasionally share snippets from unpublished work and the first and most frequent question is always “When and where can it be ordered?” If you have no full length work to offer your audience, what’s the point?
There are exceptions to this rule. For example, Scalzi started out by posting OLD MAN’S WAR on his blog and a Tor editor read it and decided to purchase it. Lightning does strike, but I wouldn’t gamble on it. So if your sole reason for a webpage is promotion, I would wait.
However, writing is a lonely, crazy-making occupation. If you feel the need to connect and share your struggle with the writing and publishing, if you want to open a metaphorical window and talk to people across the street, if you want to blog, then by all means, get a webpage now.
Follow other writers, interact, make friends, listen when they vent and soon they will visit your blog and listen when you vent. People are pretty awesome like that.
That’s the only good reason to bother with the website before you have anything to offer for sale.
PS. As an aside to this a bit dry post, when I was looking for images on a stock site, I ran across this guy.
I wanted you to know, that’s exactly how we write, naked in bed on old typewriters, while sipping espresso and eating crescent rolls. Just like that.
I laughed for a whole minute. There is more of him here, and it’s all equally hilarious.