Hello again, lovely friends! I'm so happy you're here because I am super pumped to talk about today's topic.
Like, SUPER pumped y'all. Why? Because I get a wee bit passionate sometimes, especially when it comes to helping you guys avoid major (and unfortunately all too common) writing mistakes. Let me back up a second.
So you can find writing, publishing, and marketing "rules" all over the internet, right? I mean, plenty of them are right here on this site, so I am totally not against the "rules". But I'm also not *not* against the "rules". And that's because the "rules" are often techniques that reflect a pattern of successful fiction.
In other words, the "rules" are usually backed by data, wisdom, and years of experience.
But they're also not the total sum of every writer's experience ever. We're all different, and so while most of us (and most of our stories) can benefit from following classic writing "rules", there are also the outliers. The marks that fly waaaay off the graph.
Catch my drift?
And so, while I'm 100% positive that this relatively new writing "rule" we're going to talk about today works for some people, I don't think it has nearly enough time, research, data, and experience to back it up. What "rule" am I getting at here?
I'm talking about the idea that you need to start publishing ASAP if you want your best chance at success.
I've seen this advice everywhere lately, and I get where it's coming from. It's implying two things, really:
A) That it's going to take time to begin building your readership, so you should start now.
B) That your first published book is unlikely to be your best, so you might as well get it out of the way and start working on the next one.
And you know what? Those are two valid points. They hold A LOT of truth. But you know what else? I think there's no bigger publishing mistake than rushing straight into publishing whatever novel you happen to be working on at the moment.
Let's talk about why, shall we?
So here's why I have a problem with the idea of publishing ASAP. Three reasons, yo.
1. It places focus on success rather than joy.
Are you writing a novel with the intent to forge a career from its success? Think again.
It's perfectly a-okay to hope to become a full-time novelist some day, but never expect or demand success of your work. That's the fastest way to kill your creativity, destroy any and all inspiration, and make yourself despise your writing sessions.
Success does not equal happiness. Let me say it again, y'all.
Success does not automatically equal happiness.
That's some fake Americana crap for you. Real happiness?
It comes from the simple joy of creating. From our love for writing. Our passion for stories.
I'm not saying you need to love every second of the writing process (I'm looking at you, plot holes!), but if you trade in the joy of creating for the notion that you'll find joy once you're some sort of international bestseller, you're going to be sorely disappointed.
Publishing faster won't make you happy, but loving the book you're writing will.
So ditch all of the self-induced stress and pressure that comes with publishing, publishing, publishing, and actually take a moment to honor and cherish the simple joy of writing. Believe me, your soul and your stories will thank you for it.
2. It pressures you to create half-a**ed work.
Your stories deserve your best effort.
Does that mean editing every last line to death? No. Definitely not. No novel is ever perfect, but there does come a point when it's ready to be published. Usually, you know when that time has come, but fear of the publishing process or of what readers might think can keep you from moving forward. And so you edit and edit and edit...
But we're here to talk about the opposite problem. The problem that results from putting so much pressure on ourselves to publish ASAP that we don't take the time to properly edit our stories.
We look for surface-level mistakes instead of bigger developmental problems. We skip line editing or choose not to send our manuscript out to beta readers. We forget that a huge part of editing is strengthening what's already been done well in the first place.
We settle for good enough rather than spectacular.
#TruthTime: You are always going to become a better and better author, but that doesn't mean you can't write a great debut novel. Throwing that opportunity away to "get a head start on your career" actually sounds a whole lot more like throwing away your opportunity to make a splash instead. Doesn't it?
So let's skip the half-done-to-published manuscript and choose to give our stories the time they actually deserve. That's how you publish well.
3. The novel you're working on right now might
not be the best novel to publish first.
Not every writer publishes the first novel they ever write. In fact, I encourage you not to. I certainly would never publish the first version of my upcoming novel, The Dark Between. It was the first novel I had ever written, and it was a wreck. I mean, a hot mess through and through. And I knew it.
So instead of moving forward and publishing that novel, I chose to completely revamp and rewrite it with an almost all-new plot and drastically different characters. And you know what? It is much better and much more worthy of publishing now.
Why? Because I'm more experienced! I know the ins and outs of storytelling and character development now. My prose is smoother and stronger. I've grown as a writer and truly become a better novelist.
But do you want to know a secret? I'm still not publishing this novel first. In fact, despite the two novel-length projects I've already written, I plan to publish a novel I haven't even started to write yet first. Sounds insane, right?
But believe me, I have good reason. I'm working to build a smart + savvy publishing plan that will help me achieve my writing dreams, and that takes time and patience. Interested in doing the same? (Well, you're here. So duh, Kristen.)
Allow me to share my story!
Just one and a half weeks ago, I had a story idea that would forever alter my publishing plan.
But, first: backstory. Here are a few things you need to know:
1. I began writing my first novel in 2012. I finished the first draft in April 2015 (I know, I know. Long time. That's a story for another day.). In the meantime, I had learned an incredible amount about the craft of fiction, so I promptly scrapped everything I had written and rewrote my entire novel by October 2015.
2. This first novel is called The Dark Between, and it is the first book in a planned medieval fantasy series (you can read TDB's blurb here). The book is multi-POV and the word count falls well above genre standards.
Also, the first book in this series is not one that can stand on its own two feet (meaning it needs the rest of the books in the series in order to form a completed story), which is just one more reason why it's a publishing risk. But moving on...
3. During National Novel Writing Month 2015, I wrote the first draft of my second novel as a sort of exercise in technical fiction writing (I basically wanted to see if I could follow the "rules" and write a pretty good novel. And I think I did!).
This book is a YA paranormal urban fantasy novel called Dreamworld, and you can read more about it by clicking here.
4. My second novel, Dreamworld, fits very well into genre standards and is a standalone novel that could very easily be turned into a trilogy. This makes it far less of a publishing risk, but it's also vastly different from The Dark Between series. I'll explain why that's important in a second.
Okay, all caught up on what's going on in Kristen-land? Fantastic. I hope I didn't bore you! Here's the rest of my story. I promise there's a point at the end, too. ;)
One of my biggest writing dreams is to see my novels on bookshelves worldwide–particularly The Dark Between series. This series is absolutely my passion project. I began writing it because it was the book that I had always wanted to read, but it wasn't written yet.
I've made it my mission to fill the gap and bring this story to readers around the world, and the best way for me to do that is to take this novel down the traditional publishing route. Literary agent. Publishing house. Book deal. The whole enchilada.
Scary stuff, right?
Landing a contract with a literary agent and a book deal with a publisher is tricky, but generally speaking, here are a few things agents and publishers are looking for in a debut author:
1. A standalone manuscript (often with series potential). If a standalone book bombs, the publisher won't have to worry about leaving readers hanging with an unfinished series. If it does well, they can easily continue to capitalize off of the standalone by turning it into a series.
2. High marketability. Agents and publishers love novels that follow in the footsteps of their genre predecessors. Data. Experience. Patterns. By publishing a novel that fits into genre standards (length, content, etc.), they're taking on far less financial risk than if they published a more niche novel.
3. A spectacularly-written story. I mean, this one's just kind of a "duh!", right? 'Nuff said.
So what does this all have to do with my publishing plan? Well, I am indeed a debut author. I still need an agent, publisher, and book deal. Startin' from scratch here. And I'm far more likely to land those things if I present a manuscript that follows the three guidelines I listed above.
And friends? The Dark Between only fits into one of those categories, and even that's a bit subjective.
My chances of getting my opus published as a debut author are slim. Publishers want reasonable assurance that a first-time author's manuscript will sell well, and TDB is sooo not a "reasonable assurance" kind of book.
If we're looking to build a smart + savvy publishing plan, that means I should probably attempt to sell some other manuscript first, right? Right! Now, you're probably thinking that Dreamworld is a great option. It's a standalone. It fits genre standards. It has a decent story.
But here's the problem with querying Dreamworld: it is so vastly different in content from The Dark Between that, even if it debuted to commercial success, it would give my publisher very little assurance that The Dark Between would sell well, too.
In other words, The Dark Between would still be a major publishing risk to take on. And that's no bueño.
*cue dramatic organ music*
That! That, my friends, is where The Eaves of Fall makes its fabled entrance...
The Eaves of Fall is otherwise known as that story idea I had one and a half weeks ago. You know, the pesky one that forever changed all of my publishing plans? Yeah. For the better, of course.
Here's why The Eaves of Fall, my third book (which I'll be partially drafting during this month's Camp Nano), is the perfect choice to be the debut novel I present to literary agents and publishers:
1. The Eaves of Fall is a standalone novel that follows genre standards. It doesn't have series potential, however...
2. Eaves is set in the same fantasy world as The Dark Between series. It takes place 20 years before the events of TDB, during a time that becomes important backstory for the series. So it sets a solid world-building foundation and really reflects the tone and feel of the TDB series.
All of this to say that if Eaves is received well by readers, I could easily pitch The Dark Between series to my publisher and land a bigger book deal.
It does everything that Dreamworld wouldn't have been able to do for me. And the best part? I'm pretty darn in love with the story, too. I actually plotted the entirety of Eaves in just one weekend. It was a brain-rush of inspiration madness!
But back to the point here (see, I promised you there was a point!).
Choosing to publish my third novel first actually lines up to be the smartest + savviest decision in terms of achieving my writing dreams. Crazy, right? Will choosing this path mean getting published a bit later? Probably. Will it mean setting aside my other novels for a few months to work on something new? Yes.
But will it also mean giving myself my best shot at achieving my writing dreams? I do believe it will.
We've been talking about me for a while now, haven't we? Let's talk about you. More specifically, how you can build your very own smart + savvy publication plan.
First things first, we need to talk about the two types of fiction: genre and niche.
Genre fiction novelists write novels that fall into particular genre standards (think: Nicholas Sparks' romance novels or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mysteries). More often than not, it doesn't matter what order these novelists publish their books in because all of their novels follow a general structure and character set.
If this is the type of novel you're writing, you likely have very little to fear when it comes to publishing. At least in terms of having to think smart about which novel to query first. So don't freak out, okay? Write the best story you can, master your query letters, and start seeking that agent!
Or skip the query letters and agent in favor of self-publishing if that's your jam. Totally cool, too, my friend.
Niche fiction, on the other hand, is fiction that does not fall into genre standards. It may have an extraordinarily high word count or a weird (read: not typical) storyline, or it may combine more than one genre.
If you're curious, literary fiction would also fall into the niche fiction category.
Now, if you're a niche fiction author, your manuscripts are going to be higher risk for publishers. This can make it difficult to get published, but I promise you it's not impossible. The keys to success are as follows:
1. Think smart and hard about your publishing plan.
2. Be patient with yourself.
3. Develop a thick skin (you will face many rejection letters!).
4. And really take the time to craft a spectacular manuscript.
No short cuts. No publishing ASAP. Keep on keeping on, and always remember that time is on your side. That's how you plan to publish the smart + savvy way, my friend.
Did you enjoy this inside look at my publishing plan and how you can best create your own? Let me know in the comments below if you did and I'll make sure infuse more of my posts with a little behind-the-scenes magic.
And, in case you're curious, here are a few bonus fun facts about my novels:
1. I'm not ditching Dreamworld. I would actually like to self-publish this book at some point so I can share the experience and process with you lovely folks.
2. The Eaves of Fall has a quick (read: new and unrefined) blurb. Check it out:
"Claire Godtric wants glory.
What men tear down with swords, Claire stitches back together with a needle. It's a gruesome life, but one she was born to as a healer's daughter. Now, after ten years spent mastering her craft, Claire travels to the capitol of Carastille in hopes of forging her legacy.
But the road to Carastille is hard. When at last she arrives to stand before the king, Claire is penniless and without her precious medicines. Unimpressed, the king gives her an ultimatum: prove her worth as a healer or go home. For Claire, the choice is simple.
But soon war comes, and Claire finds herself swept up in a world of fear and desire so terrifying it tears at the very heart of her convictions. Can Claire fight to find her glory or will her lofty ambitions prove to be her ultimate downfall?"
DUN. DUN. DUNNNN.
Oh, and you can also check out this screenshot of the opening epigraph:
Okay, that's all I've got for you today, friend. Thanks so much for exploring my publishing plan with me. Now go be the smart + savvy writer you are and rock your very own path to publishing.
I can't wait to see where your journey takes you!
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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!