The short answer is yes, you should start getting your work out there and building an audience. This applies not only to novelists, but musicians, filmmakers, theatre artists—all creative fields.
But let’s focus on books. That’s what I’ve been doing lately.
Advances in technology mean we don’t have to follow the conventional wisdom of decades ago. Traditional publishers are still relevant, important, and deserving of respect, but they don’t have to be the sole gatekeepers of the literary world. Readers can do an excellent job of that, too.
If you’re a writer who yearns for a career in fiction, self-publishing should be your proving grounds. Show the world you’re capable of developing a professional-quality work, and demonstrate the thick skin of letting readers form their own opinions about it. Make connections with other authors, and conduct yourself as a professional.
But becoming a self-published author is not for everyone. Here are just a few considerations, and this list is by no means exhaustive:
1 – Can you resist the temptation to rush to publication? You don’t want to publish prematurely. Readers will see the plot holes and typos, and unless your book has other qualities that are so incredibly amazing that they’ll forgive any other flaws, they probably won’t pay any attention to anything else you publish. So make sure you’re willing to take the time to revise, revise, and revise several more times. Finish the manuscript and put it aside for a few months. Let other people read it and offer feedback. Make more revisions. Are you still excited about the project? Then hire a professional editor. Then proofread again. You’ll never get it perfect, and eventually you’ll need to take the leap, but patience will improve your product a thousandfold.
2 – Are you at least 25 years old? Along the lines of #1, I’d advise against self-publishing until you have at least 25 years of life experience. Even if you’re an incredibly talented 19-year-old, just think how extraordinary you’ll be with those additional six years of practice before you make your first impression on the world. So promise yourself: “I will not self-publish before I turn 25. I will use my early 20s to sharpen my skills, make a bunch of mistakes, and learn all I can.” Of course, still make sure you’re writing constantly. The earlier you start practicing, the better.
3 – Are you willing to invest your own money? True, Amazon charges you nothing for putting your book up for sale. But unless you’re also a talented graphic designer who also possesses the rare skill of being able to objectively edit your own work, you’re going to need to engage the professional services of freelancers. Be ready to shell out hundreds of dollars for editing, and at least another hundred (probably more) for a quality cover. And then you’ll probably want to set aside some money for marketing, too.
4 – Will you bother to market your book? Whether you publish independently or traditionally, you’re going to have to be involved in the marketing process. By going the indie route, most if not all of the work will fall on your shoulders. Be prepared to embrace social media platforms, get a table at book festivals, and constantly seek creative opportunities to spread the word about your book. The good thing about self-publishing—it’s just your own money on the line, so no one’s rushing you to achieve immediate success. A trial-and-error approach is fine as you figure things out, provided you don’t alienate any potential fans along the way.
5 – Are your expectations realistic? If you think you’re going to be an overnight success, or if you even think you’ll earn an extra few thousand dollars your first year, you’re in for serious disappointment. It’s possible your debut novel will reach the right readers and take off, but assume it won’t. Assume you’ll need to publish several titles before any of them start catching on. The process is a marathon spanning years, with each year full of hard work and perseverance. It’s a crowded marketplace, and readers don’t even know to look for you yet.
Aren’t I a ray of sunshine? I could go on, but that’s a decent starting point. I’m still learning about the world of self-publishing myself. I published my first e-book at age 29 in late 2012 and my first paperbacks in the fall of 2013. My sales are nothing to boast about, even though I’ve gotten some strong reviews from readers and bloggers.
But I can be patient. I’ve got more books planned. What I’ve done so far is only the beginning.