A quote from one of my books, which is always popping up somewhere on the Internet, turned out to be great advice for my own career: “If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters (204 if you’re in Japan!).”
I wrote my first novel in my minivan in the parking lot outside my daughter’s swim practice when I was 45. At 50, I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie adaptation of my most well-known novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack.
For a long time, Plan A worked for me. I was one of the lucky authors. I was published by a series of big New York publishers that believed in my books, helped me make them better, and put serious marketing muscle behind them. I had multi-book contracts. I was sent on a book tour and published in both hardcover and paperback.
And then my career stalled out. The traditional publishing world, which had nurtured me so well, didn’t seem to be able to get it moving again. So long story short, I eventually decided that rather than hang around and whine about it, I’d move on to Plan B: self-publishing.
So far it’s been empowering and occasionally terrifying, and sometimes both at once. But is it the right choice for you? Here are a few questions you might want to consider before making your decision:
Do you have a better option?
I now think of my years as a traditionally published author as the best internship ever. I kept my ears open and learned from the pros. I internalized the voices of several fabulous editors and had time to figure out who I am as a writer. If you’re just starting out and you can get in the traditional door, it will enhance your skills as well as give you street cred, so my advice would be to go for it. If those doors don’t open for you, shake it off and move on to Plan B. As I meet more and more self-published authors who have built their careers from scratch, I’m both humbled and inspired by them, but also really grateful that I didn’t have to do it myself.
Have you done your homework?
I spent at least a year and a half researching the self-publishing world before I jumped in, and because things change so quickly, I continue to invest lots of time keeping up. (It helps that I’m fascinated by all the twists and turns!) So Google everything you can find. Join indie author groups like the Writers Café at KBoards and the self-publishing loops on Yahoo. Read this blog. Sign up for updates at JaneFriedman.com and The Passive Voice. The more you know, the better your chances for success.
What do you bring to the table?
At this writing, I own eight of my books — five backlist novels and three new releases. I have 21,000 followers on Twitter, 16,000 on my Facebook author page, and a mailing list of 25,000. I share these numbers not to discourage you, but to make the point that while writing is first and foremost a quality game, it’s also a quantity game. Every time I release a new book, the sales of the other books I own start to increase, too. And my loyal, wonderful readers, the ones I’ve been collecting, reader by reader, since my swim mom days, essentially give me the gift of my career. If you have one book and no following, it’s important to recognize that, while it can absolutely be done, you’ll have a steeper climb ahead of you.
Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
I love all the new tech skills I’ve learned, everything from formatting to the ins and outs of uploading books at various vendors. I’m crazy excited that I can now control price and promotion — even apply for my own BookBub ads! At every phase of the self-publishing journey, you have to choose whether to spend the time learning the skills you need to do it yourself or to spend the money to hire someone who already has those skills. But even if you hire out, the buck stops with you. I’m tenacious. When I make a mistake, I learn from it and see it as an opportunity to do it right the next time, and best of all, as a self-publisher I have the power to fix it myself. I put on my blinders and rise above all the negativity that’s out there, which can sometimes be the biggest challenge of all.
Is it all about the writing for you?
Several books ago, a surprised new editor said to me, “Wow, it’s still all about the writing for you, isn’t it?” Absolutely. And the day it isn’t, the day I’ve lost that passion, I hope I have the good sense to go find something else I can love just as much as I’ve loved writing books. I put my heart and soul into every book I write, and I try to become a better writer with each one. My readers know that, to the best of my ability, I will never let them down.
Wherever you are in your writing journey, I wish you much joy and success. And if you come up with a Plan C that I haven’t thought of, I’d love to hear about it!
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