Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, October 24, 2014

Potential Self-Publishing Mudholes

Writers fantasize about quitting the day job, readers falling in love with their stories, and 5-star reviews. Today, I'm thrilled to introduce multi-talented, award-winning, and prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction, Ruth Nestvold, and her forthcoming YA novella, Island of GlassRuth points out four potentially messy issues to consider when we are poised on the brink of self-publishing. 

"Potential Self Publishing Mudholes"

by Ruth Nestvold

The last couple of months, I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on “Starting Out as an Indie Author.”  

I began it because a good friend of mine, another writer who was with me at the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop in Seattle many years ago, got the rights back for a traditionally published novel and now wants to self-publish. With all the questions she was sending me, I realized that I couldn’t really do the subject justice in e-mail, so I started “answering” them on my blog.

In my series, I’ve talked a lot about what authors should do leading up to self-publishing their work, but I’ve said very little about the mistakes they can make along the way. 

Perhaps this post will help some of those who are considering self-publishing to weigh the risks against the advantages when making a decision about how to move forward.

Needless to say, these “mistakes” are a subjective list of things I have noticed in myself and others on the road to indie publishing. 

The beauty and the curse of self-publishing is that it is so much easier and faster than going the traditional route, which can take years and (most of the time) still result in nothing. A fact that is often ignored is that self-publishing -- while faster -- most of the time also results in nothing. Which leads me straight to the first mistake made by indie authors.

Great Expectations

Most writers considering self-publishing have heard the stories of outliers such as Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and H. M. Ward, authors who have landed bestsellers with self-published works. Of course, we would all like to think that we could be one of those outliers, but the vast majority of us never will be. More ebooks are being published every day, and that means that there are more works competing for the attention of readers, while the market itself isn’t getting any bigger.

The indie authors I know personally who are having the greatest success are publishing several books a year, sometimes even one a month. And most of those successful authors are publishing in some kind of romance-related genre, such as erotic, paranormal or new adult. Authors publishing in niche genres such as Arthurian fiction or literary time travel (that’s me, folks!) have little chance of hitting the bestseller lists, no matter how good their work is. 

Underestimating the work needed

Like any other art, writing is a craft that involves practice and training: learning the essentials of plot, characterization, setting, etc.; developing a regular writing routine; learning how to revise and edit your own work. As opposed to many arts, writing is something you can teach yourself, although most writers can benefit from taking courses in writing and/or workshopping their fiction. Critiques from other writers not only help in catching problems in your writing, they can help prepare the beginning writer for the reviews of readers who have paid for the published work -- and which can be merciless.

All of this, however, takes a lot of time and dedication. The advent of self-publishing has made learning the craft of writing unnecessary in order to publish. But the vast majority of those who have never spent much time honing fiction writing skills will most likely end up with scathing critiques and few sales.

Spending too much

This mistake goes hand in hand with the first two mistakes I mentioned above. An inexperienced writer who has not spent much time learning the craft and/or researching the ins and outs of self-publishing can be tempted to put all their faith in “packaging” -- i.e. hiring professional editors and cover designers to hopefully make their work into a bestseller.

While I am a proponent of making your book as professional as you can, there are a number of questions a writer needs to ask herself before she plops down hundreds of dollars for self-publishing services:

- Have I run the work through a critique group, writing workshop, or beta readers and seriously weighed the issues they found and tried to revise accordingly?

- Do I feel insulted/misunderstood when someone I have shown my work tries to provide constructive criticism? A writer who feels this way may not be able to recognize when editorial advice is justified.

- Am I writing in a niche/genre which has little chance of ever making back the money invested in expensive editing services or high-priced cover art?

Spending too little

In my experience, this tends to be a mistake more often made by experienced writers who have been published in traditional venues. Unfortunately, having already received one or more checks or Paypal payments for your fiction does not make you immune to mistakes. Nor does it make you a graphic designer. But as numerous bad self-published covers show, many writers prefer to believe the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

While that might be true, very few readers will be tempted to buy a book with a cover that looks thrown together by someone who has no idea of graphic design -- and little knowledge of standard programs like Photoshop or Gimp.

And while a multi-published author is unlikely to make the same mistakes in the text as a less experienced writer, we all miss typos, etc., in our own work -- which is why we all need either proofreaders or very dedicated beta readers, who are willing to take the time to point out the kinds of boo-boos we were unable to catch because we were just too close to what we wrote.

As with many things, it can be much too easy to overestimate our own editing and design skills. We all need reality checks at times, and those can be provided by critique groups or cover uploads to Facebook or blogs.

In conclusion

Writers considering going into self-publishing should do their best to research the market, read articles and books on the subject, and develop a plan. I highly recommend KBoards as a place to start. Do your best to have fun along the way. Self-publishing is challenging, but if you can develop strategies you enjoy, that will help a lot in getting you to your goal.

Ruth Nestvold's latest book, Island of Glass, will be available on Amazon on October 28, 2014.  

Seventeen-year-old Chiara Dragoni is a master glassmaker of Venice, a position that is both a privilege — and a trap. For the glassmakers of Murano are forbidden to ever leave the islands of the Venetian lagoon.

When Chiara's uncle is caught on the mainland and thrown into the dungeon of the Doge's Palace, she must use all her talents, including magic, to help free him. But the gift she creates for the prince of Venice has unintended consequences, and now Chiara must decide whether to give up everything  — and everyone  — she knows and loves in order to save her dream.

Set in an alternate historical Venice with alchemists, witches and magic, the story uses familiar motifs from the beloved fairy tale "Cinderella" to tell a tale with a very different message.

Island of Glass is a Young Adult fantasy novella of approximately 25,000 words, or 100 pages. It is the first book in The Glassmakers Trilogy. Now available for pre-order for an introductory price of only 99c!

A bit of background on Ruth: Ruth Nestvold’s short stories have appeared in numerous markets, including Asimov’s, F&SF, Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction. 

Her fiction has been nominated for the Nebula, Tiptree, and Sturgeon Awards. In 2007, the Italian translation of her novella “Looking Through Lace” won the “Premio Italia” award for best international work. Her novel Yseult appeared in German translation as Flamme und Harfe with Random House Germany and has since been translated into Dutch and Italian. It is now available as an ebook in the original English.

Find Ruth Nestvold on the Internet:

Twitter:  @Ruth_Nestvold

Ruth's books are available on:
Barnes & Noble:


  1. Thanks very much for hosting me, Beth! :)

  2. 'Twas my pleasure! Can't wait to read ISLAND OF GLASS.