Self-deprecating Thoughts From Indie Author Christopher Keast
I was telling a friend the other day how technology has done many good things for self-published authors in the last ten years or so—much to the dismay of the traditional publishing industry. This is in spite of all the potential throes that future technologies may have in store for us, such as the concepts explored in my sci-fi / speculative fiction novel, Datapocalypse. But I digress.
It can be relatively fast and easy to get books out into the world now. But is it too easy? It’s certainly difficult to self-publish good literature THAT SELLS. It’s somewhat less difficult to write good literature on your own with low to mediocre sales. And it’s even easier to simply publish any paperback novel, ebook, or collection of stories that don’t sell.
The first two elements aside, I want to focus on the third one for a minute. If just about anyone can self-publish just about anything (literary, that is), does that dilute the overall quality of literature quality available in the world? This implies that traditional publishing sets the bar very high with its vast arrays of editors, boardroom decision-makers, and iterations upon iterations of a book before it hits the shelves and that this bar may be falling because so many other people have an easier pathway to market. Again, they may not be as successful at selling their work (although many are), but they get to market nonetheless.
Some of us may want to release our literature into the world the fastest way possible so we can share our stories without hesitation! But hold up… put those brakes on. That may be a recipe for disaster, and may lower the overall quality of literature in recorded human history (makes it sounds pretty important, huh?).
I suppose I am guilty of this, to some extent—at least, I was before I learned the proper process. But with all the competition out there vying for very few spots in the traditional publishing industry, what’s an eager indie author to do? Self-publish, of course.
Indie authors definitely deserve a fair chance to get their stories into the world but need to adhere to a rather rigorous process of developing their stories into high-quality literature. I’ll leave the marketing piece out of this conversation since it’s much too broad for this post. Plus, there is plenty of information out there on Amazon and Facebook sales algorithms, platform building along with countless hours or webinars put on by self-published authors who go through their spiel on how it’s all done. Let’s focus on story development here, shall we?
It is a process, have no illusions. A lengthy one. I wish I had been fully aware of this process while developing my first book, Datapocalypse. Tidbits of the process are scattered all over the Internet, so I’ve consolidated the basics here for you. Word of caution that this is what I recommend for me and may not necessarily work best for you.
CK’s Self-Publishing Story Development Process:
- Read, read, and read some more. I won’t beleaguer this any further. Good writers are avid readers. In your genre, out of your genre, just read!
- Write your manuscript’s rough draft
- Once complete, put it away and let it percolate for a few weeks (or longer)
- Pick it back up and start going through it line by line. Do your first self-edit and rewrite. Some good books to refer to here are Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (latest edition): How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King along with the perennial The Elements of Style (latest edition), by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.
- Self-edit, self-edit, and self-edit some more. Once the first edit is complete, go through it again! It could be out loud with a friend/reading partner, on a different electronic device than the one used for the original writing, or maybe even in a different physical location than where you first wrote it (so long as there are no distractions!)
- Alpha reads BEFORE hiring an editor (yes, this seems out of sequence but, from my experience, is well suited for a first-time fiction author). If you have someone (or 1-2 people) that can “alpha” read your manuscript at this point, I strongly suggest it. An alpha reader needs to be somebody you can trust to:
- Be honest, not a yes-sayer or uncritical just to spare your feelings, but
- Not be overly disparaging of your work at this stage—they need to critique your work, not belittle you as an aspiring author, and
- Deliver to you what you need: a sense of how good the story is (or is shaping up), how interesting them and characters are, how good/bad/ugly your spelling and grammar are, and any gaps or plot holes that need filling.
Caution: this step may require you to have thick skin no matter how perfect your alpha readers are. You don’t need to make every change a beta reader suggests, but do LISTEN to them in their critiquing nonetheless.
- Edit again (what are we up to now, like 10 edits. Sheesh!). Make the changes you think are appropriate from your alpha readers.
- Hire a developmental editor. This is where things start to get professional, and potentially pricey! I was reluctant to do this because of the price tag but, in retrospect, I learned so much from my editor that it was well worth the price. It was an investment in myself as a writer. I didn’t study English Lit in college, so this was a worthwhile endeavor in my quest to write a decent book.
- From here, things could go any number of ways. After your developmental edits come back and the editor tells you how great your story is, you may decide you want to go the traditional publishing route and scrap the whole self-publishing idea altogether. All the power to you!
- If you continue down the self-publishing path, then might I suggest MORE EDITING! You’ll likely want to spend a bunch of time making the changes your developmental editor came back to you with. I made some significant overhauls to my story with my developmental edits, and it strengthened the story overall, so I’m glad I enlisted a professional’s help.
- At this stage, you’ll likely want to assess the state of your story. Is it ready for production? If so, great! Now you need to do a copy edit. This can be done using any number of copy-editing software platforms out there like AutoCrit, ProWritingAid, and Grammarly. Or it can be done by a copy editor! This, again, increases the cost of story development but my experience is better than the low-cost software. There’s no substitute for a human’s eyes in this matter. Trust me.
- Once copy edits are made: Now we’re ready for the beta read! This can be done by your alpha readers or by a completely different set of readers. Up to you. I found some interesting platforms that have beta reader swaps so they’ll read your stories if you read theirs. If you have the time and want some objective feedback at this stage of the process, check out CritiqueMatch and Betareaders.io, among others.
- Make any (MORE!) edits you deem necessary by your beta readers and make sure not to slip up on any copy issues at this stage since the copyediting was already done.
- I’d say we’re nearing the end of our journey at this point. You’ll now take on a new leg of your journey regarding publishing, launching, and marketing your story. This is where we go our own ways, as the rabbit gets infinitely deeper here—I’m still stuck in it!
Like I said, these are the basics, consolidated. My aim was to show you the process itself. The details have already been written elsewhere and can be easily found. When it comes to the quality of self-published literature, expect to spend money. Some money, at least, for your first book. After that, you’ll know what works best for you.
I have a hunch that literary quality increases the more eyes that are on a story and the more feedback and guidance that’s provided along the way. This means lots of editing and many iterations.
I can tell you, after more iterations than I can count while writing my new novel, that Datapocalypse is far from perfect. This could be attributed to my OCD/perfectionism or that it has not gone through the ringers of traditional publishing where manuscripts go in and come out looking very different. But, I still believe Datapocalypse is a good read and a worthwhile endeavor for anyone wanting to stretch their imagination, and conceivably high quality enough so as to not dilute the essence of world literary standards. I sort of kid here, but it is extremely important to me that my story not only be entertaining but also one of literary value to those who take the time to read it.
One thing you may find interesting about my personal process is that I always write the first draft in cursive handwriting with a pen in a notebook. Then I transfer the second draft—after sufficiently letting it percolate for a while—into my laptop’s word processor, and continue from there. This method probably takes a LOT longer than just typing it up during the first draft, but I feel it adds a little something when typing the first draft to the second draft. Plus, I feel like I’m upholding a dying form of handwriting style.
I’m sure there are many other authors who feel the same way about the quality of their writing, so kudos to them for making the effort. Now let’s all go read Stephen King’s On Writing—translated for a self-publishing author’s paradigm—and do our best to write honest, creative, and quality literature.
Thanks for reading. Peace, love, Datapocalypse!
Thank you so much Christopher for penning down this helpful post. We wish you all the best for your future endeavors!
About the author:
Part engineer, part musician, part poet; a focused writer. Christopher spends his early waking hours writing science and speculative fiction before beginning work as a renewable energy engineer. He recently self-published his first full-length novel, Datapocalypse (available on Amazon), and is working on several other works including Eye for Ego, Viralpocalypse, and The Fulcrum. He is an up-and-coming author living in Port Dover, Ontario, Canada with his wife and daughter.
Buy your copy of Datapocalypse here:
- Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Datapocalypse-Christopher-Keast-ebook/dp/B082491MX1
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49083044-datapocalypse
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- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMizzHpTcFcIFm5PpE9brKw
- StoryOrigin: https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/d2fae24c-a7fb-11ea-9bb8-277b06fe0fb6