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When does a writer decide to e-publish?

Ronald T.

I recently published my first E-book in an epic-fantasy series, but I’m still uncertain if it reaches the quality level of other published authors. There is always that nagging feeling that I don’t measure up somehow.

How does a writer make that decision? How do they know if their work is good enough, and that they aren’t making a fool of themselves?

Is it merely an arbitrary choice based on what your beta readers and editors say? Or is there a better way to make that judgment?

I don’t know the answer. It’s just something that preys on my mind.

I’d love to hear your opinions on the issue.
Sure, beta readers and editors can greatly help, although it's important to have a variety of those that you trust.

But ratings and reviews from Amazon, etc., will probably provide a more certain answer, heh.

For me personally it comes down to whether I feel I can do anything more with what I have. "Art is never finished, only abandoned."


Hi, Ronald from awesome Grass Valley. :) Have I told you that I lived in a tent there for a few months? Haaaa! Ah, the good old single granola-crunching days.

Lol, but to answer your question, this answer is going to vary writer to writer. I say it depends on life circumstance, skill level, ego level, and writing/publishing goals.

Self-pubbing is hard. Like, super hard. Many authors flounder about for a while before getting solid footing. Others hit it right out of the park. So let's explore your question from the POV of an author that has a decent grip on where they stand in their creative skill level.

So an editor or beta readers can help you clean up that manuscript but what if it doesn't have a good story? If you've done the best job you can in putting out a professional looking product, then only the readers will show you the rest. Maybe it hits, maybe it doesn't. I don't think there's any way to really tell, all you can do is package a book that will look indistinguishable from a trade pubbed one. It makes sense that this is when you would publish: when you think that you can compete.

Having to think like a book seller is the tricky part of the self-pub game. We're writers--artists. What do we know about being a business person? So not only are you constantly evolving as a writer, but also as a seller. That's the next part. So publish when you think that you have the ability to learn to be a seller.

Being involved with your audience. This happens from the beginning with your story. But what about after it's published? Creating an audience takes time. I say work on this a bit each day and it will add up over time so that when you do have an audience going, you can place them on your e-list and hopefully create a relationship with them.

So no one answer, I'm afraid. From my own experience, this business is learned in steps (like anything else, really). You make a few mistakes, learn a few lessons, apply them and move on to learning the next thing. My final answer is: publish when you think that your storytelling and writing skills are strong enough to ask people for money, and when you can put out books that are professional in packaging and branding.
"Good enough?"

There is no such thing as "good enough," Quality is not an objective, quantitative measure, and gets more slippery the more you try to define it. I would say that crap coexists with masterpieces in the literary world and is liked and read the same. When you say "the quality level of other published authors," you're talking about an IMPOSSIBLY wide spectrum of quality. It's a meaningless distinction. Even traditional publishing produces low quality work.

Is is good enough? Only you can answer that for yourself. Are you happy with it? If you write to bring yourself joy, then that is good enough. Do your readers like it? If you write to bring joy to others, then that is good enough. Does it survive the onslaught of the internal voices of your own self-doubt? Uhm. DON'T LISTEN TO THE INTERNAL VOICES THEY LIE.

If you're talking about the stigma surrounding e-publishing, in that authors who publish as e-books do so because they're not good enough to be traditionally published...well, I read almost exclusively print books, so i can't give my own observation. But i'd say that e-publishing is not a lower path, just a different one.

If you're viewing traditional publishers as the gatekeepers of the literary world, arbiters of quality through what they will and will not publish...I promise they're not. They publish what sells above all else. In the world of publication, a book is worth something if readers will read it. They don't have a Quality Stick/Scale/Thermometer, to decide Which Books Are Worthy.

Don't worry about making a fool of yourself. You are, we all are. Putting ourselves out there exposes us in far more revealing ways than any human can make it out of with their dignity. That's art. Baring your soul.

Ronald T.

Thanks, Fifth, Chessie, and DotA. As always, you guys have a wealth of wisdom to share. I really appreciate your comments. And I agree with the points each of you made.

It simply helps me to know that I'm on the right track with how I make my decisions. I just don't want my ego to steamroll my logical process. Reading your various opinions gives me an increased certainty that I made the right choice. And as you say...how well it sells after doing all I can on the business side of e-publishing will be the final measuring stick.

But even after I take a reading of that stick, good or bad, I will continue to write and publish. It's simply what I do now.


If you're viewing traditional publishers as the gatekeepers of the literary world, arbiters of quality through what they will and will not publish...I promise they're not. They publish what sells above all else. In the world of publication, a book is worth something if readers will read it. They don't have a Quality Stick/Scale/Thermometer, to decide Which Books Are Worthy.

I had to comment on this point before I got back to the main topic. This is not entirely true. Many imprints and small presses publish based on purely economic criteria. However, there are some big five imprints and small publishers that downright pride themselves on publishing books that they think have literary merit or do something new, or fit their theme etc. For instance I know people who have signed very big traditional contracts who were rejected by other imprints from the same company for "being too commercial". You, or your agent, just have to know who they are if you are trying to sell a less commercial work.

On the big question, how do you know it is good enough? That is very personal and very subjective, especially for the self pubber.

You need to set your own goals. One lady I know set a goal of selling 100 books in the first year after publication. She now has an amazing career.

I don't think Amazon reviews are a great bench mark for you, but you can use that if you want.

I do believe that a quality professional editor will make your work better and they should be willing to tell you when your manuscript is ready to publish.

It also depends on the bar you set. Is it "I don't want to make a fool of myself?" or is it "I want to be as good as other successful authors in my genre?" You get to set the bar.

Sales is a tricky bar. Is it just flat sales or ROI? 100 sales might be fine if you rely on WOM but if you throw $1000 into marketing than 100 sales is weak. If you want to use sales I recommend you set a goal and a timeframe before you publish and use that as your marker.

And if you are just concerned about some subjective idea of quality compared to other self pubbers...relax there is a lot of pure flotsam out there and I am sure you can rise above that level.


One more thing I forgot to mention...the most successful self pub author I know uses paid beta readers predominantly. She feels if she keeps the relationship professional and is picky about who she pays to be a beta reader that she gets better quality feedback.


Myth Weaver
As folks have said, this is a very personal decision. Me, I will first shop the book I have about 1/4 through with an editor when it's final, while I finish book 2 and bring that into edit. If by the time I have book 2 through an edit and haven't landed at least an agent, then I will go the self-pub route. This way I can drop book 1 and 2 and then 3 in a decent timeframe. That said, I am pretty satisfied with my writing style, and the stories work well for me, so... hopefully some folks out here share my tastes, LOL.

Beta readers are encouraging so far, as well as the editor, because I hit my goal... they want more (backstory, world building, etc) rather than less. Filling in blanks is more fun for me than killing my babies, LOL.

Once you have some beta readers and preferably an editor to clean up and make sure it all makes sense... I really think the only personal judge for yourself is you... Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it typo-free? Is it grammatical? (ie not humiliating) these it should mostly be. Then you must be able to say an artist... Im done! And wipe your hands of it. If you've done the take several months from looking at your MS and you re-read it and still think it's done... by golly, put it out there for the world and see what happens.


Myth Weaver
I've wondered about this. I have a couple folks a trust more or less as beta readers, but they tend to be more analytical rather than just "readers" is what I'd like to find. Paying an editor is invaluable, all the manuscripts they've seen gives them a totally different view on the story you hand them. Paid readers might be similar. I'd appreciate any info you might have on this little item.

One more thing I forgot to mention...the most successful self pub author I know uses paid beta readers predominantly. She feels if she keeps the relationship professional and is picky about who she pays to be a beta reader that she gets better quality feedback.


Yes, if it can be afforded. The larger your budget is per book the more support you'll be able to provide it. Professional is really the aim.

I have a fairly standard piece of advice for writers - Publish and be damned!

It's simply a necessary step in the process of becoming a fully fledged author. Writing is a communicative art and part of that means that people read what you write. They may like it. They may hate it. It may be the most painful thing you ever do as a writer. But it doesn't matter. If you don't publish and put yourself out there to have your worked lauded and loathed, you aren't completing your journey as an author. So the guts of it is that every writer needs to write with a view to being published.

Next, you have the choice of the route to go to being published. Ie trade or indie. (Note both will e-publish). I can't tell from your OP whether you've started trying to get a trade agent etc or are looking at jumping straight into indie. But the two paths both have merits and both require massive amounts of commitment.

They do start out the same. You write your book. You revise it as far as you can until you're sure its the best you can do. You put out pieces for critique to check on your writing style. Revise, then go to your beta readers. When you've got that back, you revise get your book into its next version, then start the self edit process. So that's using all your computer programs turned up to eleven, a text to speech program and all the other techniquies you've got stored away.

By this stage you've got your book to the best state you can by yourself. Now is when you make the decision - trade or indie. If you go trade DO NOT GET AN EDITOR. I know people say otherwise, but no. Don't waste your money. Publishers should pay for your editing. As a newbie writer you will likely not get a lot of money thrown at you and editing costs a boatload of money. You have to think like a businessman when you head down the publishing route and you can't afford to spend thousands on an edit for a book which even if it gets an agent and a deal will then have to be re-edited. And honestly, agents should not expect the works they receive in submissions to already be professionally edited. If they do, then they're cheating those who submit to them and failing to do a lot of their work but instead shifting more of the financial burden on to authors.

Next if you go trade, do the basics - well. Research every agent you submit to - thoroughly. What do they represent? How do they want their submissions? Do not skip on this. If they want it written back to front in Mandarin that's what you do! Also work on your cover letter, synopsis and blurb. Get them all vetted by others like people here. Then submit.

Then set a goal, whatever it is, thirty submissions, a year spent submitting, whatever, and stick to it. If you don't get a positive response, it's time to go indie.

And one other thing - DO NOT EVER REWRITE YOUR BOOK ON THE BASIS THAT YOU HAVEN'T GOT A RESPONCE. I cannot repeat that enough. If you do not get a responce from an agent etc or get a generic one, the only thing you can say with absolute certainty about your work is - NOTHING! I get endlessly frustrated listening to the non stop tales of woe from authors who've got nothing back and immediately said - it's the characters, it's the prose, it's whatever. The simple shitty fact is that you don't know what it is - assuming it's anything. And the number one reason why agents reject manuscripts is nothing to do with the writing. It's that they have six hundred other manuscripts on their desk and at most they can take one.

So if you don't get a responce within the limits you set, go indie!

Now, is when you need a professional editor. And guess what, all that work you put into cover letters etc, has just gone out the window. Now you need to start studying formating, blurbs, cover design, marketing. You start having to invest your money as well as time into cover design. Getting covers and blurbs done and getting them checked. It is a damned steep learning curve.

But when you've done it, now is the time you self publish.

And in the end it doesn't matter if it's good enough. It's out there and your readers will tell you what they think. And you will read that, undoubtedly take the criticisms to heart, bleed a little, and learn. But guess what? No matter how painful it is you are now a published author! It gets easier from here.

Cheers, Greg.