Knowing When You’re Ready to Publish

board gameOh crap. You have that sinking feeling in your stomach, don’t you? Just the mention of the word publish makes your pulse quicken. But maybe it’s for a good reason.

Getting ready to publish can be nerve-wracking, soul-searing, and heart-soaring all at once. That’s a lot of hyphenated words. So when is the right time to pull the trigger and put your work out in the world?

I’ve composed a list (a list!) to perhaps move you in right direction. Imagine you’re on a game board. Some elements of my list may move you forward, others backward. At the end of the day, you have to decide what is going to help you reach your endgame. Which is hopefully a beautiful, bouncy baby book.

So how do you know when you’re ready? Here’s my handy-dandy list:

1. Has anyone else read your work?

If yes, move one step forward.

If no, stay in the same place.

This is a huge element of getting closer to knowing you’re ready. Writers write and readers read. This means you have to let people read what you wrote to determine if it clicks with them in some way. If you keep getting a lot of the same comments (“Yeah, it was OK”) then you probably need to spend more time polishing your work. However, if you’re getting mixed comments, you might be getting closer.

2. Do you genuinely enjoy what you’re writing and don’t feel like you’re only writing for a trend?

If yes, move one step forward.

If no, take one step backward.

Enjoying what you’re writing in some capacity is going to prepare you more for publishing than just cashing in on a trend. Sure, maybe that works in the short term, but following your heart as a writer is always going to get you further than writing centaur space operas if you hate centaurs. And space operas. Especially centaur space operas.

3. Do you read your work from years ago and say, “Oh, this is utter garbage. What the hell was I thinking?” but still think the same thing about something you wrote five minutes ago?

If yes, stay in the same place.

If no, take one step forward.

Writers thrive on growth. This means you should easily be able to tell work you wrote five years ago from what you’re writing now. Your critique partners and beta readers (and if you don’t have these, you should get them, like, yesterday) should be noticing your improvements as well. Stagnating in the lonely writer’s pond isn’t going to get you very far. And hating every single thing you write shows that something went wrong somewhere. You should theoretically have this process (or something similar) as you write:

a. This is awesome.
b. This is still awesome.
c. OK, this sort of sucks now.
d. It’s a little awesome again.
e. I hate my life.
f. I love my life and this awesome freaking book.
g. Maybe I don’t.
h. Yes, I do.
i. This is awesome.
j. Eh?
k. I’m going to throw this computer out the window
k. No, I’m good. Finished.

Follow this pattern and you may see yourself feeling more confident in your work. It’s even better if you cut out the negative parts, but I’m being a realist. Hating your work doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means you have to work that much harder to sand-blast the crap off of it.

4. Have you done the critique partner and beta reader deals and still feel your writing needs more?

If yes, um, I don’t know.

If no, see above.

This is one of those nebulous things we can’t really define. It might mean you need to hire a professional to look over your work. It may mean you need to go deeper into your writer cave and burn the midnight oil to get even better. It may even mean reevaluating your whole approach to publishing. Maybe you had your heart set on self-publishing, but you see your work doing better with a traditional publisher. Or maybe you feel your life-long goal of being published by a big publishing house might not be all sparkles and rainbows like you thought. Who knows? And it’s fine to have some mystery in the process. The key is this:

Close your eyes and jump.

Sometimes that’s all we can do as writers. I did it this month with my first release in my Splatter Elf universe “The Unicorn-Eater.” I decided to self-publish as a test to see how I would be able to handle it. I’ve read a lot of advice and I felt like my writing is ready for the world. But was I ready from a marketing standpoint? Again, who knows? I’m just another tadpole squirming in the muck hoping someone scoops me up with a net and takes me home.

5. Do you feel comfortable in your skin as a writer?

If yes, give yourself a cookie.

If no, have a cookie anyway.

It’s of course always good to be comfortable with your decisions. If you feel like you need your work to be 100 percent perfect, then you may be in for a longer haul. But if you’re more forgiving of yourself and trust when people say “This is awesome” you may have an easier go of it. Basically, trust who you think you need to trust.

All in all, no one person has the secrets to what works. Your path is your own. But sometimes standing on the path whittling a stick away to nothing is worse than moving forward and getting thwacked in the face by branches and having goblins try to eat your face. Each path has its own successes and miseries. You just have to navigate it with your armor on and not let yourself get beaten down by periodic suckiness or this crushing feeling that you’ll never be good enough.

You’re good enough when:

a. You feel good enough.
b. The ratio of honest people you know that tell you you’re good enough is 70/30.

I don’t know. Just made that last part up. Go with it though. Maybe I’m a genius.

In the end, deciding when to publish can be scary as hell. It can cause you to question your place in the universe and make you go cosmically mad. Or it can just be an epiphany you have after eating your corn flakes. Your decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it should be taken. Eventually, I hope.

So I’d love to hear some comments from you. What things do you have to check off before you think you’re ready to publish? Or if you’ve published already, what steps did you take beforehand?

For discussion of all things fantasy-related, check out Philip Overby’s Fantasy Free-for-All.

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Kendall O
6 years ago

Hah, just reading the title made my heart skip a little! Very valuable information to decide if you’re ready to move forward. I especially take the idea of genuine enjoyment to heart. We should all get a cookie for putting our soul out there in the first place.

7 years ago

Hey Philip! I really appreciate this article and you offer a lot of great advice here. I have completed my first novel last September which I felt at first was all ready and polished for publishing… then I started reading it from the beginning and immediately it hit me: Pump the breaks! You need to do another edit, pal. Not only did I have simple typos and grammar mistakes but had a ton of echoes (words and phrases repeating a lot!). If I had just rushed the book into printing then I would have had a ton of embarrassment. While I feel my story is pretty solid, I was not ready for print. I am glad that you have this list here to help newbies like me from trying to shine too early! We have our book and yes, we are all excited to share it, but we have to cook it just right, like a fine steak!! Pull it off the grill too early and it will be just a bloody mess! Anyway, thanks again for the list and relaying your experience.

Reply to  Rivyenphx
7 years ago

Glad you enjoyed it, Rivenphx! I’ve also had issues with simple typos in the past so it’s always good to have someone look over something for you. I went over my first self-published work over and over again and still missed stuff. And I like your analogy about cooking it like a steak. Sometimes too much cooking (editing) can be just as bad as not enough. You may lose the flavor if something is edited to death. Anyway, good luck!

Andrea Robinson
7 years ago

I honest-to-God LOVE this article. Philip, you managed to take all the agony and angst from the pre-publishing turmoil and turn it into humor! I love it and I identify with all of it.

Yes, I published, but self- and with a pen name. (Okay, I may be the ULTIMATE CHICKEN!) But it’s out there, it’s good, and one or two people like it. I’m pretty okay with that at this time.

Thanks again for a great checklist that really resonates with reality. And congrats on getting your unicorn-eating story out there.


Reply to  Andrea Robinson
7 years ago

Thanks, Andrea! I missed your comment from last month (doh!), but glad you enjoyed it! Publishing is tough, so any way to make it easier is always good!

7 years ago

I think the two most important things one should do before publishing is:

1). Make sure you have a great concept/idea. Don’t just try to copy another’s idea.
2).Make sure your work is subjected to plenty of criticism.

Reply to  Joe
7 years ago

I agree, Joe. I think trying to do your best that your work is polished and clean is very important. Thanks for commenting (and sorry I missed it from earlier!)

Lynda Cooke
7 years ago

I really enjoyed this list. I’m nowhere near ready to publish since I’m nowhere near finished with any of my books, but I’m definitely going to use this advice when I get there. I do need some beta readers, so if you have any suggestions for where to find some, I’d love to hear them!

Reply to  Lynda Cooke
7 years ago

Thanks, Lynda! I’m not positive where everyone finds beta readers, but I know if you would like critiques you can try Scribophile. We also have some Writing Groups on Mythic Scribes where some people are looking for beta readers as well. Good luck with your journey!

7 years ago

I like the fun way you put the steps together! My first published work was not something I was proud of, now I’m going through the steps, editing, beta readers, etc. and looking forward to my next book launch!

Reply to  Angela
7 years ago

Thanks, Angela! Sometimes the first effort might not live up to expectations, but you can always learn from that and move forward to see what happens next. Good luck!

7 years ago

Great tips on knowing if you’re ready to publish! I jumped into the soup of indie publishing a few years ago and it’s a scary, bumpy ride, but I like roller coasters so it works. 🙂 I also have a book coming out with a small press sometime . . . in the next year (I hope), so I’ve gotten the “editor-approval” at least with one project. That helped me build up some more confidence in the whole “ready to publish” game.

Reply to  Tyrean Martinson
7 years ago

Thanks, Tyrean! I do think being ready to publish in different ways is certainly possible. Like sometimes I feel more confident in certain pieces more than others. So I try to look at each piece separately now instead of lumping myself in the category of “not ready.” Some stories feel much more ready to go than others.