Oh 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.
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.