Things have been just playing themselves out in a laissez faire, capitalistic fashion in the world of indie publishing for some time now. But something occurred to me a few days ago. (I think it was while I was reading the tweets of @indieauthorhulk). Indie publishing is really just an improved way of saying ‘Self-Publishing.’ And, yes, I self-publish. Self-publishing is a dangerous endeavor. There are a million ways to screw-up. But let’s just focus on one mistake right now. Let’s focus on the least obvious mistake that a self-publishing author can make.
This mistake is writing long before you’re ready.
You’ve got a great four-book series underway? Great. Ever written a short story? Ever written a poem with rhyme and meter? When I say things like alliteration, assonance, repetend, iambic, trochaic and allusion, do you think I’m just trying to be a confusing jerk? Because I’m not. These poetic techniques are used all the time in prose as well as verse. Prose? Verse? What’s that, man? I just wanna write a four-book series, spend a couple thousand on cover. Cha-ching! Done deal, son.
Yes, it may be a done deal. And you may make some good money in the short run, but you may be setting yourself up for a fall in the long term.
Writing short, as in short stories, short shorts and poetry, can be a great way to hone your skills before you take on the stand-alone novel or, eventually, the novel series. I’ve seen it time and time again: You start writing that life’s-ambition novel, you throw yourself into it, things are going swimmingly, you’re feeling creative powers awaken within you that you never knew existed. But then you look back at the first draft. Drats! The beginning is horrible and the end is so much better. Each chapter almost seems to be written by a different author. You were finding your voice while writing. You’ve just taken part in an age-old mistake. Sometimes the difference in quality between the beginning and ending chapters is so pronounced that some would-be authors give up writing forever in frustration.
In mechanical engineering design there is a saying: Fail early, fail often. Short stories and poems offer a writer the ability to fail early and fail often. A good short story has all the elements of a good novel and can be finished in two or three days (with practice). Poetry can help an author develop that mysterious and yet necessary thing known as “voice.”
For those new writers willing to take my advice, let me give a few more pointers:
1.) Constrain your short writings (set meter and rhyme, definite short story endings). This is a period of invention and necessity is the mother of invention. Save the open-ended, ambiguous stories and the free verse for later in your career.
2.) Find a go-to non-writer to evaluate your writing. This stops a symbiotic relationship of mutual flattery and ‘support’ from forming. I think it’s called codependence.
3.) Let your writing exist in the real world. Print it out! Hold it in you hands. Look at it. Don’t just write with your fingers. Use your mouth and your ears to measure each word as well.
4.) Spend time playing, daydreaming and imaging your stories before you write them. Never write from a sense of peer-pressure to put a certain amount on the page. Writing fiction is not middle-class, clock-punching-time, so leave all those habits at the office where they belong.