Monday Musings: In the Self-Publishing World, How Do We Identify “Ready”?

There’s so much talk going on around the blogosphere about e-books and self-publishing and the changes that are here and the changes that are coming that…well, it feels a bit overwhelming to even try and jump into the conversation. Then again, all that talk does get me/us thinking, and it’s a conversation that does need to be had, even if we don’t come to any major conclusions.

So, my thought for today is about how we, the writer, know when a story is “ready.”

I don’t believe that having a book accepted by an agent or an editor at a traditional publishing house is the only definition of ready. I’m not getting into the argument about whether these routes only produce “good” books or not. Obviously, there are books that were ready that also got turned down in this forum, for various reasons from taste to market needs, and that’s only happening more in this economy, I’d guess. I do think, however, that we can say there is and has always been a kind of validation for an author, if and when they get a yes from someone along this path. Someone who reads a lot, who knows the industry and the business and who, yes, loves books.

So many of us are talking about other routes today, seriously considering them–if not for this project, for the possibility of a future one. It’s kind of like the discussion about e-book readers: I don’t need one now, but I can definitely see a future when I’ll have one. I’m not ready to self-publish anything myself today, but I hear conversations about e-books for royalties only, and I think…hmm? I don’t know.

And the big thing I wonder about is: for all these writers who do decide to take this step, who take back the reins of the horse and release their own book–how do they know when it’s ready? How do they get the validation that what they’ve written and revised has reached that stage when their audience, if not a publisher, will say…oh, yeah!? (And reaching that audience–yet another discussion!)

For me, I think, there has to be one or more outside readers in the process. Yes, a critique group, obviously is the choice I would make, but, really, what I’m talking about is people who are less invested in your writing and your success than you are. People who are brave enough to dig deep into your story and talk to you about what isn’t working yet. People who are skilled enough to do that. And people who will be honest with you and say to you, “Not yet,” if that’s what they truly believe.

And there have to be multiple stages where you, with or without this kind of critique feedback, take your own work to pieces–big and small–and put it back together again. And again. And….again. You have to not only kill the darlings, but find them first and then figure out what to replace them with. You have to recognize the differences between each draft–see where things are getting better, then dive back in and work some more with the places that aren’t.

And then…what? What in this new world is going to take the place of that external, professional validation. Maybe the first self-publishers, the adventurous ones already taking those steps are braver than me about this, more self-confident. Maybe, as I said, I’ll get there–to a place where I have a gut-level I know about my own writing. I’m not sure. I’m not going to worry about it today. But I’m definitely curious.

Writers are not the only ones having this conversation. Agents and editors are tossing thoughts and questions and ideas about it all back and forth–I think this is a time more than ever before to be reading their blogs and, if you can do it, stepping out onto Twitter to see what they’re saying to each other. Listen to them at conferences. I’ve heard some people wonder if the professionals who are really excited and enthused about the changes aren’t also a bit naive. Maybe. But I’m telling you–if there were two agents asking to sign me, and–with everything else equal–one of them was “naively” jumping into whatever this all is and the other was reluctantly tagging along, even resisting–I know which one I’d be talking to most.

Perspectives? Opinions?

Where do you see yourself on this path? In what situation might you consider self-publishing? Would you choose print publishing or e-book publishing or both? And what other questions are you musing over yourself? Jump into the comments with your ideas.


  1. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I think that if the model goes largely to authors pubbing electronically, you might see more editorial agents (because yes, I think authors will still be agented, to negotiate e-pub deals), as well as freelance editors, who may edit-for-hire. If I were self-publishing, I would definitely want someone of the caliber of today’s traditional-pub editor to edit my book.

    I wouldn’t want to e-pub-only if I had a choice; I would always prefer to have some print copy around in addition. I’ve published short stories electronically and in print journals, and while I still have the print journals where my stories appeared, many of the online issues are gone. There’s a more ephemeral feeling to it.

    And my biggest concerns and questions about e-publishing and self-publishing:

    When will my target market (YA) have e-reading devices in large numbers?

    Who will prevent piracy, and how? Who will protect my other rights, help me against frivolous lawsuits and help me fight against infringement of my copyright, if I don’t have a major publisher and their legal dept. behind me?

    Design: I have limited skills in this area. Who will design the book and the cover/icon? Will we be using designers-for-hire too?

    Distribution: as more and more e-books become available, how will people winnow through them to find what they want? Who will be the new gatekeepers? How will I find them without a traditional publisher’s name and publicity department behind me?

    What will happen to our beloved brick and mortar bookstores?

    With so much info available for free online, will people really continue to pay for ebooks? People who grew up with print books are used to paying for books, but the digital generation expects much more free content. If readers don’t pay, how will authors make a living? Will we go to an advertising model, as with the early days of free TV? Or will the whole thing collapse, and only artists who have wealthy patrons (as in the olden days) will be able to continue?

    My ideal world is to have print and electronic books coexist.


    • beckylevine says:

      Jenn, this is great stuff, thanks.

      I’m with you on the ideal world–and I think, for quite a while, it’ll be that way. I love your questions,too.

      I think you’re right about the agents, and I’m having fun listening to them talk and watching what they’re doing. I also think there will be editors shifting their jobs and how they work. What I can’t quite visualize is what will happen with the actual publishing houses–I don’t think they’ll go away, but I can’t see what the transformation will be.


  2. nrhatch says:

    Becky ~

    Wanted you to know that I did not receive an e-mail about this posting yesterday.

    Several of us have been missing post notifications.

    I contacted the WP Admins to see if they have any thoughts.


    • beckylevine says:

      Weird. Do you usually get an email? (I’m so in touch!) This has been happening from other blogs, too? Thanks for letting me know!


    • nrhatch says:

      Also, wonderful post! It is indeed a changing landscape. For now, I’m happy just writing on my blog . . . but one day, who knows?

      Yes. I usually get an e-mail saying when you’ve posted a new piece.

      Same with the other 30 or so blogs I’m subscribed to.

      In the past several days, I have NOT received e-mails for several posts, one of yours, one from TheOnlyCin, one from my own blog, and two from Aardvarkian.

      Other e-mails are still coming through.


  3. I’ve self-published (I’m not advertising it here, that’s for other places) and the ‘is it ready’ question loomed large. And from a personal point of view, it never will be. At a certain point, after the feedback is received and weighed and implemented (or not), the author needs to let go and put it into the world. I’m not 100% satisfied with what I’ve published, but I know that the current WIP, which I am very happy with, will pale when compared to the NEXT work.

    As far as eReaders are concerned, Stanza, a free iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch app works great. The eReader market is probably a little bigger than a lot of people realise.


    • beckylevine says:

      Tony, thanks for stopping by & leaving your thoughts. You talk about getting feedback and revising and then letting go–I think this is true whatever writing/publishing route we go. AND never being 100% satisfied. My worry is that some authors go for self-publishing without as much feedback. (Well, they probably go for traditional publishing that way, too!) Thanks for the info about Stanza. πŸ™‚


  4. Amy Sundberg says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I’ve been having similar thoughts, wondering how self-published authors know when their work is ready. I think in some instances, for example JA Konrath who previously had a mainstream writing career and tons of experience, the call isn’t as difficult to make. But for new writers, it does seem like a problem.

    There are already designers and editors for hire for self pub, by the way.


  5. Mary Tod says:

    I think your suggestion about changing roles is important. Not only is the author’s role changing but the agent and publisher roles are in flux – and that’s a good thing although unsettling. Agents may expand their offering to take on more consultative roles, publishers may focus more on building vertical presence. As the industry unbundles, we will likely see more freelancing and greater freedom to choose a package that’s right for you, the author.

    Authors need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs running a small business, deciding on their brand, marketing approach, productivity tools, technology, and on who does what. Some authors will want a professional editor, some may need research services, some will hire PR skills, others may hire a virtual assistant or technology support. As one of your readers pointed out, an exerpienced author may have an easier time determining readiness than a new, unpublished author.

    Just a few thoughts!


  6. Sorry I’m coming to this so late.

    I think you’ve raised an excellent question, and it’s not one I’ve seen discussed much. Yes, I’ve heard of people hiring editors before self-publishing but there wasn’t much said about why they hired them. There seemed to be a feeling that the hired editors would simply help get the manuscript in shape.

    I think the issue of whether or not a manuscript is ready for publication is much more complex than just getting it into shape for publication. I think it’s going to be hard for a hired editor, freelance editor to tell a client, “This really needs at least one more draft” or “You just don’t have a publishable manuscript here.” Those are the kinds of things that traditional, in-house editors do and often for legitimate reasons.

    Perhaps in years to come we’ll see freelance “star” editors, editors whose clients have published books very successfully. Those editors would have personal power because of their successes. They’d be able to say, “No” to a client and then collect their paycheck because their opinion would be so valuable.


    • beckylevine says:

      Gail, thanks for coming by. What you talk about is one of the things I struggle with, try to talk with clients about when I do my freelance editing, but I think you’re right–in that the expectation they come to me with isn’t often about multiple revisions/passes. It’s one reason I really recommend several passes with critique partners BEFORE hiring an editor. πŸ™‚


  7. Gail Gauthier says:

    Becky, There are a lot of places I’m still coming by, I’m just really late getting there.


  8. Daniel Bone says:

    I find it interesting to read this kind of article because where i live, Quebec, Canada, there is no such thing as agents. There is no one inbetween the authors and the publishers. You send your manuscript directly to publishers and wait months before an answer, witch these days is rarely a yes. They are all betting on the horses they already own. Cost to much to invest in new blood and the french market is so small here that you tend to believe them. Im almost seduce by the idea of “agents” especially because im a first time writer. I just publish my fiction, or i call it surnatural thriller on the internet with . But i have to learn how to get to the reader myself and everything else. I will translate my book and surely i will seek opportunity on the south side of my country, its a shame but its the reality.

    Sorry for my english since i am francophone πŸ˜‰
    Thank you for the opportunity to share my opinion

    Daniel Bone


    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Daniel. I think today, even with agents, we still have to learn a lot about connecting with the readers & marketing our books. Agents help, but they’re busy, too! πŸ™‚


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