Self-Publishing & First Drafts: Why not to do it.

The end of November is approaching, which means that thousands of people are either validating their completed 50,000 words, approaching their target, scrambling to make it or, even, admitting that they just won’t ‘win’ NaNoWriMo this year. 

[Me – I’m on target. Very close, actually. But I’m only two thirds through the novel I want to write, so I’m hoping I can keep the momentum up and finish the story by Christmas. See my progress here.]

However, with all the excitement it does seem that there has been a lot of discussion about what happens when you do complete that first draft. I’ve noticed that a few writers have already completed their November novels and decided to upload them to various self-publishing platforms. I actually checked one out on Kindle. What I discovered was a hastily written first chapter with more than one or two serious grammatical errors I scoffed openly at. 

I also weighed in on a blog post by Chris Hill entitled ‘Write your book in just a week! that received a large number of comments on the controversial topic of whether writing fast was really worth it. Chris made a very valid point in suggesting that you can improve the quality of your writing by spending more time in the initial phase of drafting. He also uses NaNoWriMo as an example of an organisation that encourages writers to ‘write fast’ (though in no way does he disparage the message they promote in encouraging more people to sit down and write). 

In essence, I agree with Chris. Writing quickly doesn’t necessarily produce the best results. But for some people, it does offer a means to create something in a finite amount of time that they can then work on. There is a phrase – ‘You can’t edit a blank page’ – that would seem to support this theory, however I do understand and respect Chris’ basic premise: if you can spend more time writing and refining those words to tell the best story possible, you should. 

typing errorsSelf-publishing has created a lot more freedom for writers to be able to make available and market their work without the ‘gatekeepers’ of publishing having to validate their efforts. It is, however, still a fairly new medium and therefore there are a myriad of individuals trying it out. People who would never before have completed a novel are seeing an output for their material that encourages them to finish. While this is great motivation, it also beginning to make me very wary of the self-publishing route itself. 

There are some authors who self-publish well. They have revised and proofread their novels, even had them checked by professional editors. They will have spent more than one month typing up a first draft and then pulling together an e-book that can be sold on-line to readers who, when they pay for something, expect a better standard of quality than a first draft.

I have to admit I have only ever purchased self-published material from authors who I have known in some capacity (be that through social media or blogs etc.), sometimes in a show of support other times because I am genuinely interested in what they have written. If possible I will always read a sample of the book before I buy it. I try not to hold self-published works up to higher standards than the more traditional routes, but I do expect them to be of a similar quality. If I’m paying to read what you write, then I want to know that you’ve worked just as hard as those traditional authors to provide me with a good story, professional writing and adequate proofreading. I don’t see why self-publishing should be a ‘short-cut’ to being a published author for those who don’t want to put in the hard work of checking the spelling in their manuscript, or other such banal ‘writerly’ tasks that other writers take their time over.

In my (humble) opinion self-publishing should not be a one-stop shop for people who want to ‘tick off’ writing a novel from their bucket list just so they can say they’ve done it. It makes the entire industry of self-publishing look amateurish; and that just isn’t true – there is some amazing content in self-published novels right now. So yes, I’m advocating that those of us who manage to complete the challenge of NaNoWriMo and finish our manuscript don’t rush to put it up for sale online packaged as a ‘ready to read’ novel. Because it’s a first draft. It is not ‘ready to read’ by the general public.

I, for one, will be putting my novel in a metaphorical drawer once complete in order to get some distance and allow some objectivity to appear when I do finally get around to editing it. I can only hope that other writers do the same – because November will no doubt have created some fascinating material with amazing potential for the future of novels…but I can wait to read them; I want to be able to read them at their best, that’s all.


What do you think? Have you tried self-publishing your own writing? Do you read self-published books – do you hold them to the same standards as traditionally published novels?
Let me know what you think in comments.



5 responses to “Self-Publishing & First Drafts: Why not to do it.

  1. Having a deadline for your writing creates a sense of urgency to get the words on the page, but those should never be the final words that you publish! I agree with your point- I expect anything that I read to be of professional quality.

  2. I agree with you, Cat. I never expected to emerge out of NaNo with a print-worthy novel. In fact, I know that there are things that I need to go back and change even now, and my novel is only about half-way done.

    I decided to participate in NaNo for several reasons. I wanted to see if I could actually write 50k in a month if I put my mind to it. I also wanted to train myself into the habit of writing every day. And finally I wanted to get a good chunk of my first draft done. I will be writing in December and probably January as well, until I finish this novel.

    Then I will set it aside for a month and write something else. Then I will go back to it and edit until I am satisfied with it. And only then will I start looking into maybe trying to publish it.

    I realize that it is a slow process and that my final draft might not see the light of day until maybe before the next NaNo 🙂

    • I think these are all excellent reasons for doing NaNo and it’s the right strategy. NaNo, if you follow their rules, produces a first draft manuscript from an idea you want to explore. If you expect publishable results you need a lot more than a month!

      I really hope you’ve achieved your goals with NaNo and wish you all the best with both completing your novel and the editing stage.

      Thanks for sharing your NaNo story, and for reading the blog 🙂
      Take care, Cat x

  3. This is my first year doing NaNo and I am thinking about self publishing, but I was never under the impression that it would be ready to be published on December 1. In fact, I am going to try to use the offer by CreateSpace in order to get 2 free copies of my book, but I’m not sure if it will be ready by the June 30 deadline.

    One of my biggest obstacles is being able to pay to have a professional editor go over my manuscript. I am sure that I can find beta readers that can help with that to a point, but from what I understand, a good editor will help turn a manuscript into a polished novel.

    • Then you are most certainly one of the sensible ones who wants your writing to represent your skills as a writer. 🙂

      I don’t necessarily think paying for a professional edit is an essential when self publishing ( tho if you can afford it, it’s worth it I’m sure). However, your comment is enough to tell me that you want to refine your manuscript and craft those words into something amazing.

      Good luck with the editing process. Thanks for commenting.
      Cat x

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