Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing


by Sara Zalesky

As I prepare to re-publish #WheelerNovel, here are some things I wish I knew a year ago when I first succumbed to the siren-song of the self-publish button.

  1. Be certain. Be absolutely certain that what you’ve written is not just good enough, make sure it’s great. Shooting yourself in the foot, repeatedly, weighs heavy and causes huge amounts of angst. Not to mention it could ruin future marketing efforts when hundreds of shitty copies were put out in the ether.
  2. Somebody Wanted But So, Then. While this concept is simplistic, making your story actually about somebody’s journey toward something is a good idea.
  3. Pick a genre and stay with it. Multi-genre, genre-blend, cross-genre – they’re a hard sell.
  4. Literary agent submissions. See #1 and #3 above before you do it.
  5. Beta readers. Like real beta readers, not family and friends. That’s not to say my F&F aren’t great, but look for people, female and male, who don’t know you but also know about books.
  6. Hire an editor – even more than one. Some are worth their weight in gold, others in coal. Be selective and don’t just take the first one who emails you back. Talk to the person first – either IRL or on the phone. Get to know their personality and their editing style. Editing is hell, believe me, but having someone who can cut into your soul but make you laugh and make sense, is worth the ego hit to make your novel better. I have some suggestions if you’re in the market.
  7. A good book title. Coming up with a title is hard – about as hard as writing the back cover blurb. Once you’ve come up with something, make sure nobody else has written a book with the same title. How awkward.
  8. You will not please everyone but at the same time, don’t just please yourself.Wait… that doesn’t sound right.  Anyhoo, ‘they’ tell you to write what you know. Yes, do that, but if you want more than a hand full of people to buy your novel, you have to make the story marketable to the masses.
  9. Have a thick skin. Your story is your heart, mind, and soul all wrapped up into one. It’s worse than your child. Reviews can be brutal but you can learn something from each one. Podium Cafe’s review was a slap and a kick to the gut, however, it spurred me to make some deep cuts and revisions so Wheeler didn’t seem like a ‘fan-fiction.’ See also, #8 above.  (BTW, it still hurts.)
  10. Be mindful of what you tell reviewers about your story. One slip can ruin their perception of your novel. i.e. “started off as fan-fiction.”
  11. Keep only one foot in your story.  What I mean by this is to stay grounded in reality. We writers have the powerful ability to immerse ourselves in our worlds and can sometimes be consumed by them. Unless you’re a multi-millionaire and don’t have a spouse and/or kids, getting lost in your own mind is a painful thing to come back from.
  12. Have another outlet for creativity. I ride my bike 4 to 6 times a week, between leading indoor classes to outdoor riding.  Being outside often by myself, I’m able to find my center again. The constant noise in my brain is drowned out by the wind in my ears and the tick-tick of the chain. I put my body through efforts many people I know scoff at doing.  It hurts but it’s not real pain; it’s a burning in the muscles, in the soul, that once you know you can go there – and stay there – and not die, your body will want to keep going back. I also crochet, which has also caused much the same effect but not in my legs.
  13. Be mindful with whom you base your characters. See also #11. That’s all I have to say about that.
  14. Don’t be deaf to your inner critic. You have your mom and dad, cousin, brother, etc. tell you what you wrote is great, but that little voice inside you is saying “Yes, but…”. See #1, #5 and #6.
  15. Be excited about your story, but temper it. Writing is a passion, a compulsion. I get super duper excited that somebody wants to read what I wrote and I can go off on lengthy ADHD-fueled tangents about the story. If you find someone who wants to read it, let them read it and develop their own relationship with your characters.
  16. Don’t let your Ego get in the way. You’re not going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or that woman who wrote that book about shades of gray. Just let that dream go right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. [Insert theme to Jeopardy here]  Have you put it down? Do you feel lighter now that all that pressure is off? Good. Now go write something. Hell, write me a comment! Just go write.




Guest post contributed by Sara Zalesky. Sara is a paralegal for a boutique law firm, author of Wheeler, and an avid road cyclist and indoor cycling instructor at a national chain.

32 thoughts on “Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing

  1. This is great! Something alluded to here but not quite fleshed out is that once you self publish, it’s highly unlikely your book will ever be picked up by a publishing house. Depending on timing, advertising, and key words, it may languish forever in the Underverse. There is no going back from this. Do the leg work first, because you cannot change your mind once you see that self publishing didn’t work out like you thought it would.


  2. Thanks! I’ve already had my novel read by one editor. I’d like another set of eyes now that I’ve made some changes, but I’m on a VERY tight budget. Any thoughts?


    1. Thanks for sharing. I’d recommend Katie McCoach, who guest posts here sometimes. Also Sarah Macklin, who is in the Writer’s Toolbox tab at the top of this website. She’s running a 10% discount off a new client’s first order.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Jens Lyon and commented:
    One point I would add to these is not to expect overnight success. It takes time to build an audience, especially when you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on advertising. With corporate publishers, most books are out of print within a few months. But if you’re an indie author, your book’s “shelf life” is whatever you want it to be. You will probably have to experiment with different marketing strategies before you find something that works.


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