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  • Writer's pictureDavid Darling

Self-Publishing Journey

Self-publishing Learning Curve - David Darling

By the end of 2018, I had finally finished my first novel (Serve in the Shadows Recruitment) and hired an editor. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about various types of editing and even how to check an editor’s experience. Regardless, I went ahead. She ended up being a second-year university student, majoring in English Lit.

I was querying my novel with several dozen agents, but no response. That being taken care of, I went ahead and worked with a graphics designer for the cover. I had decided to self-publish, and the agents be damned! My novel was going to get out there. I got the edits back and started going through them… I didn’t agree with many of them. At that point, I realized the editor wasn’t familiar with “military terms,” and alarm bells started going off in my head. If she didn’t know what the prone position was… what else was being missed? (Spoiler. She missed a lot.)

I went ahead and self-published the novel through Amazon, and I had my fifteen minutes of fame, which lasted for six weeks. I heard back from many readers (family/friends) that the story was great, but there were many errors: spelling, punctuation, tense issues. Such problems drew them out of the story and needed to be addressed.

It was then I contacted another editor, and we talked over the problems I had with the novel. Long story short, I pulled the book down from Amazon and worked with the new editor for 18 months, polishing Serve in the Shadows. (Not only was the story revised, but characters were also added along with 17k words). But, during that time, I wasn’t idol. I knew one thing. The best editor in the world couldn’t help you become a better writer. Only experience would do that… and in order to gain experience, I had to continue writing. So, I did! In the 18 months, I wrote another four novels, with a fifth half completed. It was then I looked back at my original story and shook my head. It needed so much work. Back to the drawing board. I ended up re-writing Serve in the Shadows with new-found experience.

One of the novels I worked on during that time was The Tipping Point. A police thriller series featuring Noah Hunter. I had realized that editors were essential… and the correct editor—priceless. I went through Tipping Point several times before releasing it to be edited. (Again, I had done the gauntlet of querying agents for this, but no success). Self-publish? Why not! I could only sit on a manuscript for so long. I had other projects on the go at this point and needed to move on.

Here is where traditional publishing pulls ahead. The support groups. They have revisional editors, copywrite editors, proofreaders and so on. I only have myself, and if I miss something, it’s missed. For example, when I ordered my author copies of The Tipping Point, the page numbers were cut off. Yes… I had 12 copies of my novel without page numbers! BRUTAL. It took me half a day to figure out my mistake (page formatting error), which someone in the industry would have spotted easily before uploading. I am learning slowly.

Despite having an editor, reading my own novel several times and making all adjustments, mistakes still slip through the cracks. It happens to writers that self-publish and to experienced authors. In a nutshell… shit happens. But with The Tipping Point, the mistakes were down to a handful instead of my first novel, where they ran rampant.

Remember where I said writers could only get better with more experience? This is where I buckled down and wrote more! By the spring of 2021, I had seven completed novels, and I was working on three at once (in different genres). The downside? Spreading myself too thin. I needed to focus on one at a time. By now, I decided to go ahead and self-publish the second novel in the Noah Hunter Series, Grave Choices, without querying an agent on it. Why would they be interested in the second book of a series without wanting the first?

Then I opened the novel (which had been sitting for half a year) and started to re-read it. Oh my God… it was horrible. It was like reading my first novel all over again. I had a timeline to keep for the second novel, so I went to work. It took me five weeks to re-write Grave Choices and get it to the editor on time. I had a few crunch weekends of working 28 hours to get it done, but I did!

Experience is giving me new eyes when reading and writing. Common mistakes from four years ago, do not appear… but new one’s do! Now I am working on the second novel in a fantasy series and the third novel in the Noah Hunter series. I had to put aside other projects—for now.

Taking on your own work can be exciting, but there is a lot to do—editors, proofreaders, graphics designers, formatting, marketing and promoting. For example, I have run Facebook and Amazon ads. In one way, they were a success. I got the word out and sold more books! But the profits from the sales were balanced by the cost of the ads. BUT I am slowly gaining an audience. That alone is a challenge.

Social Media – Hate it or not, it’s a tool to be used in marketing. I maintain an author page on Facebook, and am active on Twitter for my writing. I am also keeping my own website and blog. I’ve recently been promoting on Instagram as well as Tiktok and Goodreads. A word of caution to those that are beginning. Limit the amount on social media or it will eat up your time, and you have less time to write!

How do I find the time to write? That seems to be a common question. First, I am still working full time. In order to make more time, I’ve decided to wake up earlier in the day, 5 AM, to squeak in more hours. I can get a solid two hours of writing in, before I start my day. I keep that going even on weekends. I may write a little more in the afternoon and evening. I keep an eye on my word count. If I want to have a novel completed by a certain date, I will set a word count goal per day to finish on time. However, some days are more productive than others, but it still balances out.

With all that said and done, I enjoy the process and still have lots to learn. I hope that gives you some insight as to what is going on with me and my writing. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Dave Darling

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