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Before You Self-Publish Your Novel

horror book editor Amy Bennetby Amy Bennet

Editor: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Developmental Editing – Manuscript Critiques – Work-in-Progress Beta Reading

Query Letters and Book Proposals – Career Mentoring


Writers want to get published, and traditional channels take time and may not be perceived to offer a competitive advantage. Self-publishing is a tempting option for many writers wanting to start a career.

But how do you know you’re ready to publish? I suggest that delaying the urge to see your book out there can pay dividends in the long run. Creating a novel isn’t something most people do really well on their first try, and it’s almost impossible to be an unbiased judge of your own writing, especially when you’re first starting out.

When I worked for the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop, the local university library kept an archive of all the stories written by newbie writers who had attended the workshop, stretching back several decades. Many of these writers are major figures in the field today.

But when I read what some of these heroes of mine had written in their youthful frenzy, I found some humdingers. Unbelievable characters, earnest but absurd plots, eye-wateringly dumb dialogue, stories that alternately made me laugh and made me cringe for these writers I looked up to. The stories I wrote when I attended the workshop are no different, and I hope a reader would be kind enough to see a young and ambitious writer who was willing to try new things. Not all of the works in the archive were amateurish, I should say. I recognized some of the stories because they’d been published relatively unaltered from their early draft form. But many of the stories I chose at random would probably not have earned their authors a fan base, had they been published.

I share the memory because, if those talented writers had had the chance to easily self-publish their early works, they might have, for the same reasons so many writers today do so. But what those writers did instead was write, get feedback, revise, submit for publication, get rejected, revise, write new things, make mistakes, wash, rinse, repeat, until they started to get traction with their goals of publication and reader attention. The process isn’t quick, and it definitely isn’t sexy, but I’m glad I invested the time to learn how to write.

Because if you commit to this cycle, as a writer, eventually you start to see your work get better. You start to understand why earlier works of yours got rejected. You internalize good writing and you learn to be a better judge of your own work. You stop making newbie mistakes and you start making better, more ambitious mistakes. Self-publishing your early work will scratch that itch of getting published, but that satisfaction may come at the risk of denying yourself the chance to master your craft and earn the attention and acclaim you want for your work.

Amy’s fiction has been reviewed favorably in publications including The San Francisco Chronicle and The Washington Post, and her writing has been translated into several languages. Barnes and Noble called her debut novel one of their favorite genre novels of the past decade.

“Amy is a brilliant editor. She can pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of a story as well as any editor I’ve dealt with, and suggest smoothly compatible improvements. Her critiques of my own fiction have been insightful and greatly appreciated.” – Tim Powers, World Fantasy Award winning author of Declare and Last Call

“I have worked with Amy in her capacity as editor at Locus magazine, as a collaborator on articles and academic papers, and as an independent editor on my own most recent book. She has an acute understanding of the nuances of language, of the importance of both structural and stylistic clarity, and of a variety of modes of writing from fiction to journalism to formal academic research – and is extraordinarily easy to work with as well.” – Gary K. Wolfe, World Fantasy Award winning literature critic and literature professor at Roosevelt University

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