The penultimate problem

I had two very good writers who came up to me this weekend and said, “I’m thinking about self-publishing”. They were both very kind and let me explain why I thought they shouldn’t. What they do from that point onward is entirely their call but I asked them to think about staying the course. It took a few days to put into words what I couldn’t tell them at the time, but the wisdom of the staircase, you know?

I used to think there was absolutely no reason for anyone to self-publish if they weren’t writing their memoirs for their grandchildren or publishing to an already existing target audience. But CGP Grey said that if you want to be right all the time, you have to carry your opinions outside of yourself in a box and be willing to switch out opinions you have that are incorrect or incomplete. My stance on self-publishing was incomplete. 


My main issue with self-publishing is that it encourages what I call the penultimate problem. I learned way back before when I was dating, that for most people, their penultimate relationship is the last relationship they have before they find “the one”. It’s the relationship where you learn the most about who you are as a person and what you want in other people for them to be a part of your life, but usually by the time you’ve learned all that, it’s far too late to save the existing relationship. So, your next relationship, you’re going into it knowing who you are and what you want and the relationship is a big success.


It’s the same thing with your penultimate book. OMG, by the time you finish that book that you needed to drag out of your soul with forceps, it’s been mangled and changed and altered in every way from its original form. You get heartbreaking personal notes of encouragement from big name editors and agents, all saying this one isn’t it, but do please send the next one on. You go from big publishers to small publishers to micropublishers, all telling you exactly the same thing.


Instead of following the advice of putting it aside and writing what will be your ultimate book because you’ve come soooooo far with the last one, you make the decision to self-publish. So many people almost loved it that it is sure to find its place with the population. You switch hats, from the creative talent to editing, cover art, promotions and marketing, and your ultimate book that’s queued up to be next but needs all of your attention to pull it out of your head as unmangled as possible gets a quarter of your attention. You’re so busy self-publishing because marketing’s a full time job that the story that *should* be *the one* doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The idea of it gets delayed or forgotten about. The better the writing is, the more it makes the reader feel something, the more lifeblood it takes to create.


There’s a reason why people who take a year off to focus on their writing usually succeed when they’re in that almost but not quite zone. It’s heartbreaking. Trunking a novel should be a badge of courage, not shame. Your next book is going to be better for having that book exist in the first place. And once you get a couple of books away from the penultimate book that just about ruined you, you’re probably going to see exactly why it was almost not quite and be able to fix it. Though for me, your best book is always going to be either the one you’re working on now or your next one. You don’t want to be a flash in the pan. You want repeatable results.

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