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I’ve spent the past (counts on fingers) too many years working on my first novel. I was in college and found more enjoyment daydreaming and writing it down than listening in lectures. I had never written anything before and have learned a lot in the process.

I love my book and I believe its an okay book. But I know it is not a great book. I know it could be better. It will never be a huge hit and I’m fine with that. After entering the first few chapters in a writing competition, I learned I had beat out about 900 other submissions and even received a full manuscript request from an agent.

Since then, I’ve pitched to a couple dozen agents and re-read/revised. I’ve learned and admitted to myself that this book isn’t something I will find a traditional publishing deal for. I’ve never invested so much time in to something before and I just want to move on from this book to write something else, but I don’t know if I can walk away from it without slapping on a cover and calling it done. So I ask,

should I self-publish my first ever novel so that I can walk away from it and start working on something else?

If the world decides it’s a bad book, will that hurt my chances of getting published/selling my next book?

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Take the win

After entering the first few chapters in a writing competition, I learned I had beat out about 900 other submissions and even received a full manuscript request from an agent.

This is a good talking point for your bio. Whether the book is formally published or not, it is the book that beat 900 other writers and first got you noticed.

We're just going to freeze frame on that, and take the win.

Tell another story

I think, if you were full-tilt into a new story you would not be asking this –– but yes, it is time to start working on another story.

You are moving on from a very long-term affair. You need a rebound story, a pallet-cleanser, a fling. If you haven't already, start thinking of the opposite of whatever you just wrote. You'll need to flex some stiff creative muscles that have been in one groove for a long time.

Should you continue with your life or stay here chained to this boat anchor forever?

should I self-publish my first ever novel so that I can walk away from it and start working on something else?

It sounds like you've got professional feedback and you understand there is no commercial gain. Unless you have a few thousand dollars and a very large garage to stack the boxes, do not self-publish your first novel at this time.

HECK NO, of course not. What would that possibly gain you? Selling a book is a hustle. Being a writer is a hustle. You do not want to saddle yourself with a book that is not a career move. It doesn't sound like this is THE book that breaks your career. Where would you even sell it - are you regularly going to book fairs or lectures where you will hustle it?

Build an origin legend

Finishing the book is the win. As you say, you can easily pay some money to say it was published – that's not really the goal. The bragging rights are that you finished that book. Again, take the win – don't turn it into a ball and chain.

You can always publish later, when your name is enough to sell an 'un-commercial' early novel. Refer to it in your bio as the novel that beat 900 other writers and got you industry attention. Build a legend around it. Treat it as a win, and a rung on your career ladder.

Grieve in private, and set it aside.

And write another, and another. It takes decades to be an overnight sensation.

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    Palate-cleanser! Aug 9, 2023 at 8:11
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    Thanks for sharing. And thanks also for cheering me on and boosting my ego. I definitely should be taking this as more of a win than I am. But let me follow up with another question. What if I'm still proud of this book? What if I've told a lot of people I've been writing a book and I want to show it to them? What if I don't plan on breaking my back selling this book, I don't care if it sells well, I just want it to be out there somewhere where people (mostly friends and family) can purchase it if they'd like to. Any thoughts on that? Aug 11, 2023 at 0:08
  • @Bridgebot101, Print-on-Demand is a good option >100 copies or thereabout. You pay more per book but the quality should be very attractive. Perfect for gifts and display on your shelf. (There is also Amazon/Kindle/etc but a lot of novels are dumped there every day....selling to 5000 strangers is a whole marketing strategy that comes BEFORE you self-publish.)
    – wetcircuit
    Aug 11, 2023 at 13:00
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    It takes decades to be an overnight sensation. I mark these words. Inspiring. Sep 1, 2023 at 18:28
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Wow, there are so many angles to explore. It sounds like you've just about given up hope of finding a traditional publisher. Therefore, your options are 1) self-publish the book, or 2) throw it in the recycling bin.

One strategy you might consider is to publish it under a pen name. That way, if the book is trashed by critics, no one will associate it with you.

By now, you've hopefully learned that the hard work starts after a book is published. Selling books is excruciatingly, painfully difficult. If mainstream publishers have rejected your book, and you don't have a reputation or fan club yet, you might want to consider the possibility that you might sell zero books. (Don't feel alone; I speak from experience.)

However, publishing a book can still be a worthwhile experience. You'll learn a lot about publishing, marketing, copyright registration, and probably a few other things you're going to have to learn eventually. You may want to create a website to promote your book, also.

Based on the information you've given us, that's my answer. Publish the book under a pen name with no illusions about selling any books. Instead, you're publishing it as part of a broader strategy that will hopefully lead to eventual success. We all have to start somewhere.

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Heck yes. It's not hard, and it's not expensive. And guess what? J.K. Rowling pitched to 12 publishers before finding one. Don't wait to publish it down the road. Put it out there now. You don't learn to write a bike, and create a niche for yourself, without falling down. You sound like a person who knows what they want, and what they're doing, and where they want to go. Just do it. I know that seems trite. But it certainly can't hurt anything. Amanda Hocking started self-publishing her novels and within a year she'd sold over a million copies.

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I am told that the most fun and most enjoyable part of being an author is writing the story -- that includes editing and revision.

If you want to self-publish it, go ahead. That means you'll need to market and publicize the book yourself -- or hire someone to do it for you. Talking with other writers who've gone the self-publishing route, they really hate going to conventions and hawking their books. It takes a lot of time; breaking even on the cost of a table is rare, let alone paying for travel, lodging, and food.

If you want to be able to use print-on-demand to give your book as presents to friends and family, then that is a good enough reason to self-publish. It's about your expectations. If you suspect that if you publish it, they will come (and buy it) and you'll achieve success and recognition as an author, the odds are that you will be disappointed.

That's not guaranteed. Dune by Frank Herbert had a very hard time getting published. It's one of my favorites. It was initially published by Chilton, the publisher of automotive maintenance manuals for non-mechanics. This was before the dawning of self-publishing. My memory tells me that the editor that spent Chilton's money publishing Dune was fired. Things ended up working out pretty well for Frank Herbert.

So who knows? I think the important thing is to know what you hope will happen if you make this choice, and that you critically assess the likelihood that your hopes will come to pass. Worse case, you'll be out some money in exchange for some interesting new experiences.

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