Millions of young people dream of becoming a published author, popularizing their breakout work of fiction, or possibly an in-depth nonfiction piece. Unfortunately, the publishing industry is notoriously competitive, so even if you have a good idea and decent writing chops, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get your work officially published—at least not by a major publisher.
That’s why the self-publishing industry has begun to flourish as much as it has. Thanks to the resources available via the internet, it’s possible for just about anyone to “officially” publish and sell their written work. And if you get started along this career path while you’re still in college, it could help you build the early momentum you need to become a standout success.
So how should you go about this?
Consider Your Goals and Set Expectations
Before you put pen to paper, think about your main goals, and be ready to set some conservative expectations. Why do you want to publish?
For some people, it’s about making money. For others, it’s about getting visibility and credibility as an author. For still others, it’s a simple pastime. Think about why you want to self-publish a book, and what you’re hoping to get out of this.
In line with this, it’s important for you to understand that the lower barriers to entry in the self-publishing industry have also led to increased competition. Because it’s easier to self-publish, more people are self-publishing, which means it’s going to be even harder for you to become successful. You’ll be directly competing with millions of other authors and books, which means if you’re trying to sell lots of copies or make yourself visible, you’ll need some kind of plan for how to distinguish yourself. Otherwise, set modest expectations.
Decide How You Want to Publish
There are two main ways to publish your work on your own: digitally or physically. Thanks to the availability of online printers, it’s possible to get your book physically printed for a reasonable per-book price, provided you’re ordering a large enough run. From there, you can try to get your book on the shelves of local bookstores in your area, and/or sell your book through online platforms.
If you publish digitally, you’ll set up a PDF of your work behind a paywall, through a website of your own, through an online platform, or some combination of the two. This tends to be cheaper and more straightforward than physical publishing, but may come with a lower profit margin—and more obstacles to visibility.
Understand What Makes You Different
The key to success in self-publishing is finding some way to stand out. Assuming the quality of your writing is good enough, your success will depend on your ability to seem different, or capture a segment of the market that your millions of competitors aren’t capturing.
You can do this in one of a few different ways. First, you could cater to a target audience that’s frequently under-considered. Second, you could come up with an idea that’s so completely original that no one’s even considered it before (which is incredibly difficult). Third, you could find a unique way to market your work, advertising it with an angle that’s never been seen before, or on channels that haven’t been touched.
Spend some time thinking about your idea, and what can make it different. Do some research to see if other authors have already created stories similar to yours, and if they have, brainstorm some way to make yours distinct.
Most people who find success in publishing don’t find it because they’re a natural talent. Instead, they’re the ones who fail, over and over, and keep working through those failures. Make sure you spend lots of time writing, even if it’s low-priority stories or books you know you won’t be able to market. Pay attention to what makes them good or bad, and learn from them.
Then, when you’re ready to start publishing, brace for failure. Chances are, your first books and stories aren’t going to get much visibility or land many sales. Instead of treating this as the end of your journey, treat it as the beginning. Learn from your mistakes, take notes on what you could do better in the future, and apply those lessons to your next self-published work.
Self-publishing may seem like an easy and straightforward way for anyone to get published, but to be successful in the field, you’ll need to overcome multiple major obstacles, not the least of which is competition. If you apply yourself, you can easily publish your first book while still attending classes—the real question is, what will you learn from the experience and how will you apply that to your future career?