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18 Things I Learned From Failing at Self-Publishing by Narcissa Deville

Today I would like to welcome guest writer, Narcissa Deville. Enjoy!


In 2011, I decided to self-publish my first ever novel, to not much success. Within a year I pulled the project from Amazon (mostly out of fear) and I told myself I would never make that mistake again. Now, almost a decade later, I realize that the experience taught me a great deal, both about myself and about how to do things better going forward.

1. Self-doubt is real- In the immediate aftermath of failing at any dream, your mind will reel with self-doubt. A lot of negative thoughts will hit you at once and you’ll want to give up. Be kind to yourself.

2. Ignore the Comments — Not everyone will like your work and the reasons are varying — in the words of RuPaul, what other people think of me is none of my business... use this to your advantage. That said, if you’re seeing a certain note crop up more than a few times about actual problems in the story itself, take these into consideration.

3. Perfectionism is a fools’ errand- Perfectionism is this shiny little notion that you can create something universally beloved and without any flaws. This is wholly impossible, and it’s only going to make you miserable. You absolutely must edit your work and make it as error-free as you can get it, but even traditionally published books have problems and grammatical errors. If you spend all your time trying to craft the perfect book, you may miss out on creating something great, and being able to share it with the world.

4. Marketing is imperative (readers won’t just find you)- Just because you wrote a great book, doesn’t mean readers will just magically flock to it. Word of mouth is a great promotional tool, but you can’t just depend on your friends telling other friends and letting it happen organically. Sometimes you have to be willing to put yourself out there more. There are plenty of writing blogs that feature other authors, magazines to publish essays or excerpts, Facebook groups, and forums to show off your work. Use these tools.

5. Utilize your social media- Hashtags are your friend; A lot of writers aren’t the biggest fans of social media, but if you’ve managed to cultivate some type of platform, it might be a good idea to keep that going and use it to your advantage. If an opportunity pops up to shamelessly self-promote your work, do it. You never know what it can lead to.

6. If you don’t like it, why should anyone else?- I didn’t really like the version of the first book that I published. But I was so sick of editing and re-editing that I just thought screw it and went with it anyway. Sure, there were some who loved it, but my not loving it made me weary to even try to promote it and ultimately it died in limbo because of it. Be the primary champion for your book, because if you won’t, who will?

7. RESEARCH,RESEARCH,RESEARCH- There is admittedly a learning curve to publishing yourself, from marketing, to what your process should be, where to go and what editor/designer you should contact to help you. Research is 100% necessary. The great thing about the internet is anything can be found and about any subject. If you have questions, chances are you’re not alone. Google is your friend.

8. Conflicting Advice- The negative to the above approach is of course, that not everyone will agree on what is and isn’t the right way to go about self-publishing—do you post it online or do you simply go straight to Amazon? Everyone has their own opinions based on their own experiences so more often than not you’ll have to figure out what works for you.

9. Approach it with a positive and hopeful attitude- One big mistake I made was looking at self-publishing as sort of... well everything else failed, what have I got to lose? Mentality. I had already tried traditional publishing for years and had received tons of rejections. I think going into any project with a defeated attitude almost guarantees it’s not going to go well. Why would it? You will not put forth the energy to truly make it successful.

10. Success is how you define it and it takes time- Patience is a virtue that I rarely have. Especially with my work, I’ve worked hard for years to get to where I am today, but my successes thus far don’t look quite how I’d imagined them in my youth. But that’s okay. That doesn’t minimize the success. It’s important to recognize that it takes time.

11. Don’t compare yourself to others, their road is not your road- Around the time of my self-publishing a good friend I’d met through blogging was also self-publishing her novel. She had just randomly decided to write it out of boredom and self-published it to a considerable amount of success roughly six months to a year later. I was happy for her, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous at the time. I had been working for years, how could she just swoop in and be great? The problem is, she didn’t keep up with writing (that I’m aware of-- and I’m sad for that fact now, she was really good) but her path isn’t my path, and my path isn’t hers. She put in the work. She joined a writing group, made friends with bookstores, and actively campaigned to get her book into spaces where I just sort of hummed about it. She was successful because even though I had been working longer, she worked smarter. Success isn’t about how long you do something it’s about doing it well and putting in the effort and not being afraid to take chances.

12. The worst someone can say is no— There’s a good chance you’ll hear this a lot if you’ve been in writing for any length of time. I’ve been rejected by multiple agents, multiple times, and though it's difficult to hear, it’s good practice for other avenues where you may hear “no” a lot. It’s okay. If a bookstore doesn’t want to put your book up that’s okay. If someone doesn’t want to host a signing or write a review or whatever, that’s not the end of the world. But you never know what you can do if you try.

13. Leverage your contacts- I was friends with an amazing artist, so naturally when I decided to self-publish the first time she was my go-to for cover art. I was also friends with an editor who could edit my book and help make it that much better. Ask around, and leverage whatever contacts you find... self-publishing can be pricey and if you have a friend who is willing to help you for a more modest fee or even for a returned favor, it’s a good idea to utilize this.

14. Don’t let one failed book stop you— It’s easy to be intimidated by failure, especially when you hear the phrase, ‘you’re only as good as your last book’. There’s a part of you that feels like this is a sign, maybe I’m not cut out for this/meant to do this, but don’t let one failure stop you from your dreams. Learn from it and use that to do better.

15. Invest in yourself and in your work— If you’re lucky enough to have any kind of financial success put no less than half back into your work, into marketing, blog ads, Facebook ads, Instagram whatever you can afford. The more you market the book, the better your success, and your earnings should go to your work more than you.

16. You can’t know everything- Even if you do everything right, or think you did, failure still is a part of life. It’s better to have failed than not to have ever tried.

17. Learn— You may fail the way you think you ought to. Learn from it. What went wrong? How can you do better? Every mistake, every misstep, is a possibility for learning and success.

18. Bonus: Two things... you can submit your book to Publishers Weekly for review before it comes out (yes even self-published authors) — also through KDP and CreateSpace you can create a pre-order for your book up to 1 year before launch and create a little buzz for your project.

At the time, I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was making the right decisions, and following the right path to success, but in hindsight, I can see that there was a lot I got wrong, and a lot I’ve learned since. Failure is still always a possibility, but if you learn and grow from it, and keep going, that’s what matters.



Narcissa Deville is a 28-year-old queer author and YouTuber. She started writing when she was 11 years old after finding her passion for reading. Her passion for writing and publishing has always been strong. Over the course of the last decade, she has worked diligently to hone her craft. You can read her current book The Secret Life of Damien Carmichael, queer YA romance, available on Wattpad, updating Tuesdays and Fridays.


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