The Courage to Publish

Editor’s note: this is a guest post from fellow Top Ten Blogger Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn.

Ollin’s fantastic blog talks about the courage to create, but what about the next step?

Writing for pleasure is certainly worthwhile but to become an author, you must have the courage to put your words out there into the world. After mining the depths of yourself in order to write, you now need to find the strength to allow others to read what you have set down.

A story isn’t finished when it leaves your pen. It’s finished in the mind of the reader, and that’s where the magic lies. Writing is a peculiar form of time and space travel. The reader can divine your thoughts over a distance of thousands of miles and years of time. They bring their own intuition and experience to the page and interpret your words differently to how you meant them. But in order for those people to read your words, you have to publish them.

Should you publish at all?

There’s a difference between writing a confessional diary and writing a memoir. There’s a difference between writing a story for your children and writing one to be published. If you’re going to allow your words to be bought and read by anyone, there are things you need to know that will affect your decision to publish. Publishing is a business and it’s about selling books. There are rules within genres and even within literary fiction. If you’re writing memoir, you need to think about disguising people or about who you could potentially offend. So firstly, you need to assess your manuscript against successfully published work in order to understand where your book may fit and which audience it is for. You may have to change it to fit the market and you will definitely want to find an editor to help you improve the story.

You also need to think about your public persona. Will these books affect your professional life? Brilliant author CJ Lyons is a pediatrician in “real life” so she uses a pen name for all her writing in order to protect her other world. Most erotica writers use a pseudonym, and if you already have an established business, you probably want to publish under another name.

Being an author is also a lot more than just writing these days. You’ll need to consider how you will establish and build your author brand. To be successful, you need to treat it like a business and learn about marketing, finance and technology. You need to have at least a website and generally a blog, social networking contacts and other ways to connect with readers. You are responsible for your own marketing whether you get a publishing deal or self-publish these days.

You might also want to consider your longer term goals when it comes to publishing. The first book is just a start. New York publishing agent Donald Maass talks about a five book threshold, the fact that you only really build up a decent reading audience after five books. Are you planning a series? What will the next book be? Can you speed up the process as your readers will be waiting and most authors who sell well write at least one per year. The first book often takes a lot longer as there is no pressure, but then you have to deliver more regularly. How will you manage your day job and your family in the meantime?

All of these questions will help you decide whether you should pursue publishing of any kind.

What are your publishing options?

Once you have decided that you want to publish, it’s a good idea to be aware of the options. Most writers would love to get a three book deal with a major publishing house, but that is generally not the path of new writers. Submission to traditional publishing takes courage and patience because you are waiting for the gatekeepers to accept you and you run the gauntlet of rejection. Self-publishing takes courage and patience because you are selling direct to readers and if they don’t buy, you can feel like you’ve wasted your time. Either option involves being brave enough to face the people who are now reading and judging your words.

These days, authors have a lot of choice if they embrace the new world of digital publishing and many authors are now blending publishing options. For example, NY Times bestselling author Scott Sigler publishes commercial thrillers with a traditional print publishing deal but he also self-publishes his own sci-fi novels in limited print runs for his fans and makes a good income out of both. There are also cross-over successes notably self-published Kindle millionaire Amanda Hocking who just got a $2 million print publishing deal with St Martin’s Press. There are also writers going the other way with Barry Eisler dropping his traditional publisher for self-publishing direct to his huge fan-base.

The publishing world is now open to those who are willing to experiment with possible options. All you really need is a great story and a willingness to get your hands dirty with marketing and technology. So take your courage to create, extend it into courage to publish and take your book to the world.

Do you have any lingering questions about publishing? I’ll try my best to answer them in the comments below!*

Joanna Penn is the author of four books including the thriller novel, Pentecost. Her blog is The Creative Penn: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn

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*Editor’s note: Joanna is in a different time zone so there may be a delay in her reply. Check back in with the C2C later to read the answers to all your questions.

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20 comments on “The Courage to Publish

  1. Marcia says:

    As always, Joanna, a great overview of publishing options. I’ve made the decision to self-publish and self-promote my trilogy. It would be great to someday get an offer like Amanda Hocking’s, but, while I’m working toward attracting a traditional publisher, I’m not pinning all my hopes on it. As I write my debut novel and read and follow all the amazing advice, tips and encouragement from published authors, I have no fears or self-doubt about writing or publishing. Thanks Ollin for hosting and Joanna for posting!

  2. Conor Ebbs says:


    Thank you for a very insightful and powerful piece.

    I don’t think enough about the long-term implications of pursuing a publishing career, and I’m probably not alone in this.

    The five book threshold is daunting, but it’s also good to know that this very likely weeds out writers unworthy of recognition in the field.

    Great advice.


    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Conor, yes, the 5 book threshold is daunting but seeing past the book is critical for that longer term view. I don’t know how old you are but on a book a year, we all have a good few books in us yet!

  3. This is an excellent and realistic overview of today’s publishing environment.Thanks Joanna for posting and Olin for hosting!

  4. Christina says:

    Thanks Joanna for your valuable insight:)

    I have a question for both you and Ollin: if you self-publish how can you find a reliable, quality editor to work with?

    I’m a firm believer that you really need an editor (developmental, line, copy) regardless of how good your editing skills are. Only an editor has the required distance you read your work with the eyes of a professional reader.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Christina, I totally agree on editing – I have a series of posts on the topic on this page
      I found an editor by using my contacts on twitter, checking editor’s blogs and getting to know their work before finding one that resonated with me. Going by proven work and also word of mouth recommendation is probably the best way.
      I can recommend
      Thanks, Joanna

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Christina,

      I’m still on my second draft, but I’ve read Victoria Mixon’s book and hear she’s a great editor. You might want to check her out at I reviewed her book on the blog “The Book That Every Writer Editing Their Book Needs to Read” not sure if you caught that post. Search for it in my side bar in case you are curious. Good luck to you!

      • Christina says:

        Victoria’s book is on my must-read list, but I didn’t realize she also freelanced. Thanks 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading all about your editing journey as well. Hope you’ll share that with us as well, Ollin.

  5. Victoria says:

    Thanks for your post! Can you point us to resources for “getting our hands dirty” with marketing, finance and technology? Especially for those of us who may be new to those fields?

    Thank you both!

  6. kareninglis says:

    Great post, Joanna! Thanks for sharing it with us, Ollin.

    The point about needing a willingness to get your hands dirty with marketing and technology is well put. Doing that just that now with a couple of my children’s books (rather more slowly than I’d like, but I’ll get there…sons back to school/Oxford this the Easter break so I shall try to focus again!)

    Karen Inglis

  7. Paul Barrett says:

    Hello. Great article. Do you have any thoughts as far as which way to go digitally? I’m considering going with Kindle Direct Publishing for my first book but wanted to get your thoughts on any of the other options. Thanks.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Paul,
      Definitely go direct to Amazon with the DTP, then if you’re in the US, you can also go direct to Barnes & Noble with PubIt.
      Then for everything else, get onto Smashwords which will get you onto the other platforms including iPad, Kobo etc.
      Thanks, Joanna

  8. elpsomiadis says:

    This is a very insighful post. I am quite happy to see that self publishing is no longer viewed the same as “vanity” publishing (whatever that means anymore). I personally always thought of calling something VANITY as one big HOW DARE YOU PUBLISH WITHOUT OUR APPROVAL. I like that the divide is being breached.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Vanity publishing is also really about the companies that charge $20-30,000 to publish your book which is just crazy. Indie authors are DIY-ing and spending a fraction of that on cover design and pro-editing and then publishing with ebooks and print on demand.
      What’s funny now is that traditional publishing is more associated with the true meaning of vanity because if you just want to write and reach an audience, indie is the fastest way to go!
      (although I’d stlll consider a trad book deal!)

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