How not to self-publish a book

So you’ve woken up and decided to write the next bestseller book, here’s what not to do.

A bit of background, I am a performing spoken word poet and writer in Nairobi, Kenya.
I have been authoring and self publishing my debut poetry book for the past few months now, and this post consists of mistakes I’ve made, and the lessons I’ve learnt along the way so far.
Care to listen to a poem before you continue reading? You won’t regret it.

“when I learned how to walk”, performed for Concert Nyumbani.
Overview

As I am writing this, I have countless book drafts on my computer, more open tabs than I can count, an unfinished book, and I have drank more coffee than an Artcaffé prize winner.

When I decided to write my book (a compilation of poetry I have written over the years), the first thing I learnt is that I had to be ready and willing to unlearn everything I thought I knew about writing a book.
I should mention that everything in this post is purely from my own experience. The learning curve has been extremely steep, and I am sharing these lessons for anyone who might want to know what the process has been like for me, up until this point.

I didn’t know what it means to publish a book

I decided at the very early stages of writing my book that I wanted to self-publish. Sounds great, but the only problem is that I never took time to actually understand what publishing a book even means.
That is where I wasted my good time, and that is I where I went wrong.

When I finally decided to research what publishing entails, I took a long detour that threw me into a literary existential crisis.
Discussing publishing in its entirety deserves a blog post of its own, which I will do in the future.
Here’s just what you should know for now:
One of the Merriam Webster definitions of publishing is ‘to disseminate to the public’. Content can be published in different mediums, i.e printed work, in form of books, newspapers, magazines, etc. or digital content, in form of e-books, YouTube videos, blogs (like this one), etc.
There’s a lot that goes into publishing a book: evaluating a manuscript, editing, proofreading, layout, cover design, etc.
You can contract professional publishers to assist you with the process, or you can be like me, and take on the challenge of being a self-published author and learning how to do everything yourself.

The question of whether you should self-publish or use a publisher really depends on you. There’s no right or wrong, there’s just what works for you.

Multi-tasking

If you want to publish a book, the first step is to write the book.

After discovering everything that publishing entails, I was intimidated, and subsequently discouraged from finishing the writing process of my book.
I was doing so many things at once: writing, researching the market, and learning about publishing. All these things are intensive, very intensive. They require time and a fresh mind.

I was not able to fully concentrate on the content of my book, because my mind was also busy taking in so much information. The thing is, my final product is going to be my book. There would be no point of learning all this information, if I don’t have a book to apply the knowledge to.
I had to take a step back and take time to actually focus on writing, and then doing other tasks when I had the time for them.

I learnt that I perform tasks much more effectively when I perform them one at a time, instead of attempting to multi-task.
Sure, listing ‘multi-tasker’ on your CV looks attractive, but multi-tasking isn’t always a great skill. Sometimes it’s better to be able to prioritize and isolate tasks.

I would also like to say, one of the toughest lessons I had to learn was how to be patient. I realized that the reason I was multi-tasking and taking on a lot of tasks at once, was because I felt like time was running out. I had set incredibly unrealistic deadlines for myself.
Be patient with yourself, allow yourself to learn at your own pace.

Constructive critics are not haters

Self-publishing does not mean you don’t need professional help.

Here’s the thing, your friends are not professional editors (and even if they are, it’s very likely that they will only tell you what you want to hear).
I would send drafts of my book to my closest friends, who would always tell me how much they liked the progress. That was great, and I truly appreciate them for taking the time to go through the drafts, but they did not look at the drafts from a professional stand-point. They could not help me pick out stylistic errors, or make recommendations. They only did what they could.

I even made the mistake of thinking I could edit and proofread my book myself. That’s dangerous, because I read my work in my own voice, and this resulted in me being extremely bias when it comes to my work. I’m great when it comes to proofreading other people’s writing, but that doesn’t mean I can critically do the same for myself. Mganga hajigandi.

There comes a time when you must seek professional help, and allow an unbiased party to look at your work, even if it means they might return unfavorable evaluations.
Ask a non biased party to look at your work and give you honest, critical feedback.

Not everyone who criticizes your work is a hater. Learn how to accept and respect constructive criticism.

Imposter syndrome

You’re half way through writing your book, or maybe you’ve written it and now planning to put it out, then you wake up one day and you think, will people buy or read my book? Am I a good enough writer? Am I really an authority on what I’m writing? Do I know what I’m doing? Skiza nani, you need to ask imposter syndrome to vacate your mind, na si tafadhali.

I have experienced my fair share of imposter syndrome. The feeling that you are not qualified or competent enough in your field. This leads to losing your self-confidence, and not putting out work out of fear.

I’m not a therapist, and I haven’t spoken to a therapist about imposter syndrome, but I read an excerpt from this TIME article which says:

Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions, says Young. “The goal is not to never feel like an impostor. The goal for me is to give [people] the tools and the insight and information to talk themselves down faster,” she says. “They can still have an impostor moment, but not an impostor life.”

Conclusion

I’m still in the process of writing my book. I will probably make a few more mistakes and learn many more lessons.
Here’s what I would tell myself four months ago:

Have a plan. What do you want to do? Why do you want to do it? How do you want to do it? When do you want it to be ready?
Be realistic, give yourself time, and most importantly, please remember to enjoy the process.

When my book is out, feel free to come back to this post and say, enyewe alitoka mbali.

Want to reach me?

Email: machariamumbi1@gmail.com
Instagram: @mumbipoetry
Facebook: Mumbi Spoken Word
Twitter: @mumbipoetry

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Published by mumbimacharia

Performing spoken word poet, writer, event curator, East African.

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