The boy who cried wolf (how not to publish a book… or is it?)

For a couple years I’ve been telling authors to publish like a business: put out a “minimal viable novel” and get some feedback before betting the farm.

Finish 5 chapters before writing the whole book.

If you can’t get real readers to love the first 5 chapters, writing the rest is a waste of time. And spending thousands of dollars published a book without checking the market is a waste of money.

And a lot of those comments are true. But hard to pull off in reality.

This month I’m publishing part one of my first novel.

The plan was to publish about 15,000 words of each novel, make it permafree with a nice cover, and see how it does without a big promotion.

You want to get the free book in front of readers, but you don’t want to come off as slick or salesy, and overly boost their expectations (which will lead to harsher reception).

But… on the other hand… this is my first book, and it’s building my platform. Even though it isn’t finished, it’s still enough (I hope) to get readers to want to read the rest.

That’s kind of the point.

Because it would be hard to just launch a good book and get traction at 2.99 – so I can put this out for free or 99cents, get more readers on my email list, and publish the whole book “for real” later.

And that would have worked, if I hadn’t done a big launch, or signed up for book blitzes, or emailed reviewers. Now it’s getting a little weird. Even at a low price point, going big with half a book is probably a mistake. Reviewers won’t know what to do with it; they can’t really comment on the book without knowing how it ends.

And even worse, when the book DOES come out, even if I have a huge email list, a lot of people will say “Meh, I already saw that a long time ago.”

Reviewers will be reluctant to blog about or review the book again.

And duh, I already knew that: that’s why I was going to publish quietly, on the sly, put it out there and see what happens.

But publishing a book is a weird, risky thing. There’s not really a quiet way to do it. It’s like you’re standing up on stage and you grab the microphone, and then just put your book there next to you.

And you say, “Oh, don’t mind me. This? This is nothing.”

If you’re going to publish a book, any book, you want to let people know about it. You want to have a shot at it. And I want to build my platform quickly, not slowly.

Here’s my expectation

  1. A lot of people will be upset about getting half a book, and I’ll get some negative reviews about it.
  2. I’ll ALSO add at least 10,000 real fans (YA readers) to my email list in the process.
  3. That first book will still be on Amazon, and it’ll have hundreds of reviews (some negative!) but then I’ll put out the full version and start over with a blank page – and when I do, I’ll have a big list of fans I can ask for more reviews.

I plan to experiment with everything this year so I know what’s worth spending time and money, and what’s not – and publishing lots of short pieces of my books lets me do that on a larger scale.

I also get to finish 5 or 10 books this year (of around 25K to 35K each), and put them in all categories, at free or 99cents. I’m casting a wide net.

It’s not perfect. It won’t be glorious.

But here’s the other thing

Even full length books that are perfectly designed, executed and marketed, often fail (and even when they’re very successful, they don’t earn the authors much money, or build their email lists).

And by doing experiments and publishing differently, I get to do interesting things that become content in their own.


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