When I was wondering how to know if I were a writer, I scoured the Internet looking for some way to evaluate my work. Eventually, I accepted that in order to be a writer, one must only write. So, having written, I’m a writer. Plain and simple.
The next question was, am I a novelist? The general conclusion I arrived at is, one is a novelist the moment one actually completes a novel. That gave me a second check, I’ve completed three.
How to measure yourself once you’ve become a novelist? That’s when it becomes much more complicated. I’ve had a lot of beta readers and while the feedback was far from uniform (some actually detested my story), enough of the feedback gave me confidence that I was reaching my target audience. My problem was how to identify that audience, something I still struggle with.
I worked with editors to refine my work. While they’re getting paid, and thus have an incentive to say nice things to encourage repeat business, I nonetheless felt their feedback was honest. Indeed, I kept trying to get one of them to tell me I sucked, so I could use that as justification to try and quit my obsession. Sadly (and yes, I did feel that way many times), he refused to do so.
Since I started writing February 4th, 2015 (fiction, I’ve written lots of non-fiction over the years, not to mention lots of business proposals, etc.), I’ve gained the confidence to think, deep down in my psych, that I am a writer.
If you write, rest assured, you are a writer. If you’ve finished your novel, that makes you a novelist. Where you go from there is very much dependent on your tolerance for rejection. No tolerance at all? Stick your novel in a drawer or leave it on your computer (but please make backups! in the cloud, if possible!). Low, go with self-publishing as, statistically speaking, no one will read your book beyond a handful of friends and family. Unless, of course, you want to invest even more time into marketing and promoting your book, setting up a website, a Facebook page, tweeting, getting reviews, etc. Or, if you’re really a masochist, go with conventional publishing and query agents and publishers (you get to do all the same self-promotion, by the way).
At first, I queried. While I hate rejection as much as the next guy or gal, I’ve developed a thick skin over the last half century and know that the unasked question always has the same answer. When querying failed, I did what I should have done in the first place and got beta readers and editors. I was set to go back to querying, when I was consumed by a new idea, one I thought would be better to be my first (never assume your first novel written has to be your first novel published! writers write; I wrote two more novels while awaiting feedback on my first). That didn’t go as far as I intended, so thought about self-publishing for a while.
That aspect ground to a halt when I realized we were spending our retirement money (I negotiated a grand-a-book budget from my boss (wife)) with no realistic chances of ever getting that money back, let alone any sort of return. After wallowing in depression for a while, I decided to focus my energies on becoming a writer/director, so decided I wasn’t going to publish anything at all.
Does any of that mean you shouldn’t either? Of course not. If you want to self-publish, by all means go for it. Several people I beta read did exactly that. To my knowledge, no one I beta read for has conventionally published, but I only started beta reading in Dec of ’16 and it can often take 12-18 months from when a publisher says ‘yes’ to the book being on the bookstore shelves, so perhaps no one has made it that far yet. Should you query? Absolutely, if you’re OK with the process and can be rejected without it destroying your soul.
Or put it on the shelf and write something else. Writers write, after all. It’s so damn hard and soul sucking to get people to read your novel. I think there’s no shame at all in simply having a few beta readers love your story and then moving onto another project. Yes, it’s nice for the world to read your story, but there are so damn many books being published each year, the world has a hard time keeping up. If you enjoy writing, but not all the stuff that’s required to promote the book, there’s no reason to think less of yourself to just tuck it away and going on to another. And another.
Good luck, no matter what decision you make!