Monday, March 25, 2013

101 Thoughts on Self-Publishing -- 005: Play for the Endgame

As an independent writer, you may sometimes feel like you're doing an incredible amount of work for very limited results. In addition to writing your books, revising them, coming up with cover ideas and seeing that your work is properly edited, you also have to constantly promote yourself. If the many hours you spend on this each week are amounting to only a handful of sales, it can seem like you'll never get anywhere.

If this is you, as it has been me many times in the past, I find that looking at what you're doing form a different perspective can sometimes help. If you've read my books, you may have picked up on the fact that I am a chess enthusiast. A chess game is divided into three parts: the opening, the middlegame and the endgame. Depending on where you are in your career, you may be in any of these stages. But chess players know that your ultimate goal is to play so that you enter the endgame in a strong position.

So how can this help you as a writer? Well, of the possible twenty first moves in a chess game, sixteen of them are simply advancing a pawn. Pawns are the weakest piece in the game, and amateur players will often see them as merely an impediment to getting their more powerful pieces out into the center of the board. But at the highest levels of play, the loss of a single pawn can lose the game.

When you are just starting out as a writer, the seemingly simple and inconsequential things you are doing--the things that don't seem to be producing any results--are your opening pawn moves: building up your Twitter followers, writing interesting blog articles that get people to your site, befriending established independent authors. Even before you publish your first book, you have to lay the groundwork that will carry you beyond the opening and into the middle game and, ultimately, the endgame.

In both chess and a career as an independent writer, there are both bad and good moves. These articles I'm writing, as well as the articles written by many other authors more successful than I, are designed to help you make the right moves. I know that it can be hard spending your days working yourself to exhaustion while watching your sales remain stagnant, but remember that you are still making your opening moves.

So when do you enter the middlegame? When do you begin making moves that have more immediate results? Well, I now have three novels and a short story collection published, and I feel that I am only now entering my middlegame. My books are my rooks and knights and bishops. Just as I have slowly been developing my pawn base over the past year and a half, now I must carefully position my more valuable pieces. I do that by making sure they are well-edited and professional in appearance. Don't send your novel off into danger by putting it out there before it is ready. It is at this stage that you must be even more careful; now the stakes are higher. A poorly-received novel could be a major setback at this stage, just as losing a piece to a foolish move can lose your chess game.

Fortunately, writing is more forgiving than chess. Many is the chess game I've won or lost due to a single mistake. As a writer, you can recover from an early setback; there is no game-ending move. But there's no reason you should have to suffer that setback if you make the right moves.

Novice chess players will often develop their pieces too soon, sending them off into enemy territory to threaten the opponent's pieces. If the opponent has carefully protected his pieces, these are wasted moves and gives the other player what is called tempo. Basically, he now has the freedom to move and make you respond to him. As an author, you can keep the tempo fairly easily: be active in the community, try to produce new work--even if they are just short stories--regularly, keep writing interesting blog articles, run sales and promotions. I find that it's a good idea to always have something going on, something that keeps people thinking about you.

Eventually, you will get to the endgame. It may take years, but if you've positioned your pieces carefully, you will enter it in a strong position to achieve your goal: in chess, checkmate. In writing, a successful career. The important thing is to keep that goal in mind from the very beginning. Don't let the loss of a piece, or a month of poor sales, divert your attention from that goal. You will constantly face hardships, your position will always be under attack. But when you move that final piece that wins you the game, you will know that everything you've done up to that point helped contribute to your victory. Don't let short-term mistakes or losses discourage you, and don't give up, no matter how long you have to fight for it. Play for the endgame.

If you're enjoying the series so far and would like a single page to bookmark, I'll be adding each of my 101 Thoughts on Self-Publishing here. Also be sure to subscribe by email (see the box in the sidebar) to be automatically notified about my new posts.

You might also be interested in my eBook, Building a Promotional Package: How to Prepare for Your Successful Book Launch. Details about it can be found here.

Michael K. Rose

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How is writing like a game of chess? Read Pt. 5 of the 101 Thoughts on Self-Publishing series by @MichaelKRose!


  1. Great article, Michael. Thanks for this.

  2. I think you're spot on with this Michael. I'm a little nearer the start of the journey than you but I'm certainly determined to enjoy it and I'm playing for the endgame.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Derek. And you're also spot on: if you don't enjoy the game, why play?


  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, Gary! Glad you enjoyed it.


  4. Gathered some useful insights from someone who's already tread the path. Thanks