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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, August 15, 2010


When you’re a beginning writer, you’re likely to get bombarded with advice from all quarters—your family, your friends, your hairdresser, and of course that know-it-all guy at work. I don’t know why, but everybody who’s ever watched a few minutes of Oprah seems to think they know all about the publishing business. But chances are pretty good they don’t. And chances are even better that whatever they may have heard is out of date. The business is in a state of rapid change

If you don’t want your heart broken in this ever-more-difficult, soul-crushing process, you need to keep those myths and outdated ideas from infecting your brain. Here are twelve things to disregard when you hear them from those well-meaning friends and relations. (Be polite, but you might be forgiven a slightly condescending smile.)

  1. Writers make big money. How many times do you hear “You’re a writer! Will you still talk to me when you’re rich and famous?” Tell them to rest easy. It's not likely to be a problem. Even “successful” writers need day jobs these days. Royalties and advances are shrinking at an amazing rate. Yes, J.K. Rowling is richer than the Queen, and Stephen King could buy the entire state of Maine. They are superstars. Of course you (and hairdresser) can fantasize you’ll become a superstar too—we all do—but the odds are mighty slim. 
  1. Genre fiction is easy to write. People will tell you to start out with something “easy” like a romance/mystery/kid’s book. Don’t even try. If you don’t love a genre and read it voraciously, you’ll never write it well enough to publish.
  1. Never write for free.  Professional freelancers will tell you this with the ferocity of union organizers, and they are absolutely right…when they’re speaking to seasoned journalists (although even they aren’t getting paid much these days.) But it’s a long way from writing your first essay to publishing in the New York Times. During your learning process, writing for free is good practice and a great way to get your name out there. Consider you’re being paid in clips and platform-building. And the truth is, if you write literary fiction or poetry, you may never be paid for it. (Most literary writers make their living by teaching.) But the lack of paying markets doesn’t mean your work doesn’t deserve an audience. Plus, it’s important to remember that literary agents work for free a lot of the time—sometimes for years when they’re getting started, just like writers
  1. Don’t waste time on short fiction, because you won’t make any money on it. You won’t make much money on long fiction either (see above.) Working on short fiction is the best way to hone your skills. Publishing it makes you more attractive to agents and gives your self-confidence a boost. And it’s a whole lot easier to publish a short story than a novel. There are thousands of literary magazines and contests in the US, but only six major book publishing houses.
  1. Don’t reveal your plot, because somebody will steal it. Everybody’s got a story. It’s how you write it that matters. Since the copyright law reforms of the 1970s, copyrighting your work before it’s published (especially a first draft) has been the mark of a paranoid amateur. It’s copyrighted as soon as you type it onto your hard drive. (And BTW, you can’t copyright a title.)
I should note this is not true of loglines,  If you have an especially high-concept, unique, and marketable idea—like the you’re the first guy who thought of “snakes on a plane”—you might feel more secure if you copyright it—but do NOT mention this when you’re querying.

  1. With talent like yours, you don’t have to jump through all those hoops.  The old saw about 10% inspiration/90% perspiration is 100% true. Talent without skill is useless. That means skill at writing AND hoop-jumping. Learn the rules and follow them or nobody will ever find out about that talent of yours.
  1. Spelling and grammar don’t matter: it’s creativity that counts. When you’re seven, maybe. Words are your tools. If you can’t use them properly, nobody’s going to hire you for the job.
  1. Be extra creative so you’ll stand out.  Don’t write with animated emoticons, invent a new genre, or try to bring back the papyrus scroll. At least not when you’re a newbie. Follow genre and word count guidelines and the three-act structure, or you won’t get read. Publishing is a very stodgy business and if you don’t follow the rules, you won’t get in the door.
  1. Don’t read other writers’ work or you’ll imitate them. Reading widely is essential to the growth of your craft. The more you read, the better your own work will be. If you imitate a bit when you’re a beginner, no harm done. Your own voice will emerge.
  1. The sadder your personal history, the more publishers will be moved to buy your book. In spite of what you’ve seen on Oprah, readers are not likely to be interested in your personal tragedies, unless you write beautifully and have something new to say that will benefit THEM.
  1. Sell yourself. Show them you’re confident! Confidence combined with cluelessness will not help your career—unless you’re Will Ferrell. In publishing, tooting your own horn is more likely to make you the butt of #queryfail snark on Twitter or land you in  Slushpile Hell. So when the office know-it-all claims you’re “not trying” unless you query with lines like, “my poignant and exquisitely-written memoir will be bigger than the Twilight and Harry Potter books combined,” smile politely and change the subject to his impending mortgage foreclosure.
  1. You wrote a whole book! It deserves to be published. Almost all successful writers have a few practice books hidden away somewhere. Getting something published—especially book length fiction—is like getting to Carnegie Hall. It takes practice, practice, practice. 

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Blogger Simon Kewin said...

A *really" well observed post, Anne. I've certainly encountered most of those!

August 15, 2010 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

as always excellent post!!

August 15, 2010 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger Angela M. said...

So true. It's particularly sad how many great reads never get published. When I first looked into publication, I didn't realize it was such a long journey. Didn't take long to open my eyes!

August 15, 2010 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Chester said...

Amen, Miss Allen.

August 15, 2010 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Elaine AM Smith said...

Thank you for your timely post.
Grounded, my feet are firmly on the floor again.
Imagination should be confined to the pages of the literature. ;)

August 15, 2010 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger February Grace said...

Hey Anne,

Another great post. Wish I had come across something like this a year ago- especially the advice about short stories and opportunities to try to get them published being vast compared to only six big houses.

That is really astonishing when you think of it: so many writers, only six big houses.

For me, the more I learn the more I'm beginning to realize that I don't think I have all that 'hoop jumping' in me, personally. Reading something like this a year ago would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights, I think.

Thank you for writing it. I'm sure it will help a lot of people! It has helped me even now.

You're a gem.


August 15, 2010 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

Good post Anne! I find as a debut author that the hardest thing to manage is other people's unrealistic expectations. The other insight for me now that I'm published, is just how big the pond is!

August 15, 2010 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger Piedmont Writer said...

Great post. Once again. Thank you.

August 16, 2010 at 4:27 AM  
Anonymous bookfraud said...

brilliant. just a great list; everything on it resonated with me. i wish my classmates at my mfa program had paid heed to #7, #10 and #12-- it would have made my life a lot less easier emotionally, if not less work.

and if i could just get by on talent alone (#6) were true, i'd be rich (#1), could afford to write short fiction (#4), and actually be confident (#11) instead of just pretending to be so.

August 16, 2010 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I've run into new writers who had no clue how a book should luck--making me realize they didn't read. You need to read the kind of books you want to write.


August 17, 2010 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Awesome post! Thanks so much!

August 30, 2010 at 10:29 AM  

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