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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, September 7, 2014

The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make and 5 Ways to Avoid It

by Anne R. Allen

It's been an exciting week for the blog. Marketing expert Penny Sansevieri named us to the Top 30 Websites for Indies and blog guru Molly Greene named us to her list of must-read "leaders" in self-publishing. (I'm only recently self-published—and most of my work is still with a small pressbut I'll wear the "indie" label proudly.)

We also got some lovely kudos from superstar author Anne Rice, who linked to the blog from her FB page and said her readers were "deeply grateful" for our tips and insights. Very gracious of her.

I also heard from the producer of a new film about The David Whiting Story which is the subject of my novel The Gatsby Game. It's encouraging to know Hollywood is interested in David's case again.

All that, along with getting interviewed by the women's magazine More about my novel No Place Like Home have made me feel pretty good about the way my career is heading.

But no way have I forgotten how it felt to be down at the bottom of the publishing ladder, trapped on the query-go-round, desperately hoping for the smallest bit of encouragement. Sometimes I have nightmares that I'm still there. I'm still the same person with the same insecurities.

The difference: time. It takes way, way more time to learn to be a successful writer than anybody ever tells you.

I recently found some old diaries from fifteen years agoa time when I was about to give up writing. I'd had seven rejections in one dayincluding the return of a full manuscript with no explanation. (I know that still happens, and I wish agents knew how that can throw the most optimistic writer into pit of despair.)

What I didn't realize thenwhich my present self can see so easily, is...I wasn't ready.

Of course I had no idea of that. I thought I was more than ready. I had a degree from a fancy college. I was a voracious reader. I'd worked in bookstores most of my life. I'd also spent years in the theateracting and directingso I knew how to build a character. My grammar skills were excellent. I'd been in writing critique groups for years.

I didn't realize those things had very little to do with writing commercially viable fiction. 

Unfortunately, I'd made a promise to myself that I was going to have a book published by...some birthday or other. I honestly can't remember the number, but I had established an ironclad deadline in my mind. 

The closer I got to that deadline, the more desperate I felt. Sometimes I'd send out ten queries a day. I spent tons of money on conferences, pitching unpolished books to agents and editors who tried to be kind, but I could see by their faces I was doing something wrong.

My mistake?

Trying to start my career too early.

Here's what I didn't understand: nobody wants to read a rough draft. And even your tenth draft is probably rough if you're a newbie. Your story idea may be great, but wading through a beginner's writing vs. reading professional work is the difference between grading a student paper and picking up your favorite author's book for a relaxing evening.

This morning I saw a perplexed FB post from a new writer who had just got a bunch of negative reviews on her new self-published book. A click-through to her Amazon buy page showed a book full of errors, typos and formatting problems. It also had an amateurish cover. On top of this, the author had apparently put out a request for "5-star reviews" on social media, All anybody could tell her was: unpublish, get an editor, and learn about the business.

Here's the thing—even if your writing is polished—you're unlikely to get readership, much less an agent or publisher, unless you know something about the business of getting your work into the marketplace. You don't ask for reviews without offering review copies and you never demand a certain type of review.

So if you've got a "career plan" with ironclad deadlines like mine, make sure it includes the steps of writing several books and educating yourself about the business first. That's true whether you're planning to go the traditional route or self-publish. The rules are a little different, but both paths require business savvy and insider knowledge.

But I sure do relate to the huge pressure you're feeling to get this career on the road, NOW:

Why we rush

         You’ve got the external pressure:

  • From your mom, who thinks the fact you’ve written 80,000 words of anything is so amazing she’s already written up the press releases.
  • From your significant other, who wants to know when exactly his/her years of sharing you with that manuscript are going to start paying a few bills.
  • From your friends, who don't understand how you can spend all that time writing and have nothing to show for it. "How long can it take to write a book anyway? My mom can type 55 words a minute!"
  • From your critiquers and betas, who are so tired of helping you revise that WIP …AGAIN, they’re screaming “Send it! Away! Immediately!”
  • From self-publishing gurus who say "every minute you're not published, you're losing money."

    And the internal pressure:

  • From your battered self-esteem and those eye-rolls you get every time you tell somebody you’re "pre-published," and you’re only working at the cafe until you make it as a writer.
  • From artistic insecurity: you won’t REALLY know you have talent unless you’re validated by having a published book.
  • From financial insecurity: it’s tough to pay off the loans for the MFA when the only paying writing gig you’ve had since you got the degree is updating the menu for your brother-in-law’s food truck.
  • From your muse, who says: "This is pure brilliance. The world totally needs this book!" 

So what do we do to get the pressure to let up?

1) Realize the "rush" is an illusion

If you're feeling pressure to rush, remember it's all in your head, like my "ironclad deadline."

Yes, at the beginning of the e-publishing revolution, some of the biggest self-publishing gurus said stuff like "every day your book isn't published, you're losing money." I think the gurus intended to speak to traditionally-published mid-listers who had out-of-print backlists.

Unfortunately, it became a mantra for all the beginning writers with practice novels in their files.

Whatever the reason for the advice, it's not wise to follow it any more. The "bubble" in which the random amateur's 99-cent self-pubbed ebook could make the big time has deflated.

You're probably making better money working at the coffee place than what most writers make, even if they're traditionally published, so if you're writing because you're pressed for cash, choose another profession. It takes years to build the readership that can provide you with a living wage.

2) Get lots of feedback 

There are many ways to get free feedback before you get to the editing stage, as we detailed in our August posts on editing, critique groups, and beta readers. Most of them didn't exist when I was starting out. There are now online critique groups and beta reader connection sites. There's also self-editing software. Use whatever technique works for you, but don't write in a vacuum.

Another great innovation is story-sharing sites like Wattpad and Readwave. Some of the work on those sites is polished, professional stuff by well-known authors. (Long-time trad-pubbed author Elizabeth S. Craig has taken to Wattpad with good results.) But a lot of the writing on these sites comes from beginning writers who are still learning their craft. It's a way to be read and find fans while you're in that awkward stage I was in for so long.

If you're looking to go the traditional publishing route, preparing your manuscript by using any of these may be all you need to polish your work for an agent. In fact, some agents have picked up books right off Wattpad.

I have to stifle myself when I see comments from new writers who say they won't use a beta reader or editor, and they won't even query an agent because, "I'm not going to change a word of my novel for anybody. I write to please myself, not follow a bunch of phony rules."

Then they lament that agents or reviewers won't "give them a chance."

These people are deliberately choosing to remain amateurs and not enter the professional marketplace. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As I have blogged before, writing can be a wonderful hobby.

But for goodness' sake don't take up the time of agents, acquisitions editors, or reviewers with raw, unedited stuff you're not willing to work on.

I'm not saying you should change your book after every comment you get from a reviewer or critiquer. Far from it: you should ignore most of it. And even professional editors can fail to "get" every kind of writing. But do be aware that readers have expectations, and if you want to be read, you need to write for the contemporary reader, not just your own ego.

Musicians need to learn to master their instruments. Truckers need to learn to drive big rigs. Golfers need to learn to swing a club. Writers need to learn to craft words and sentences into a story. Learning takes time.

3) Practice, practice, practice

Easy self-publishing doesn't mean the learning process has been shortened. Learning to write narrative takes way longer than most people realize. (It took me about a decade longer than I expected.)

Self-publishing guru Kristine Kathryn Rusch put it this way:

 "Do you remember how much work you had to do to learn how to read a novel? It took you years to get to “big” books of more than 20 pages...It’s much easier to read a novel than it is to write one. Why do you think that writing a good one is possible on the very first try? If you want overnight success, this is not the profession for you. If you want a writing career, then learn it... It takes practice, practice, practice, learning, learning, learning, and patience, patience, patience.

And the wonderful Kristen Lamb also reminds us of this a lot. She often points out that Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours equal pretty much the length of time it takes to write three books. (That's how many polished novels I had before I got my first publisher.)

 " ...all you indie/self-pub authors who put your first book up for sale and you haven’t sold enough copies to buy tacos? Keep writing. 10,000 hours. 3 books. Traditional authors? Three books. Rare is the exception."

4) Write and publish short fiction and creative essays

Remember you get great practice from writing short stories, essays, and novellas. They are the best way to get yourself noticed now and they'll be a goldmine later on. One of the biggest regrets of my career is that I spent so much time working on unpublishable novels instead of short pieces that would be valuable to me now.

Short fiction is having a renaissance and we should all be writing more of it. (I have an article on this coming in the November issue of Writer's Digest.)

Short stories and creative nonfiction pieces are easier to get published and you may even get paid or win a money prize. Which can get all those pressuring voices in your head to shut up.

This can include guest blog posts, which will get your name known and make you Googleable: all-important in the digital age.

5) Learn the business

We don't just need to learn to craft book-length narrative, which involves a steep learning curve. We also also need to be savvy about the business we're trying to enter. These days, being an author means not only knowing how to write, but understanding the business of publishing as it exists NOW. (As I say above, this can mean different things depending on how you publish, but every business path has rules.)

For all of you who are screaming "No! No! I just want to write. I'm not going to corrupt my soul with any of that crass commercialism," scroll up to my link to the post on writing as a hobby.

You're choosing to be an amateur. Many happy writers have good reasons for writing for recreation rather than business. Just be clear on your goals.

I wasn't. I queried for years without having a clue about genre or where my books would fit in the marketplace. I was firmly entrenched in the delusion that somebody could "just write" and be a professional author.

I knew you couldn't run a restaurant and "just cook" or a own a dress shop and "just buy pretty clothes." But I didn't want to accept that writing is a business.

So now I'm grateful that all my rotten queries got rejected. Even when I got those seven rejections in one day.

This is the simple truth: we have to become professionals before we join an industry. Any industry.

This post isn't meant to discourage anybody. It's meant to urge you to learn to be the best writer you can be—so you can have that career you've always dreamed of—not one unpolished book languishing in agents' slush piles or on book retail sites, unwanted and unloved.

You owe it to your book to do it right.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you feel pressured to get published? Did you self-publish before you were ready? Have you decided to be a happy amateur and leave all those pressures behind? If you're farther along in your career, what advice do you have for newbies who feel the pressure to publish before they have several books ready to go? 


I got a crash course in the publishing business when my first novel, Food of Love was accepted by a small UK publisher in 2001. Not only did I have to learn about promoting my own books, but I was invited to live and work with the company, which was located in the English Midlands, near the legendary Sherwood Forest. The setting and colorful cast of characters provided the perfect backdrop for a mystery novel. That novel became Sherwood Ltd., published by MWiDP in 2011. It is now available in a brand new e-edition, from Kotu Beach Press.

And it's only 99c for two weeks on AppleNook, Kobo, Inkterra Amazon USAmazon UK, Amazon CA, etc.  
It's also available in paper at Amazon  US and Amazon UK.  

This second book in the Camilla Randall Mysteries follows Camilla's hilarious misadventures with merry band of outlaw indie publishers in the English Midlands. Always a magnet for murder, mischief and Mr. Wrong, she falls for a self-styled Robin Hood who may or may not be trying to kill her. It follows Ghostwriters in the Sky, but can be read as a stand-alone. 

I like this book. I REALLY like this book. It's not yer typical whodunnit, nor is the protagonist anything like a cop. Ms. Allen has crafted a wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book. Good on her! Editorially, the book is also refreshingly well-done and all but devoid of grammatical or other such gaffes. This was obviously written by an intelligent woman who is also a fine story-teller. My congratulations to her...David H. Keith


It's #4 in the Camilla Randall series, but it's easily read as a stand-alone. Set in the gorgeous wine country around San Luis Obispo, it's what one reviewer called 
"A fun, witty and charming novel about the rich and the less so."
It's available on Amazon US and UK in both regular and LARGE PRINT
Amazon has it on sale right now for $10.79 and £5.99


The Central Coast Writers Conference One of the best deals around in a weekend writer's conference. And it's held on the Cuesta College campus in beautiful San Luis Obispo, CA. Mystery writer legend Anne Perry is the keynote speaker. I'll see you there! September 19th-20th

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS LITERARY FESTIVAL SHORT FICTION CONTEST $25 ENTRY FEE. Submit a short story, up to 7000 words. Grand Prize: $1,500, plus airfare (up to $500) and accommodations for the next Festival in New Orleans, VIP All-Access Festival pass for the next Festival ($500 value), plus publication in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine. Contest is open only to writers who have not yet published a book of fiction. Deadline November 16th, 2014.

CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Steamy Romance Anthology. Fast Foreword is open for submissions for their "Holiday Hot Romance Anthology" Holiday-themed steamy romance or erotica. 3,000-8,000 words long. If the work has been published elsewhere, you must include bibliographic information and hold all publication rights. Deadline September 20th

WRITER'S DIGEST POPULAR FICTION AWARDS. Early Bird fee $20. Stories up to 4000 words in six genres Science Fiction/Fantasy,Thriller,Young Adult, Romance, Crime, Horror. Early Bird Deadline September 15th.

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Blogger CS Perryess said...

BIG BIG congratulations on a week of wonderfulness. It's well deserved. And I think I'm 3/5 when it comes to falling into your Mistakes New Writers Make, but then such things as blogs didn't exist back when I could truly label myself a new writer. Keep up the great work.

September 7, 2014 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

As always, sound and sensible advice from Anne. I think one of the reasons so many think you can "just write" is because writing is (kind of) "easy." Examples: a love letter written in the early throes of a hot romance, a sincere thank you note to a much-loved parent, a witty birthday wish to a best buddy who shares your sense of humor.

Writing a book—even a short book or, more likely, especially a short book—is a different enterprise requiring a well-constructed plot, believable characters, credible dialogue, engaging narrative.

Roger Federer didn't figure out how to play championship tennis in a few months. Joan Rivers didn't know how to "kill" (as comedians put it) for quite a long time. Julia Child didn't whip up a to-die-for mousse au chocolat on the first (or eighth) try.

Learning to do something well & professionally is the result of years of work, the ability to tolerate—and even learn from—set backs, persistence that borders on pathological stubbornness and a willingness to try and then try again no matter what anyone else (including your own harshest inner voice) says.

Writing, as Anne so elegantly explained, is no different.

September 7, 2014 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--Thanks! It's true that it's way easier now to learn the ropes and get feedback these days. But it's also way easier to self-publish too soon and fall on your literary posterior, so new tech can work both ways.

September 7, 2014 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--This is so true. Nobody starts at the top, but many writers think they're already there when they're just beginning. Being able to learn from our mistakes--and keep learning--because we're always making mistakes, is the key.

September 7, 2014 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

First, big congratulations to you and Ruth!!! This site definitely deserves the praise and accolades.
Funny you mention musicians. Even if you're just playing for you, no one ones to suck while doing it. You're either playing because you love it and want to enjoy it to the fullest (which means you practice a lot to get better) or you're playing because you want to perform for others and share the joy (which means you practice even harder to get better.)
Milo James Fowler is the perfect example of someone who has built an incredible career writing and selling short stories.
My advice? Those writers who look at this and think it's a lot of work - just wait until you get on the other side. Once you've signed for that first book, a thousand new challenges arise.

September 7, 2014 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--You're so right. New writers tend to look at publication as this magical reward for all their hard work, but they don't realize: that's when the real work begins! They should enjoy their leisure time while they have it, because soon it will be gone forever.

And musicians know how hard it is to learn to master an instrument. But as Ruth says, because writing seems easy at first, we don't realize it's just as hard to do well as playing the guitar or singing opera.

September 7, 2014 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

One of the problems I've run into on feedback is there are a lot of random rules that writers sometimes make up or hear from another writer, and they're not always a good thing. I just had to do a list of all the rules I'd run into over the years, and I was shocked that at how many of them there were. I had 75! Many of them were nonsense or silly, and some were destructive. Newbie writers pass them around like candy because rules are a safety net, and then tell people, "So what if Big Name Writer does X? He can get away with it. You can't." It kills experimentation and practice, because sometimes you have to break the rules to see if something works. But it's hard getting feedback if you do because most critiquers will admonish you for breaking the rules and tell you that you can't do it.

September 7, 2014 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Meg Wolfe said...

Congrats on all the high-profile spotlights. This blog is a must-read for me, along with Elizabeth Spann Craig's: sensible, honest advice delivered clearly.

Your post today really hits home, and I felt a tremendous burst of confidence after reading it despite the fact that I've felt that rush to publish for various reasons.

Three books. Short fiction and creative nonfiction. Input from beta readers and critiques. Develop the craft. I'm in the middle of this process, and I can actually feel the truth of it. You're spot on--we owe it to our book to do it right. Thanks, Anne.

September 7, 2014 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--Absolutely! You shouldn't run and change your work for every ignorant bit of feedback you get. I wrote a post last month on Why You Should Ignore the Advice from Your Critique Group, and how to read between the lines of that kind of feedback. (I link to it above in the "feedback" section with "why you should ignore most of it." as the anchor text.)

So many of those "rules" were made up by newbies from suggestions and tips they may have read somewhere, but they've misunderstood or misrepresented. That's why I advise getting LOTS of feedback. Then you can see what's working and what isn't. Don't take specific advice, but you can tell what is stopping a reader or what is confusing. Writing in a vacuum leads to lots of wasted time.

September 7, 2014 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Meg--I love Elizabeth's blog, and her tweets are a goldmine. I'm so glad you got confidence from this post. I don't mean to discourage anybody. And it sounds as if you've been doing everything right.

When you're in the middle of it, it can seem to take forever, but I've seen so many writers at various stages along this path who eventually find publishing success, that I can say with confidence--keep at it and you WILL get there.

September 7, 2014 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Congrats on the recent accolades!

Yah, I self-pubbed a book way tooooooooooooo early, simply because like most newbies at the time, my writing was good, didn't need any work, and I wanted to be published.

Seriously hard lesson to learn and it took me well over three years to recover from the book that shall never be named. The only good thing about that book is it allowed me to form my own little boutique bookstore for perpetual tax purposes.

Now, I definitely know what it takes to be good, to do good, and to keep hoisting myself up by my own petard. :D

Seriously though, writing is an eternal process to which there is never any real end to it, only plateaus to reach and conquer before moving on to the next one.

Father Nature's Corner

September 7, 2014 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

That can work against a writer, though because you can hear too much -- even if you ignore it -- and it can influence your writing in ways that you're not even aware of. About a year ago, I walked away from two writing boards and a whole bunch of blogs because I was becoming aware of how much those "rules" were still sneaking into my writing.

September 7, 2014 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G. B.--You bring up an important point. Our learning process is never really over. We just reach a landing spot, which generally shows us how much farther we have to go. I recently revisited all my novels when switching publishers and every one of benefited from a "refresher" edit. We are never really done.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad you brought up the time it takes to get over a premature book launch. That time has to be factored in, too. But it sounds as if you found a silver lining with the business set up.

And no time spent learning is wasted. You obviously learned a lot.

September 7, 2014 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--You're right that those online groups can be dangerous if you take them to heart. I was thinking more in terms of getting several beta readers. But there is such a thing as "too many cooks", especially when you're dealing with online forums. Thanks for making an important point.

September 7, 2014 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger Diana Stevan said...

Congratulations on some new and well-deserved accolades. Having read The Gatsby Game, it'll be interesting to see if the David Whiting story makes it to the screen. Best of luck with that. As for what you've learned about writing along the way, I couldn't agree more. I used to beat myself up as to why I wasn't cracking through those publishing doors. I found out much later that I wasn't ready. Thanks again, Anne, for a well thought-out post.

September 7, 2014 at 2:58 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Super congrats, Anne, on all your accomplishments this past week. Very well deserved. You help so many of us with your posts and support. Thank you so much. Great post and the comments are wonderful. One by a reader, Linda, really struck home. Rules. I must have broken a dozen this week, but the biggest was caused by deciding if I made my WIP about rest home abuse so very, very accurate, the reader would fall very, very asleep. And fast. There were legal steps to pursue and illegal ones. Of course, I took the illegal ones and am really enjoying the first draft. I had to give myself a pep talk: Listen: What about fiction don't you understand? You write fiction. So make it up. Thank you for another great post, Anne. And thank you, Linda. Loved your comment. Paul

September 7, 2014 at 3:09 PM  
Blogger Mahrie G. Reid said...

Reading this post I found myself nodding my head in agreement. I have a 27 year journey to publishing. All those years I studied the craft and wrote book after book, dealt with rejections and wrote again. When I published this year it was to decent reviews and with a modest author platform. It was my time. Now, I am doing as other suggest and writing a marathon... not a sprint. All good things take time. Thanks for reminding us and letting the newbies in on the secret.

September 7, 2014 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--Thanks. What an important point: when you write fiction, make it fiction! You're not a news reporter. Your first job is to entertain your reader. If you don't do that, they won't read your "message" anyway. As I've said many times, most of the "rules" of writing are just guidelines. If they're not guiding you where you need to go, ignore them.

September 7, 2014 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Diana--Actually, The David Whiting Story is now a completed film. They are just looking for distribution. It's a very experimental film, and raises more questions than it answers, but it's great to know the case is getting attention. I've heard they may even re-open the case, as they have the Natalie Wood case. The same coroner was involved.

Isn't it silly how we beat ourselves up because we can't master 10 years of learning in a year or two? I don't know why, but we all seem to do it.

September 7, 2014 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mahrie--You're so right. It's a marathon not a sprint. Congrats on getting your book published and best of luck with your career!

September 7, 2014 at 3:30 PM  
OpenID zeesouthcombe.com said...

I do find myself rushing sometimes, but I've managed to pull myself above a lot of the pressure lately. This is an excellent post, as always - thank you.

The financial pressure has been the most for me, like, how long do I need to do this before I start earning something from it? I think the reason the financial side is a big pressure source is not needing the money, per se, but the validation that earning an income brings. For me, it's like when I earn something from my writing, that's when it becomes a 'real job'.

September 7, 2014 at 4:12 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

zee--Glad to hear you've been able to pull back from the pressure. You bring up a great point. It's the validation we crave, even though we know it's not a lucrative profession for most people.

That's why I urge people to check the "opportunity alerts" here and go elsewhere for short story and poetry outlets. I have a friend who won a big prize for a short story that was more than most novel advances these days. Even a small money win can feel great. I won a $25 poetry prize when I was at a low point and I can't tell you how much that little check boosted my sagging spirits.

September 7, 2014 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Liz Crowe said...

You are definitely and without a doubt an inspiration. I'm in a real hump day kind of space for my career I think. Most months I can pay the mortgage with royalties from my small publishing efforts but I'm pouring a fair bit of that back into my self publishing project for January. EDITING IS WORTH EVERY PENNY. Every time I think "damn I'm good." I get an edit back saying "Uh, right so….you use (blank) word 1.2 million times in this manuscript so get back to work." But I always enjoy reading about your journey to your present level of success!

September 7, 2014 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Liz--Thanks for the kudos and the share on FB! I think we all have days like that. If you're making a living, you're doing way better than most writers, so pat yourself on the back. The editing process brings us all down to earth. I've just been through it myself. I'm also stalled on my WIP. Nothing is easy in this business.

September 7, 2014 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

This is just chock full of good tips. Thanks for the post. by the way, I love the covers of your books.

September 7, 2014 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Hey Anne. I would have written in to send my sincere congratulations on these well-deserved honors, and to agree with just about every single piece of advice you gave this week.
But unfortunately, I'm not here. Maybe next week I can catch up!

September 7, 2014 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rosi--Thanks! I'm so glad you like the covers. The Camilla Books were designed by Laura Morrigan and the newer ones by Keri Knutson. Both very much in demand, but they're both real artists.

September 7, 2014 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Wm--Dude! You must be writing from an airport somewhere. Have a fabulous trip to Africa! What an adventure!

September 7, 2014 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger florence cronin said...

I am so happy to be here again, Anne. After my blog/internet vacation of work, work, work ... I think I can do the blog circuit and get more rest.

OBG ... what absolutely great advice. This is a wonderful post and every writer who is on the beginning of the learning curve needs to read it ... over and over.

Congrats on all the kudos. They are all well deserved. The hard work you put into your writing also went into this blog and it shows. Thanks again :)

September 7, 2014 at 5:40 PM  
OpenID amarquette333 said...

Thank you Anne for this great post. Your advice is extremely helpful. I am taking the time learn from various sources about writing, publishing, and marketing. It is helpful when the same advice is given by more than one source.

September 7, 2014 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger R. A. Meenan said...

Awesome advice, as always. =D

I've been finding a huge desire to study the craft lately, but I've also found a huge desire to study the business side and the marketing side, even though I don't have a book out yet. Knowing the market and knowing how to market is invaluable.

One thing I learned about how to market was learning what genre you write for. Learning your genre will help you know your audience. I never really thought about my genre before (and I used to take pride in the fact that it's "completely original") but not knowing it was hurting me. It took a long time researching it, but I finally found THREE genres I fit in. That helps to plan my marketing strategies. =D

September 7, 2014 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Excellent advice, Anne. I cringe when I think about the query for my first novel going out to agents. I definitely wasn't ready.

Another part of this business is that there is ALWAYS something to learn.

September 7, 2014 at 6:43 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--Welcome back! I think it's wise to take blog-cations, especially when you're still in the beginning stages of a publishing career. Later on, you may not have the choice!

September 7, 2014 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne--Thanks for the kudos. It's hard to resist all the pressure to jump in too soon, and you'll hear lots of messages that there's a reason to rush. But there really isn't. :-)

September 7, 2014 at 7:30 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

R. A.--Some writers start to study marketing too early. I once heard from a writer who was obsessed with "platform" who had never even written a story. That was too soon.

Mostly you want to concentrate on craft when you write your first couple of books. But don't lose track of the fact that genre is very important. I finally realized that all my books have murder mysteries in them, and even though they're not formulaic whodunnits, I basically write mystery. If you write love stories, but they're not romances, you may be writing women's fiction. It's good to look on Amazon and B and N and see how books like yours are categorized.

September 7, 2014 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie--Thank goodness I threw away my first queries. Now I realize how kind those rejections were, but of course I felt devastated. And yes, we always have something new to learn. This industry changes so fast, anybody can be left in the dust if you're not paying attention.

September 7, 2014 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger Dean K Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 7, 2014 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Dean K Miller said...

Avoiding the rush to publish is the biggest challenge for me. Even though my first published article sat on the editors desk for a full year before he responded back to me with interest, I felt like I had to get more "stuff" out there. A few small acceptances were sandwiched by several (more than "oodles) rejections. But how? I'd had an article bought and paid for, right?

I wish I had read your book "How to be a writer in the E-age . . ." when it came out (and found your website here!) My first package of essays/creative non-fiction came by from my own mother covered in more red pencil than a triple murder scene has blood. My own mother, for God's sake.

Now it's a new critique group and I just enrolled in an online writing course to brush up on the basics. All of this 4 years after my first acceptance. Patience is easier to embrace now, as there is still so much to learn.

Thanks for your contributions to use "fledglings." We will fly, but not before our wings our strong.

September 7, 2014 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

It's amazing Anne, you did it again! Excellent post and to think I didn't want to read it, I felt I was no longer a newbie (after all, I self-published 7 books since 2011) but you reminded me (I cringe!) how I really published too soon. I wasn't ready, my books needed much more editing to come up to par. In fact, I spend the whole of last year re-editing and re-uploading all my books, along with new titles and new covers...So yes, you're absolutely right, one should resist the urge to self-publish. In the olden days, that kind of mistake was never done, agents and publishers acted as a perfect barrier to entry for unprepared newbies!

Alas, no more. Anyone can self-publish, way too easy to do. And it hurts the indie reputation in the traditional publishing world, no doubt about that...

Before I close, I wanted to congratulate you on all your good news. Well done, Anne and all the rewards and success coming to you are fully deserved!

September 8, 2014 at 2:49 AM  
Blogger Bernardo Montes de Oca said...

Dear Anne,

New to this blog and loving it! As a younger writer (28-years-old, writing since 14), the pressure and urge to get published got the best of me plenty of times. And I'm glad I didn't self-publish. Now, thanks to blogs like these, critique groups, workshops, even writer conferences (I'm from Costa Rica, so travelling is a bit hard) turned that pressure into a demand for quality over quantity.

I'm still a bit skeptical about self-publishing although one agent once told me he felt it'd be the way of the future. What do you say about this?

Congrats on the work and success. And keep up the great blog.

September 8, 2014 at 6:33 AM  
Blogger Paula T said...

This post came at a perfect time for me. I am currently in the, "query-go-round" with my first novel, along with a, I-need-to-be-published-by-the-end-of-the-summer deadline. It has been a year since I finished the first draft, and in the meantime I have been reading, studying, editing, and writing, trying to get this book on a publishable level. After thirteen months of this, I have hit that point where I now know that there is so much I still don't know. And the few things I do know, I need to get a lot more practice in before I'm ready. But with my end-of-the-summer deadline crushing in, I have been driving myself bonkers.

Now that I've read this post, I feel like I can finally breathe again. Deep breath, new goal: three books. I can do this!

Thanks so much Anne! You can't believe (or maybe you can) how much of a life-saver this post has been for me. Truly, and honestly, thank you.

September 8, 2014 at 7:28 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I had one of those red-pencil moms too. She taught English at the university level. She sent me back my first letter from college full of corrections. Then wondered why I didn't write back. :-)

I'm so glad How to be a Writer in the E-Age has been helpful. That's always nice to hear.

How very wise that you've signed up for an online writing course. I think an awful lot of aspiring writers could use one. One of the great advantages of the e-age is that such things are available--inexpensive and no driving to night classes.

Patience is probably the most important "talent" for the new writer!

September 8, 2014 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Claude--Thanks! I know at the time when I most needed to read a piece like this, I wouldn't have considered myself a "newbie", so I may have titled this wrong.

And we never can stop learning--especially about the business. Because it changes so fast. Sometimes marketing stuff that worked three years ago is a total waste of time now. Also, styles change in cover design and even reading habits, so we need to learn to aim our titles and blurbs at the current market.

I think one of the biggest problems with self-publishing is that pressure to skip over essential steps in our development as artists in the rush to put work out there. It can result in dismal sales and a stalled career.

September 8, 2014 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Bernarado--I would recommend to most new writers like you to continue to pursue the agent route. The authors who make a living writing usually started with traditional publishing, and it helped them learn the ropes. 70% of book sales are still in paper books, and self-publishers make their money from ebooks. That will change, but for right now, I think starting with a trad career makes sense. Just make sure you have a trained legal professional look over any contract before you sign.

Trad publishing is a big plus if you're a literary writer. Being from Costa Rica gives you a fresh perspective that the industry will welcome. "Multi-culti" books are still in high demand. Being bi-lingual will certainly work in your favor.

And don't worry about writers conferences--they're great fun and very energizing, but not required. Everything you need can be found online.

September 8, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paula--You've been doing what I did: beating yourself up with an arbitrary deadline. It sounds as if what you need most is to start the next book. And yes, take that deep breath.

I'm so glad to hear I reached you at a crucial time. Think long term and enjoy the freedom you have before you're immersed in marketing an platform building and all the other stuff that comes with publication. This is your time to be fully free and "just write." Enjoy it!

September 8, 2014 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger A.K.Andrew said...

Fantastic post on a number of different levels. We are often our own worst enemy and push ourselves into deadlines that are completely unrealistic. And it is so true that we really need to do our homework irregardless of what route we try for publication. I definitely have no time for people who cannot see the value of receiving input from others. Whether it's ego or insecurity I'm not sure, but I love getting feedback on my work as it can only help me improve it. Good to know that agents may look at work on Wattpad too. Thanks so much:-)

September 8, 2014 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

A.K.--Thanks. It's sure true that writers can be our own worst enemies. And we can also give each other bad advice.

Linda Adams isn't wrong in what she said in the comments about some feedback leading us astray. But until we learn what feedback is valuable and what isn't, we're still in the learning stage. Reviewers say much harsher (and often stupider) stuff than critique groups, so the learning stage also has to do with developing thick skin.

And yes, agents have scooped bestsellers (usually YA) from Wattpad.

September 8, 2014 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

I did rush to publish, but luckily, I had lots of practice and great critique partners. I guess I just couldn't stand the query-go-round and that's why I self-published. I think though, I learn more about the business as I keep publishing and am satisfied with the way my career is turning out.

With 15 books in 3 years, I know what makes a good book and think next year when my current series is finished, I may jump on the query-go-round again. I mean, I can "prove" I know how to write.

Maybe someday I'll be living the dream.

September 8, 2014 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne-I recently found a journal from when we did a Query-Wri-Mo together. A query a day. Must have been 2009 or 2010. So discouraging. Sometimes I got rejections within hours.

What I didn't know was that NO agent was looking at anything that could be called "chick lit". Comedy was out and teenaged angsty vampires were in. I also didn't know that the fact I'd been published by a small press and didn't have spectacular sales meant I was persona non grata in the publishing industry. Of course that was before I had a huge platform. And the comeback of chick lit. You may find that the only thing wrong with your work back then was timing. Sometimes it doesn't have anything to do with our work.

15 books in 3 years is phenomenal! Congrats.

September 8, 2014 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Bernardo Montes de Oca said...

Thanks a lot for the reply! Very insightful! And indeed multi-culti is pretty much my niche.

September 8, 2014 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Bernardo--Multi-culti is really popular. I apologize for misspelling your name up there. I even once lived in a town called Rancho Bernardo. I ought to be able to spell it. :-)

September 8, 2014 at 6:46 PM  
OpenID tinadavidson said...

Your blog is one of my favorites! You deserve all the kudos.

September 8, 2014 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger Debra Eve | Later Bloomer said...

Anne, can't tell you how it tickles me to hear you say starting too early could be a mistake! Couldn't agree more and wish I'd realized that three years ago. Thank goodness, with self-publishing, there's time to backpedal.

September 8, 2014 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Fritz Freiheit said...

The corollary to that isn't reading enough in the genre you want write in. In fact, I'd argue not reading enough is a more serious error than trying to start too soon. Remember that 10,000 hour rule for becoming an expert? (Well, rule is a bit strong, but there is truth to it.) I think one of the cool things about working your way towards becoming adept at writing is that a good chunk of that 10,000 hours (or so) can be accomplished by reading.

September 9, 2014 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tina--Thanks so much. And I always appreciate it when people jump through all the hoops to comment.

September 9, 2014 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Debra--I guess maybe I'm telling everybody it's okay to be a "Later Bloomer". But you're right, it sure is nice to have backpedaling as an option. Another benefit of writing in the e-age!

September 9, 2014 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Fritz--You bring up a great point. I've talked about it in other posts. Stephen King says at least half of your "writing" time should actually be spent reading.

And trying to write in a genre you haven't been immersed in your whole life involves a steep learning curve. For people who aren't already voracious readers, yes, make time to read too. I think you still have to spend those 10K hours at the keyboard, but don't skip the reading!

September 9, 2014 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Here is a comment from Anne Tezon, who has been blocked by the Google bots, probably because she has a WordPress blog. Grrr.

Could not seem to make a comment on your blog as a google+ or wordpress account, so here is what I just attempted to write as a reply to your blog:

Anne, I so appreciate your sage advice. Since I retired a year ago from newspaper publishing, I've been soaking up as much as possible about the dramatic changes in book publishing. That includes attending virtual seminars, listening to podcasts, linking to other writers and stumbling through social media ineptness.

Actually, the evolving book publishing industry is so similar to the newspaper industry in that now we all have to be generalists and know a little about a lot in order to survive and thrive.

Your advice is so worthwhile, I intend to reblog it on one or both of my website blogs, personalchapters.com and communitybragbooks.com. Thanks again. Oh, and by the way, I just purchased your Sherwood Ltd and got hooked from the first few paragraphs!

September 10, 2014 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Bernardo Montes de Oca said...

It's ok, it happens. (You should hear when they call me at airports!)

September 10, 2014 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne--Thanks so much for commenting in spite of being thwarted by the Blogger elves. Grrrr. I think you have to sign out of Wordpress and back into Google plus to comment. Then use the Google ID, not a url. Very annoying.

Great insight that we all have to become generalists in the e-age. A journalist must be a blogger, a storyteller, a SEO expert and a techie. We're moving away from specialization and back to the concept of "Renaissance person".

Thanks much for reblogging. We love the backlinks! And thanks for buying Sherwood. I hope you find it lots of fun!

September 10, 2014 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

True, Anne. In the middle ages, apprentices took seven years to learn their 'mystery' and 90% of them dropped out on the way. Why should writing be so different? Personally, I hate those chick-let wunderkinds who hack out a 'novel' in three months, bump into an agent at a wine bar and get a three-book contract from RandomHouse. I want to say: learn your craft, muffin...

September 11, 2014 at 3:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John--I didn't know about the 90% drop-out rate for medieval apprentices. Actually, we probably have a similar dropout rate now for NaNoWriMo :-)

I'm not sure there really are that many newbies who write a novel in three months and get a book contract. "Overnight sensation" makes good copy and publicists forget to mention the five "practice" novels the author wrote in a less popular genre. Romance and chick lit are as hard to write well as any other genre. It's true that if somebody's writing in the genre du jour, they may get in the door more easily, but if they're not ready, they have to pay dearly in long editing hours.

September 11, 2014 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger ryan field said...

#3...practice, practice, practice. It's so true and so important. I started out writing short stories in college in the early 90's for small publishers and small LGBT presses, and I did them in hard copy. No one back then took e-submissions. Now that's practice. There was no such thing as editing a word or sentence like there is now with Word docs. Back then you RE-wrote the entire page and hoped it fit with the rest of the chapter. And, you re-wrote it so many times you wanted to scream. I often wonder how may people would still be writing today if we all had to go back to hard copy. Might be amusing to find out :)

September 12, 2014 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Leanne Dyck said...

So much helpful information in this article, Anne. I especially like what you wrote about short fiction (I love to write short stories) And I'd add you can elevate outside pressure by checking in. I recently did this with my husband. I thought he was frustrated about being the sole breadwinner. His responded by telling me he knew how hard I was working and cautioned me against applying unnecessary pressure. It felt so good to once again hear him give me his support.

September 14, 2014 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ryan--It's the only way to Carnegie Hall. LOL. I started in the days of paper submissions, too. And 6-9 month waiting periods. And I remember when the correctable typewriter ribbon was high tech. :-) . I just recently found a box of them in an old drawer. At first, I couldn't remember what they were for. That's an interesting question. Do we have more aspiring writers now submissions (and corrections) are so much easier?

September 14, 2014 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Leanne--Short fiction really is having a renaissance in the era of the ebook. Ebooks can be any length and Kindle shorts are very popular.

You're right about "checking in" with family. Find out how much pressure is from them and how much is internal stuff. Of course, it's not easy being married to a writer. :-) Your husband sounds like a great partner.

September 14, 2014 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Carrie Maloney said...

Hi, Anne. I've just today discovered your blog (my new vice)--sent to me by a dear writer friend who subscribes. I've been doing a ton of marketing research over the past year (I'm launching my first book in a few weeks), but your words of wisdom stand out for me. With the trillions of ways to get a book into the hands of appreciative readers, I feel myself pulled in so many directions that I'm going "tharn," as Richard Adams might say. Thanks so much for sharing what you know with people who need to know it!

September 19, 2014 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Carrie--Welcome! Sorry this took a long time to publish. We had a huge ATT outage here today. No Internet, no phone! (Panic time!)

I'm so glad our blog is helping you. I've just been emailing another reader who feels the same "tharn" way, and I totally relate. I used to recommend trying the small publisher route first, but I'm hearing too many horror stories. Self-publishing looks better and better these days. But you absolutely need to do your homework. It sounds as if you've done just that. Best of luck with your launch!

September 19, 2014 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger David O said...

Hi Anne,

thanks for the hugely valuable update. This business is moving so fast, last year's wisdom can be downright misleading.

You mentioned that agents can still be useful for self-publishers. Are some starting to accept contracts that limit their commission to the deals they make rather than a % of all the writer's earnings?

I've made my living from TV writing for twenty five years, in which business I had my fill of corporate media, so for my novels I'm looking at self-publishing. I do have good agent contacts, but I'm wondering if in your experience it's still early in the self-publishing revolution to expect agents to change their ways.

I can see that to go hybrid and for foreign sales an agent might be a big asset.

Thanks again for your insights.


November 18, 2014 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dave--Most of the agents I know only take a percentage of the deals they make. I'd stay far away from any who want more. That may be more common with screen agents than book agents.

We have a post coming up in January from Laurie McLean, owner of the cutting edge Fuse Literary Agency, who will be telling us more about the new roles of agents in the digital age.

A very successful hybrid author I know just hit the top 100 in China today. The translation deal was done by his agent, who gets a cut of the translation deals, but nothing from the original self-pubbed book in English. That's the kind of agent you want.

You do need to read contracts very carefully. Watch out for the 'in perpetuity" clauses which are where they grab rights to all future earnings. No agent is worth signing something like that.

November 18, 2014 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger David O said...

Thanks again, Anne. Next stop then is to see how a hybrid proposition plays with the agents I have a line to.

Looking forward to Laurie McLean's post.


November 18, 2014 at 11:22 AM  

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