Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Number One Mistake New Writers Make

Most complaints about authors by agents and editors as well as reviewers can be boiled down to the same offense. It's the major reason so many reviewers won't read self-published books by unknowns.

What is that mistake?

Rushing to publish too early.

Nobody wants to read a rough draft. Your story idea may be great, but wading through amateurish writing vs. reading professional work is the difference between grading a student paper and picking up your favorite author's book for a relaxing read.

Also—no matter how polished your writing—you're unlikely to get an agent or a readership unless you know something about the business of getting your work into the marketplace.

So if one of your New Year's resolutions is to get that NaNo book published, make sure you include the steps of writing a few more books and educating yourself about the business first.

Unprofessional gun-jumpers waste time for reviewers, readers, editors and agents. They can sabotage their careers by condemning themselves to the slushpile or no-sales hell—and risk branding themselves forever as mediocre writers. They can get themselves dismissed as ignorant whiners who can't take criticism and think writing a book is a magical get-rich-quick scheme.

How do I know this? Because I was a gun-jumper myself.

I totally relate to the huge pressure you've got to get this career on the road, NOW:

         You’ve got the external pressure:
  • From your mom, who thinks the fact you’ve written 80,000 words of anything is so noteworthy 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 are getting kind of embarrassed for you, when you keep telling them you’re a writer but have nothing to show for it. You hear stuff like, "How long can it take to write a book anyway? My mom can type 55 words a minute!"
  • From your critique group, who are so tired of helping you revise that WIP …AGAIN, they’re screaming “Send it! Away! Immediately!”
  • From online indie publishing zealots who say "every minute you're not published, you're wasting money."

    And the internal pressure:
  • From your battered self-esteem: How many more years can you take those eye-rolls you get every time you tell somebody at a party you’re “pre-published,” and you’re only delivering pizzas 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, right?
  • 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 fish and chips place.
  • From your muse, who says: “This is pure brilliance. The world totally needs this book!”

We’ve heard them all. But I've finally learned the trick is learning to ignore them. We have to learn to listen instead for that small inner voice when it finally says:
  • “I’ve got a handful of polished books that will stand up to the snarkiest reviewer.”
  • “My ego is enough under control that I can refrain from responding to the most clueless review—and I’m willing to rewrite again for my editor or agent."
  • “I’m a professional. I know how the publishing industry works and I’m ready to turn out at least a book a year, promote it, and live my life on deadline.”
At the beginning of the e-publishing revolution, some of the biggest self-publishing gurus hammered us with all that stuff about how, "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 every beginning writer with a practice novel 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.

These days, every time you edit, you're giving yourself a better chance at a long-term successful career. (Up to a point. Don't re-edit the same book for a decade—a mistake I made. Write new ones. You'll get better with each manuscript, I promise.)

I cringe when I read comments from beginners who consider themselves qualified to write a novel or memoir because they know how to write legal briefs or medical reports or academic papers. These are entirely different skills from writing narrative. Grammar skills are necessary for a novelist, of course, but they're not at the core of storytelling.

Learning to craft book-length narrative is a long, intense process. As I've written before, a writer needs to put in Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hours" in order to develop real proficiency.

We also need proficiency in 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.

I was reminded of this recently because my publisher wants to look at some of my older manuscripts. I dug out the many drafts of the book I'd worked on for way too many years. It wasn't quite as bad as I feared, although it's still not ready for editorial eyes. (An editor can only clean up something that's already there. We can't expect them to work miracles.)

I can now see my biggest problem was ambition that exceeded my skills. Most first novelists can't handle sweeping sagas that span fifty years like my magnum opus.

But to my embarrassment, I also found some truly awful query letters I sent out on that book. I'd been querying without having a clue about genre or where my book would fit in the marketplace. Or what kind of writer I was or wanted to be.

Now I'm grateful for all those rejection letters. Not only was my book not ready—I was not ready.

Recently I saw a comment thread on a writing forum started by a young writer who is now about at the stage in her writing that I was when I wrote those letters.

But she had already self-published her book—and just received her first review: a two-star. I read the review and the "peek inside" sample and saw the reviewer had actually been kind. He said he liked the premise but the author didn't seem to know what a novel was.

The heartbroken author wrote, "I don't know how there can be anything wrong: my sister liked it just fine." When advised to unpublish and hire an editor, she said she couldn't afford one.

I remember thinking like that.

But at the same time, I would never have thought of trying to get a job styling hair without getting trained as a beautician. Or working as a chef without a long apprenticeship. Or going on a professional golf tour if I couldn't afford golf lessons.

This is the hard truth: we have to become professionals before we enter the marketplace.

I hope this young author will take the kind advice other authors offered up. (One suggested she try—which I've heard great things about, too. It's not a substitute for an editor, but it's a start.)

If she doesn't, she could get a few more bad reviews, no sales, and decide to give up. But if she goes back and spends a little longer learning the basics, she might have a great writing career ahead of her.

There's something to be said for the old query system that made me slog away for years before I found a publisher.

Easy self-publishing doesn't mean the learning process has been shortened. Learning to write narrative takes way longer than most people realized.

Self-publishing guru Kristine Kathryn Rusch put this very nicely in a recent post.

 "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 blogged about the subject this week. She 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 I'd written 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."

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' slushpiles or the Kindleverse, unwanted and unloved. You owe it to your book to do it right.

What about you, scriveners? Did you try to start your career too soon, the way I did? What advice do you have for eager new writers who are anxious to dive into the marketplace. 

Blog News: I see that we've reached 1300 followers! I remember when I thought if I could just get 50 followers, I'd feel like a success. Everything is relative, isn't it? Welcome new followers!

Update: On 1/13/13, this blog got 1300 hits as well as reaching 1300 followers. Any idea what that means in numerology terms? Kind of awesome, anyway. 

Next month: we'll have a guest post from bestselling indie phenom Mark Edwards, who with his writing partner Louise Voss rocketed to self-pub stardom and landed a major deal with HarperCollins. Mr. Edwards attributes their success equally to a compelling story and a compelling book description. He's going to tell us how we can learn to write professional copy to sell our own books.


  1. I've learned since that first book, but I don't think I rushed.
    Everyone seems to be throwing out cheap or free self-published books and I wonder if I'm missing anything by not churning out a bunch short manuscripts and publishing them myself. After reading this, I think the answer is no. I wouldn't know what to do on my own to make them great and would probably hurt the sales of my books.

  2. Great post. With the rise of self publishing and e-publishing, I wonder if a form of apprenticeship with a mentor/master has gone missing, i.e. the relationship with a (good) editor, for example, (or even a great agent) wherein said editor/agent carefully tended his stable of writers and kept them growing. That kind of relationship seems to be utterly gone now, so everyone's on their own. I suppose
    one could take classes for years, but . . . In an odd way,it seems to be a much harder world for writers than it was, and it never was a bed of roses.

  3. Your post affirms what I've gradually realized over the course of the past year and a half. The rise of self-publishing motivated me to try to write again, but good writing takes time. It really does take 10,000 hours to become an expert, and so I guess my former teaching career was good for something, because I didn't even feel like a good teacher until the end of my fourth year. Too many people publish hastily, and I don't want to belong to that camp.

  4. Wonderful post as always, Anne.

    And just what I needed to hear, as I carefully take my time with yet another edit on what I hope will be my debut (and work carefully on the manuscript of the book that I have coming second).

    I thought there were some comments in
    the article you linked about Amazon paying huge advances for books
    that the Big 6 became the Big 6 by nurturing talent and snapping up good books, and that now that publishing is often a game of celeb author after celeb author, the Big 6 is vulnerable to a company with lots of money to spend like Amazon.

    I wonder if, as perhaps the Big 6 pulls into a mode where again, they compete by grabbing great books instead of grabbing celebs, if we won't see more of a master/apprentice form come back, like Churadogs suggests. Perhaps the slowdown in frenetic self-publishing will be to the benefit of authors and readers more generally.

  5. There's another reason that feeds into the Too Soon To Publish syndrome—specifically, writing a book *looks* easy. Ballet dancing looks hard. Playing football at the NFL level looks hard. Advanced physics looks hard. No one would just decide to get on stage in a tutu or catch a Tom Brady pass or teach at MIT.

    But just about everyone can write a letter, a business plan or a memo. Everyone can read a book. It just doesn't seem *that" hard but the book that reads so easily is almost always the product of lots of hours, revisions, edits, rewrites—and they're all invisible because what *looks easy* isn't.

    The only thing that's easy about writing a book is deluding yourself that your first try is going to be readable much less publishable.

  6. Alex--My publisher is urging me to write some shorts that use characters from my mystery series. Fans do like these, so it's not a bad idea. But I tend to think in long form, so I don't know if I'll succeed. And I sure don't want to publish anything that will disappoint my readers. Since you're trad pubbed and have a fan base, it might be worth it to ask fans if they'd like a short/cheaper piece.

    Chura--It's not tougher for writers now, but it's different. We have more choices. Sometimes making choices can be stressful. But we still need to put in the same number of hours.

    Jeri--If the indie movement got you back into writing, it did a great thing for you, even if you don't choose that route in the long run. Good comparison with teaching. Just knowing a lot of stuff doesn't make you a good teacher. That's an art you learn by doing.

    Jessica--Great insight! The Zon can offer the money, but not the career nurturing. This is probably why the Big 6-5-4 is now opening up to unagented submissions with digital imprints like Avon Impulse.

    Ruth--You are SO right! I can't believe how many people think they can write and publish a novel in six months or a year and launch a publishing career. How many would expect to join a ballet company after 6 months of lessons?

  7. I think one reason so many new writers publish before they're ready is because they've been told having a back list of books will create more revenue for them. They they put out book after book and quality goes right out the window.

    I self-publish and I put out two books for all of 2012 and I don't see myself putting out any more than that for this year.

  8. I definitely identified with your list of common external pressures writers experience in their pre-published days. I experienced all of them and am now cringing as I think about it.

    Though I'm now published, I spent ages 'aspiring' - no surprise seeing as how I was determined to become an author since kindergarten. And oh, the sheer *torture* of spending decades telling people I wanted to become a professional novelist. In many ways I came to dread telling people when they asked because I almost always received either 1) an eye-roll and encouragement to pursue nursing instead, or 2) a vague encouragement to pursue an English degree, which most people seemed to think was the key to a successful novel-writing career.

    The fact is (as anyone reading this probably knows all too well), the average person knows absolutely nothing about the publishing industry. And friends and family (the nice ones, anyway) are often quick to flatter and encourage. The world in general isn't very kind to or patient with aspiring authors.

    This leaves serious writers or would-be writers to ignore the advice of people who often mean well and buckle down to learn about how things really work on their own (or with the guidance of someone knowledgeable). This is completely doable, of course. Sometimes I think that the trick is keeping your sanity along the way.

  9. I cringe thinking of the first novel I tried to publish. I jumped the gun in all the ways you describe, right down to the awful query letters I sent out...ugh...but I kept trying and writing and revising and editing and querying...and yeah, exactly 3 novels later, I published traditionally. (I haven't tallied the hours, but I bet it comes close to 10,000.)

    Even with the novel I'm now working on, I have to resist the pressure to publish prematurely. I want it out there but I've learned to take the time it needs and deserves. Thanks for reminding me that it's worth the wait!

  10. Publisher Mark Williams tried to comment, but Blogger is being rude about his WordPress ID, so he emailed. (Feel free to do that if you can't comment. Just click on the "contact us" link in the sidebar.) Here's what Mark said:

    One thing I'm finding with MWiDP is submissions of books with enormous potential and great ideas that I'd love to take on, but that are in need of far more work than I can realistically put in.

    Saddest of all is seeing those same books I've rejected because they are nowhere near ready, appearing a few months later on Amazon with a slapdash cover and almost no other changes.

    --Mark Williams

  11. I am absolutely guilty of this one. I spent a couple of years sending out my first novel-length manuscript everywhere. After getting a bit more experience, I've come to the conclusion that my first novel-length manuscript was an excellent exercise, but it is definitely not a book. What a shame (& embarrassment) that I wasted all those editors' & agents' time.

  12. Darke--You're so right about the pressure to put out as many books as possible. Nobody can write good books that fast unless they've been at it a long, long time. Congrats on the launch of your two!

    Ranae--I hear you. I went through it all. You bring up an important point about degrees. There are very few authors who have been successful right out of high school, so you do need a general education in literature and how to think critically, which most people get in college. But an English major might not be the best route for an aspiring author. You might be better off majoring in business or something that will provide you with a day job and taking electives in both English lit and creative writing.

    J. B.--Congrats on putting in the 10,000 hours. Now you know what it takes to write a publishable book and you have the knowledge to resist those other pressures.

    Mark--Thanks so much for sharing the editor's point of view. It must be heartbreaking to see potentially great books thrown into the marketplace too soon.

  13. I lived in Malibu for over a decade and everyone— I swear everyone—had a screenplay. So, at least in that world I was somewhat unique as an aspiring novelist. Such good advice. Some hard to hear and not easy to acknowledge, but true and helpful nonetheless. I self-published my first novel for the experience and to see how it all worked. I am glad for the experience even though I have had far from blockbuster sales. My new novel, in a new genre, I will be more… protective of, I guess is a good way to put it.
    When I was all of 25 I queried a children’s book to Harper Collins and got a request to see the manuscript. I didn’t have a clue as to how it all worked. I actually went to New York and hand presented it! Ha! I still cringe. They were very nice about it though. Ha!

  14. Anne, I did miss you so much during my long, unwanted break in communications. You always remind us to take pause ... think ... or as my brother the carpenter learned ... measure twice/cut once.

    Thanks again :)

  15. Brilliant, again.

    I have been a journalist for more than 40 years. I know I can write because the toughest judges on Earth - the desk-full of grizzled, grumpy newspaper editors - approve my work, and people have been moved to tears by the published result.

    So with all this experience and writing talent, I know how to write a novel, right? Wrong. I've tried. I can write a tight 2000-word segment, and then I come to a dead end. How does one write a coordinated 70,000-word piece? Do I have to plan it, or sumfink?

    The answer, as you say so well, is experience. The more you write, the more you learn what works and - crucially - what doesn't work.

  16. Anne, I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts about college. I am not a recent high school grad - I graduated from college several years ago with a couple of degrees, one of them being in business (and neither of them being in English). I then worked in marketing for years before becoming a full-time author. I was just remembering how awkward it was to field the well-meaning advice of those who encouraged me to pursue another path at that time.

  17. Thank you for telling the truth! Nothing will take down an author's reputation faster than a rushed book. There's no time for proper editing, formatting, promotions, etc. And for most, they don't take the time to learn how the publishing industry works. At the seminars I teach on publishing & promoting, it sometimes stuns me how little most writers know.

  18. Christine--Thanks for sharing that story about going to New York with your manuscript. Poignant and funny. The thing is, movies have fed us misinformation forever, making it look as if that's the way the publishing industry works.

    Fois--Actually, learning to write isn't that different from learning to be a carpenter. And we all have to measure twice. I sure hope your computer woes are over!

    Christopher--Great to hear from a veteran journalist. I didn't include journalism in my list up there with medical reports and legal briefs, but it involves a separate skill set, too. Although you have a leg up because you know how to shape a story in a way that doctors and lawyers don't have a clue about.

    Ranae--You have a much better background for being a novelist than your friends thought. Studying English qualifies you to teach it and we sure need great teachers, but it doesn't teach all the skills an author needs.

    Diane--Nothing like teaching seminars and workshops to wake you up to how much ignorance is out there. Anybody online and reading blogs is way ahead of the game. Half the people I meet at conferences say "I don't have time to read blogs." I say that's fine if you don't want to publish. Not everybody does. But if they do, they need to get online and find out what's happening in the business.

  19. My first book was oh so very bad, but my query letter was fantastic. It got me 5 full requests. But I couldn't understand the rejections. Until I wrote my second book and tried it again. Another great query, but only 2 requests and thankfully, a very lovely letter from one agent who said, I was on the right track but needed a bit of polish.

    Critique partners, GOOD critique partners are the stuff great novels are made of. They're very hard to find, like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but when you find one, never let them go. I couldn't do without mine.

    And practice, practice, practice makes perfect. I'm now on book #4 and have definitely surpassed my 10,000 hours. I think I'm on the right track.

    Thanks, Anne, for another great post.

  20. Mr. Perryess--I didn't see you up there! Oh, how well I know that syndrome. And we unfortunately encourage each other to jump the gun. I think critique groups getting tired of projects are guilty of piling up a lot of slush for those poor agents and editors to wade through.

    Anne--I so much relate! I went through a stage where I spent way more time (and money) learning to write a query than I did learning to write novels. So I'd get requests for partials and even fulls and then get confusing rejection letters back that said stuff like "I love this. It will be great with more work, but I have to pass." What they meant was that I had a good idea but I wasn't ready.

  21. I love the perspective this post has given me. Thanks.

  22. I learned a lot along the way and yes, my book was NOT ready to be read by an agent when I first sent out query letters. My first learning experiences were after entering contests and receiving low, low scores. I finally hired an editor and, though expensive, she taught me how to write. I know a lot of writers can't afford an editor, but my goodness I wouldn't be where I am today with one published book and a new agent had I not hired a personal editor.

  23. Oh yes, this is advice I can take to heart. My first full length piece is not fit for anything but a doorstop. The second, still not getting anywhere near publication. But the third has potential (once I correct my thinking that third person present was a great way to write a novel!).

    Manuscripts 4 and 5 show a lot more promise. I've actually learned what good writing should be. My biggest hope is that #7 will be the winner. It stands at just about 30k words, and has quite a lot more to go. But I've had it looked at by people not related to me. Multiple people, and the consensus is very good. There's a story there and a voice that really digs in and tells the story.

    So this is what I've learned. It didn't happen on #1, or 3, or even #5, but #7? Maybe. Practice does after all make perfect.

  24. Thank you so much for writing this.

    My friend and I run a book review website that's starting to get noticed, and a lot of the books we get are self-published and clearly first attempts. We turn down the majority of them and are always hesitant to try the others. I remember proudly sending off my first book at the tender age of fourteen; fortunately it wasn't published, because I cringe looking back on it now. It combines so many bad writing tropes; Mary Sue characters, two-dimensional, card-carrying villains, nonsensical romances, abandoned plot threads, no plan to it so that the plot doesn't make over amounts of sense, useless details that bog down the story...

    This is advice more young authors need to hear. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  25. Jamie--Glad I could help. And thanks for connecting on Twitter!

    Patricia--Major congrats on landing an agent. Thanks for sharing your story. Hiring a good editor definitely provides a crash course in writing--if you're willing to listen. Unfortunately, beginners sometimes hire an editor too early and they're not ready to hear what needs to be done.

    Andrea--This is hard for beginners to hear, but it's pure gold "It didn't happen on #1, or 3, or even #5, but #7? Maybe." Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

    Be Living--Thanks!

    Alhavra--Thanks so much for weighing in here. We've heard from a publisher and a former editor, and it's nice to hear from a book reviewer as well. I know all of you WANT to love a book when you start. But it's just not pleasant when you can't figure out what's going on or the storyline is hackneyed. In fact your comment provides a very good list of What Not To Do.

  26. So timely. I just read a friend's book and discovered that - although she lived in the area for 30 years - had apparently never taken a balloon ride there and got it totally wrong! No critique group, no editor (not that he/she would have known), not even Google!

  27. As always Anne, an excellent post and an interesting comments thread, congrats!

    Actually this is very timely: self-published indie books have had a tendency to turn into a huge slush pile and that doesn't help anybody. It just resuscitates the stigma attached to self-publishing! I do wish people would think twice before self-publishing...

    I know I've been guilty too of rushing in too soon and now I try not to do this anymore. A good rule of thumb: wait one year before you publish anything and re-read it one last time. You're going to be enormously surprised...And thankful you waited to publish it!

  28. Speaking on behalf of the small fry, often it's the industry itself that makes everything a bit complicated. There's no immediae go-to where you can learn EVERYTHING you need in one fell swoop, and it can seem pretty daunting as well.

    That said, editing is CRUCIAL. I'm so much more critical of my creative writing than I am of my academic because I've been reading and writing and critiquing other people's work for a few years now, so I've started to form nubs of ideas about what should go where, what works, what doesn't, and other stylistic paraphinalia. That, and I'm one of those who advocates the First Draft of Suckishness, where you splat everything out and then attack it to bring the diamond out of hte rough, as it were.

    Great post, Anne!

  29. The thing about first novels is that, no matter how many times you revise and how many impartial beta readers you consult, you will probably never be ready. Every first-time author believes their work will be a hit with even the snarkiest critics, they're mature enough to handle the clueless reviews, and they know how the publishing industry works and can take failure like a pro. But you have no idea whether any of these are true until you actually try--until you're looking at those 1-star Amazon reviews from people who clearly didn't even read the book but thought they'd do the world a favor by letting them know that the characters were annoying and the ending sucked and this author shouldn't even have passed eighth grade English.

    Heartbreak is part of the process. So is turning out a few duds before you get anywhere. I wrote two terrible books before I thought my third was good enough to publish...and I still got burned. Of course everyone should edit and polish and try to be as objective about their work as they can, but there's a certain point that they just have to take the plunge and deal with the pain of the first bellyflop.

  30. This. All of this.

    I did jump the gun with my first book. I still adore the story, and I still intend to see it published, but I know it needs a tonne of work before I can get there.

    I've also since self-published two books... and haven't made much money at all. But then, I never really expected to. I had my head firmly in reality when I decided to self-publish and knew that as a complete unknown with no experience with marketing, I'd be hard-pressed to get people to notice me.

    I'm not ever going to stop trying (self-publishing has actually proven to be quite fun and I still dream of that trad. pub. contract), but I do think that many people's expectations are nowhere near reality when they start out.

    I'm glad for those rejection letters. They've provided fuel for me - the will to get better. I hope I actually manage to...

  31. This post really resonated with me. Thanks, Anne.

    Ruth's comment above sums up how I felt right before publishing my first novel: People who say, often flippantly, "if I had time, I'd write a book," have no idea how many hours it takes to create a novel worth sharing.

    I remember non-book-biz folks rolling their eyes when I would say I was waiting for an editor or agent to get back to me. There's a perception that writers, as the creators of the product, should be able to hurry other people in the process along. Set the pace, if you will.

    Even with the drawn out timing, I never once regretted working with an editor. I think a good editor (and you may need to kiss some frogs to find one) is essential. A new author can't afford not to have one.

  32. This is such a good post, with the case well-made. Thanks, Anne. I've signed up to follow the blog and will recommend it to others.

    On the subject, I'll mention a post I did a few years ago, Four Reasons Not to Self-Publish a Novel.

    As a book doctor, I know how the rush to self-publish can undercut a writer's career; indeed, can end it prematurely. But you don't always need an outside editor. You do need patience: to wait, to revise, and sometime to move on to another project with better prospects and more experience under your belt.

  33. This is a great, honest post. I don't have much to add, just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated it!

  34. Hi, Anne,

    Wonderful words of wisdom here. Thankfully I had never e pubbed a book. I only jumped the gun by querying my first novel WAY TO SOON. Actually I am still fine tuning it. I wrote it four years ago.... This says a LOT... LOL.

    My second novel has been two years in the making. It is tight, concise and ready for query, which I had just started doing last week.

    TALENTED CP'S are a treasure. Many of us can't afford an editor, but I have been SOOOOO fortunate to find AMAZING, TALENTED, and GIVING author's, several published, to scan over my NOVELS.... I have LEARNED SO MUCH in the four years I have been writing. I have even turned into an eagle-eyed critiquer myself. I am MORE THAN HAPPY to help others because I was so blessed with the help.

    That is what is THE BEST part of our community. The help is there is you ask for it...

    Thanks for this insightful post. I truly hope if finds its way to the right eyes...

    Have a great week!

  35. Phyllis—You’ve brought up a great point. It’s not just editing that your book needs. It also needs FACT CHECKING. Nothing takes you out of a story like inaccuracies about an area you know well—so writers need to check up on that stuff. The Interwebz give us a fantastic tool for research. Those of us who used to have to spend days in the library checking our facts know what a gift this is. But sometimes nothing takes the place of actual physical research. Don’t know what it feels like to travel via balloon? You don’t have to do it yourself, but do ask somebody. Call the balloon place. Check their website.

    Claude—You’re so right. Everybody who throws a rough draft out there into the slushpile that is the Kindleverse is bringing down the reputation of self-publishing. You’re not just hurting yourself. You’re hurting all indie authors.

    Charley—There’s no one place to learn this stuff because what’s required is skill, not just knowledge. And skill takes time. Absolutely, the first draft of suckishness is a great place to start. (Love that expression!) and even pros turn out sucky first drafts. But as you gain skill, the suckiness will improve. And you’ll learn a lot of tricks of self-editing. So the final product will take a lot less time to produce.

    Tamara—It is indeed a learning curve. For both writing skills and professionalism. The more naïve you are, the less you may understand the hard work involved. The trick is not only getting to know how to write, but how to BE a writer.

    S.M.–Your experience proves it’s not only about learning to write. It’s about learning marketing as well. Without both skill sets, your career can be very slow going.

    Mari—It’s so true isn’t it? “I can type 50 words a minute—so why is it taking you so long?” I’ve really heard that. Most people really have no idea what’s involved in writing novels.

    Phillip—Thanks for the link. Great post. I love your reminder that a novel in a drawer can be mined for short fiction and other ideas that may fit in your later work. If it’s published, even if it’s only had two sales, it’s lost to you for other purposes.

    Annie and Alex—Thanks so much. Glad it resonated.

  36. I remember reading this same topic form you - oh I can't remeber exactly when - and it saved me from jumping the gun - thank you.

    Now, I've put learning about writing and publishing into personal goals. I'm writing books, revising books and reading other peoples books, even critiquing some friends' work. I'm pretty sure it's all going into making me a better writer.

    Sure, I might be doing it at a snails pace due to my current life situation, but slow and steadily improving is a lot better than fast and sloppy!

    Thanks again Anne, for reconfirming that I'm doing the right thing. :}

  37. Very good insight on this. Thanks for posting it.

  38. Congratulations on reaching the big 1300!
    Couldn't agree with you more about the rush to publish. Seems like some folks want the 'celebrity status' without actually producing a body of work to justify that status!

  39. Hi Anne
    great blog, thanks
    I wrote something a bit like this a few weeks ago, though not as eloquently. :) My focus was on the ease of self-publishing giving new authors the chance to rush where perhaps it hadn't been before.
    I've been lucky in finding such a strong on-line community with advice like this to refer to which has meant that I'm knee deep in edits, all of which are having a profound impact on my WIPs.
    I was glad that you also mentioned becoming expert in the business. Understanding marketing and the world that goes along with releasing a book is essential. However good your work is, if no one knows it's there, what's the point!
    Thanks again and congrats on the 1300!

  40. Michael di Gesu--Congrats on having novel #2 ready for querying. It's a long, slow process, but eventually it will pay off. And you're right about critique partners, groups and beta readers. You can learn huge amounts from them. Learn everything you can and THEN go to an editor for a polish.

    Cathryn--I talk about this in my book HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, so you probably read it there. One of the best ways to learn is by critiquing other people's work, so what you're doing is all good.


    widdershins--Yeah. It's like the girl from smalltown USA who steps off the Greyhound in Hollywood with out an acting credential to her name and thinks she's going to be a star after her first audition. I fear that only happens in the movies.

    Michael Cairns--Yes, as I said to the other Michael, critique partners and groups--online or in person, can be a huge help. But make sure you balance their advice with other sources. Sometimes a group can get a wrong idea and steer you totally wrong. So read widely. Blogs are a great place to learn the basics of writing AND marketing, if you choose carefully.

  41. Every time I read your posts I feel that you give such magnificent advice. I was just asked the other day by another writer (who has self-pubbed two books so far) when I was going to put something out "there" to buy. Honestly, I feel like I have a long way to go before that happens.

    There's a lot of pressure out from peers to publish. Sometimes I feel like other writers are cranking out books while I'm in the tortoise lane. I just want to make sure I don't put out junk.

    Thanks again for the terrific insight!

  42. Great post as always, Anne. Can't imagine sending out anything to a publisher in a rush. We often feel as though we should for whatever reason, but when we do, at lease in my experience, it's been a mistake. Best to resist the impulse and learn to reread, rethink and revise the work several times before we do.

  43. I read just the title of the post and thought, What IS the number one mistake writers make? Sending out their work too early, I thought. Bingo! You hit the nail on the head. Thanks for another great post. I'll share it.

  44. Melissa--Thanks. It's nice to hear we're helping people here. Stick to your guns. Non writers don't have a clue how long it takes to polish a book, so their impatience is clueless. (Of course we have to tell them nicely.)

    Paul--As the former editor of a high profile literary magazine, I'm sure you saw a sad number of unpolished drafts. It's always sad to have to reject something you know has great potential.

    Meghan--Great minds think alike? :-)

  45. I agree with eery single one of your points. I just wrote and queried my third book (after revising it for months). Apparently for me, the third time is not the charm. *sigh* The fourth might be ... if I ever start writing again.

  46. I've only finished one first draft and feel as though it will never EVER be ready for any other eyes, so I really appreciate this post :) It's hard for me as a new writer to accept that it will take time to know what I'm doing, and to do it well. Right now, as I'm brainstorming my second novel, and rewriting the first, I'm also trying to focus on writing short stories to try to learn more about this craft :)

    As a friend of mine just had her traditionally published, debut novel come out, I wonder if I'll ever publish anything. I'm worried that I might be TOO slow going into this "business" because I feel as though my work will never compare to hers or to anyone else' for that matter...

  47. Lexa--Don't despair. The problem may be your query, not the book. Read lots of agent blogs for tips. And keep querying. Sometimes it's not your book OR your query. It's that your genre isn't what New York wants this week. If so, try small presses.

    Hope-Never compare your career to another's. Every writer's learning curve is different. It depends on your genre, your background, the ambition of your idea--1000s of things. Keep at it. It took me over 10 years.

    The most positive thing you can do is write short fiction. Gathering credits in vetted journals is the best way to impress an agent or editor.

  48. It's strange because I've written many more than the three books Kristen Lamb recommends (it's either ten or eleven first drafts but I lose count, and several of those I have rewritten at least once, one of them nine times), but I still feel I'm still just kind of on the edge of 'ready for publishing'. I think that's partly because I started so young. Everyone who read my work was NICE about it because I was like 13. They'd say, "Yeah, very nice dear." And that's not helpful. Now they're just getting to the point where they feel I'm old enough to cope with critique, even though I've been asking them for a while.

    That's one of the problems with writing when you're too young and/or unemployed to pay an editor -- it's very hard to get someone to give you unbiased, honest feedback. Because people are too nice.

    Fortunately, father person has no such scruples and is the least tactless person I know, prompting the most recent revision of that book that's been written nine times.

  49. Miriam--Congrats on being a prodigy. All I wrote when I was 13 was astonishingly bad poetry. Everybody has to start somewhere, and it's very unusual for anybody to be able to write a professional book before they're 18--but you have! "St. Mallory's Forever" debuts this month, doesn't it? You're doing way better than Louisa May Alcott. Her teen novels she wrote before "Little Women" were discovered a few years ago--but they're terrible. She hadn't yet figured out how to write in her own honest voice, and wrote over-the-top melodramas.

  50. Very wise words, Anne. But I think it's important for all writers to remember that no matter how wonderful your book is, there's always going to be someone who will give it the dreaded 1 star review.

  51. LK--You're absolutely right. No matter how good you are, somebody will hate what you write.

    Just go to Amazon and look at the reviews of the classics. Every great novel has a bunch of(usually semi-literate) one-star reviews.

    And there are plenty of trolls who go around giving one-star reviews to every book they see (usually on the basis of the "peek inside" pages, if they even read those.) Powerless people can do some pretty strange things to give themselves a feeling of control over something.


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