REALITY CHECK: Mixed Martial Arts For Writers

by Ruth Harris

No two ways about it: You ARE going to suffer.

How do I know? Because I'm a writer and all of these things—or variations of them—have happened to me.

  • You will get one-star reviews. 
  • Your book will be rejected by the editor who "loves" you and your work.
  • The hotshot agent who told you how wonderful you are will ignore you, your book, your phone calls and emails.
  • Your agent—the one who made you boat loads of money—will retire.
  • Your editor will leave for a new job at another publisher/to have a baby/to go into rehab.
  • Your book will be pirated.
  • Your perfectly formatted epub or mobi will get stuck in "processing"even as your BookBob promo comes—and goes.
  • If you find a publisher, you will be asked to sign a crappy contract.
  • If you have a publisher, he, she or it will go out of business and your book will never see the light of day or be tied up in bankruptcy proceedings for years.
  • Your best book, the one with great characters and a fab plot, with a spectacular cover and super wonderful blurb plus a dazzling marketing strategy won't sell.
  • To make it worse, an incredible, sub-literate POS will sell.
  • BookBub will turn you down—and so will ENT.
  • Your cover designer/free lance editor/formatter will pull a disappearing act.

If you haven't guessed by now, being a writer is no career for divas, narcissists, whiners, blamers or cry babies. It's a grown-up activity for adults and, if you decide to indulge, you will need a thick skin and a good sense of humor. You will also need to know how to fight.

Defeat the enemy within.

The Perfectionist: 

 What's the worse thing that can happen if you upload a less-than-”perfect” book? You're gonna break Kindle which has already survived the onslaught of a tsunami of crap? Really? Your book is gonna be the straw that breaks the internet? Puh-leeze, get your ego in check.

But, you say, it's a POS. Maybe you're right—but what if you're wrong? Maybe readers aren't as picky as you are. Maybe no one will notice or even care about whatever it is that's worrying you. Maybe whatever's bothering you is only the monster under the bed anyway. If people like your book and buy it, what's the problem?

If they don't like it, if they actually hate it, and your reviews absolutely, positively stink, take the book down. That's what the "unpublish" button is for. Use it.

The People Pleaser: 

Your critique group thinks your characters are stereotypes? Doesn't that mean readers will be able to recognize themselves and relate?

Your beta readers complain there’s too much sex, too little sex, the wrong kind of sex? Who are they? Kinsey? Kraft-Ebbing? Dr. Ruth? Too much certainly didn't hurt E. L. James. Too little is just perfect for sweet romance. The wrong kind lies in the eye of the beholder although you should definitely forget about sex with children and animals.

Your bff tells you your plots are creaky? There are only 6 plots anyway so it's what you do with the plot that counts. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl? What if the boy is Clark Kent and the girl is Lois Lane? What if the boy is a scruffy junkyard mongrel and the girl is a snooty Park Avenue poodle?

Heed the comments from the bleachers but put them in perspective. Anne's post on when to heed your crit group—and when not to—is a reliable guide to keeping your sanity when too many voices and too many conflicting opinions feel paralyzing.

The Also Ran: 

10K words a day! A book a week! Blog! Tweet! Pinterest! LinkedIn! Google Play! Newsletter! Podcast! Sell a million books! Write four series—all at the same time!

What's wrong with you? Other writers do, why can't you?

Or do they? Do they have assistants, virtual or physical? Hired services that wrangle their social media presence? Pro formatters, cover designers, blurb writers, uploaders? Family members who carry some of the load? Have you actually seen them write 10K words a day, day in, day out?

#1: Why are you comparing yourself to other writers? Why aren't you good enough being yourself?

Paranormal romance writer, Debbie A. McClure, proposes a solid approach to finding the true you in Don't Let Anybody Should on You her fantastic guest post for Molly Greene. (I agree this post is a must read! Anne.)

#2. What you leave out is as important/more important as what you leave in. Sometimes deleting 10K words packs more punch than writing 10K new words: proof that new doesn't necessarily mean improved.

Anne's post on why short fiction is hot and the trend to "snackable content" will help you avoid the 10K-words-a-day trap.

The Procrastinator: 

 You know who you are. You're putting the spices in alphabetical order when you should be writing. You're rearranging the linen closet when you should be writing. You're cleaning out the garage when you should be doing-you-know-what.

You also know that procrastinating will stand between you and the book you want to finish, the story you want to write, the success you're dreaming of.

So stop! Here's how:

EXCEPT when procrastinating is an important warning from you to you. As a member-in-good-standing of the Church of Do It Now, I have learned that when I dilly and dither instead of going to work, I have made a mistake somewhere in my manuscript. For me, it's almost always somewhere in the beginning where I have either told too much or not enough.

If you usually look forward to going to work, procrastination is a friendly warning. Do some detective work, find out where you went off track, make the fix and move forward again.

Develop a reliable defense.

Substitutes, Stand-Ins and Networks: Don't get left in the lurch.

  • Publishing isn't like romance. You might be rejected but you don't have to be jilted. Even though you lovelovelove your cover designer/formatter/editor, whenever you see a cover you like or come across a rec for an editor or formatter, make a note of the name, website link and contact info.
  • Evernote, OneNote and Workflowy (among others) are all FREE and will do the job.
  • Whether your network is cyber or a local writers' group, only other writers will really understand what you're going through. They will provide a shoulder to cry on, valuable introductions, helpful tips and tricks.
  • Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Group is a platinum-grade resource for writers, neurotic and otherwise (if any).

DIY formatting and covers: Learn to do your own formatting and basic covers.

  • High quality apps like Scrivener and Jutoh ($39 plus FREE 30-day try-before-you-buy trials) will guide you through the process of creating your own files in epub, mobi and Create Space formats. Both offer lots of in-app and online help and FREE manuals to walk you through the process.
  • Sigil and Calibre are FREE on-line epub editors.
  • Vellum (Mac only), elegant and easy to use, takes the pain out of formatting epub and mobi files for upload.
  • Word processors like MSWord, Atlantis (for PC), Pages (for Mac) will create uploadable epub and mobi files.

DIY covers:

DIY editing tips:

  • Jodie Renner, editor and award-winning author, shares Tricks & Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work.
  • Margaret Moore at Harlequin discusses the heavy lifting aka DIY editing.
  • How to edit your own book from blind spots to crutch words.
  • From wrecking ball to scalpel, more tips on DIY editing.

Rights grabs, contract gotchas, rate schedules: protect yourself, your work and your money. 

  • Helen Sedwick, a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer, is also an author and a California attorney with thirty years of experience. Helen cites the danger words to watch out for.
  • Seller beware! NY Times and USA Today bestseller Roxanne St. Claire spells out the dire consequences of signing away rights.
  • Not all agents are good agents and not all deals are good deals (for the author).Karen Dionne spells out the details.
  • A guide to editorial rates—regardless of whether a project is flat rate or hourly.


Got a book on a bestseller list? A cover you love? A line you or someone else wrote that you absolutely love? Take a screenshot and use it as your screensaver!

Don't forget: When the going gets tough, the tough reach for candy.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have these "martial arts" in your skill set? Do you have an "enemy within"? How do you fight back? Do you take the time to give yourself "candy" and remind yourself of your successes?


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Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication's mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Big Beautiful Wellness Creative Writing Contest. NO FEE Poems up to 30 lines Fiction or Nonfic between 1000 and 2000 words. $100 first prize. Theme: Body-positive living. Looking for inspirational, positive stories. Deadline July 1.

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest closes June 15th.

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