Ten Crazy Things New Authors Say
I was originally just going to write a list of very common thinking errors that I often encounter at launch parties or at other author events, where I tend to meet folks who really want to get published. Instead, I’ve decided to list the top ten things I hear from new authors that just make me shake my head in despair.
If it’s okay with you folks, I’ll make my apologies now for the brutal tone of this article: it’s designed to help writers avoid wasting their precious time wandering down the wrong paths!
“I don’t need any previous experience or a decent CV to get published. I can just write my book and easily get the attention of an agent/publisher.”
Good luck with that. I actually know an awful lot of writers – some of them uniquely talented and some yet to find their voice – who genuinely believe that editors and publishers are desperate to see their work without them being required to establish a name or a reputation. If you’ve heard of LinkedIn, the website for professional business connections, you’ll know that when you go for a new job your profile is often carefully vetted by your prospective employers. Well, editors and publishers often do the same…so it really does help if you’ve had short stories, review columns, articles or other material published in the marketplace. I got my first agent based on an anthology I appeared in with the late Terry Pratchett, but I only ‘got’ that gig by first selling the short story to a small-press magazine from Bedford. You really do need to put the work in and sell your work around in order to build up your CV. By the time my work started to appear professionally, I’d already written for SFX, Interzone, Games Workshop and The Edge; every credit counts.
“I know an established author. I’ll ask him/her to tell me the secret of how to get published.”
We hate this. We truly, truly do. It took me nearly fifteen years to get to the top: the secret was hard work and around two hundred and fifty rejection letters. Getting published is beyond difficult: it’s a complete trial of champions…which is why I now run an entire service dedicated to watching the industry and reporting back on all the tricks, changes and opportunities as they present themselves. Your author friend, if he or she is feeling particularly generous, might point you towards an agent or publisher…but, trust me, you’ll get no special attention or treatment from that. Letters that start with ‘I’m a good friend of JK Rowling’ end up at the bottom of the same slush-pile as the ones from the eighties that are still stacked against the wall, boasting ‘Dick Francis and Wilbur Smith both loved my first two chapters…’
“I’ve heard publishing is really competitive. I’m going to send my book to a film producer instead.”
After six months (if you’re lucky) your manuscript will come back with a legally-worded letter informing you that it hasn’t been read and politely suggesting that you try traditional routes to market. Your name might be on the envelope, but everything after the ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ bit will signal a polite ‘get lost.’
“Once I get my book accepted, the publisher will do everything else.”
No, actually…you will. Once the book debuts, you will be advised to heavily spread the word online, visit every book event (or school, if you’re a YA or children’s author) go to every festival and attend every signing suggested. In effect, YOU will sell your book and your publisher will help. If you were hoping to be that author who sits in a shed at the bottom of the garden and occasionally sends off a book to be published, you’re about twenty years out of date. JK Rowling turned every author into a circuit celebrity: now you need to sing, dance and sell your book to the masses. The spotlight is out there; you just need to dropkick all your rivals out of the way by doing everything they do and more.
“My wife/husband really likes my book…so it must be good. I’m sending it straight to a publisher.”
Your reading pool should be at least five strong, containing no ‘yes men’ or other folks who love you enough to tell you that your new wig makes you look like a film star. Basically, anybody who likes you enough to say ‘Chapter three was really engaging but the rest sucked…’ are the folks you want on your team. When your book is submitted professionally, you will be an unknown quantity to the editorial reader who picks up your manuscript: your clever word tricks or cunning sense of humour need to be accessible enough for a complete stranger to be wowed by them. Your partner is usually with you because they think you’re amazing…so, as far as writing books are concerned, their opinion should only be one of several you’ll need for a balanced view of the work.
“If I write a book and it’s successful, I’ll be a millionaire. All the authors in the bestseller lists are rich.”
A lot of people fire this at me because I once got a seven-figure deal with Disney, but I was the exception and not the rule…and I certainly don’t make that sort of money now. Sure, you really might earn your fortune from writing – I have a house of my own thanks to publishing – but don’t ever make the error of ‘banking on the big time.’ Instead, write with passion and determination and the rest will happen as and when it happens at a level appropriate to the potential of the work.
“Once my book is published, all my worries will be over: the publishers can stress about whether or not it will do well.”
Actually, your worries will only start then. However, they’ll change. Instead of worrying about that next rejection letter you’ll start worrying about the competition. How are your Amazon rankings? What do they mean? Are you doing better than other authors? Are you doing as well as some of the others on your list or your publishing division? Are you outselling the other authors on your agency? Does it matter? Are you getting as much time and promotion as so and so, the guy you met at that party who had a similar book? Will the publishers buy your next one? And so on and so on: worry doesn’t end…it just changes form.
“I’ve got a great idea for a story: it’s never been done before.”
Actually, there’s practically no chance whatsoever that your idea is in any way original or ground-breaking: it’s probably been done before by ten other writers…and there’s a good chance that at least two books with the same premise are on schedule as you’re making the statement. Although there’s always an exception to the rule (more on that later), you should do as much research as you can in order not to be frightened or intimidated by similar works. Instead, you need to research your market, find similar titles and then identify your own points of originality and differentiation in order to stand proud of the pack. In other words, stick by your narrative…but never fool yourself into believing it hasn’t been done before.
“If the story is good enough, it doesn’t matter about the writing. The agent/editor can tidy it up.”
Why should they? Considering that every possible tale has been told at some point and that there are an absolute army of brilliant authors regularly competing with one another to grab the coveted feature title slots of the major publishers, then editors are ideally looking for new authors who have it all: the flowing prose, the engaging characters and a polished manuscript with only superficial work needed to platform it to the right audience.
“If nobody wants to publish my book, I’ll just self-publish it.”
Yes…and you’ll sell about fifty copies of it. If you’re exceptionally lucky, you might sell a few hundred…if you’ve got a lot of Facebook friends who owe you enough favours to spread the word. Sure, there are stories of fantastically successful self-published authors but, once again, you’re thinking of the exception and not the rule. The battlefield of self-publishing is strewn with the dreams of authors who have spent hundreds and occasionally thousands of pounds desperately trying to market and promote a book that means the world to them and literally nothing to the mass-market. It’s like buying a lottery ticket and strolling out of the shop with an insane confidence that you’ll win because you’re a good person.
In conclusion, writing is hard. If you suffer from depression as I do, it’s probably the hardest job in the world as it requires a mountain of motivation along with a thick skin to handle the truths, jagged pitfalls and knockbacks that make up the world of professional publishing. If you’ve read the above article and none of it has come as a surprise, then I have no doubt that your approach is professional and your aim is true.
© 2016 Keystone Brown Ltd
David Grimstone (David Lee Stone) from Ramsgate is a bestselling author of series fiction for Disney USA, Penguin USA and Hodder UK.