Where Writers Go Wrong

Last night, I said goodbye to my “Get it Written” class who, since January last, have been beavering away at the task of completing a book.  

Some are now finished, some have completed first drafts, some have not got quite as far as they hoped when they started — but a core group has worked steadily towards their goal and are well along the way.

One of the handouts they took away with them was “Where Writers Go Wrong”.  In my experience as a writing mentor and literary agent, one

word sums it up: ignorance.  Not a nice word — but it always surprises publishing professionals how writers who want to be published are happy to remain ignorant of the publishing process. 

This ignorance is often unintentional and takes three forms: 

  1. Ignorance of writing craft/technique
  2. Ignorance of publishing conventions
  3. Ignorance of sound marketing methods


1.  Writing Craft & Technique.

As a writer your job is to get better and better at what you do.  At the beginning, that generally (though not always) means:

  • Welcoming criticism
  • Getting to know, so you can break your personal bad writing habits (we all have 'em) 
  • Attending courses/conferences
  • Joining a writer’s group — physical or online
  • Getting professional advice where necessary
  • Reading, reading reading – books on craft/techniques and other writers that you love — particularly those in your genre.


2.  Marketing (submitting your work to agents/publishers)

Most writers submit their work to agents and publishers too soon, before it's ready.  It's understandable. The work it takes to write a book is herculean.  You're tired.  You think you're finished — but you're probably not.

The best thing you can do when you think your book is finished is to put it away for three months and begin to write something else.  When you take it out twelve weeks later, you will see improvements that you can make.  Make them.  Take as long as it takes.  

And if necessary, put it away again and repeat the process.  At all stages of the writing busines, patience (along with perseverance) is the highest virtue.

Begin the submission process knowing that is a whole job in and of itself that will takeas much energy as the writing.  Always:

  • research your proposed editor/agent thoroughly (in bookshops, directories, websites etc)
  • follow publishers/agents requirements as outlined on websites/directories i.e find out whether they want query letter or proposal or full manuscript 
  • be professional — your submission should be double-spaced, typewritten, clean, neat, well presented 


3.  The Submission Process

Get systematic.  The aim is to take the emotion out of the job as much as possible.  Maybe you'll be one of those writers that isn't rejected — like maybe you'll win the lottery – but it's better to assume rejection, to see it as part of the process.  Nothing personal.

Do your reserach by going into bookshops and looking at acknowledgements pages of books like yours for the name of the editor and agent involved.  Google editors and agents. Read trade magazines like Bookseller and Publisher's Weekly.  Find out all you can.

From this information, draw up a list of agents and editors who have published work in your genre.  (you do know your genre, of course, and you have a precise idea of where your book would be placed in a book store).  I suggest drawing up three lists of 20 –

  • A list (the ones you'd most like to work with – often imprints/agents within the biggest firms );
  • B list (your second choices)
  • C list (smaller firms that are more welcoming to newcomers)

Designate a couple of hours a week to marketing – the same day each week works best.  During this time, you will do all the work related to this task.  The rest of the time, you are writing (i.e. writing remains your highest priority).

Send your work out to the first six on your A list.  After four weeks, if you have heard nothing (likely) then follow up with an email or a phonecall if necessary. 

If/when you receive rejections or other correspondence, put it aside and don't deal with it until the designated time of the week.  When a rejection comes in, tick that person off your list, and immediately send out a new submission to the next person.  So your work is always out with six possible contenders.

If there are any comments in your rejection letter, see if they make sense to you and the work can be improved again in the light of those comments.

Be systematic.  A scattergun approach usually leads to demotivation and giving up too soon.  As does underestimating the time needed for this phase.  Allow at least as long as it took you to write the book to the search for the right agent/publisher.


Getting It Written, Getting It Published

So good luck to the “Get It Written” crew as you finish your books and put them out into the world. To: Bernice, Carolann, Denise, Geraldine, James, Jerome, Louise, Margaret, Marianne, Norma, Rose, Samantha, Simon, Sinead, Tara, Tony and Trish.   

Remember resilience is the name of the writing and publishing game.  Stay focussed and keep the heads down.  

Looking forward to some great book launches!

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