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3 Big Mistakes I Made Writing and Publishing and How You Can Avoid Them

Posted in creativity, discipline, Fiction, finishing your novel, Getting published, how to be a prolific writer, how to complete a novel, Independent Publishing, Learning to Write, Literary agents, Literature, prolific writer, Publishing, publishing your first book, Rejections, self publishing, Writing a novel, writing books, and writing mistakes

It takes time and patience to learn everything there is to learn about writing and publishing

Making Mistakes is the Only Way to Learn

Only three? Well, to be honest I’ve made many more than three big mistakes writing and publishing so far. I don’t doubt for a moment I’ll make many more. In fact, it’s fair to say I can always find new mistakes to make even as I work out how to stop making the old ones.

But there you have it: it’s a journey; and like any journey it’s made of a series of steps into the unknown. Sometimes your firm-footed steps lead directly toward the goal. Other times you’ll trip and fall flat on your face. Sometimes you’ll walk in broad daylight over easy terrain; and other times you’ll crawl in the dark over rocks that cut you until you bleed.

No joke. It’s a metaphor, yes, but no exaggeration. That’s the writing life.

However, brave-hearted writer, in this post I can share with you the three biggest and worst mistakes I’ve made – and I see other writers make – so you can avoid them in your own writing and publishing adventures, and make speedier, safer progress toward your destination – whatever that may be.

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It’s an adventure, isn’t it? And I would sooner be on this adventure with all its potential dangers, pitfalls, and the real possibility of the road leading nowhere – still less to my vision of a literary Shangri-La – than flunk out in a drab existence grinding the wheels of someone else’s machine.

So, enough preamble. Let’s get to it. I promised you I’d explain the three biggest mistakes I’ve made – and it’s my sincere hope you’ll avoid them.

The first and most damaging mistake is one that, even though I’m now aware of it, remains a potential danger. I have to be very careful to continue avoiding it. It’s a tricky one, and it’s one that every pen-monkey without exception has made in her writing career.

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Big Mistake Number One: Serving Half-Baked Pie

It’s this: submitting or publishing work that isn’t ready yet.

It happens all the time. And the result is an absolute certainty: if it’s something you’ve submitted, rejection; if it’s something you published, zero sales.

The man that once did sell the lion’s skin

While the beast lived, was killed with hunting him

~ William Shakespeare. Henry V, Act IV, Scene III

Do you know what the worst thing is? It’s that I’ve committed it – and I assume other people continue to commit it – even knowing full well that the work isn’t ready, but hoping against hope that somehow the crazy editor will see the hidden genius in it and consider the huge effort required to make it readable and saleable as a responsibility she’s prepared to take on her own shoulders.

It ain’t never gonna happen.

Never. So…

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Don’t even let your imagination go there. Until the work is absolutely, utterly, deeply and totally the best you can ever make it – to where you have no doubts about its perfection – it should stay on your desk, in your hard drive, or wherever else you keep your work in progress.

If you still have any doubts about it, if you haven’t proofread it, if you rushed it off this morning intending to send it out this afternoon, you’re just throwing it into the fire of failure. All you’ll be able to do is watch it burn.

Don’t. Waste. Your. Time.

So what can you do to avoid making this mistake yourself?

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You need to be sure your work is polished. It has to be at its best before you consider either submitting it or publishing it. Easily said, but how do you do that? Let me offer you a simple, three-step process to make sure you don’t send your work out too soon. Here it is:

  • Always account for putting your work to one side once you think it’s finished. Put it in a drawer, file it away, or upload it to your cloud drive and forget all about it for at least two weeks. The longer you leave it, the better. In the meantime, work on something else. When you come back to it, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. You’ll see many things that need fixing.  Fix them. Occasionally, you’ll be surprised and delighted by just how good the piece is.
  • Get someone else, or several someone elses, to read the piece for you and give you honest feedback. Don’t bother with your immediate family or your closest friends as they may find it difficult to give an unbiased critique. If you belong to a good writer’s group where fearless critiquing is the norm, fine. You have a resource more precious than gold. Never submit or publish anything until they’ve torn it to pieces and you’ve reassembled it in better form. If you don’t have access to such a group, do research and join one of the many excellent online writer’s critique forums. Failing that, reach out to someone on your social media, also a writer, and ask if they’d be interested in being your writing buddy and critique swapping. There’s no harm in asking. The worst they can say is, “No.”
  • Once you’ve put the work aside, revisited it, revised it, had it critiqued, and revised it again, you might do well to pay for a professional proofread. If you’re planning on self-publishing your piece, you should absolutely do that, and if you’re planning on submitting it to an agent or a publisher, it will help give you the edge.

There are two sides to this. You will have to do a lot more work than the ever-hopeful failure; but in this competitive field, you stand a far, far greater chance of success if you exercise patience and a touch of perfectionism at the outset.

So, let’s move on to…

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Big Mistake Number Two: Laziness & Hubris

Self-publishing for all the wrong reasons.

I’m a “hybrid author.” That doesn’t mean I’m a weird cross between human and alien species. It means that my work is published both “traditionally” – which means by a third party such as a print magazine or mainstream publishing house – and “independently” – which means, in my case, by my own small business, the Clockwork Press.

Many moons ago, long before I got wised up, I self-published a terrible book for all the wrong reasons. It cost me time and money and it was an abject failure. I removed all trace of it in the end. But I learned from that. My published novels are doing fine. But before, I was doing it all wrong for all the wrong reasons. Now, I’m doing it right, or at least better.

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The days when independent publishing was synonymous with failure are already long gone. If anyone attempts to suggest otherwise, all it shows is that she doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about, hasn’t done her research, and is out-of-touch with current events in publishing. And I don’t believe the two are in competition – anymore than stairs compete with elevators. They each have their turn, each their peculiar functions, and each their dedicated fans.

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However, rushing into publishing your own work for the wrong reasons is another big mistake and one which will lead you into the slough of failure. You should only publish independently as a positive choice. Many of the most successful “indies” never even considered the third party route. They had a positive attitude to the whole business right at the get-go.

For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.

~ Alexander Pope. An Essay on Criticism (1711)

And business is the keyword here. Independent publishing isn’t a straight “alternative” to third-party publishing. It’s a whole other business; it’s damned hard work and requires ability in its own particular skill sets. If you don’t get that – and you’re not enthused and motivated by all the extra work and self-education you must put in to your writer business – you will fail at independent publishing.

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These are the WRONG reasons for writing and publishing independently:

  • Because you have had your fill of form rejections from third-party publishers and agents. Now, if you’ve been amassing positive, personal rejections praising your work, that’s a different matter. Maybe the mainstream market isn’t buying in your genre; if you’re a savvy entrepreneur, you might well sell your work to a niche market. But if you’ve only ever had rejections and had no encouragement from professional agents and editors, it’s likely your work just isn’t any good yet. You need to be focusing on developing your knowledge, skills and experience at this stage. You’re not ready to publish. Most readers don’t give a monkey’s left testicle who published the book they’re reading. They only care about the experience they have reading it. If your work is being rejected outright, your book is not delivering a good experience – and that means it won’t sell.
  • You think it will be easier than snagging an agent or getting a mainstream publishing deal. Nope. That’s not the case. It is much, much harder work (if you do it right) and there’s no-one to hold your hand or encourage you when the darkness falls. There’s a very rare kind of gutsy, self-motivated resilience needed to be a successful independent publisher. It isn’t the easy way.
  • You think that readers who favor the Kindle, the Nook or the Kobo are less discerning and some of them will pick up your book even if it’s crap. Some readers only read independent authors. Some readers only read in electronic formats. All readers are discerning and deserving of your respect. If you go in with a disparaging attitude toward your readers, you’ll be blacklisted, corralled and sink without trace in the indie world.

If you have the right mind-set, the right motives, the correct resources and a steely resolve to learn and succeed, independent publishing can be one of the most rewarding options for you to take. But to avoid self-publishing for the wrong reasons, you need to be sure it’s a positive choice motivated by sound business and artistic principles, and that you’re the right person  to do that work: self-motivated, independently minded, resilient, flexible, determined.

And so to the third and final devilry that might dash your hopes of writerly success – and how you can avoid it.

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Big Mistake Number Three: Doing Anything But Writing and Publishing

Doing many things to do with writing, but not writing.

I get scared. I get scared every time I sit down to write. Just opening the lap-top, my paper notebook, or picking up a pen, works as a powerful occult ritual which summons all the demons of self-doubt and self-sabotage to come rushing to my destruction. I used to succumb. Now I’m far too resilient and self-disciplined. Resist, relax, and write, even as the stinky, leathery-winged nasties pinch and prod at you. More often than not, they soon desist and let you be.

I suspect that fear, self-doubt, and a simple lack of confidence, causes most procrastination or distraction from the fundamental task in hand: writing. And remember…

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You will  not be able to  reclaim all the hours, days and weeks you wasted doing “writing-related activities” only to avoid the simple, necessary and definitive act of a writer’s life: writing.

… that we would do
We should do when we would; for this ‘would’ changes
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents…”

~ William Shakespeare. Hamlet. Act IV, Scene VII.

It’s all too easy to fool yourself into thinking you are using your writing time wisely because the tasks you’re undertaking are at least related to writing. Prime culprits for this diversion from the hard task of putting one word down after another are these:

  • Fannying about on social media – such as Twitter, Google or Facebook – telling yourself you’re “platform building” when all you’re doing is wasting time. Yes, you need to build your platform. But you must assign platform building to its own slot in your day. There’s no point having a platform if you don’t write something for the people who compose it, to read.
  • Doing “research.” If you need to research, related either to your work-in-progress or your writing business, then you must assign time in which you do research. Doing research is not, never was, and never will be, writing.
  • Revising and editing the writing you did yesterday. You must edit, of course. You must revise. But you’ll have guessed by now what I’ll tell you: edit in your editing time, revise in your revising time. If this is your writing time there is only one task permissible, and that is to write.

There are many thousands of other ways to procrastinate, to distract yourself from writing. But if you’re a writer, there can be no activity more important than writing itself. Dedicate your writing time to writing.

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It should be easy. It often isn’t. To write with greatest efficiency and productivity you need to develop your discipline. For many people discipline is a nasty word. But I assure you discipline is necessary to your success. Discipline, required for intense periods of concentrated work, is not a forced act of painful wilfulness. At least it shouldn’t be if it’s understood, developed, and applied well.

But the discipline required before deep work can be done, and the techniques for developing habits which support it, will be the subject of a future post.

So there you have it. Those are the three biggest mistakes I have ever made in my writing journey and I hope that by identifying them and offering practical suggestions for avoiding or overcoming them, you will forge ahead with your own writing, free of the trouble they bring.

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If you’re a writer, or know a writer, or aspire to be a writer, I would love to hear your insights, experiences, thoughts, critiques, or reflections in the comments.

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If you’d rather buy them or just prefer a paperback, the first in the series, Beyond the Starline, is here: Amazon UK   Amazon US   Waterstones  Barnes & Noble  Smashwords  Kobo or ask for it in your library or local independent bookstore and they’ll order it for you.

If you have any questions or comments, I’ll be more than happy to help if I can, or just connect and share experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas.

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12 Comments

  1. Great Tips thanks Austin! And *Gasp* you would NEVER catch me fannying about on social media…or rewriting/editing what i went over yesterday….nope….never, no sir.

    September 21, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Danielle!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Lol. Of course, you are way above the need for any of this advice… 😉

      September 21, 2016
      |Reply
  2. This was an excellent article, Austin. I’m guilty of the first two mistakes; I haven’t self-published, but I have considered it as an alternative if traditional doesn’t pan out. ^^; I definitely need to rethink my position on that front, and should I find myself making that choice, ensure it’s done properly (I actually have a third-party self-pub company interested in helping, but I lack the funds for their editorial and marketing packages–the only cut they would take, as all royalties would go to me. Pity I haven’t won the lottery, yet).

    The first mistake I’m refraining from making again (though I’ll still have some months to wait for those last rejections, as I’m sure they will be; I’m not being self-deprecating, just realistic). This article is very helpful in setting realistic goals and expectations. 🙂 I’ll definitely have to share it via social media for my other writerly friends.

    October 15, 2016
    |Reply
  3. Austin Hackney
    Austin Hackney

    Hi Shannon!

    Thanks for reading this and for your kind comments. I’m glad it was helpful to you.

    Self-publishing might be an alternative to traditional publishing, but only if you know why your work isn’t being accepted by agents and you think it’s a simple market currency issue that you can sidestep as an indie because you know your niche.

    But I must say this, I’m not sure exactly who you’re referring to as a “third-party self-publishing company” but whoever they are, it’s probably an outright scam. Don’t give them a single penny. Any money you have would be far, far better spent on genuine editorial services and you will never need any “marketing packages.” It’s a sad truth, but there are no end of people (the Big Five publishing houses among them) who are sharks in the water seeking whom they may devour. I have surveyed literally dozens of these “publishing services” companies, including those with some sort of reputation, and they are all rip-offs.

    Like most men, they’ll whisper sweet nothings in your ear and as soon as they’ve got what they wanted, you’ll never hear from them again.

    Listen: NEVER PAY TO HAVE YOUR WORK PUBLISHED. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER.

    Doesn’t matter who or what or how. NEVER PAY TO PUBLISH.

    It’s a cheaper and more difficult road to do your research, always dig a little deeper, and get the work done to educate and empower yourself.

    If you tell me the name of the company you’re referring to, I’ll happily let you know the facts on that company.

    If you have any questions about writing, editing or publishing: ask me. My advice is free. I don’t even run ads or make money from this blog. I just want to help. I also know a lot of people. So If I don’t know the answer to something, I’ll more than likely know someone who does.

    Keep writing, improving your craft, and submitting those manuscripts. Keep your money in your wallet – and get to work!

    October 15, 2016
    |Reply
    • Ooh, so glad I didn’t have the means to pay for their editorial packages, then. Ever heard of Tellwell Publishing? Their stationed in Vancouver, B.C. (Canada; I’m in Ontario). I did do a little digging on them, but I came up with nothing but positive reviews for them. If there’s something more nefarious at work here, they’ve done a good job of hiding it.

      Thanks so much for your input, Austin. If I find myself going the self-pub route, I’m definitely going to seek you (and likely Mrs. J.L. Weaver) for advice on the ins and outs of undertaking such a task.

      October 16, 2016
      |Reply
      • Austin Hackney
        Austin Hackney

        Shannon,

        I’ve checked out their fees and I was appalled at the wildly exaggerated prices they demand for their so-called “services.” You can get a professional independent cover artist to do a beautiful, unique cover (for both ebook and print in all formats) for a couple hundred dollars! Professional formatting costs under a hundred dollars – and is actually easy to learn to do yourself, if time-consuming. As for distribution: it’s FREE to distribute your book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, and everywhere, directly via KDP and Smashwords or Draft2Digital. It takes about ten minutes! You don’t need to purchase ISBNs, you can use free ones from your distributors. There’s no point in you working through Ingram (whose fee is under $50 anyway) unless you are seriously pushing for physical distribution to high street bookstores.

        Publishing is easy when you know how and finding out how is easy, too. It is also free. It doesn’t cost any money at all.

        You could get your book professionally edited and proofread, beautiful covers and formatting for both ebook and print and distributed to all stores for less than $500. You don’t even need to spend that much if you’re savvy. For example you get co-editing done through a writer’s group for free, get someone like me to proofread it at a discount deal; buy a unique, ready-made cover for $25 and distribute for nothing. The whole thing would cost you a couple hundred dollars tops.

        Pay for editing and proofreading. Pay for cover art and design. NEVER pay to be published. Its FREE. That’s the whole point of independent publishing!

        So what exactly they do with your $2000 is anyone’s guess. It’s a complete scam.

        October 16, 2016
        |Reply
        • Thanks so much for taking the time to check them out, Austin. As it so happens, I have an artist in mind for my cover–a writer friend of mine’s significant other, who’s done beautiful work in the past. I’ve been paying for her commission in intervals (she’s not overly expensive, but finances have been a tad tighter than usual) so hopefully by next summer, I’ll have my official cover. ^^ I’d prefer custom made to some generic photoshopped version, anyway. 😉

          Joanne suggested Amazon’s Create-Space to me, which looks like a really good idea (should I take the self-pub route. I’m still giving the publishing aspect some serious consideration, and fortunately I have time. I do like the idea of having full rights to my work, so if I do go the same route as you, I’d definitely have no problem hiring you as a proof-reader).

          Your advice and input is very much appreciated, you have no idea. 🙂

          October 16, 2016
          |Reply
          • Austin Hackney
            Austin Hackney

            Hi Shannon.

            Great that you’ve got someone to do the cover! Just to be absolutely clear: the company you’re looking at are not a publisher. They offer “publishing services.” Namely, they charge you extortionate, unethical, indefensible fees to do what you could do yourself at a fraction of the cost and nothing else.

            If you want third-party publishing, then once you’re happy with your work, send it to agents. Get an agent. Those are really your two options these days: get a reputable agent to represent you, or publish independently.

            When you’re ready for a proofread, by all means ask me – but be aware I’m booked up on my freelance work months and months in advance. However, if I can’t do it, I can certainly signpost you to reliable and affordable folks who can.

            I’m off for a walk now – so replies may not be so speedy.

            Take your time, take good counsel, work hard, and be wise!

            October 16, 2016
  4. robert bucchianeri
    robert bucchianeri

    Hello Austin,

    I liked this post (and your others too) and took the liberty of submitting it to the Passive Voice, which I consider to be the best compilation of Indie(and mainstream) publishing info on the Net. He responded that he found it interesting so I think there’s a chance he’ll publish it which hopefully will bring some new eyes to your blog. Hope you don’t mind.
    If you’re not familiar with the Passive Voice here’s the link:

    thepassivevoice.com

    March 2, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re finding the blog interesting and useful. I’m familiar with Passive Voice, yes. Lots of useful stuff there. I won’t hold my breath for the traffic rush, but it was generous of you to share the blog! Thank you. I appreciate it.

      By all means sign up to the email alerts if you’d like to know when new posts go live.

      Kind regards,

      A.

      March 2, 2017
      |Reply
  5. Stacie
    Stacie

    I have found your information so insightful. Yet, here I am feeling lost still in the load of “where to go now” questions.

    I started the journey with a vanity press and have since retracted my contract due to the horrible integrity of the company… but now, I am at a loss.

    Where do you go with your book to have them format the layout and put it all together, is it a printer or a publisher and what are some good names? How do you get it into Amazon and other channels as you say you can, and that it is free even… what does that even look like? Im struggling to see the process and steps, and thats why i had considered a vanity publisher, because I feel lost as to where to go and why. Any help on some direction?

    Feeling lost,
    Stacie

    November 15, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Stacie,

      Thanks for your kind words and for reaching out to me about what to do next. First things first, it sounds as if you have finished a book. Congratulations. That’s not an easy thing to do and few make it that far. It’s a very good first step toward publication! But I’m afraid, it’s also the easiest part. The next thing to do is to decide why you want to publish your book.

    • Are you hoping for fame and glory?
    • A glittering literary prize?
    • Do you dream of hitting the New York Times bestseller list?
    • Or are you simply passionate about your story and keen to share it with friends and family?
    • Perhaps you want to make a small second income from it?
    • Or do you mean to write more books and make a full time career as a writer?
    • These days, you have two options available to you. You can either look for an agent to represent you and sell your book to a mainstream publisher, or you can self-publish. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and which you choose will depend partly on your book, partly on your ambitions, and partly on your skills and personality.

      Self-publishing is the hardest option. It requires many months if not years of self-directed learning, trial-and-error, and an investment of both time and money. People choose to self-publish for two main reasons; they want to be completely in control of the entire process and/or they expect a higher income if they’re successful. If you self-publish, you will have to put a lot of time and effort into finding out everything you meed to know from how to find a cover designer, how to format, obtain ISBNs, arrange distribution, keep accounts, market and promote your work, build an audience and so on. It’s far too complicated and detailed for me to simply tell you how to do it in the comments section of a blog! And in any case, I’m still learning. If you self-publish you won’t be just publishing a book but starting a business. If you have a lot of passion, a willingness to learn, and have a tough, entrepreneurial spirit, it might be the option for you. I would suggest you start by exploring the information available on the following blogs:

      The Creative Penn
      Joe Konrath
      Jane Friedman

      The other route is to find a literary agent who will organize everything for you. This also takes time and effort, but is a lot more straightforward than self-publishing. But if you want to focus on being a writer rather than running a writing business, then this is probably the option for you. To find out everything you need to know to get you started on this route, I highly recommend the book “From Pitch to Publication” by Carole Blake. You can get it from most bookstores on and off line. It’s a first class book by a successful industry insider and will “hold your hand” through the whole process.

      I’m sorry you got caught by a vanity press. I wish they were illegal.

      But once bitten, twice shy, as they say. You should never pay for someone else to read or publish your work. Good luck with your writing and if there’s anything else I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      November 15, 2017
      |Reply

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