Did you slip a stitch?

Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life. Sophia Loren.  

Word count: 501       Reading time: 1-2 mins.

On April 20th I’ll be part of a panel at the North Shore Writers’ Festival discussing the road to publication and beyond. Apparently the most frequently asked question at last year's festival was, “How can I get published?”

To be honest, in an effort to get published, it’s easy to make mistakes. If I were to admit every error of mine in this process, I’d have to break my 600-word limit for this blog. So I’ll start with the things I’ve done right so far, the shorter list by far: 

  • I started writing for the simple love of writing. I really didn’t care where the stories went or who liked them. I wrote for fun.
  • Eventually I wanted outside validation so I submitted to local writing competitions and gradually gathered some publication credits and prizes.
  • After six or seven years as an autodidact, I took a writing course and discovered how little I actually knew about what I was doing. Formal study was a turning point; it helped me understand what does and doesn’t work. It also underscored how important meaningful feedback is.
  • I learned to be a ruthless self-editor, silence my ego, and accept that my novels need multiple revisions.  

Everything I’ve learned has made me want to learn more so I’ve also listened to, read the blogs and followed the tweets of publishing professionals. I want to learn not just from my own mistakes – everyone does that – but from other people’s as well.

So here are some of the missteps emerging writers make:

  • Submitting work too soon. 
  • Submitting work that is poorly edited.
  • Using the shotgun approach – sending work to the wrong agent or publisher.
  • Sending a poorly constructed query letter
  • Not knowing your market. (i.e. What are the comparable books in this genre? What is a standard word count? - see Chuck Sambuchino's blog on the latter point.)

As to the actual work: at the Agent Idol session at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in 2008 and again in 2010, agents were asked what they didn’t like to find in their slush piles. The top answers were:

  • Books that begin with prologues (I didn’t understand this well until I read Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole, pp 43-45. Her book isn’t just about kidlit!)
  • Books that begin with someone looking out the window
  • Books that begin with dream sequences

If you’ve made any of these mistakes, it only proves you’re trying. Only those who are asleep make no mistakes (Ingvar Kamprad). If you really want to avoid common errors and you have a free half hour or so, read JM Tohline’s blog The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Agents. You could save yourself some embarrassment.

What mistakes have you made in your efforts to get published so far? Have you failed to immerse yourself in practice and study so that your writing continually improves? Have you rushed to query a manuscript before it was ready?  

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons by rmkoske