|She looks too happy. She must not have started yet.|
1. Pitch to agents without a complete manuscript.
Unless you are a non-fiction writer, I repeat, do not pitch to agents with out a complete manuscript. I can tell you for certain, that they do not have time to wait for you to finish your manuscript. They do not care about your book and probably have 20 to 30 other manuscripts sitting in their slush pile that are complete. I don't care how awesome you think your manuscript idea is, just don't do it. It is unprofessional and if you do get called by an agent asking to see the full manuscript it is gong to be really embarrassing to tell them you don't have it or you give them a shitty rough draft. Just don't do that to yourself before you get started. I know it is easy to jump the gun on an exciting idea, but channel that energy into your draft. Agents will always be around, don't rush it. I promise it will be worth it. If not I will send you a stuffed animal from my collection to comfort you. Baby.
2. Self-publish with out a professional editor.
Take it from the Queen of self-publishing, Amanda Hocking, when she says to edit. And if you think you have edited enough, do it again. Or better yet, hire a freelance editor if you are serious about your sales. Because an e-book riddled with errors will not receive great reviews because it looks unprofessional. And how do your e-book rankings go up on Amazon? Good reviews. Don't shoot your self in the foot by being lazy or cheap. Look up freelance editor prices online at elance.com or offer a job for freelancers to bid on your project. Then you can get a quote so you know how much to borrow from the bank or your mommy or sell your X-box. But if your serious about giving your e-book the best chance, then get an editor and quit crying about it.
3. Not building an author platform before selling your novel.
I think this point is kind of a shock for writers, especially older writers. The reason you should do it is that the internet has given us such a massive advantage for building a following before a book is published, sold or even completed. Having a ready made audience is a great selling point for the publishing companies that are steadily losing profits with debut authors. Don't give them a reason to turn you down. Set up a blog and it doesn't have to be about writing. If you are a mystery writer follow and comment on court cases. Or if you write Sci-Fi cover space things or robotics or other hip geeky things I know nothing about. Whatever it is just find an audience that is interested in what you have to say. If you are not comfortable with blogging or vlogging then write a few short e-books related to your novel and publish them for free or cheap to start building an interest in your unique style writing. Just do something so that when a publishing company Google's your name, they find information other than a mug shot.
4. Work on multiple projects at the same time.
Now this doesn't mean don't work on work projects (homework) or a few short stories or even supplemental projects like I mentioned above. This means do not work on two major manuscripts at the same time. First, it can be confusing obviously, but it usually means you aren't committed or even stuck on the first novel. So, if this is the case then put the first one aside for a later date and finish the second manuscript. Just don't use multiple projects as an excuse not to finish a project. If you have an idea that is itching to get out, make note of it, write all the ideas down in a notebook or filing cabinet or .doc file and go back to the first project. For me, writing the idea down usually lets me get back to the original manuscript because I am no longer worried that I will forget an awesome idea. If you disagree with me here because you can write two frigging awesome manuscripts at the same time, then I bow down to you. You win.
5. Write about topics that you are not that interested in.
Sometimes great ideas for novels just are not topics that work for us as individual writers. We all have a niche, a comfort zone, a genre or sub-genre where we write well. That doesn't mean you shouldn't test your limits or the genre's limits every once in a while, but usually to write well, we need comfort. I'll give you a personal example here. I write historical/ contemporary mysteries and with a twist of romance and adventure, this is where I am comfortable. That doesn't mean at some point I won't add some supernatural elements like zombies. I love zombies. But I once started a YA sci-fi novel about teens with super natural powers brought together by an agency to fight demons that were taking over the world by hiding in humans and eating their souls. So, it sounds pretty cool, but it was way over my head not long after starting. I don't really read books like this too often, so I don't know why I thought I could write an effective novel. The point is write what you know. Feel free to steal the idea if you are into it. I won't tell.
6. Follow current trends.
This goes along with the previous section. Don't write a novel about a popular theme or topic because it will be completely saturated and old by the time you are published. Case in point: vampires. I can't tell you how many vampire stories I have read in writing groups and in my MFA classes. It is insane! Seriously, don't do it. Please. The literary world begs you. And actually zombies is headed in that direction as well. The problem is by following trends you are setting yourself up for disappointment because the most popular books about these topics have already been written hence their popularity. And it usually takes about 2 years for a published book to appear in bookstores so by the time your book will get out the trend is over. And you will look like a hack. However, if you are really into a current trend try writing some short stories for an e-book or a script for a web series. Just don't write about vampires. Ever.
7. Not doing the research.
Writing requires research. Even in a completely made-up world you still have to figure out the land layout, the political and economical aspects, language, etc. The point is you have to be consistent by burying yourself in every aspect of the setting. Your audience will know if you are full of it. And many of them will call your bluff and make you look stupid. If you don't want to learn about crime investigations don't write about cops or murders. If you hate Regency England then don't write historical romances. If you don't want to create an entire realm then don't write sci-fi. I think you get the point. This is why your subject matter needs to be something you really enjoy because you will spend months there, and then you will spend years discussing it with fans. If you aren't your book's biggest fan, then who will be? Besides your mother.
8. Using devices of other well known books and authors.
As obvious as this sounds, I have seen this numerous times in my MFA program. What I mean by devices are the character quirks or setting or even background information that help explain and or move the plot forward. For example, I recently read a story that used several plot devices found in Twilight, like having the ability to calm people's emotions and having visions of the future. But the main device I noticed right away was the imprinting-like action where two characters become soul mates at first sight. While the story had nothing to do with vampires, it was obvious where the ideas came from. There were just too many. Now this is not saying that borrowing or being inspired is not okay because it is, but twist and develop the ideas further so there is no resemblance of the other book. Don't get caught stealing ideas because as a new writer it will kill your reputation. I mean like dead. Black-balled. Career over. It is much like lip-syncing at a live show and you don't want to be that person. Do you want to be the Ashlee Simpson of the writing world?
9. Lose faith in your writing.
This is so easy to do when you don't have fan club, agent or editor cheering you on. It is just you and you have to be your own cheerleader. No one is going to care if you don't finish except you. If writing is your true passion then you have to learn to turn off the Debbie Downers in your head that tell you your writing is crap. That you'll never get published. You will never compare to other writers and you'll never reach your goals. Questioning your abilities is normal, and even accomplished writers struggle with it. So, what do you do? I have been writing negative notions down and then writing a list of things to do to beat it. For example, one of my biggest negative thoughts is that I am never going to finish my manuscript. Mainly because I have been working on for quite some time and I have given up on a few others. So, to beat that thought I tell myself I have to write 1000 words a day or sit at my computer for three hours. Or which ever comes first. And they don't have to be great words. Just words. Revising comes later, so I try not to focus on quality just yet. So, see, you can do it too. Just be your own Superman. It's a bird! It's a plane! No! It's you!
10. Give up too soon.
Rejection is part of the game unfortunately. But don't give up. Not if you truly believe that your book is awesome (which you should). Trying to find an agent is scary and many of them are not nice. You may get your hopes up or your heart broken, but every published author has been down that road before. Just keep plugging away and start your second novel. Maybe you never sell your first novel or your second, but at least you have the opportunity to self-publish them down the road. Look at J.A Konrath for example. He had several titles that never sold and decided to put them on Amazon after he sold a detective series. He now makes $50,000 a month off e-book sales and has dropped his publisher in a favor of e-books. You see, don't give up just yet. give it a few more months or years. Just don't burn your manuscript or delete the file in frustration and burn the hard drive. I promise it's worth more than you think you crazy pyromaniac.
So, there is my advice to new novelists. Please let me know if you can think of other things I should have included. Or you want to start an argument over the validity of my list. I'm down. Bring it.
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Let's talk later,