Question: How do you feel when you skip your morning coffee? Answer: Depresso.
Okay—not much of joke, but I included it here to illustrate how writers can sometimes feel when finishing a project. I recently completed a first draft of my new novel, L.A. Sniper, and although I’m celebrating that milestone in what for me is a yearlong process, I’m also feeling a little depresso as well—along with maybe a bit of apprehension about sending my newborn out into the cold, cruel world. But I suppose that’s just part of the process.
The good/bad news is that there’s still plenty left to do before then. In today’s world of publishing, writing is just one part of the equation, and I decided to take a break from work to post an article on some of the pitfalls authors typically face on the way to publication.
Let’s imagine you just typed “The End” at the bottom of your brand-new manuscript. Now you want to get it out there as quickly as possible. Needless to say, you want to do it right.
So now what?
Formerly a traditional publisher did the heavy lifting required to get your book into the hands of readers—editing, copyedit, cover design, promotion, and printing. I’ve gone that route in the past, and I learned from my experience with Bantam Books that even with a trad publisher, you must get involved. And if you’re an indie author, it isn’t simply your involvement that’s required. Now it’s all up to you. You are responsible for everything previously done by a huge, professional publishing house, and you must do it well. A daunting task, but nobody ever said this writing thing was going to be easy.
There are five critical areas where things can go wrong. Although there are certainly others, in the following I’ll provide some suggestions that can help you avoid the five most common mistakes.
Solution: Cut Bait. The revision process can go on indefinitely, if you let it—literally taking on a life of its own. This is common in writing groups and with many insecure authors. At some point you simply have to “cut bait” and move on to the next step. Not to say that you don’t want your work to be the best it can be, but don’t get paralyzed by endless revision.
2. Technical Errors
Solution: “Vet” Your Manuscript. Carefully check all technical material in your work, and then have someone knowledgeable in the field vet your story—making certain you at least sound like you know what you’re talking about. For instance, cartridges or rounds (not bullets) are inserted into a rifle or a semi-automatic pistol via a magazine, not a clip—an error I made a few years back that garnered an avalanche of criticism from gun-enthusiasts, and rightly so. Consult with an expert and get your details straight.
Solution: Test Market. You don’t write in a vacuum. Once you have your manuscript (mostly) revised, vetted, and ready to go, preview your work with friends and readers whose opinions you trust. If they find typos along the way, fine—but what you really want is their candid comments on your story. Listen to what they say. Did your story move them? Were there plot holes? Unclear motivations? Murky character development? This evaluation is traditionally performed by a publishing-house editor, but in my opinion a “groupthink” approach is equally effective, possibly even more so. Of course writing isn’t a democratic process and you want to preserve your original vision, but you will be surprised at how often you can improve your work by opening yourself to reader suggestions and criticism.
4. Sloppy Writing
Solution: Professional Copyedit. Most readers will not tolerate sloppy writing, typos, punctuation mistakes, and grammatical errors from anyone. You need a clean manuscript, and for that you will have to PAY someone. Having a friend who’s “good at editing” won’t cut it. Find a professional and use his or her services. Period. After that you can do one final revision, making certain you don’t introduce new errors along the way. And then publish!
5. Poor MarketingSolution: Social Media Marketing. Now that your book is out there, who knows about it besides your mom? Unless your name is Stephen King, hardly anyone, that’s who. Yours is one of tens of thousands of new books published each year. To find an audience, you must market your work. If you sit around waiting for your book to be discovered, you’re going to be sitting a long time. Step one in marketing is to have a professionally designed book cover, for which you will probably need to PAY for the services of a graphic artist. Step two is having a well designed website hub, along with various social media sites—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.—feeding into it. There is far too much in the social-marketing category to cover here, but there are many online sources (Jonathan Gunson’s bestsellerlabs.com or Joanna Penn’s TheCreativePen.com) that can point you in the right direction. To reiterate: Self-marketing is absolutely essential. Note that most successful authors devote around 70% of their average workday to writing and about 30% to marketing.
Oh, one last pitfall I forgot to mention: procrastination. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to grab some coffee, get over my first-draft depresso, and head back to work.
In your reading, have you encountered any sloppy writing lately? Does it irritate you? What are your pet peeves when reading? What are your main writing/publication problems? How do you get the word out about your work? Please leave a comment (click here) and join the conversation!