Careers are work! But they’re a body of work that builds and builds. Writing careers are like works that refuse to allow you to keep your sanity (I mean that in a happy crazy way).
Unless you snag an agent right off the bat (good luck with that), mistakes are little land mines just waiting to be struck by wonky words, typos, and misconceptions. Not one of “The Greats” made their name without a plethora of snafus that were magically forgotten or romanticized as soon as people learned the value of their talent.
I generally promote the good stuff.
Whiny writers who complain about rejections, screw ups, and difficult decisions make me wanna scream. Everyone has ups and downs. Everyone gets rejected. We ALL get depressed, go somewhat insane, and have to fight to get noticed.
To mix things up (and because I’m in a silly mood)
Here are some BIG no-nos I did, that others can, should, and hopefully will (yeah right) avoid.
Misspelling the editor’s name:
This should be a given. Writing out a submission letter isn’t that difficult is it? That depends. If you write a lot, and sub a lot, and get a variety of rejections and acceptances, sometimes it’s tough to keep everything and everyone straight. Being dyslexic makes the Can-I-Not-Screw-This-Up game really fun. I hate mentioning it. I hate letting anyone know it’s there because it’s not me, but the amount of effort I have to put into proofreading and training my own brain to actually work is so exhausting that the usual stress of publishing becomes unbearable at times. Which is why I turn to humor for everything. If I can’t laugh at myself, my situation, and others, I will die.
Typos in submissions and queries:
We all swear we won’t do it. Typing emails in word and running them through spellcheck should help, but there will always be that one little missing S or that connector word that decides it wants to play dress-up and wear another letter for fun. And of course, the moment you hit send, that’s when you notice it. Sometimes I send another email apologizing for the typo and joke about my own inability to edit, sometimes I just let it go and assume the rejection will come fresh and hot. But even so, I have received acceptances from subs that held one of those evil typos, so there is always hope.
Subbing to the wrong place:
Even if a magazine, agent, or publisher is within your genre, or they say they accept “everything”, you still have to be careful. Depending on the editor, what they say they want and what they really want may be hidden between the requirement lines. If a publication says they like vegan friendly stories, what they’re really saying is they only publish them. They don’t want to sound exclusive and turn people off to them, because it’s a super niche market, BUT they are.
Just follow editors and publications on social media. Listen to them and find someone you mesh with. There are so many options out there right now; there is no point in customizing your work for 1 editor who is likely to reject your piece unless they specifically request it.
That and I have actually sent the wrong query to the wrong person before. Addressed to one editor but the email of another. (Everyone cringe together. WTF is wrong with me? I know. Damn. You can’t fix that. You can apologize, but honestly it’s just time to go get the rum and wash it down)
Genre hopping like a coffee drinking hound with ADD:
This is me. This has been me for years. I want to say this WAS me, but I’m a recovering genre hopper and I don’t want to jinx it. (Also multiple pen names help…wink…nudge…name changes) Focusing on the stories that work in a certain vein and meet success with a distinct audience will grow the pull.
People like what they understand and writers they can trust to deliver the kinds of material they crave. There is an agreement of between writers and their fans. If you bop around writing 5000 different tales that have no connection, no specific style, and do not focus your voice, they don’t know what to do with you. Be good to them and give em some kind of understanding.
Being too friendly:
That opening line is everything. First impressions are hell; first impressions in an email are torture in hell. Trying to hook em with that first line while being yourself, sounding cool enough to get accepted, AND having the professionalism desired all at once leaves a lot of writers dreading traditional publishing routes. (Hence the rise in self-publishers)
There’s no shortcut here. You either rub em the right way or you don’t and that’s just how it is. (Unless you self-publish, but then you run the risk of being a shitty author who produces crap because you’re too stubborn to stick it out and polish your work. I know I need improving and I get that from working with pro editors when accepted for publication.)
Not being friendly enough:
Nobody wants to work with an author who has the personality of a hat rack. Writers are not generally known for their love of the limelight, but storytelling is a communication skill. Balancing information exchanges with enjoyable experiences is a MUST.
Seeing publishers as Gods:
I have had a bad deal or two. The indie market looks so tempting that many of us go for it. It’s a wild ride. Getting your work out there and self-promoting is rough, but there are some good small presses afoot. Most indie publishers allow authors to have more creative control to run with crazy ideas that the mainstream wouldn’t dare try (too risky for them haha).
Many indie publishers are run by people who are unseasoned and just as eager as the author. It’s fun, but can be disorganized and as risky as that crazy iridescent peacock/lizard monster you’ve been sitting on hoping to find a place for.
Breaking onto the bestseller list is easier for some than others. Not all publishers care if you get there, and that’s a problem. The influx of indies and vanity presses (gross, never pay to get published. NEVER) has led to a flood of material. There are some gems flowing out of this, but for every great piece there are 10-20 funky ones that smell underdeveloped or just unhatched. Publishers are not gods, they are in it to make money. If they can’t make money off of readers, they will try and make money off of their writers (whether through fees – again, no! – or by cutting royalty rates).
Seeing agents as editors:
Agents are not waiting to tell anyone what they should improve on. That’s what beta readers and peer reviews are for. Take a writing workshop or go back to school for that. Agents should be treated like publishers. Send them your best and then continue working to forget they exist once the submission is out. Everyone is writing and so many people are trying to break out that the odds suck. But they tip more in your favor if you do your best to send work that is ready to go.
Supporting crappy authors:
I could write a book on this. It would anger too many people, but it would be fun to read all the hate mail and dodge death threats. I’m all about supporting everyone. I have a large network of writers, artists, musicians, and crafty people who I support. I do everything I can to buy, absorb, and review whatever good material comes my way.
It’s not a secret that I’m into helping others. Unfortunately I used to do this too much. I know: How can anyone help others too much? (you wanna ask it, don’t you.)
Well, there’s only so much time you get in this life. Days do not have infinite hours, and neither do lives. I used to work with various authors reading anything anyone asked me to and giving pointers, hell, half-editing some of them for free. These are services people charge a lot for, but I felt happy to help out, until the same authors kept sending me more and more of the same old same old. No matter what suggestions or mistakes I pointed out, they never improved.
There is nothing worse than a self-absorbed author who believes they are the Gods’ gift to writing. Most of the greatest living writers today know that their work will never fulfill their expectations because no matter how good you are, you always want to get better. (Unless you’re not in it for the art) If you’re in it for an ego boost, a “look at me, look at what I made” moment, maybe you should work harder.
I love finding new authors to support. Reading is part of the writing process. I feel terrible for having to say it, but there are only so many books a person can read in a lifetime. No one wants to waste their life on something that is unpolished and uninspired.
I’ve produced some garbage myself. I’ve made all of these mistakes and more (many…many more). Laying it all out here is helpful for me to move forward, and maybe, just maybe, it will help someone who is listening.