Eight Myths New Writers Need To Stop Believing In

Portrait of a frustrated student being surrounded with piles of books

As General Manager for Windwalker Media and an independent author service provider, I keep seeing the same mistakes that derail new authors. Here are a few of the biggest ones that I have encountered, out of a lot of love and a little tongue in cheek.

  1. If I write it they will come/but my mommy told me I was special

Perhaps in your heart you know you are the next undiscovered J.K. Rowling, but the fact is she spent many years working her craft and perfecting it before being discovered. Your manuscript is competing against approximately 1,000 new books each day, in the United States alone. You may write it but if you want anyone to read it, you need to make it about your reader and not about you.

  1. But I heard/read everyone is making a lot of money with writing and self-publishing


Not even close. Or as my wise old granny used to say, if it sounds too good to be true then they are trying to sell you something. You can make a living as a writer, but it takes time, hard work, and patience. It is a job, just like any other job.

  1. I can just figure it out as I go along

The best time to start planning is before you even write one word.

Why are you writing? What is the goal? To make money or to be famous – see above. The best reason is because writing is your passion and you have a story that wants to be told. Understanding why you need to write, will help you figure out some of the next steps.

Who is your target reader? Write for them, not you, in their language.

This is also when you start to put together a marketing plan. By doing a little work ahead of time, you will save yourself many hours of frustration.

  1. I don’t need a marketing plan, my books is so awesome it will sell itself!

Killing this myth will save you so much trouble down the road.

How are you going to distribute your book? EBooks, print, print on demand? Combination? If you plan on just publishing an eBook, then you might be able to get away with a clean and well formatted MS Word document. However, print and print on demand will require someone who knows how to set up your manuscript per the requirements for the company printing your book.

What is your target genre? If you want to succeed and stand out from the 1000 of books you need to find your niche and promote that. Don’t be a romance writer. Instead be an Edwardian period piece romance that specializes in clean Christian bodice rippers. Writing a historical novel? Specify and be an expert in crooked New York politicians in the early 1800s. By finding your niche, you are also finding the people who are going to want to read your book, and help your rankings.

Do you want to try self-publishing or find an agent go the traditional route. Depending on what you choose, your approach will be different. There are many articles that can describe the benefits and disadvantages of both. Perhaps you will try one path and then switch over. The point is to know ahead of time what your options are.

How are you going to market your book? This is the perfect time to start thinking and to start marketing, before you are ready to publish. Good marketing takes time, much longer than you realize. Think of the worst pushiest salesperson you have ever dealt with. Don’t be them. Social media is a great tool but should only be a part of your marketing plan. Start a blog, build friendships, and solve problems. Build real connections over time, and then when the time comes to promote your book, you will have some solid cheerleaders in your corner.

  1. I can save money by:

Self-editing – If you go on Amazon and look at the number one reason for lost stars, it will be because someone tried to self-edit. After having spent so much time staring at the pages during the writing process, you will miss errors. Typos, grammatical errors, bad sentence structures all upset readers. Upset readers leave bad reviews, which don’t go away. By the way, there are two types of editors, content editors for proof reading and grammar errors and developmental editors which help you make your story flow better. Both are worth every penny.

Design my own book cover – This sounds easy, open up MS Paint, add the title and your name in different fancy fonts, throw in a piece of clip art and voila! Ok, maybe you know the difference between san serif and serif fonts and how they should be used, but it is really easy to tell when someone does their own artwork. If you don’t care enough to invest in your story, why should customers care to read it?

A good cover design will complement your story. This is often the first thing that a customer will see, and it needs to give them information about your book at a glance. A professional will make sure the cover work well as a thumbnail.

Do my own layout – If you are going to offer your book in print, then know there are so many little details that go into making a print book great. Pictures are managed completely differently between an eBook and print book. Alternating headers, gutters, font choices, and a variety of other important details are all items that a professional will handle and that all add up to a quality product.

Have my cousin do the work – The same thing goes for asking a friend or a relative to do any work for you. Unless they are a professional and you are paying them the same rate as any other job, don’t. They might not have the heart to tell you the truth or the skill set needed, so it isn’t worth your reputation. Hire a professional, there are very reasonably priced ones out there.

  1. Nobody cares about the description, I don’t need to spend a lot of time on it

If you have gotten a customer to read your book description, congratulations! It means they are interested in your book and this is your opportunity to really impress them. Start with a one or two sentence summary and then expand with a couple of paragraphs below that lets the reader know more detail about your book. Include any awards or quotes promoting your book. Don’t blow it with typos, run on sentences AND QUIT YELLING AT EVERYONE WITH BOLDED ALLCAPS!

  1. I can write my book and get it published in a weekend!

Every part of building your final product will take longer than you expect, especially if you want to produce a quality book that people will want to read. Don’t use this as an excuse to cut corners, but as motivation to plan ahead! Most decent editors and eBook creators are booked for weeks in advanced, if not months.

  1. Once I put my book up for sale, the reviews will come rolling in

It takes about 50 reviews for Amazon’s algorithm to really start noticing your title and rise in rankings. Customers prefer books that already have reviews, so they can get some idea of the quality of the book. Getting the first few reviews can be painful, especially if you just sit there and wait.

If you have started your marketing and building of relationships before now, then you can offer copies of your book for honest reviews. Don’t be tempted to cheat and pay for reviews. Amazon especially is cracking down on purchased reviews and if your book can’t stand on its own merit, then the paid reviews won’t help you anyway.

This list isn’t meant to discourage you, in fact the hope is to empower you to avoid some of the mistakes that will slow your success down.

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If you liked this article, please share. If you have suggestions for further articles, articles you would like to submit, or just general comments, please contact me at paula@publetariat.com

Six Easy Tips for Self-Editing Your Fiction

This post by Kristen Lamb originally appeared on her blog on 8/21/13 but has some really good self-editing tips.

There are a lot of hurdles to writing great fiction, which is why it’s always important to keep reading and writing. We only get better by DOING. Today we’re going to talk about some self-editing tips to help you clean up your book before you hire an editor.

When I worked as an editor, I found it frustrating when I couldn’t even GET to the story because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

There are many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing blunders you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really? O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Read the full post on Kristen Lamb‘s site.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: To Outline or Not To Outline

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

This post by  originally appeared on Writer’s Digest on 10/27/15.

November is almost here, which means two things: 1) You’re going to be seeing a lot of mustaches and 2) it’s time to start preparing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Over the coming weeks, with the help of my friend and author Kevin Kaiser, I’m going to offer some tips on how to prepare for and accomplish the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Let’s get this started with this guest post from Kevin on outlining your story before the November 1 start date.

Should You Outline Ahead of Time?

It’s an age-old debate: Should writers meticulously outline a story before beginning or should they simply sit down at the keyboard and start typing, blindly trusting that the characters will reveal what should happen next?

Like most things in life, I believe it’s both/and, not either/or. Even the most fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer has a general idea of where things are going, if only in her head. But what is a NaNoWriMo participant supposed to do? After all, thirty days goes by quickly.

1. Realize that NaNoWriMo is, above all, about finishing.

About 250,000 people began NaNoWriMo last year, according to the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit behind the writing program. Only about 33,000 people actually finished the challenge and put 50,000 words to paper—that’s just 14 out of 100 people!

NaNoWriMo is about finishing, and not creating the next great American novel. It’s about proving to yourself that you can lay down at least 1,600 words per day for a whole month even if they’re a spectacular mess.

I wonder how many of the 86% that didn’t finish spent so much time overthinking their story that they simply didn’t write it. In the case of NaNo, do not allow perfectionism or fear creep in and paralyze you.

Read the full post on Writer’s Digest‘s site.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Top 10 Tips for Writers to Stay Inspired and Kick-Start Your Creativity

Editor’s note: Any NaNoWriMo’s out there? National Novel Writing Month, where you try and write 10,000 words in the month of November is almost here. So you may notice posts that are a little skewed towards NaNoWriMo success for the next few weeks. If you have any questions, helpful hints, or good articles, let me know at paula@publetariat.com. My NaNoWriMo user name is Paula1849.

This post by Cynthia originally appeared on her site on 10/26/15.

The dreaded blank page. You just can’t find that perfect opening line. Or maybe you’ve finally hit the crucial point in your story only to find that – poof! – inspiration has vanished. Whether you’re a seasoned author or someone struggling to get those first scenes down, there’s always a time where the words stop flowing. Elizabeth Gilbert, whose most recent book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, delves into the many ways we can spark creativity in our lives, recently answered some questions from readers via Ask the Author on Goodreads. It’s no surprise that many of her answers offered encouragement and support to other writers. Read on for 10 ways to conquer that blank page!

Tip #1: Start Writing.

“At some point today, sit down with paper or a laptop, and set a timer for 15 minutes. You are not allowed to stand up until the 15 minutes are over. During that 15 minutes, write something. Anything — a letter, a poem, a list of people you hate, a prayer, all your favorite words, a childhood memory, a dream. Something. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Pat yourself on the back. You did it! Now do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. You can do anything for 15 minutes a day. Trust me – stuff will start to happen.” Click here for the full answer.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

This post by Steve Shepard originally appeared on Storyist.

“What are you writing this year?”

It’s the question on everyone’s lips at the regional NaNoWriMo kickoff parties. The answer, even among seasoned NaNoWriMo veterans, is often “I don’t know.” So if you don’t know either, relax—you’re in good company. Heck, even Chris Baty, the NaNoWriMo program director and cheerleader in chief, claims he doesn’t know what he’s writing yet.

If you’re looking for ideas, there are pleny of resources available to you: The NaNoWriMo forums, and Chris’s book No Plot? No Problem! are two of the best.

As this is my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d add to the mix by writing a quick how-to on the techniques that have worked for me.


Play “What If?”

So what should you write?

Conventional wisdom says that you should write what you know. If you’re a teacher, write about a teacher facing one of the many struggles teachers face. If you’re an accountant, write about an accountant facing accountant stuff.

Or not.

I disagree with this “conventional” wisdom. For many writers, part of the joy of writing is in learning about something new, and in living in a world of your making. The trick is finding a story idea that captures your imagination.

One of the more effective ways to do this is to play a game of “What If?” Look around you and ask what would happen if something you cared deeply about changed in a significant way. For example:


Read the full, lengthy post, which includes practical tips for mapping out your NaNoWriMo plan, on Storyist.

The Consistency Of Your Voice

This post by Ksenia Anske originally appeared on her site on 9/29/15.

You know that feeling you get when you read a fantastic book and it gives you shivers? When every page you turn makes you want to read more and more, and every sentence is so bloody good you want to read it twice and when you get to the end you’re devastated the book is over? I have been pondering about this lately, having recently read three books that took my breath away, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway and THE RITUAL by Adam Nevill and CRUDDY by Lynda Barry, and having dug up more information on all [the] authors and having read this interview with Adam Nevill and having put WHAT IT IS by Lynda Barry (a book on her creative method) and Hemingway’s ON WRITING on hold at the library, and all this pondering led me to write this post.

What was it so special about these books that got me?

The consistency of the voices. And where does this consistency come from? From rewriting until you bleed out of your eyes, it seems. In his interview Adam said that “there are ten versions of The Ritual on my computer. In fact there are some chapters that I cut out. Although I really liked the chapters, my inner reader said: this doesn’t feel right…. You have to trust your inner reader, write a draft and then leave it. When you go back to it, ensure you look at it with fresh eyes. If you’re only able to write a couple of evenings a week, because of work and other commitments, every time you return to it, you often find that the voice has changed. A lot of the re-writing is about making the voice consistent throughout.”


Read the full post on Ksenia Anske’s site.


Alfred Hitchcock's Bomb: Suspense, Surprise, and Emotion in Narrative

This post by Peter Ginna originally appeared on his Dr. Syntax blog on 9/21/10.

Although I am a nonfiction publisher at the moment, I still love to read fiction in a variety of genres, from literary novels to thrillers. And I think for most editors it’s impossible to read a book without your editorial reflex twitching from time to time, especially when you see the author make a misstep. This week I have been reading an adventure novel that made me think yet again about the distinction between surprise and suspense–and in a broader way, what draws readers into a narrative.

Something I frequently say to nonfiction narrative authors is, “Imagine how they’re going to do this when they make your book into a movie.”

Filmmakers learn to boil a story down to its essence, and to find the most dramatic way to organize the elements of a narrative. They think about this stuff all the time. And it was Alfred Hitchcock who gave one of the most famous explanations of how suspense and surprise differ.

There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.


Read the full post on Dr. Syntax.


Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong

This post by Daniel José Older originally appeared on Seven Scribes on 9/9/15.

Writing advice blogs say it. Your favorite writers say it. MFA programs say it.

Write every single day.

It’s one of the most common pieces of writing advice and it’s wildly off base. I get it: The idea is to stay on your grind no matter what, don’t get discouraged, don’t slow down even when the muse isn’t cooperating and non-writing life tugs at your sleeve. In this convoluted, simplified version of the truly complex nature of creativity, missing a day is tantamount to giving up, the gateway drug to joining the masses of non-writing slouches.


Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.


Read the full post on Seven Scribes.


Raising Questions in Our Stories

This post by Elizabeth Spann Craig originally appeared on her site on 8/24/15.

One thing that can trip up even experienced writers is giving everything away in the story too quickly.

It’s always a temptation for me. I tend to want to reveal things too quickly in my story. I want to explain everything as it happens so that readers won’t be confused.

But when I reveal too much, I end up halfway through the story without enough material to make a full-length novel.

Areas where it may help to raise questions:

Questions about character behavior. Sometimes character motivation isn’t clear. But as long as that character is behaving consistently, readers will want to learn why the character is acting that way.


Read the full post on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s site.


Fueling the Muse—How to Mentally Prepare for “The Novel”

This post by Kristen Lamb originally appeared on her blog on 8/27/15.

NaNoWriMo is kind of like Christmas for writers—suffering, drama, no sleep, heavy drinking and really bad eating habits. Also, we start talking about NaNoWriMo months before it actually happens.

If you are a new writer and don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it is held for the duration of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month.

In a nutshell, it gives a taste of what it is like to do this writing thing as a job, because for the professional writer? Every month is NaNoWriMo, so there is NO BETTER indoctrination into this business.

NaNo shapes us from hobbyists to pros, but we need to do some preparation if we want to be successful—finish 50,000 words and actually have something that can be revised into a real novel that others might part with money to read. Genre obviously will dictate the fuel required, but today we’ll explore my favorites.


I like watching movies to strengthen my plotting muscles. Unlike novels, screenplays have very strict structure rules. Also, it takes far less time to watch a movie than read a novel, so movies can be fantastic for practice (and also our goofing off can have a practical application 😀 ) .

Study plot points. Sit with a notebook and see if you can write out each of these major points in one to three sentences.


Read the full, lengthy post, which goes into full detail on plotting / story arc in the novel, on Kristen Lamb’s blog.


I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writers

This post by Chuck Wendig originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 8/26/15. Warning: strong language.

I am occasionally in a place where I read work by new writers. Sometimes this is at cons or conferences. Sometimes it’s in the sample of work that’s free online or a fragment from a self-published work. Sometimes I just roll over in my bed and there it is, a manuscript by a new writer, haunting me like a vengeful incubus.

I would very much like to yell at you.

Now, listen, before I begin the part where I scream myself hoarse about the things you’re doing wrong, I want you to understand that we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it poorly. Doing it poorly is the first step to, well, not doing it poorly. I have written my fair share of HOT PUKE, and it’s just one of those things you have to purge from your system.

(Though here we also enter into another caveat: HOT PUKE is not actually a delicacy. You do that shit over in the corner, barfing it up in the potted plant so nobody sees until morning. You don’t yak up today’s lunch in the middle of the living room and then do jazz-hands over it: “Ta-da! The Aristocrats!” What I’m trying to say is, your rookie efforts are not automatically worth putting out into the world, especially if those efforts cost readers money to access them. The mere existence of a story is not justification for its publication. Don’t make people give you cash for your inferior efforts. Get it right before you ask money to reward you for getting it wrong.)

Here, then, are some things I have noticed in drafts by new or untested writers, and these are I think standard errors — and they’re ones also that tested authors sometimes stumble into, so peruse this list, see if you have stropped up against any of these sins like a randy tomcat, and then fix your business. Get it? Got it? Good?

Let the yelling commence.


Read the full post, which includes many specific writerly mistakes with illustrative examples, on terribleminds.


S.A. Hunt: The Fine Art of Building People

This post by S.A. Hunt originally appeared as a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds on 8/6/15.

And now, a guest post by a fella named S.A. Hunt, who is a cracking author you probably aren’t reading. His newest is Malus Domestica — I just opened this book up the other day thinking I’d just take a peek, and next thing I knew, I was like, 30 pages in. Amazing prose. Reminds me of some of the most classic horror writers. Hunt has a storyteller’s ear, as you’ll see below.

Some people collect action figures.

I collect people.

I don’t know how you feel about that first point. Action figures. Some of you will probably think it’s childish, or a waste of money, or both of those.

Some of you might throw down a dollar for that janky old Optimus Prime or loose-hipped Skeletor that you used to have twenty-five years ago, lurking in a thrift shop’s toy aisle. Some of you will drop a paycheck on a superdeluxe polyresin Batman from Korea with a cloth cape and thirty-six articulation points and four interchangeable faces so realistic you’d swear the figure contained an actual miniaturized human soul.

I still live where I grew up, a stone’s throw from the real river featured in Deliverance, but I wasn’t that quintessential uphill-both-ways kid that had to play with sticks and bugs, although I did own an impressive armory of gnarled branches. One of them was a three-foot stick as straight as a pool cue with a top end that hooked like a dragon’s talon. I hung a soapstone pendant inside the crescent, burned sigils into the shaft with a magnifying glass, and called it my wizard staff.

No, I had a whole entourage of action figures. He-Man and M.A.S.K. and Dino-Riders; Thundercats, Silverhawks, Ghostbusters, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; X-Men, Ronin Warriors, and Batman, and finally, the ultimate bauble, LEGO. I loved them all, usually to the exclusion of the world around me. Whenever I had a tiny plastic Leonardo (the original Playmates line, of course, bow-legged and wielding brown swords) or Wolverine (yellow and blue spandex, with retractable claws) in my hands, that was the only thing that existed for me.

(Speaking of Leonardo’s swords, in middle school my Harley-riding father, who could pass for a Sons of Anarchy extra and whose only hobbies were turning rattlesnakes into belts and keeping Anheuser-Busch in business, would buy me an honest-to-God samurai sword at a swap meet. As schoolboys are wont to do, I accidentally stuck it in my thigh in eighth grade—the first of many self-inflicted war wounds—and ruined a pair of pants. But that’s another story for another day.)

Some of the best parts of getting a new action figure was reading the story on the back. You might say it was their BACKSTORY, hahaaaaa.

  • This blue guy is the team’s mechanic, trained in the art of Ninjitsu from the age of four
  • This girl was raised by howler monkeys and was taught how to melt steel with nothing but her voice
  • This one can fly and talk to birds because he is the son of the bird god
  • This dude with permanent goggles rides Tyrannosaurs in his spare time and his favorite food is eggplant casserole
  • This man is made of snakes because fuck you

And then I’d ogle the pictures of the other toys in that crowd of heroes and villains and wonder what their backstories were. Sometimes I would make them up. Moss Man spent too much time swimming in the moat and now he’s covered in moss. Slithe is six years divorced. The only thing that can beat this giant glow-eyed skeleton demon full of naked viscera is a quick wit. Lion-O prefers to bathe himself.


Read the full post on terribleminds.


How to Use the Passive Voice Correctly

This post by Kimberly Joki originally appeared on the Grammarly Blog.

The passive voice is a misunderstood entity in the world of writing. It is unfairly judged by many authors. Some writers, without taking the time to get to know this grammatical structure, avoid it at all costs. Others use it ineffectively because they do not understand how it works. How can you get to know this mysterious literary device?

First, let’s start with an explanation of what passive voice is. Passive voice sentences mention the thing or person receiving an action before mentioning the action itself, and may omit the actor altogether. For example, consider this sentence:

The leaves were blown by the wind.

The leaves receive the action of being blown. In the example, the agent is specified with the preposition by. However, the agent could have been left out of the sentence: The leaves were blown.

When is it proper to use passive voice? Consider these instances.


Read the full post on the Grammarly Blog.


What Personality Features Do Heroes And Psychopaths Have In Common?

This post by Scott McGreal originally appeared on Eye on Psych on 6/28/15.

A recent research paper attempts to answer the question: “Are psychopaths and heroes twigs off the same branch?” Psychopathy is usually thought of as one of the most malevolent manifestations of a disturbed personality structure as it is associated with selfishness, callousness, and lack of concern for others. In spite of this, in recent times people have begun to look for a positive face to psychopathy, or at the very least, to some of its component traits. The evidence for this is rather mixed, but there does seem to be a connection of sorts between at least some traits and behavior loosely associated with psychopathy and heroic actions that help others. Bold, fearless traits are associated with heroic behavior, but callous traits such as meanness and coldness are not. More puzzling is that people with a history of antisocial behavior are more likely to engage in heroic acts to help others.

Psychopathy is composed of a cluster of several different component traits that interact with each other to produce a disturbing whole. According to the triarchic model, psychopathy comprises a combination of three main traits: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition (Patrick, Fowles, & Krueger, 2009).


Read the full post on Eye on Psych.


Understanding the Flashback—Bending Time as a Literary Device

This post by Kristen Lamb originally appeared on her blog on 6/15/15.

Last time we talked about flashbacks and why they ruin fiction. But, because this is a blog and I don’t want it to be 20,000 words long, I can’t address everything in one post. Today, we’re going to further unpack “the flashback.” I think we tend to use broad literary terms to encompass a lot of things that aren’t precisely the same things, and in doing this, we get confused.

In my POV, the term “flashback” is far too broad.

We can mistakenly believe that any time an author shifts time, that THIS is the dreaded “flashback” I am referring to and the one I (as an editor) will cut.

Not necessarily.

We need to broaden our understanding of the “flashback” because lumping every backwards shift in time under one umbrella won’t work.

My favorite example is the term “antagonist.” I’ve even been to conferences where experts used the terms “antagonist” and “villain” interchangeably as if they were synonyms, which is not the case. A villain is only one type of antagonist. It creates a false syllogism. Yes, all oranges villains are fruits antagonists, but not all fruits antagonists are oranges villains.


Read the full post on Kristen Lamb’s blog.