by Angela Ackerman
Ah, the euphoria of holding one’s own book. Nothing compares, does it? In that moment, the months (or years) of writing, revising, editing, polishing, and finally publishing are in the rearview mirror. All we know is the joy of seeing our hard work compressed into pages and fitted with a stunning cover.
As someone who studies storytelling from all angles, I can spot quickly when the cardinal rule has been broken, and every time, it guts me. Each book starts with untapped potential, ripe with the imagination of its creator, ready to bring something new and fresh to readers. But this one rule, when it's broken, limits a book's potential, keeping it from being all it can be.
So, what is this cardinal rule that stands above all others?
Stories take time to write, and even longer to refine, especially as we're all developing writers. We each have strengths and weaknesses and are building our skills as we go. Sometimes we don't know what we don't know, and so may not be the best judge as to whether a story is ready to move forward.
And yet, I see writers rush toward publication, skipping some of the necessary steps to ensure their book is as strong as it can be. And unfortunately, it ends the same way - a book that wasn't ready, and the author feeling disappointment and disillusionment when their novel fails to gain traction with readers.
With more books than people on the planet, readers have endless choice. So, the very best thing we can do is give them an amazing experience when they pick up our book, because when we do, they'll be back for more. But if we rush and the quality isn't there, readers notice. Not only is it unlikely they'll stick with us as an author, but they may also leave poor reviews that dissuade others from taking a chance on our book, too.
Rushing also hurts if we're on the hunt for an agent or publisher. If we submit something that's clearly not ready, that's the end of the road with that agent or editor. And what if they remember us and our rushed manuscript if we submit to them down the road...will they be less inclined to ask for sample pages?
When we rush, we seek out editing before a story is ready for it, meaning costs go up as there's more to fix. A reputable editor should let the writer know if the project is not ready before they get in too deep, but this is an ethical line that you can’t count on everyone to follow. And if a writer doesn't carefully vet their editor, they might end up with someone who isn't skilled enough to offer the level of help needed yet is happy to keep billing round after editing round.
Most of us must budget carefully when it comes to our writing, and editing costs that balloon can fill us with frustration and guilt and may cause us to question our choice of pursuing this path.
All careers require time, effort, and training to become great at them. But unfortunately, we can forget this when it comes to writing. Maybe we think having an abundance of imagination and our creativity will carry us through, or a past career where we wrote a lot on the job makes us believe we can zip through the learning curve. Here's the thing - imagination requires craft to apply it well, and writing and storytelling are two different skill sets. Believing there's an easy route to publishing opens us to scams.
There are plenty of vanity publishers and other "assisted publishing" businesses that make big promises to do all the work that the writer doesn't want to do. Because their business model is to make money from writers, not the sale of books, they don't care about the product. Writers end up shelling out huge dollars for something subpar and are often locked into contracts where they are required to also purchase a large quantity of their books themselves.
Bottom line: there is no easy button when it comes to a quality book and successful career. Prepare to work hard and open yourself to learning all you can.
When we query or self-publish process before we're ready, the results won't be what we hoped for, and this can cause us to feel inadequate. When our self-belief plummets, it can steal our energy and make it harder for us to pivot or rebound from mistakes and failures. And even when we write great books, mistakes and failures come with the territory, so we need to learn how to process these moments and learn from them.
If we're always beating ourselves up for every misstep, we'll eventually decide we aren't cut out for this career. And we are! Each of us is capable of learning what we need to know to write amazing stories and steer ourselves toward a fulfilling career.
When other writers are pounding out stories and getting them out into the world, we think we need to be doing the same, forgetting that we're all in different stages of development, and our journey to publication will be unique.
Yet, when we give ourselves the space and time to write the strongest story we can, it may take longer, but our chances of pleasing readers will go way up. And we grow through the process, gaining new knowledge and refining our abilities, which will help us become masterful storytellers.
So, embrace the learning curve and enjoy the journey! It’s there to help, not stand in your way.
How to Write a Book From Start to Finish in 13 Steps
Self-Editing Your Own Writing
Story Feedback: Free and Paid Options
Critique Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide for Giving and Receiving Feedback
When Am I Ready for Professional Editing?
Best Practices for Working with a Professional Editor
How to Navigate Editorial Feedback and Revise Your WIP
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Angela Ackerman is a story coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. Available in nine languages, her guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over a million copies.
Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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