Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 17, 2023

Writers, Are You Breaking the Cardinal Rule?

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.

We dream of happy readers, bestseller lists, and maybe even awards.

And we can have these things...if we haven't broken
 the cardinal rule of publishing.

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?

Don't Rush.

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.

Rushing Burns Bridges

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?

Rushing Can Be Expensive

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.

Rushing Can Open Us to Scams

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.

Rushing Can Damage Self-Esteem

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.

Pressure to rush is something we all understand
 but must resist.

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.

Help for Anti-Rushers:

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

Have any lessons to share about rushing, or tips on how we can rein in the urge to do so? Let me know in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Angela

Angela Ackerman

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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23 comments on “Writers, Are You Breaking the Cardinal Rule?”

  1. Yes, Angela. I know all about rushing--or rather, the temptation to rush. I have a novella that I know, deep down, isn't yet ready. It's currently going through a critique process, which is confirming it. But I'm still fidgeting to get it published.

    1. But you're doing the right thing! I think feedback is such a crucial step we don't want to miss. When we get other eyes on our piece, it can make it so much easier to fix something that's bugging us - first others confirm there is an issue, and often, we get great ideas on how we might fix it, so in the long run, we do save time and mental energy. 🙂

      I'm glad you're loving your novella by taking the time to make it the best it can be!

    1. I think there are a few powerful emotions that steer us in life, and the one I want all writers to avoid is regret. If we prepare as much as possible, work as hard as we can, and maintain patience, we will always be able to look in the mirror and KNOW we did all we could for it to be the best it can be, no regrets, no second-guessing!

  2. Hi Angela! I'm not published so I can't speak to rushing to publication with hindsight. On the other hand, I have a series I've completely drafted and am preparing (thank you for your books). I started the series in 2016 and my conscious decision then was to wait to have it all ready.

    Partly, yes, it was because I didn't want a big lag between books. The more important reason, though, was because I had great ideas, but I wasn't a good enough writer to make them reality seven years ago. All I have to do is look at old samples and I can see that truth. I think that's the best reason to keep our old writing around. It tells us how far we've come.

    1. First, I love that you were self-aware enough to know you wanted to grow as a writer so you could do justice to your story ideas - this is just such a great attitude to have, and I think brings a lot of happiness and satisfaction when you know you've done all the right things. Good on you!

      Second, I understand the desire to not have a big lag between books for a series. I know a lot of folks who will have two ready to go and the third (or more) in revisions so they can release them within a shorter window.

      And Third, I am so glad our books have helped you! That is just so wonderful to hear, and is very validating! Thank you for letting me know!

    1. Yes, good point - this is another side of the puzzle. We can become so focused on getting the book published, we are not prepared for what comes after. This is another learning curve, and why researching and learning about marketing before publication is so important. Writers hopefully will have some key things in place - a website, the start of a platform, and research on where their ideal audience is and how they are going to try and connect with them, etc. Starting with this as a foundation will make the marketing road easier.

  3. This is such a kind take on this issue. Rushing is the absolute death of careers and confidence. It is hard to be patient while our craft catches up to our muse, but we MUST.

  4. Thank you for this fantastic post! I recently instituted a "no deadlines" policy at my tiny publishing house because I'm tired of authors trying to rush. Books take time! And I refuse to put one out before it is ready. I'm going to refer anyone who questions that to this beautiful post.

  5. Excellent article! As an editor and book doctor, I see a lot of manuscripts that are not ready for publishing--and a lot that aren't even ready for professional editing yet. Thanks to the advice and example of a small but mighty indie publisher I work with often, I'm getting better at telling those authors that and sending their work back for rewriting. Those manuscripts almost invariably come back in much better shape. And the "no deadlines" philosophy has relieved a ton of pressure! Thanks for publishing this insightful article.

    1. I'm glad you let authors know when they need to continue developing, because this helps them so much in the long run, and saves them money and heartache. A career in this field isn't easy, so we really have to do all we can to grow and put our best story on the page.

  6. This is HARD. But, I agree 100%! If I had published the first draft of my first novel, I would have disappointed myself and any readers i might have attracted. Waiting, working hard, and learning I became a much better writer and am proud of my books. Still, I need the reassurance that it's okay to wait so I can put out a quality product. Thanks for an excellent and encouraging post.

  7. Great post and necessary advice. As a developmental editor, I sometimes run into writers who have gotten feedback but start to query agents while they are still revising their novels. Somehow they are in a "rush." Writers really shouldn't start querying until they've made their novel the best it can be. And what if you get a full request from an agent while you're still working on the revision? You don't want to be in that situation.

    1. Oh man, this is exactly it. Far too soon to query. I think there's a myth some still believe that agents/editors will do the heavy lifting to get a book where it needs to be. Writers don't realize both are looking for manuscripts that are in amazing shape, not just a fresh, marketable book. They get plenty of submissions, and so only the best are chosen when you're dealing with a reputable agent or editor.

  8. Good, quotable article.

    I see occasional posts where aspiring authors eschew several forms of editing, in favor of “keeping it real” or “natural.” They’re few, but usually insistent. Unfortunate.

    As for my own work, I stumbled early, but have surrounded myself with as many talented people as I can in critique groups, and that, articles, and books have greatly helped me improve the quality of my story writing.

    Speed, unfortunately, eludes me. I may err to far in the opposite direction.

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