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5 Mistakes I’ve Made in My Journey to Publication

Monday, October 10, 2011

I often share writing tips and how I manage my writing career while juggling all my other responsibilities. But lest I come across as perfect and having my act together all the time, I decided to share some of the mistakes I’ve made too. Because I’m definitely NOT perfect. I've made plenty of mistakes. And I continue to struggle and grow every day.

Here are five mistakes that I’ve made over the past several years:

1. I’ve written too realistically.

I’ve had to do major rewrites on my first two published books, in part because I didn’t make my characters likable enough. For example, in my latest release, The Doctor’s Lady, my heroine travels to Oregon over a span of seven months using a sleigh, steamboat, and eventually a covered wagon. Had I been in her position, I would have whined and complained and been miserable about two days into the trip.

In my first draft, I shaped my heroine to react the way I would if I were in her shoes. But readers don’t want a whiny, complaining character. Yes, they want a slightly imperfect character who has room to grow. But the heroine (or hero) has to react to the problems the way we ideally would. In other words, we have to portray them the way we WISH we could handle problems, not the way we actually do (thanks to Jill Kemerer for that revelation!).

2. I’ve allowed myself to get too close to my story.

Invariably I fall in love with every first draft I write. With each book, I tell myself it’s the best I’ve written to date. And I falsely hope and believe that everyone else will read it and fall in love with it too.

But I’m realizing I’ve set my expectations too high. On each of the three books I’ve turned in to my publisher, my editors have not fallen immediately in love. In fact, they’ve given me tough critiques on each.

I have to accept that I can’t write a perfect first draft—and probably never will. I can keep growing and learning all I can and trying to improve. But ultimately, I’ll never reach the place where I’ll be able to go without constructive feedback on how to make the book better.

3. I wasn't prepared for the increase in my workload.

Early on, I naively believed that being a published author consisted primarily of writing books. And while it does, I’ve come to realize that the writing is only one aspect of a writing career. The job description of a modern writer is much bigger than I ever imagined and hence the workload is much bigger than I anticipated.

4. I had too high of expectations for the sales of my first book.

Every author dreams of having people ooh and aah over his or her book, of getting glowing reviews, and subsequently having tremendous sales that surprise and delight everyone at the publishing house.

Yes, I’m having an excellent response to both of my books (currently The Preacher’s Bride has 90 five star reviews on Amazon.) And yes, my sales are successful for a debut author, but they aren’t close to what the big bestselling authors are bringing in.

Most debut authors can’t bypass the climb to success. We have to take it one rung at a time just like most of those bestselling authors did. We build our readerships slowly but surely with time and a lot of hard work.

5. I’d hoped that my marketing efforts could eventually decrease with subsequent books.

I was hoping as my readership grew that I’d eventually have to do less marketing and my books would sell without me having to go to so much work.

But as I’ve watched other authors and conversed with my agent, I’m realizing I can’t ever take my sales for granted. If I want to continue to expand my readership, I will need to keep an active role in marketing my books. Yes, even though my publisher does a top-notch job in promoting their authors, I still need to do my part—with each book.

So those are a few of my mistakes. Since I’ve fessed up, now it’s your turn! What mistakes have you made in your writing journey?

*Photo credit: flickr 

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Here's where I'm at in my blog tour! Stop by!

Monday 10/10: I'm guest posting at Roni Loren's blog and talking about whether sweet (sexless) romances are boring or not. (Plus a book giveaway!)

Monday 10/10: Sarah Forgrave is sharing how The Doctor's Lady is a page-turner in her post, "Top 5 Signs You're Reading a Page Turner."

Tuesday 10/11: I'm visiting with Julie Musil on her blog and sharing more about my writing process. (Plus a book giveaway!)

Tuesday 10/11: Sherri Stone asked me if I can ever read through a manuscript and NOT find something to change. Find out my answer on her blog. (Plus a book giveaway!).

31 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Jody. Nobody's perfect, but sometimes it's easy to look at the glimpses of other people's lives we get from online or the media or wherever and forget that even "successful" people have their struggles.

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  2. I think my biggest mistake is always thinking I can model my efforts after someone else's. The "It worked for them, I'll try that" attitude. We are all different. We have different schedules. Different goals. The path before each one of us is different. And we were created differently w/ different talents. Each writer has to find their unique way of doing things that they can carry over the long haul.

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  3. I haven't made any....

    HA! Yeah right! I've made loads. Lots of small little things here and there that I look back on and say, "Doh!"

    Like saying "um" a million times in an audio span recording I did for the sales reps.

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  4. My biggest mistake was trying to model my own writing on that of other authors. I spent such a long time trying to write like other people I forgot to write like me! Thankfully I'm teaching myself to get over that now.

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  5. I queried after writing my first novel. I had to write at least three more before my work was query-worthy.

    ~ Wendy

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  6. I appreciate this, Jody! It's nice to know some of the ins and outs from someone who has been there...And written two wonderful books! :)

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  7. I just read a book where I thought exactly what you said in #1. I loved the main character because in a way she was just like me. Then, I thought, no, she's how I wish I were. Flaws and all.

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  8. My mistakes are too many to mention!! :-) Thanks for sharing... I tend to have "lofty" dreams and ideas of how things are gonna go... and more oft than not, I realize quickly that my expectations are way too high!!

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  9. Everything you said rang a huge bell with me.

    My biggest mistake so far has been to write in different genres. No one book is a natural follow-up, in terms of genre, to another book. It's a shame that it took several books for me to realise that I should have stuck to one genre.

    Liz

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  10. What a fantastic post! I appreciate these real world examples from published authors, and it gives me a place to set expectations. Not that I don't hope to sell like Grisham on my first book out the gate :).

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  11. Biggest mistake? Thinking, "Oh, all those things, i.e. problems, pitfalls, typical things, won't happen to me."
    Uh, right.
    They all did--and then some.
    The year my nonfiction book came out? I was sick unto death (no exaggeration!), which totally messed with my plans to market my book. I didn't pencil in "recovery time" when I jotted down my To Do list.
    With a novel coming out, I know I won't do it all right--and I'm even trying to plan for the unexpected.

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  12. Thanks for the post. I struggle with unrealistic hopes the most. I just wrote flash fiction for a contest that of course will win first prize. I expected to score high on the Genesis contest, but that didn't happen. And because an agent has expressed interest in my first novel, I dream of a bidding war. So I write and hope for the best, but also hope I will have a mature reaction to reality.

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  13. Hi everyone! I appreciate all of your sharing today. It takes vulnerability to admit our mistakes. So thank you! :-)

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  14. Thank you so, so much for this! I appreciate your helping and guiding us less knowledgeable newbie writers on our way.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  15. I so understand #1--If my critters don't like my character, guess who I made them act like? Me. Quite the blow to the ego when your critters dislike everything that resembles you. :( I don't know if I've been at this long enough to know what mistake I am making now is the biggest. :)

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  16. Number 2 strikes a chord with me. My first book, I fell to hard into it. I've learned to stand back.

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  17. Jody, I've made some of the same mistakes that you made, and I'm not even published yet! Uh oh... :) But once again I'll say thanks for sharing. It's so good to know I'm not alone in this. :)

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  18. Thanks for sharing what you learned in your writing journey, Jody.

    I created a character whose personality was a little too sassy in the first chapter of the novel. The editor of the publishing house I sent it to a few years ago felt that this was a bit excessive for the Christian market. Although I didn't agree with the editor at first, I took her advice and went back and restructured the character. It has helped make that character much more likeable.

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  19. This is why we love your blog. Your honesty and humility.

    Mistakes....hmmm....a lot, but mainly it's writing style. I had to learn to dump the backstory, to not begin every paragraph with "he" or the character's name, things like that. I learn something new every day, and that's the beauty of writing!

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  20. First, I'm so thankful for your friendship because having "real" discussions leads me to breakthroughs. Since I've struggled with the "likable" character issue off and on, talking to you helped me clarify the problem and the solution.

    Second, I feel like I'm making new mistakes every year. Sometimes my dreams are too small; other times they're too big. I spend too much time on social media; I spend too little time on social media.

    I'll always think I can do more than I can! That's probably my biggest mistake!

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  21. What you said about marketing, I think holds true for bloggers, too. It's not enough to get 500 followers. For most of us, it takes work to keep people reading.

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  22. Thanks for your honesty. It seems the more I write, the less I know. And yet, I love this whole business and the art of writing.

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  23. I always love your honesty, Jody. Like others have said, I've made too many mistakes to count. Thankfully the Lord's mercies are new every morning. :)

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  24. Thank you for this Jody.I made that same mistake of making my characters too realistic and had to change that finally in this book! Tough one to learn for me anyways.
    Other mistakes? this post box is not big enough! But bad queries and querying too soon,thinking too that my draft was good and it needed work.

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  25. Thank you so much for sharing, Jody. Your post encouraged me! I've made so many mistakes with my writing, and there's still so much to learn.

    I love what you said about writing characters who respond the way we ideally wish we would. I'm going to put that on a sticky note!

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  26. I've been bitten by the first two, and thanks for the warning of what to expect with the other points. Excellent advice.

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  27. I think #2 is the case for every writer. Even when we tell ourselves we've developed a thick skin and we think we're ready to hear anything, we still hope our editors/critiquers won't find *too* many mistakes and are disappointed when they do.

    Thanks for letting us into the post-publication mistakes.

    PS. I got "The Preacher's Wife" and I'm looking forward to reading it! :-)

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  28. Sorry, I meant "The Preacher's Bride"!!!!

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  29. Thank you, Lorena for getting my book! I hope you'll enjoy it! And no worry about the title! That happens all the time! :-)

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  30. My main mistake right now is not trusting myself to finish what I started - thinking that I'm not cut out for writing, so why would I waste time working on a novel that may never get published? But I'm learning that, just like real estate in Southern California is all about location, location, location, writing is all about practice, practice, practice. Even if my first novel doesn't get published, writing it will help my next one to be greatly improved.

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  31. Thanks for the wisdom. This is a great post for beginning writers to read. We all tend to have unrealistic expectations.

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