May 11, 2011

Ten Mistakes I Made in my Writing Career so that You don’t Have to by Elaine Isaak

Elaine Isaak
First of all, a huge thank you to Elaine for allowing me to post her mistakes. I am paraphrasing her very informative and eye-opening presentation I attended recently as part of the Maryland Writers’ Association Frederick Chapter. Please go to to find out more about Elaine and her novels (several of her covers are featured in this post as well).

1.       Writing a lousy synopsis – the “synopsis” she initially sent with her sample chapters was longer than the sample. A good rule of thumb for a synopsis: 5-7 pages, single-spaced, third-person, present tense (try to sound like you are describing the book to a friend).

2.       Not sending what the editor asked for – An editor was interested in her series and asked for the completed first two books as well as whatever was finished with book #3. She wasn’t ready to share and didn’t send it. As a result, she was only offered a two-book deal. Lesson: Don’t reject yourselflet the editor decide!

3.       Letting big talk sway my own instincts – know your genre and talk to writers to know where you fit, and then trust your instincts.

4.       Signing the wrong contract – specifically avoid “evil option clauses” in contracts. For example, her contract listed a Right of First Refusal (customary) on her “next book 90 days after the 2nd book in contract is published.” Make sure the clause is tighter like Right of First Refusal for the “next in the series” or “next fantasy novel.” She couldn’t shop around some other books she was working on, a romance series and a YA series, because her clause was too broad.

5.       Selling the wrong book first – Crazy as it may sound, it’s easier to sell the first book (author has potential) than a second or third. Consider where you see yourself as an author in 5/10 years. What book represents that vision?

6.       Not researching competing titles or comparing my work to other authors – it’s as simple as knowing where your book “fits” so you can sell it.

7.       Dropping the ball on publicity for the sequel – the publishing house will not market for you; keep in touch with readers between books via blogging and a website. Another idea: sell articles based on your book or a theme in your book.

8.       Keeping my agent after she stopped working – you want open communication with your agent. If you feel he/she stops believing in you, don’t feel indebted. Better to have no agent than a bad agent.

9.       Losing momentum in drafting new work – Stay in the habit of writing; ideas flow when you are actively engaged. Set a goal (for example so many words per day) and stick to it.

10.   Forgetting that I write because I love it!

I was inspired, particularly because it helped me realize mistakes are part of the learning process. So, I  wanted to share my five mistakes (so far):

1.       Not researching all our options before publishing – Mom and I were fortunate to have a small publishing house pick us up right away (thanks to a contact), but went into a tailspin when the owner suddenly died, as his company died with him. We knew we had good, professional editing (something we did right!), but we jumped into self-publishing. We were ready to roll. We didn’t send ONE query letter. We didn’t really understand agents, but that’s no excuse. We should have hit the internet and found out.

2.       Having no marketing plan until after we published – everything I’ve read now says to start pre-marketing your book between six months to a year BEFORE it comes out. Build your “brand.” Most marketing efforts take time. We were so busy preparing the book that we forgot to consider how to sell it! Also, since we published in late 2010, we didn’t realize how quickly we had to get up to speed to enter contests and other things before our book was no longer eligible as “new.”

3.       Querying agents too late – Querying agents is good, right? Sure, if you haven’t already published your novel. I didn’t get that until I had a sit-down with an agent at a writers’ conference. She asked me why I needed an agent if we had already published. I sat blankly staring at her for a few minutes. “To get our novel into traditional publishers so we’d get better marketing,” I finally said. (see Elaine Isaak’s #7 above) She said we needed marketing help, not an agent. So true. If we were going to be serious about querying, we should have tried that before choosing self-publishing (see my #1).

4.       Publishing a novel during personal crisis – I was so eager, too eager (again see #1). My family was in the middle of a cross-country move and our self-publisher was pushing us to get the book out. I should have taken a few breaths and slowed down. I was making important decisions (like the cover!) while trying to sell a house and transition three kids. So I rushed to publication, but put off marketing until after the move!

5.       Not having another book in the works – although Mom and I will remedy this soon (suspenseful enough for you?), we didn’t see past this book. It was only as people were asking what was next that we started to put it together. Wish us luck!

These are my top five; there have been more and will be more, so we’ll keep you updated! And, don’t get me wrong, we are both very proud of our novel (stay tuned for some exciting awards news that we can’t quite publish yet!). I just wish I knew then what I know now.

I often compare the publishing world to parentingevery time I think I know something about it, it changes!


Annette Gendler said...

Thanks for giving me the chance to learn from others mistakes. I'm sure no matter how hard I try I will make my own - stay tuned!

Lisa @ Intralingo said...

What a lot of *great* advice, Tia. Thank you for sharing... it's sure to help many of us out!

Kathleen said...

This is the best!

Tia Bach said...

I love people who are willing to share their mistakes instead of just their successes. Sometimes we learn so much more from what we do wrong than what we do right!

Thanks Lisa, Kathleen & Annette for your comments!

Anonymous said...

Laura says:

Love this post, and I believe we can all agree, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." ALBERT EINSTEIN

Thanks for sharing!