READER FRIDAY: What are the most common traps for aspiring authors?

At the KillzoneBlog Community, we all have varying degrees of publishing experience, but I’m sure we have an opinion on the biggest pitfalls for the aspiring author. Let’s help each other out.

Please share your pearls of wisdom, even if you are just starting out. Bonus points for offering solutions.

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

43 thoughts on “READER FRIDAY: What are the most common traps for aspiring authors?

  1. Unrealistic expectations. A big contract is not a guarantee of a bestseller list, a literary award, great reviews, more than three people at a book signing, or long-term success. Stay focused on improving your writing each time out, and produce at a steady pace.

  2. You have to actually *write* the book. Thinking about it, or endlessly researching it won’t get it done.

    • This is HUGE. I always wanted to dig in and write, even when that meant stinky stinky. But you can edit stinky & learn from it. Fear of starting is much harder to overcome & I see it in quite a few. Thanks, BK.

      • I read just this day that 97% of people who start writing a book never finish it! And I’ve had editors and agents tell me that 75% of requests they ask for never get sent.

        • Wow. Hard to believe the percentage of unsent manuscripts is that high. No wonder publishers require the books be finished. Thanks, Patricia.

  3. To self-publish is a lure
    Which we surely must abjure
    Till our draft is clean and pure,
    Readers’ pleasure to ensure.
    Bad reviews we must endure
    And avoid the scammers’ lure.

    • Ha! Practical advice. I thought of it as TWO full time jobs when I had my day job. But that day job set me up for a choice to write full time. No regrets, baby.

  4. Scammers.

    An entire cottage industry has built up around book publishing. Editors, cover designers, website designers, formatters, marketing experts, reviewers, etc. etc. etc.

    Some are former publishing house employees who were downsized and became independent suppliers of writing-related services. They have excellent skills and years of experience.

    But…some are out to fleece the naive writer. I wouldn’t risk a penny to an unknown supplier w/o vetting them carefully. Do a Google search of the vendor’s name along with the word “complaints.” Also check them out through Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware.

    If someone contacts you out of the blue and tells you how fabulous your writing is, then asks for money…run!

  5. I’m an expert at being an aspiring author.:-) So I can answer this!

    Confusing an episodic jumble of 60k words with a structured novel. Solution: study the craft in addition to actual writing. I hear JSB has some good books on the art of writing.:-)

    Publishing your first novel. Solution: treat your first novel as just practice, and maybe your second and third novels, too!

    • Great tips, Priscilla. My first novel was 110,000 words. I wrote a phone book. That’s what happens when a pantser let’s her characters run away with a never-ending plot.

  6. Fear, from a thin hide. Easy to diagnose, but hard to cure. The content of this blog and the experience and wisdom of its writers inspire bravery, however. So maybe one scathing dismissal really doesn’t mean one should never try again.

    • I always loved reading new authors interviews, how they proudly shared how many rejections they got before they sold. That made me want to be like them, bravely sending proposals until the right eyeballs found me. I promise you. Put yourself out there & it will get better. You’ll find ways to endure that make sense for you. I had a weird rejection letter shredding ritual that gave me great satisfaction, to rid myself of negativity.

  7. Oh my! So many…and I’ve fallen into every. single. one. 🙂

    I’ll gloriously just wisely and quickly choose only one. Ha!

    Someone said, “Never use two words when one will do.” Or something like that.

    Adverbs are the bane of my writing world. I learned to speak in adverb before I learned to speak English. I’ve always been accused of using too many words to describe a simple event. (I see my Dad’s impatient frown now, waiting for my ten-year-old self to explain why there’s pencil marks on my wall above my desk). I could’ve just said, “I wrote on my wall.” But no, I started my story with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” Not really, but you get my gist.

    Solution: Construct every descriptive phrase in my MS without an adverb. Easy peasy! Then go back and judiciously drip them in. (See, I used one.) And I try to limit myself to only a few per MS.

    Slice and dice with abandon. It’s kinda fun!

      • You’re right…no adverbs should be the goal. I know I heard that somewhere. Oh, yeah-my brilliant editor!

        Thanks for the reminder, Jordan.

      • Why? he asked… skeptically? snarkily? foolishly? lazily? cynically? naively?

        Seems to me the right adverb here makes all the difference. Sure I can add another phrase that tells/shows how he asked, but why, when the adverb does the job?

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen the real evidence for not using adverbs. Just because they can be redundantly and annoyingly 🙂 overused doesn’t mean they should never be used.

  8. And I have another one. I’ve run into this a few times since I started my writing journey.

    Not hiring a professional editor, formatter, cover designer. I have a copy of a book that wasn’t even proofread-just penned and put up on Amazon by the author. The sad thing is, it’s a good story-I’ve heard the author tell it. So I was all jazzed to buy the book. Couldn’t get past the first two pages…collecting dust on my shelf. 🙁

    • Ugh. Hate that. The main thing to get right is the writing. That’s a definite YES on getting a flawless edit.

      You also bring up a good point about the other parts of being a pro–and that’s having a professional cover & solid formatting.

  9. I suppose the beginning writer needs to keep writing. And reading. In the fanfiction community I hang out on, I’m convinced that the authors who focus on fandoms based on books (and who read the books) have a huge advantage over those whose fandoms are based on, say, video games. The former has models to refer to; the latter doesn’t.

    As for “keep writing,” I fell into the trap of trying to sell my first novel as a distinct phase, rather than something to do while I wrote my second novel. This helped spark a hiatus of more than a dozen years.

    Oh! One more thing. While “write to market” isn’t a bad concept, if you still find a key element of the market to be repulsive after giving it the old college try, you’re in the wrong market. Don’t kiss the same frog twice.

    • Huge one, Robert. Keep writing, even while you’re waiting on your submission results. It’s a great distraction from the self-doubts that plague you while you wait.

      On the “write to market” notion, I don’t chase trends. By the time you do, it’s gone. I figure it’s up to authors to make the trend. Write a book you’re passionate about, the way you want to write it. After writing YA, that stretched my love of cross genre books & opened my imagination. I let publishers figure out how to shelve it.

      BTW, I started in fan fiction too. A fun way to experiment with genres.

  10. I agree with Robert–keep writing, but also while you’re writing that second book, study the craft! Learn something every day. And make connections–gather critique partners who are at or about your level plus one who is ahead of you. Then when you make it, turn around and help someone else.

    Okay, I guess that’s more than one…

  11. For me, it is the alure of a new project. By the time I finish Act I of one story, I have five other projects outlined and they are the shiny new bobbles that mesmerize me. I tend to drift away. Getting back to Act II is hard. Learning how to focus hasn’t been easy but I’m getting there.

    • Wow. You sound like James Patterson.

      You learn most by finishing though. You need to know how to maneuver around obstacles in a plot or characterization. It can be a confidence builder.

  12. At the end of each writing course, I always give my students this advice.

    Publishing is a profession. Always act in a professional manner. This includes any situation where you are in public as a writer.

    Spelling, grammar, and clarity are part of that professional manner. Don’t send out social media messages filled with errors because it reflects back on your craft.

    Your editor/publisher/agent may be your friend, but she is first and foremost a businessperson. If it is a choice between making money and being your friend, she will choose the money almost every time.

    Learn the business so you will understand what is happening in your career. No one cares as much about it as you do.

    Some publishers use the same kind of controlling behavior as abusive spouses. They convince you that you write crap and no one but them will want it, and they pay you accordingly. If you don’t escape this abusive cycle, you will either self-destruct as a writer, or other publishers in the know will not touch you because victims in this situation usually lose their confidence to push their writing to the next level.

    Publishing is a small world. If you p*ss off one editor, every editor in the business will know about it. Editors also move from publisher to publisher. The editor you annoy today may be your new editor tomorrow.

    Promote yourself, not your publisher or the type of books you write.

    If you create bookmarks or any other expensive promotion, use them to promote yourself, not your current title because it won’t be your current title forever.

    Brand yourself as a certain type of writer and produce all your books to reflect that brand. Make certain that the same readers will be as happy with your next book.

    Strive to improve with each book. Strive to surprise with each book. Don’t write yourself into a rut.

    If you don’t enjoy the writing, find another profession. The publishing business is brutal and, often, the only joy is in the writing.

    No amount of promotion will make up for a lack of distribution.

    It’s easy to be seduced away from the hard aspects of writing by other creative things. Working on your website and book trailers is much more fun because they aren’t part of that bottom line.

    There is no such thing as privacy on the internet. Be discrete. The comment you make today will come back to haunt you later.

    If an agent or publisher lies about one thing, you shouldn’t believe anything they say.

    The advantage of a small press/epublisher is personal attention. The disadvantage is the owner’s life crisis will shut down operations.

    If the publisher believes that the contract terms only bind you, not him, run for your life.

    If an agent or publisher says they are in the business to help writers, run for your life. They are almost always crooks.

    Don’t be ditzy and proud of it. No publisher wants a business partner who is an idiot.

    Writing is physically taxing. Take care of yourself by exercising and eating wisely. You may have an extra hour to write by avoiding the gym or that walk, but you’ll pay for it long term by having your body fail when you need it most.

    Take care of your computer. Keep your virus software up to date and run repair utilities once a week.

    Back up your hard drive! Back up on a regular schedule.

    Back up your books and keep a copy or copies elsewhere. Most banks offer a free safety deposit box to regular customers. Keep a digital copy of your books there. A flash drive is perfect for this.

    Keep a paper copy of your book. If your computer crashes taking everything with it, the paper copy is the very best back up. Paper copies never become an outdated format.

    Keep adequate business records. Save receipts for business supplies, etc., so you can use them as business expenses on your taxes.

    If you have published material, you need to reflect that in your will as well as express what you want done with your works after your death. For more info here’s a few good starting points.

    Keep all your promotion information in one spot.

    Read as much as you can about the business. If you don’t understand something, ask questions.

    The writing craft is like athletic skill. Even a natural talent needs practice to improve, and you should always be learning something new about yourself and the craft.

    A good teacher and a good critique partner are worth their weight in gold.

    A writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. A winner keeps going for the long haul.

    Writing is a hobby, an avocation, or a career, but it is not a life. Real life is what matters most. You will regret it if you look up from your keyboard one day to discover life has passed you by, and the writing wasn’t worth the cost.

    “I’m just starting [a new book] and the battle has already begun. I don’t think they ever go smoothly. It’s work. It should be work. It should be hard work. I think if you sort of sit around and wait to be inspired, you’re probably going to be sitting there a long time. My process is more about crafting, working an idea through my head to see if it’s a good concept.” Nora Roberts in an interview with the “Hagerstown Herald-Mail.”

    “Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life.There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. Your silent heart will guide you. Be silent now. It is the possibility of a dream that makes life interesting. You can choose between being a victim of destiny or an adventurer who is fighting for something important.” THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho

  13. Not sure if this is a trap: I thought once you finished your book, found a publisher, and walked it all through to completion, you could take a break and get started on the next book. I had no idea so much time would be taken up with communication and marketing. I thought that was somebody else’s job.

    • Omgosh. Good one. There’s a great deal of time & money involved in running the business side. Publishers expect it.

      Marketing strategy, promo development, advertising, social media set up & maintenance, blogging, website design & ongoing cost, giveaways, bookmarks, business cards, book signings & travel, etc.

      This can be a real time suck from writing. It’s a balance that must be struck because you often have deadlines from your publisher for THEIR promo & your next book.

      Thanks, Kay,

  14. Not realizing you have to produce your second book more quickly. And that it has to be better than the first one. Wash, rinse, repeat.

  15. Get words on the page, edit after you’re done. I know so many writers who work for years on one book, never finishing it because they want to make it perfect as they go. If you can do that in a few months, great, carry on, but if you can’t…stop censoring yourself and write the darn book.

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