QUOTE: “Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.” —Anne Lamott
Today, I’d like to share something terribly, horribly, massively embarrassing to actually admit. I’m always telling my kids to “own their mistakes” and yet…I can’t even own one of the biggest mistakes of my writing career.
This is hard for me to admit, but over ten years ago, I published some fiction under a different pen name so atrociously written—oh, those ugly, disjointed messes of storytelling—that the books might make a list of the some of the most horrible fiction ever published. Ever.
Wow. This is still really, really hard, even all these years later, to acknowledge publicly.
Many years ago, I made every mistake that a first-time writer can possibly make, and then in my choices of publishers, along my writing journey (seriously—it took me three years of studying and honing my craft to see my obvious blunders...) to realize that I had a lot to learn. The obvious solution? Take my epic failures and focus them into a positive plan for success.
Now I have closed that chapter on my life for good. I am humbled and grateful for the learning experience, and since writing under a new pen name, I have finally found the success that I've worked so hard for all these years.
The fact is that there are very few things that I’m proud of in those novels. Those terrible books I published in the early 2000’s could choke an elephant with all the purple prose, and please don’t even get me started on the scathing reviews. Reviews so hurtful, mocking, and critical that I bet most writers might never have written another word again. Now I just look at them as a learning curve.
Afterward, I knew I still had a great deal to learn about writing and the publishing industry. Yup, I had to learn the hard way, but it only fueled my burning desire to get better. It is not easy to read scathing feedback on our work. But a writer can either view negative remarks or reviews as failures, or use them to motivate them and empower them to craft a better book. Use the harshest criticism to inspire you to take your skills to the next level.
Eating a big slice of humble pie and using those terrible experiences to maximize my potential as a writer opened me up to take a step back and reevaluate my creative writing process. Having an open mind and a willingness to learn from our mistakes will only help us grow as writers.
If you are getting bad reviews or less than stellar feedback from your critique partners, or even your editor seems mostly negative, don't give up! Just walk away and don't look back like an action star in a thriller who just blew up a parking garage and he doesn't bother to glance over his shoulder at the explosion. Because a writer should always be moving forward and trying to better themselves.
Even reviews that feel like personal attacks should be ignored. Don't engage with reviewers who comment negatively on your work. If you still feel like giving up, then read the reviews of other popular or successful novelists because everyone gets negative reviews. Even poor Tyra Banks, who I like. Or your book could be listed on the The 10 Worst-Ranked Books on Amazon or check out the overwhelming nasty reviews on "You've Been Warned" by bestselling author James Patterson, and his co-writer, Howard Roughan.
Even Anne Rice started a petition against Amazon reviews claiming that reviewers focused more on personal attacks instead of reviewing the book itself. Even the great so-called classics get book shamed in reviews.
Are the stories I’ve published under Sherry Soule perfect?
No. But they are a helluva lot better than what I was writing under the Pen Name of Shame because I keep striving to learn and be a better writer.
Do the novels that I’ve published over the last six years still break a few “writing rules”?
No and yes. In this industry, a writer never stops learning. And I still love discovering new ways to be a better storyteller and gaining handy tools to put into my writer’ toolbox.
The hardest part is getting past all the negativity and rejection. With the Internet anyone can be publicly flogged by critics and reviewers, which can feel devastating. Even to the point of "author bashing" and cyber bullying. For those self-published writers out there who are beginning to lose hope of fulfilling your dreams, don’t give up just yet. All of those negative, hurtful reviews and the mistakes you've made along this career path will only make you a stronger person. The only way to ensure success as a writer is to remain determined to improve your writing skills in the face of seemingly difficult obstacles or painful rejection.
Even though, I have over fifteen years of experience on all sides of the publishing industry, I’m still learning and studying the craft. I was a Creative Writing major in college, and I once owned an eBook publishing company where I edited over a hundred manuscripts. Then I worked as a developmental editor for another publisher, and in the last five years, I’ve even had the honor of editing books for a number of bestselling authors.
Currently, I’ve written about eleven fiction novels and six nonfiction titles, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I had a small measure of success. Many of my books have spent time on the 100 Kindle bestseller lists and some of my fiction has been chosen as top picks in the “Best Paranormal Romance” categories at several prominent review sites. But I didn't get there overnight. I made a LOT of stupid mistakes along the way.
So without further ado, here is a short list of blunders I made as a new writer…
QUOTE: “Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.” —bestselling author, Joyce Carol Oates
When I was first starting out, I did not hire a good editor.
More specifically, a good developmental editor. This is one big reason that self-publishing gets such a bad rap. Most new writers forego hiring an editor, or if they do work with one, then they ignore a lot of their valuable advice.
On the first three books that I ever published under the Pen Name of Shame, I only hired a copyeditor, who later must’ve been ashamed of working with me because she sold the signed book I gave her on Amazon, and I happened to buy it.
A lot of writers can’t afford to hire a professional editor, so I suggest finding a good critique partner or a writing group to exchange chapters with to polish up their stories to perfection once they finish a draft or two.
This post on blog can you help you find a Critique Partner.
Also, I suggest reading and studying the bestselling Fiction Writing Tools series on Amazon.
QUOTE: “Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing, which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.” —bestselling author, John Green
Publishing too soon. (Unfortunately, I’ve made this mistake more than once.)
This means when a writer self-publishes a work before it has been properly edited or revised. Or they submit to agents and publishing editors, but the story isn’t polished and needs further revision. In both cases, the writer misses the mark for that target audience and they’ve created an unsatisfying storyline that readers won’t bother to finish, and then those same unsatisfied readers will leave negative reviews, or the writer will get repeated rejection letters from agents.
Like every writer, I am incredibly passionate about my work. The main reason I write is because I like to do it. Not for the money. No, because I love creating characters. I love crafting suspense. And I love telling stories—my kind of stories.
Best-selling author, Tracy Hickman was quoted as saying, “Don’t seek to be published, seek to be read.”
Simple words. Great advice. Write for your readers. Write what you love. Write every day and don’t give up.
I’ve written a lot of books. Some good, and some, well, not so good. My first three novels were traditionally published without a literary agent. And I hate to tell you that the advance was dismal (barely enough to fill my gas tank) and I didn’t sell as many books I’d hoped.
Looking back, I know what I did wrong. I didn’t have any critique partners. The manuscript wasn’t tightened up and polished enough. I didn’t hire a professional, freelance editor.
A first or second draft should never, ever be what a writer self-publishes. As a matter of fact, the first draft or two should be ruthlessly edited. Personally, I do at least ten or more drafts on my own fiction stories.
Please do not rush to publish your book or start submitting until it has been heavily revised!
Not doing enough research.
This means studying the craft with a lot of passion and an open heart and mind. So many writers don’t take any writing courses, or even read the genre that they’re writing. (I come across this a LOT. How can you possibly write a good story in a genre that you don’t even read?) Even though, I did study and read in my genre, my storytelling style ten years ago was too outdated for modern readers.
This also means doing your homework on publishers, agents, and small presses. Check out forums, search online, and read up on publishing contracts before you sign anything.
Please, let me repeat, DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING until you’ve done some research on the agent or publisher. There are a lot of scammers out there, so proceed with caution.
QUOTE: “The most important thing for any aspiring writer, I think, is to read! And not just the sort of thing you’re trying to write, be that fantasy, SF, comic books, whatever. You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy, SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones — what not to do.)” - bestselling author, George R. R. Martin
Don’t publish a first or second, or even the third draft of your novel.
I come across so many writers planning to self-publish, who have a lot of potential, but they are also lazy. Yup, I said it. They are too lazy to revise or do a few more drafts on their work before publishing it. Almost every single writer that I've worked with as a Creativity Coach has published their book before it was ready.
Please do yourself a favor, and keep self-editing your novel and find some critique partners. (Do NOT use friends or family. They might be great for the ego, but if they’re not writers or editors, they can’t offer constructive criticism.) Trust me, you’ll be able to catch plot holes and mistakes if you have a fresh pair of eyes on your work. Plus, you really learn a lot about your own writing when you critique other’s stories. Many times I’ll catch something that my CP was doing, and then wonder, am I doing it, too? I check my MS and find that I’ve made the same offense.
So don’t rush to publish the story on Amazon or send it off to a literary agent just yet.
As professional editor, Janell E. Robisch advices:
Basically, writers need to build up a cycle of Write–Revise–Publish–Promote for all of their self-published titles and overlap them something like this:
1. Write first draft of Title 1.
2. Write first draft of Title 2.
3. Self-edit Title 1.
4. Send Title 1 out to alpha readers.
5. Self-edit Title 2.
6. Send Title 2 out to alpha readers.
7. Review alpha reader feedback on Title 1 and self-edit again.
8. … and on and on, working in a third or fourth title as you wish.
*Revise is not a single step. It includes self-editing, getting the help of alpha/beta readers and/or critique partners, and hiring a professional editor and proofreader along with lots and lots of revision on your part. I didn’t say this was going to be easy. Read the entire series on her blog HERE
Don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes. Think of them as a learning curve and move on. Because to improve at anything you do in life, you must make a few mistakes along the way. Everybody starts as a novice writer. You must accept and acknowledge that as you hone your skills, your first few endeavors might suck.
Developing your writing skills takes time and practice. You must read a lot of books in the genre that you want to write, study creative writing, and always be open to learning. I have been a writer for fifteen years and I’m still learning new things that help me to improve my craft. And because I’m open-minded and receptive to construction criticism, I feel that I am still growing as a writer.
And because I am so passionate about writing fiction, I still love developing my skills as a writer and learning new ways to improve. Fiction writers should never stop studying because they’ll gain an arsenal of creative knowledge to include in their writer’s toolbox.
That’s one reason I started writing my fiction guidebooks. My goal is always for writers to come away with stronger writing and editing abilities that they can utilize in their own stories and give their audience a more personal reading experience.
If I had given up after all of those terrible experiences and shameful mistakes, then I think I would have a gaping hole in my soul that could never be filled. Instead of giving up, I started over under a new pen name and learned from my mistakes. I studied the craft through guidebooks, reading blogs, and taking fiction courses. I found some wonderful critique partners to work with and learn from. I also hired better developmental editors and gained new insight from their feedback on how to improve. I practiced writing and honing my skills.
Am I a better writer because of my persistence and determination?
I'd say yes. But I still have a lot learn...