Thursday, November 28, 2013

Publishing pitfalls for new writers

by Narelle Atkins

One of the smartest things I did as a new writer was invest in my writing career by joining  professional writing groups and connecting with other writers. I gleaned valuable information from writing organisation newsletters, conferences, email groups, and critique groups that helped me to avoid some of the newbie writer mistakes. There are a couple of things I’ve learned about publishing that I hope will help any new writers reading this post. 

There are writing industry professionals who provide helpful services for aspiring authors.

It is true that a professional writer will invest money in their writing career in a number of different ways. Memberships, conferences, workshops, mentorships, contests, manuscript appraisals are all great things and can provide valuable assistance to aspiring authors. The trick is to know which stage you are at in your writing career and choose resources that will best suit your needs.

Join writing groups that cater for the genre in which you write. Attend conferences where there will be editors and agents attending who acquire books in your target market. Writing craft workshops are valuable for new writers because very few fiction writers are talented enough to produce an excellent first book without a sound understanding of writing craft. 

Mentorships by published authors who write in your chosen genre are helpful when you have a completed manuscript that has potential but needs work to lift it to a publishable standard. Manuscript appraisals by professional editors can be expensive. New writers may be better off finding a critique group, entering writing contests that provide feedback, and learning about writing craft first before paying for a professional edit. 

There are unscrupulous people who make money by ripping off aspiring authors. 

There are vanity publishers who make money from authors paying to publish their books rather than by selling books. Vanity presses don’t reject manuscripts or screen for quality like a traditional publisher. They don’t care how many copies of the book are sold because they’ve already made their money from the author. Authors can buy publishing packages and pay large amounts of money to see their book in print, often with a high cover price. Sometimes the author is contractually obligated to purchase a large number of copies that they will have to try and sell. 

It is rare for fiction authors to make money from a vanity press arrangement. Subsidy publishing arrangements can work well in certain niche non-fiction markets but are usually not recommended for new fiction writers. 

Writing groups can provide an invaluable source of information about publishers. Writers are usually willing to share industry information to help other writers make informed decisions before they sign a publishing contract.

The following sites provide helpful industry information for fiction writers:

Preditors and Editors 

Writer Beware 

Dear Author 

Self-publishing your first draft or a manuscript that has not been professionally edited is always a bad idea.

I believe the ease of access to eBook self-publishing is a new pitfall that can snare aspiring fiction authors. There is now a temptation to self-publish your manuscript that has been rejected by all the traditional publishers without assessing whether or not your manuscript is of a publishable standard.

We’ve all heard about the ‘Kindle millionaires’ but the vast majority of self-published fiction books sell very few copies. Savvy self-published ‘indie’ fiction authors work hard to develop marketing plans and leverage social networking opportunities to reach new readers.

Readers are smart and they will download a sample of a book before hitting the ‘buy now’ button. If they get burned too often from buying badly written and poorly edited books, they may decide to only buy books from authors and publishers who they know and trust to provide quality books.

A happy customer will tell a couple of people about a great product they’ve purchased, but an unhappy customer will tell everyone they know about a bad product. There are now online book clubs, reading groups and forums, customer book review sites, and numerous other ways for readers from around the world to share book information. A bad first book will damage your reputation and deter readers from buying your next book. 

I’ve only covered a couple of the pitfalls confronting fiction writers, and I know there are many more. Knowledge is power, and by sharing our experiences we can help each other avoid the pitfalls.

NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She sold her debut novel, set in Australia, to Harlequin's Love Inspired Heartsong Presents line in a 6-book contract. Her first book, Falling for the Farmer, will be a February 2014 release, followed by The Nurse's Perfect Match in May 2014 and The Doctors Return in August 2014

Narelle blogs regularly with Australasian Christian Writers.

She is also a co-founder of the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA). 

Twitter: @NarelleAtkins


  1. Lots of good, practical advice here, Narelle, for sure. And I agree that the trick is to know enough to find the right help at the right time in your writing journey. Hopefully the information you have here will help some to do just that.

    1. Thanks, Jo-Anne :) Education is the key to learning what you need and when you need it.

  2. good advice! Now to find me a mentor!

  3. Jenn, I highly recommend mentors :) I've been blessed to have Mary Hawkins as a mentor and dear friend for many years.

  4. Excellent advice, Narelle. I have self-published but only after having several commercially published books. Even though I edit and proof read for commercial publishers, I got someone else to edit my new self-published book. I was amazed at the errors she caught and very glad I had done it.

  5. LeAnne, I've been working on copy edits today and we can miss the most obvious things. Good editors are invaluable and an essential investment for authors who are self-publishing fiction.