A common mistake first-time writers make

“What’s a common mistake first-time writers make?”

This question came from one of the students in the Publications course at OCAD U, Ontario’s largest art & design school. I did a guest lecture today about editing, and focused on my core value of co-creation and how it informs my focus on developmental editing.

(Yes, I had a heated blanket on the whole time, and the cat came to visit the screen. WFH FTW.)

I had a few ready answers:
– not giving themselves enough time (a lot of first-time authors think they can finish a first draft in a few months…it usually takes longer)
– assuming their editor/publishing team isn’t thinking about them and their best interests (they are, and backing them every step of the way)
– not picking an Ideal Reader (it’s easiest to write when you focus on one core member of your target audience)

But the answer that resonated for all of us, and one that unfurled over the class, is how many publishing options are available for authors these days.

Photo by Stephanie Artuso

I joined one of the Big Five publishing houses in 2008, when ebooks were taking off. “The death of the book!” critics cried. It wasn’t.

Since then, there have been nonstop changes in the industry: mergers & acquisitions within the largest houses, small houses often dominating award cycles, more editors going freelance, increasingly affordable and high-quality self-publishing options, the rise of the hybrid/custom publisher…

What has always been true is that publishing is about connecting a writer and a reader. The goal is to create a reading public: to distribute your book, whether it’s a limited run of 50 chapbooks, or a huge distribution deal with Penguin Random House.

The mistake I often see writers—at all stages of their careers—make is that they want a Big Five publisher to take on their book. “Big Five or bust.” This shouldn’t be the end goal; it’s just one option among many.

Self-publishing is not a “lesser” option. A small house is not “too small.” And a well-run imprint within a big house might be the true target, rather than just “Simon & Schuster.”

Think about where your audience hangs out. How can you best reach them? Most readers don’t notice imprints…they just want to read good books, and acquire them easily, in multiple formats

Would the topic of your book be best served by a regional press? A hiking guide, for example.

Do you like working in person with your publishing team? Choose a local press, if one’s available.

Make decisions that work for your career, your timeline, your audience, and your book’s purpose.

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