These are the big ten mistakes we have found both fiction and nonfiction authors make, well before they finish their final drafts of their first book and sometimes they keep repeating these mistakes:
1) Everything and the Kitchen Sink.
2) Why just one book?
3) Story, Story, Story.
4) Going Deeper: Character Development and Personal vulnerability.
5) Read and Research the competition.
6) Who is going to read it? Writing M.
7) Your Process. Outlining or Pantsing or both?
8) Do you need to do actual research too? Health, Historical, etc.
9) Marketing vs. Passion.
10) What you forgot to include: You.
The first five are in last week’s posts:
5 More Things You Must Know for Your First Book
5) Read and Research the Competition
I am constantly amazed that when I ask writers if they have researched what is on the market right now by way of competition–by that I mean looked at other books in their genre or specifically their subject matter–how many times they confess they haven’t. Any other product you would expect it. Does Dyson take a look at what Hoover and Dust Devil are up to? Darn right. I hear every excuse in the proverbial excuse book: My book is unique. I’m starting a new trend. I don’t care because the book is for me (see next entry). I used to read a lot in this genre but nothing recently. You have to hook into your genre or subject and its readers in real time. Yes, you might be just fine, but better to know than not know. It takes a lot of time and energy to write a book, don’t waste it doing rewrites especially when you could find out ahead what the trends, genre rules, latest catch words, and what you may use as a springboard.
6) Who is going to read it? Writing M.
This does follow the previous tip but with some more thoughts. First, if you did answer that the book is for you and you don’t care who reads it, we call that journalling or therapy or, to be blunt, writing masturbation. We always write for others, secretly, even if the idea and the fear of judgment scares the bejesus out of us. I wrote a book, Writing with Cold Feet, just for people who feel the fear and it stops them from finishing, or even starting. So since you are writing for others, who? When I ask new writers, they will often say everybody. Bzzzt. Wrong answer. You, nor anyone else, writes for everybody. My husband won’t read Harry Potter to save his life. J. K. Rowling believed she was writing for boys, that she crossed a wider audience is true but I am not sure her publishers or she would have done a better job knowing this at first. Many writers do get to know who their writers are as they go along but I think it helps to know if you are writing for men, women, boys, girls, which sexual orientation, what interests. Are they gamers, intellectual elites, literati, city dwellers, animal lovers, New Agers or traditional religious focus? You may want to have a think about who they are exactly.
7) Your Process. Outlining or Pantsing or Both?
This is the raging debate for serial authors, do you create outlines first or just start writing and see where it goes–known as pantsers, or writing by the seat of your pants? Even among non-fiction authors I know people who claim to “channel” their entire books (pantsing). This would necessarily make more work for their editor I am certain. Among the fiction spectrum there are both types but there is no doubt who puts out more product (quantity of books, not judging quality), and that would be the outliners. The ones who do both are not far behind. They outline but allow themselves to go off of the outline and revise it. The pantsers are less successful at quantity but may have a certain (not necessarily better) quality than the outliners. But, no one’s quality went downhill by learning a little planning and outlining , with the license to revise as seen fit. This means boning up on basics of story structure. It is helpful to know the rules before you try to bend them, and in storytelling, use showing over telling and write that right into your outline. This is what we like to review at our writing retreats, thereby helping people in both quality and quantity and hopefully the ability to finish.
8) Do you need to do actual research too? Health books, historical fiction, etc.
If your manuscript requires real research, for example it involves history or technical knowledge that must be accurate or at least very believable, then as a new writer there are two pitfalls that you may fall into. The first, is to do too little research and base everything on your own experiences. This may be fine for a memoir, but even memoirs require a little bit of research into background history. I have seen people trying to write books on health issues, claiming to solve serious problems by just basing it on their own experiences. I have an issue with this. Everybody is different and what works for one person may not work for everybody. It bodes well to do a little or a lot of medical, historical and scientific research to be in good conscience when you release something to the world. Use reliable and respected sources not just anecdotal information. In historical fiction, die hard readers can be quite brutal if they catch you making up things and passing it off as accurate. If you are going to go off into another reality (Slipstream genre), then you have to give big clues that that is what you have done and focus on the readers that love that twist.
The second pitfall is to do too much research and get lost in it with the danger of never finishing your writing. This happens to the best of us. Learning the right amount of research to do is a skill that you gather over time, but if you find you are failing to get enough words on the page, perhaps you need to take a serious break from research and start writing again. You can always go back later.
9) Marketing vs. Passion.
The previous tips on this list may have you wondering what is best, do I start with marketing first, or do I write my passion first? My simple answer to this is you should do both at the same time. Don’t ignore trying to do your market research, reader profiles, competition and genre research, but don’t do it so much it kills your passion or why you wanted to write in the first place. It all comes down to balance. Striking that balance is why new writers make these mistakes, because they don’t know there should be a balance. Ultimately, no one can tell you what balance will work for you. That is always somewhat of a mystery.
10) What you forgot to include: You
Of the mistakes people will make on their first books a common one is to forget to include themselves. When I say this, I may mean it literally, or more soulfully. If you are writing a nonfiction book and it is based a lot on your own experiences, don’t be afraid to include personal stories. This may seem obvious but a lot of people shy away from telling things that are very personal. And they tell their story in a distant way rather than showing and reliving the emotional reality for the readers, which often is more interesting and authentic. It all comes down to being vulnerable which will always be revealing for the author, but far more endearing and engaging for readers.
This pops up just as much in fiction. One can believe one is hiding behind characters and a make-believe world, but, if those characters are portraying an ego ideal, a person without flaws or with very superficial or inauthentic flaws it will stick out like a sore thumb. It won’t resonate with readers. To find our best flaws for characters we must look at our own flaws, our own fears, and our own shortcomings. In short, include the best and the worst of you.
I hope this has been helpful to any writers who are struggling with that first manuscript. But, if you are feeling overwhelmed there is one last piece of advice… get help. Get help from people who have been there before. Read books and enlist a writing coach or developmental editor who can help you navigate your first time. Then your second time, and all other times, you will better know the path and the way will be less of a mystery. That is when you will suddenly discover that you have written more than one book.