What’s Notta Mistake?
How about 3 Notta Mistakes? 3 Notta Mistakes for Newbie Writers. That’s this week’s episode for The Write Focus.
Welcome to The Write Focus, a podcast for writers on productivity, process, tools, and craft.
This is our second episode, following our inaugural episode on 7 Mistakes that Newbie Writers make.
The Write Focus is a production of Writers Ink Books. I’m M.A. Lee, here to share what I’ve learned in my years of writing and teaching writers as well as my years of pursuing self-publication. My first books published in 2015, and I haven’t looked back since. I write both fiction and nonfiction, and M.A. Lee is just one of my pen names.
Because, you know, we change names to protect the innocent.
The mantra for Writers Ink is Dream It / Believe It / Do It. Hopefully, that will become your goal as well.
The topic for this episode is 3 Notta Mistakes by a Newbie Writer.
First, a little context. This episode and our first one last week arose from a question that a newbie writer asked on a forum hosted by a national writing organization. The Newbie wanted to know what we wished we had known when we launched our careers.
I’m sharing my responses to her emails with you. Because—well, these are jam-packed with lessons about productivity and craft and tools and more.
What is a Newbie Notta Mistake? It’s a mistake that many, many new writers make—but which you can avoid, just as I did.
Here’s Newbie Notta Mistake #1 ~ Knowing that First Impressions Matter.
The Mistake would be to do every job related to publishing by yourself, especially the most important job, which is the First Impression on the reader.
My Notta Mistake—I hired a cover designer.
Unless you truly understand graphic design (direction of eyes, color contrasting, proportional sizing, foreground against background), then hire a cover designer.
The cover is the first thing that attracts a reader. You have nanoseconds to snare readers; a great cover will draw readers to your book.
Great cover designers understand the needs of genre as well as branding for the book, the author, and the series.
I talked about Author Branding in the 1st episode. Branding helps you focus closely and maintain that focus as you write then launch your manuscript into the world. Pick a genre. Pick a series. Pick a main character. A brand means that you are laser-eyed on that genre and series. These reinforce your Author Brand,--who are the writer are, what you write, how you present your writing to the world.
In 2013 and 2014, when I launched into my indie writer journey, the independent marketplace for electronic books offered a wide range. It still does, but the lower end of the spectrum is gradually going away.
Excellent covers. Cheaply made covers (all words and no images). Horrible covers. That’s the spectrum mark-points.
Whenever you consider self-publishing, you have to juggle what you can do with what you shouldn’t do. One part of the decision-making processes is WIBBOW: Would I be better off writing? That should drive the first and strongest part of your decision process.
The other considerations are cost and time.
When I launched, I wanted to spend my time writing, not learning cover design. I still want that focus.
Looking for a cover designer on the internet would surely not be hard, I thought.
Looking wasn’t hard.
Finding cover designers wasn’t hard.
Finding a cover designer that had a portfolio that fit my own vision as well as one who clearly presented the cover design business as a professional endeavor – extra hard.
Three parts to that one. Did you see them?
Portfolio means that they were generating work over and over again.
My own vision means that we would have few clashes over aesthetic differences.
Professional means … Well, there are more and more horror stories about graphic designers and money down the drain and covers yanked back after they were published and stealing cover designs and not properly licensing images used and on and on. Yikes!
Longer story shorter, I thought finding a cover designer would be easy. Nope. Took 18 months of on and off looking, month after month, to find a cover designer that matched my aesthetic and that showed promise of staying as a professional business—rather than starting up then closing down in three to five years.
I searched online repeatedly. I scanned online bookstores and opened up a lot of samples to search for the cover designer. I bookmarked several sites, but something about the portfolios didn’t fit what I was looking for. Sometimes the price was unreasonable. Sometimes the information that accompanied the portfolio didn’t connect with me. In that 18 months, some cover designers vanished. New ones came on.
While looking, I managed to write the third book … while holding down a horrible creativity-sucking job … and format the other three books to electronic publishing standards … and even tinker with a few as-yet-unwritten ideas … along with pulling from storage another HistRomSusp but in a different time period. 18 months.
In that time, I also set aside a little bit of money every month to pay for the cover designs of four books.
I actually located the cover designer that I would use by browsing online bookstores. The website had a professional look with several varieties of covers. More than one designer worked for the company. The site listed what to do when problems occurred, and a three-page template anticipated design questions and opened up creativity for the designer.
I contracted for my first cover in 2015. Since then they have created over 10 NF covers, 15 mystery covers, and 10 fantasy covers plus covers for bundles—and I remain in awe of their work.
Want to do it yourself? Then pay the bucks for a quality program, like InDesign > not Canva or Powerpoint.
Still determined to Do It Yourself? Seriously study your competion. Do your research. Admit the ones that look crappy, and admit what your skill level is.
Finally, use the greatest writer test in the world > WIBBOW … Would I Be Better Off Writing? That’s your question, every time you start to take on additional writer jobs.
Cover Design: Yes or No? WIBBOW.
I managed to avoid this first mistake because the intensive, stressful job I once had sapped my creative energies, which slowed my writing. Knowing I could not quickly learn cover design or a software program for cover design, I decided my spare time should be on writing.
Newbie Notta Mistake #2 ~ Finish Before Sharing.
The mistake is to share your ideas and your draft. Sharing piecemeal, a chapter at a time, never works – readers need to see the whole work. Sharing your ideas—well. Let’s talk.
If you are desperate for other eyes on your work, then find good Beta readers who spot plot and character discrepancies as well as proofreading errors. ONLY give these readers a FINISHED manuscript.
Finished is the most important word here.
Write the story in your head—not the story in someone else’s head. You don’t need developmental editors to write that story. You may need a good friend who will tell you when scenes need to be improved and ideas need a logical sequence. That ONLY occurs, though, with the finished MS.
Have them read the finished manuscript and tell you where they got lost. Then dig deep into those areas and work it out.
Please do not give readers a chapter at a time. Can they remember the flow of the story? Maybe. Can they remember your hidden clues and foreshadowing? Can they remember the symbolic metaphor that you planted in chapter 3 which will recur in chapter 15 then lead to the climax in chapter 36? Remember, they are looking at these individual chapters or scenes with days or weeks or a whole month intervening?
Good friends will read the whole thing for you—might take them a while.
Great friends will tell you what doesn’t work.
Bad friends will tell you how to fix it.
Yep, I said “bad friends”. Because it’s your story, you need to figure out how to fix it. Your muse will do that for you—once the muse knows to work on a particular area. If your muse tries to work with other people’s ideas, she will shut her trap on ideas.
Here's a third reason to avoid sharing before you are finished. Superstition.
The writing world has a myth that story ideas shared before completion will dry up and shrivel or be cursed when published.
I don’t know the reason for the myth. That reason never is shared.
But I have seen story ideas bounced around in a group, and the writer’s enthusiasm for the story is then dead.
I have shared a story idea—and watched another writer spin it in a better way than I had planned—which killed my enthusiasm for the story.
We’ve all heard anecdotes about writers sharing ideas only to see another writer (with flying fingers) get that story out into the world.
Yeah, don’t share your ideas until they are done.
Finally, when you send the draft into the world, the universal ether thinks it’s a completed story and directs the muse to dance around the next story Maypole.
So, finish the dang thing before you hand it off to good and great friends.
I avoided this second mistake from the sheer luck of living 2 ½ hours away from other writers like me. At the time, my town did have writers, but they weren’t pursuing publication the way I was. They were writing only for the name of being a writer. They were also elitists. (I talked about them in the first episode.)
A decade later I found two other groups, both were a half-hour away and only met on weeknights. The meetings ran too late for the early wake-up my job required. You know, that stressful, creativity-sucking job.
By the time I had an opportunity for an easily accessed writers group with critique groups, I had learned my lesson about finishing before sharing and about learning from pro writers as opposed to NON professional writers. (I talked about that in episode 1, too.)
Newbie Notta Mistake #3 ~ Keep Learning As You Live the Writer Life
Here’s the Mistake: Thinking you are a talented writer. Or Thinking you have learned everything about writing. Nope. Not possible.
Keep learning and practicing your craft. Even after 30 years of teaching literature (high school and college), even with advanced degrees in English and composition, even after over five years of pursuing self-publishing, even after over 25 published books—I am still learning.
New information keeps us fresh.
Practicing that new information >> that stretches our skills and builds improvement.
Analyze your weaknesses. One of my weaknesses that I diagnosed early on was understanding little about the new world of self-publishing. In hunting up information, I stumbled into Pro Writers teaching craft lessons. One online workshop turned me into a believer.
No one will ever know everything there is to know about writing. But we can try.
I have three courses to take this year: two on the craft of writing, one on marketing. I am learning a lot.
I’m still trying—just like a doctor practicing medicine. The only difference is—I might speak with authority, but I will freely admit that I have more to learn.
Think a doc will say that?
Find a pro that you trust. Make sure that pro is still producing words and publishing those words, not a pro resting on dried-up laurels. Many pros offer a variety of online courses. I talked about one of the pros that I follow in the first episode.
If you don’t want to take a course, then do your research. Read books on craft. Not academic books. Books by writers. Books about writing.
This 3rd Notta Mistake was another lucky chance that I stumbled into. As I prepped for publication, I discovered tons of information I didn’t know about the new indie publishing and the world of marketing. I’m still learning that, by the way.
Here’s the Summary
First, Understand that First Impressions Matter. The #1 impression is your cover.
If you’re not excellent at design, hire a contractor. Not great at grammar? Hire an editor.
Your guiding question is WIBBOW. Would I be better off writing.
#2. Finish before sharing.
Sharing is not wrong. But you need to send out a completed draft. This helps your readers and you. Your readers will see the whole vision, not the fragments. As for you, your story ideas won’t be killed by other writers.
Remember the difference between GREAT friends, who tell you something’s not working for them, and BAD friends, who want to tell you how to fix it. That’s more of other people’s sticky fingers in your work.
#3. Keep learning. Look for ways to grow. Analyze your weaknesses. Research and teach yourself or go to the Writing Pros.
That’s it for this second episode of The Write Focus.
Coming UP: We’ll continue with that Newbie Writers questions by focusing on the steps to get a book from the idea stage to a tangible product in your hands. Don’t forget to check the show notes. Thanks for joining The Write Focus.