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Avoiding Premature Publication

17 January 2015

From author Ann Warner via Romance University:

Forgoing the traditional imprimatur of agents or editors, authors who self-publish become the ones responsible for judging the quality of their work. The problem is that after passing through the creative maelstrom required to write a novel, the author’s judgment about the quality of their story is likely to be flawed.  Rightly or wrongly, the author may be convinced that her story is

A. So wonderful it would make Hemingway weep

B. So dreadful it’s not worth even a penny

C. Probably good enough

A and C are by far the most dangerous choices, because they are likely to result in premature publication.

On the other hand, if the conclusion is B, and the writer overcomes her discouragement, she may then begin to look for ways to improve the story.

I didn’t begin writing fiction until my mid-fifties, when my position as a director of a hospital toxicology laboratory ended abruptly with the closure of the laboratory. While trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life, I received a surprising nudge from my sub-conscious to try writing a story.

When I finished that story, it was, in my opinion, most definitely an A. Every one of its 125,000 words was perfect. Had self-publishing been a viable option at that time, I would have chosen it. Immediately.

But self-publishing wasn’t yet easy, something that was lucky for me, because the novel was most definitely not an A. I began to recognize its B status after a friend read the book (or perhaps only a few pages) and then brought me flowers and congratulated me profusely on writing it. Only later did I realize she’d said nothing about whether it was any good. I still feel an immense gratitude to her for so gently bumping me back to reality from my first novel infatuation daze.

. . . .

I talked a professor into letting me take a senior writing seminar in the MFA program at the university where I was a faculty member. Not necessarily a path I recommend.

I joined RWA and began attending my local chapter’s meetings and writing workshops.

I searched out other writers to serve as critic partners in person or on the internet.

I began querying agents and publishers and learned to cope with the subsequent deluge of rejection.

Most importantly, I started reading books and articles on writing craft, noting specific suggestions I could begin using as I started working on another novel.

. . . .

I gleaned a number of specific suggestions that I began applying during my revision process and while they may seem simplistic, I discovered they had a dramatic effect on the quality of my writing. They included:

Avoid overuse of names in dialogue: “Yes, Cassandra, I see the whale.” “Oh, I’m glad you do, Jonah.” “Of course, Cassandra, I’ll just move out of the— eughhhh!” Etc, etc.

Avoid dialogue tags like she screamed or he yelled in favor of the simple he said/she said and limit modifying adverbs (e.g. she said coaxingly, angrily etc.). Instead “show” these attributes by writing robust dialogue.

. . . .

Storytelling, you see, is a right brain, creative activity. Whether it can be learned is an open question, but it can certainly be enhanced, and I have a two-fold recommendation to help with that enhancement.

First, teach yourself to pay attention to those flickers of inspiration presented to the conscious mind by the unconscious through dreams, daydreams, or random thoughts.  The trick is to catch those quick glints before they fade, and then make a note. Otherwise, they will fade, and you will forget. Guaranteed.

Link to the rest at Romance University

Here’s a link to Ann Warner’s books

Fiction Fundamentals, Writing Advice

15 Comments to “Avoiding Premature Publication”

  1. “Forgoing the traditional imprimatur of agents or editors…”

    Why on Earth would I forgo professional editing, formatting, cover design, or any other skilled help in producing my indie work?

    I’m tired of hearing the same crap repeated that indie writers simply create junk and and then throw it out into the winds of the internet.

    My home library is full of paperback and hardcover crap from way before the internet. That would mean Legacy Published crap.


  2. You know, I think there’s a drug that helps with premature publication. But if it lasts longer than four hours, call your doctor.

  3. Hmm. As a reader, I certainly find her examples of writing flaws annoying. But those mistakes are pretty basic. How many writers make them once they’ve moved beyond their juvenilia? As a writer, I’m leery of hard-and-fast rules. YMMV

    And the blanket recommendation that many apply to all writers – get an editor – seems especially problematic to me. Sharp beta readers catch problems with plot holes and defects in characterization. And not all writers make mistakes with story structure.

  4. This is basic advice on the creative process, not an indictment of indies, though it’s likely many will perceive it as the latter. She’ll definitely get flamed and lain siege to for this but I agree with her in large part. Lot’s of indie titles out there could have simmered in the pot a bit longer or gone through an extra sifting or two, IMO.

  5. Lots of people want to tell their competition what to do.

  6. Invoking Darwin here: authors who put their work out unready won’t sell well, and natural selection will ensure they don’t continue to write/sell. Not enough reward.

    Caveat: ‘unready’ means for THEIR audience.

    The ones who can learn and want to learn will learn. They don’t hurt anyone by trying, and their psyches are not squashed by rejection for years and years and years – which REALLY interferes with actual learning.

    If you were really bad, or sold very little, and you think someone might remember (or look it up), use a pen name when you get better.

    • Yeah. Lots of people think the 50 shades book was bad, but it said something that readers liked. So who am I to judge, really? All I can do is try to better myself, to learn and grow as a writer and tell the best story I can.

      Those who are willing to do the same might just find themselves living the good life as a writer. Lots of people have done it, thanks to self-publishing.

  7. Wow. So many myths in one article. It’s like she was trying to break a record or something…

  8. There are several good ideas in this article. I’ve benefitted from reading Dwight Swain’s book and also Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story”. The author admits she wouldn’t recommend Fine Art School classes, but I got that message from KKR. Instead, joining RWA was the right thing to do, as it was for me. Her advice to hire an editor does bother me. Several of my early novels (before self-publishing) were published by trad publishers and, hence were edited by “experts.” I like to think I learned from them. And I have a good Beta reader. In fact, my takeaway is “we should never stop learning.” Thanks for the reminder.

  9. “A and C are by far the most dangerous choices, because they are likely to result in premature publication.

    On the other hand, if the conclusion is B, and the writer overcomes her discouragement, she may then begin to look for ways to improve the story.”

    What’s most dangerous is thinking that your work isn’t worth anything at all, because people tend not to readily overcome the feeling that their work ‘isn’t worth a penny’, and think that they ought to put in a lot more work to just to make it worth… what? A dime? A whole dollar?

    What’s more, it isn’t true. Even the very bad stuff I’ve read, that I thought really shouldn’t have been published, was still worth something. It was bad, but it still had worth. Worth that couldn’t be described as a price, perhaps, but as a step in learning.

  10. Some bad writing I’ve read has terrific ideas, all it needs is for the writer to get more writing under their belt, pull the book off retail and rewrite it to reveal the story in a more interesting way. Sometimes in my review I suggest these things – again it’s just my opinion – and some writers do take their book down, revisit it – as I do myself, and create something better from that great idea.
    Writing is a learning process for all and sometimes getting bad amazon reviews is what it takes for a writer to hire an editor to translate their novels into US english, for eg, or to clean up typos.
    I’ve yet to see GRRM’s publisher clean up the box set of Game of Thrones as a response to reader’s considerable disgust at the unedited oem scanned version available on Kindle a while ago. Even page 1 of the print paperback version I own has typos on it.
    Writers usually care about their writing, but as we can see with crap back-list ebooks put out by PBHs – they don’t care much at all.

  11. I agree with Christine. I’ve downloaded books that were so close to being terrific, but lacked clean writing, whether typos or redundancy or a bit of sag here and there. What Ann Warner explains she learned is something every new writer learns. It sounds as if she is early in her career if she’s just learning to shuck adverbs and perhaps has not yet learned how effective dialogue tags that show action. I have never published a book without an editor because I know I produce flawed raw mss. I do not listen to another writer on how to write. Actually, I don’t listen to copy editors or proof reading editors. I know how to write. I taught myself. Anyway, ‘Can I write?’ is not the question. IMO, it’s ‘Can I tell a story?’ The only editor who ever enthralled me was an acquisition editor. She talked about the ebb and flow of story, about seamless transitions, about dressing characters in layers of words–every one of which can be found in a dictionary. I hire editors and copy editors to find the flaws in my work. That is what an editor does best and why an editor speaks to adverbs and exclamation points and roving body parts.

  12. When we get rid of the gatekeepers, we don’t get to set standards for other people. But we can use product differentiation to tell everyone how much better our product is.

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