Saturday, October 15, 2011

5 Ways to Ruin Your Good Name in the Publishing Industry

Writers know the importance of making a name in the industry. We carefully choose a pen name. We devise and implement a brand. We strategically title blogs and websites to draw the most hits on the Web. But the surest way to ruin your good name in publishing is to put our writing in front of the people who matter--agents, publishers, and readers--before it is ready.

I recently paid good money for a self-published book recommended to me by a colleague. I don't want to get into an argument about the pros and cons of self-publishing, for that is not the point I wish to make. The point I wish to express is that this author put her cart ahead of her proverbial cart. Sometimes agents, editors, and publishers reject manuscripts for good reasons. This novel might be the best example of how to make sure your name is remembered--and not for any of the things for which writers hope.

So whether you are self-publishing, entering a contest, or submitting a manuscript to an agent, here are a few things you should do if you want to make your name infamous in publishing--and probably ensure you won't ever get a read again.

1. Disregard proper form and style. In the book I read, the author either did not have any idea how to properly write dialogue or she thought she had enough clout to create her own style. On the plus side, the writer was consistent. She wrote every line of dialogue in the entire book incorrectly.

2. Freely abuse the English language. Write the way you talk and if you mispronounce words or use improper syntax and context, stay true to form. Write things like, "James feared Melissa was a cereal killer" or "Marty didn't hafta check the phone number, he knew it by hard."

3. Ignore continuity. One character's last name changed mid-way through the book with no explanation. Another character fluctuated between two different spellings of her name. Tomato, to-mahto, potato, po-tahto. Let's call the whole thing off, Molly--or is it Mollie?

4. Skip spell-checking, editing, and proofreading. This particular author misspelled the same words with enough frequency that it could not have been an accident. Repeated misuse of homonyms made it clear that the author just didn't know witch, I mean which, word to use. I guess some people just don't want to be told what to do--even by their spell checker.

5. Get your facts wrong. A simple subtraction problem should have shown the author that her character could not have been married for 22 years unless she walked the aisle at the age of nine. And at one point, two characters flew home to Seattle, went to bed and woke up the next morning in their beds--in Las Vegas.

I found the story idea engaging, the voice interesting at times, but the inaccuracies, errors, and typos convinced me that I won't ever spend my hard-earned money on another book by this author, nor will I take seriously another recommendation from that particular colleague. Some more time snuggled up with a good critique partner, a dictionary, or a computer with spell check would have made a tremendous difference with this manuscript. Did this author ruin her good name and her chance of ever signing an agent, getting a publishing contract, or securing a fan base?

I'd love to hear what you think.

*Note: My goal is not to bash this author, which is why I don't list the author or the title. I've also altered some of the telling pieces of information so as to make it more difficult to recognize the book in question.


  1. This is what scares me most about self-publishing. It could really make or break you! Thanks for such great advice, Nikki!

  2. Karla, I know! And it's not just self-pubbing. In this day of the Internet, it is so easy to send something out there in cyberspace and not ever be able to call it back. Nikki

  3. Great post. We really need to take extra care in our writing at home...and out there in cyber space.

  4. YIKES! I sure hope nobody reading this blog wonders if the self-pubbed book you're talking about is mine. . . And hey, just for the record, I've read plenty of publisher pubbed books with significant errors. Let's face it, perfection is difficult, maybe even impossible -- but I agree, excellence should always be our goal. One more ob: I do know that we writers see needed edits that many other readers never see. If we wait til our stories are perfect, we'll never publish, never share our stories from God. . . :-)

  5. For the record, the book I'm referring to is NOT yours, Millie. You make good points and I, too, have seen publisher pubbed books with errors of all types. But this book had significant errors that should have been caught by anyone who wants to be taken seriously in the industry. If you notice my points, I don't discuss things like char. arc or head-hopping. Instead these are things that I think most savvy readers would catch whether they had an interest in the writing process or not. Here's to hoping we all strive to be our best.

  6. Good points, Nikki. Basic literary excellence is a must, and the lack thereof will always come back to bite us.

  7. Nikki,

    Thanks for sharing this info.

    I've had self publishing companies try to woo me over by the quickness of getting the product out and keeping all the money from sales. However, unless you have an excellent editor who will really critique your work, it may not be as good. My book was edited twice before the self-publishing company that was going to print it went under, and while the proofreading tips were great, the critique group has helped a lot with head hopping and other points neither editor looked at. (In fact, in reviewing the recommended changes of the editor who the company assigned me to, I caught I changed the name of one character and she didn't point it out.

    My thoughts.