3 Ways to Avoid Shooting Yourself in the Foot

3 Ways to Avoid Shooting Yourself in the Foot

In my last post in 2022, I mentioned how much my writing and knowledge of the publishing industry has grown since I first sat down at my dining table to write.

Considering how little I knew at the time, it wasn’t hard.

Knowing what I do now, I realise how many misconceptions I held about the publishing industry. If I had stopped to do some research before I started writing or even during, I would have produced a better manuscript in the end.

I’m not dissing my first manuscript, but I can definitely see where it suffered from my lack of knowledge.

The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences and learning curves with you so you can avoid making the same mistakes as me. My goal is to help you approach the industry with less trepidation and misinformation, and more knowledge so you can back yourself 100%.

So, here are 3 assumptions that nearly shot me in the foot when I first started.

And trust me, there were waaaay more than 3. It’s a wonder I’ve made it this far with both feet intact.

1. Believing I should make my manuscript as long as I can so people take me seriously

I’m not entirely sure where this one came from. It might have something to do with my love for The Lord of the Rings*.

Now, I’m not blaming a classic for my own misconception, but I definitely think it contributed to the idea that books had to be long for them to be good. Most of the books I picked up and read in school were long ones. I loved them all.

Somehow, I translated that as ‘write lots of words or no one will take you seriously.’

I can confidently say I was wrong.

Writing, and being taken seriously as a writer, doesn’t come down to how many words you write.

In fact, you can actually create problems for yourself when it comes to finding an agent or publishing house to take a chance on you if your book is perceived as too long for the genre/category it falls into. (There are always exceptions to the rule, but those are just that – exceptions)

A large part of this comes down to cost, especially considering the market is so saturated with books.

As a brand new writer, your first novel is your debut.

As your debut, you most likely don’t have hundreds or thousands of fans ready to buy your book the instant it hits the shelves (unless you’re booktok famous, of course).

That means there is no guarantee your book will even earn out.

Here’s an example to explain what I mean:

Writer Hopeful writes a book that is 170,000 words and gets a publishing deal.

That 170,000 word book will cost more to be printed than a 100,000 word book.

The higher printing cost means the book will probably be priced higher once it hits the shelves.

That increases the probability it will have smaller sale numbers because of that higher cost and because readers are unfamiliar with the author.

That’s a problem for the publisher, and it’s definitely a problem for Writer Hopeful who wants to be signed for book 2.

You can find a better explanation from someone far more knowledgeable and far more experienced here, on Janet Reid’s blog. 

I went out of my way to lengthen my first MS to 125,000 when I was writing it. I was very proud of that number, until I got to the end and started researching things.

Turns out, my YA fantasy shouldn’t have been more 100,000 words.

I had to cut a lot of scenes that I loved. It was a painful experience, but one I’ll try my best to never repeat.

2. Thinking I would submit my manuscript directly to publishing houses

You can submit your manuscript directly to publishing houses. That’s called an unsolicited submission.

While you can get your book published through this method, it’s not the only way to submit your book for publication and will likely limit you in some ways.

These limitations can look like:

  • A publisher may only accept manuscripts once a year or once every few months: this means your manuscript has to be ready by the submission date, or you have to wait for the next intake. There’s also likely to be a fairly high submission rate because the window for applications is so small.

  • Not every publishing house accepts unsolicited submissions, so you may not be able to submit your MS to your dream publishing houses.

  • Your submission may be considered another file in the ‘slush pile.’ Not every house is like this. Pantera Press, for one, consider unsolicited manuscripts as “gems” and not slush, but in a lot of places, you’ll find your MS goes to the bottom of the waiting list.
    Pre-existing clients and agent-represented clients are more likely to be considered first, purely because they’ve already gone through a ‘filtering’ process and their writing is deemed closer to ‘ready’ for publication.

  • No Response Means No: This applies to a lot of aspects in the industry, for a number of different reasons. Just keep in mind you could submit your MS and not hear back from anyone for months or years, if ever.
    This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been rejected – it could be sitting in the middle of the slush pile – but you won’t know.

  • Exclusive submission policies: some publishing houses have clauses that say you can’t submit your MS to any other publishing houses until they have rejected/accepted you or a certain time frame has elapsed. Do you want to restrict yourself to just one application for 3-6 months?
3 Ways to Avoid Shooting Yourself in the Foot

3. Assuming I could query publishers and agents with little to no knowledge of the industry

I always thought there would be a degree of grace for mistakes. Make a typo in your email? Not great, but okay. Got the structure of the application wrong? A little worse, but the info is still all there.

Researching the application process quickly killed that idea.

It’s not that agents are looking for a reason to strike you off their list; it’s that they typically have such a high volume of submissions they don’t have time for errors or to chase you up because you forgot to include something.

Made lots of typos? That kind of carelessness or error is likely to be throughout your whole manuscript, which means it’s going to take more time to get it ready to submit to publishers.

Didn’t follow the submission guidelines exactly? Shows you’re probably either not good at following instructions or didn’t listen. That, or you think you’re above the submission requirements.

This industry has become saturated. You need to be on your A-game with your submissions if you want to stand out among your peers.

The Takeaway

You can spare yourself a lot of pain by forgetting any pre-conceived ideas you have about the industry. Nothing can replace research from reputable sources and nothing will put you in better stead than knowing the industry as thoroughly as you can from the outside.

I would highly recommend reading Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog for tips on your querying. It will change your whole approach.

Stay tuned for Part 2: I have plenty more tips to avoid shooting yourself in the foot. 

What can I say? I’m accident prone.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments box.

– Tahlia with an H


*The total Lord of the Rings collection sits at about 576,459 words. And while it’s split into three books, it still totals a rough 192,153 words per book (if you split the word count evenly)

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