5 Ways Writers Kid Themselves

Writing is such a solitary profession, and it takes so long to get any attention at all in the industry, it’s incredibly easy for writers to read far more into the little milestones than they should.  While it’s important to celebrate accomplishments and recognitions, it’s also incredibly important to keep it all in perspective.  

Here are five painfully false assumptions writers often make from little successes … and how to avoid or dig your way out of them.

Holly is excited to give away two (2) free books (one of each novel) to random commenters. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Susan & Lena won.)

Guest column by Holly Schindler, whose debut YA
novel, A Blue So Dark,
received a starred review in

Booklist and was named one of Booklist’s
Top 10

First Novels for Youth. Her second YA novel,
Playing Hurt, released on March 8, 2011. She
can be found online at hollyschindler.com


1. I have an agent! Success is mine for the taking.
For an unpublished author, snagging an agent is a definite coup. And having representation can open the door to the publishing world … But it doesn’t guarantee the opening of that door. There’s a chance that after several months (or more than a year), you’ll find yourself never having snared a book deal, and being dropped by your agent. Do yourself a favor: The minute your agent begins shopping your current manuscript, write another. That way, you’ll have something else for your agent to shop if your current book proves to be a hard sell…or, if the two of you mutually decide to part ways, you’ll have a brand-new, never-before-shopped manuscript that you can begin querying new agents about.

2. I found an editor who likes my book and said I could send revisions! That means he / she is about to buy it! To get personal attention from a busy editor is certainly an incredible compliment. And editors don’t say what they don’t mean. If an editor has passed on your manuscript for now, but invites you to resubmit, they really are interested in your work. However, an inordinate amount of revision takes place after a book is acquired. Not just copyediting—global edits. Usually, if an editor is wild about a project, they’ll acquire it and then begin the process of global revision. That doesn’t mean that books are never acquired on a second submission. But be aware that it may take massive amounts of revision to convince an editor to acquire your book.

3. I have a traditional publisher. That means they’ll do all my promotional work for me. While a publishing house has a vested interest in your book doing well (they want to make money, too), you should never discount the power you have in getting your work into the hands of readers. You probably have one book, one chance to turn a profit as a novelist in a year. Depending on the size of the house, your publisher can have hundreds of books, hundreds of opportunities to make a profit. Turning a profit on your book is more important to you than anyone else. So take charge of your own promos! Don’t ever look for excuses not to do promo work (don’t go looking for successful writers who don’t blog, etc.) Instead, constantly be on the lookout for new ways you can spread the word about your work. It is truly, truly in your own best interest.

4. I found an editor who’s wild about my work! (S)he will take everything I write. Just because one of your manuscripts is right for a house, that doesn’t mean all of them are. The editor who’s wild about your debut might not like the second book. Editors also come and go at publishing houses with incredible frequency. The best thing you can do is to write the work you want to write. Don’t write for the house you happen to be working with right now. Publishable work will find the right home—and editor. Always. Don’t stifle your creativity trying to stay put where you are.

5. Once I sell a book, I’ll be able to quit my day job. This is probably the biggest falsehood new authors tell themselves. Most writers don’t enter into the publishing world with a million-dollar advance. Most writers build their careers brick-by-brick (or book-by-book). You’re really lucky if your first book brings you credibility and good reviews and a group of core readers who love your work. But buying a book from a first-timer is a bit of a risk. Expect most people to seek your first book out through libraries (or second-hand stores) until they get to know you.

After years of labor, it’s incredibly tempting to let a bit of positive headway make you believe that you have officially arrived. Truth is, writing isn’t generally a profession in which you achieve success all at once—it’s more of a profession that slowly builds upon itself, baby step by baby step. The best thing you can do is to keep moving forward, never pausing more than just a moment to rest on any laurels.

Holly is excited to give away two (2) free books (1 of each novel) to random commenters. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Susan & Lena won.)

Writing YA? Check out author K.L. Going’s
resource Writing & Selling the YA Novel


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27 thoughts on “5 Ways Writers Kid Themselves

  1. Deborah Taylor-French

    Thanks for this interview. I shared it on Twitter & Facebook.
    Over the past four plus years of being a member of the California Writers Club (Redwood Branch), I have learned most of what Holly has summarized here. This is a reality check for newbie writers and first time authors.

  2. Valerie Norris

    I went through the "editor wants revisions" stage, and after nearly a year of thinking she was going to buy my book, she didn’t. Heartbreaking. My agent quit the business then, too. But, optimist that I am, I keep writing and keep trying.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Chris Bailey

    OMG! Are you trying to tell me that writing is a real job involving actual work? Seriously–it’s good of you to share your excellent grasp of reality. I want a copy of Playing Hurt, and I wish you all the best with all your books.

  4. Sharon Mayhew

    Wonderful advice, Holly! If you are lucky enough to snag an agent, you have a partner to help you get your ms into even better shape before it’s send it out to publishing houses. I think the more active you are in the publicity of your book the more successful your book and future books will be.

    Best wishes with your book, Holly!

  5. Nikki

    I read these author comments quite a lot and I have to say that I liked this one more than most. It’s an honest look at the realities of authorship, if that’s a word. Maybe it’s just a part of the American Dream make-up that’s ingrained with in us to think that once we put in hard work, it will always lead to greatness.

    That’s the most daunting thing for a creative person: to work so hard on something they love and then have it go nowhere or take FOREVER to get somewhere.

    This is why these smaller start ups are happening and self-publishing is becoming more and more common place. If bigger PHs aren’t going to work crazy-hard at promoting the book FOR you, what’s the difference. Quite honestly, some of the terms of the contracts with the smaller PHs are better and more author-friendly.

    I think the industry will have to change soon, not to make it easier on the authors, but to be able to retain the talent and acquire new. When housewives can self-publish on Amazon and become millionaires, it gives the thought that ANYONE can do it.

    Thanks for this article. It’s among my top choices on this blog.

  6. Heather Schick


    This is a breath of fresh air! Honest, practical and note-worthy advice. It would be easy to get caught up in the "honeymoon" period of landing an agent, selling your manuscript, etc. We have to stay grounded and realize that even if we have achieved success, it doesn’t guarantee anything moving forward. We have to stay vigilant.

    Thank you Holly!

  7. Lara Johnson

    This post is a great reminder to new and aspiring authors not to let their excitement run away with their common sense. If you got an interview for a job, you wouldn’t assume you were going to be CEO by Wednesday. The same is true in this profession. Achieving any of these steps is great, and definitely should be celebrated–and in my opinion, bragged about a bit–but none of them mean you should tell your boss just what you think of him/her, or buy that shiny new car you’ve wanted. They are just steps on a very, very long road.

    Thanks for the post, and congratulations on your own success!

  8. Kirkus MacGowan

    Nice post, reminds us all to keep balance in our lives. Each stepping stone toward creating a writing career should be celebrated, but celebrated as the stepping stone that it is.

  9. Elizabeth MacKinney

    Boy, there’s some sound advice. Writers come in so many levels of where they are. Thanks for helping with our continuing education. : )

    (Especially the whole agent thing. The ball is always in your own court. Keep writing.)

  10. Jenn Hoyt

    This is a good, keep it real post. As a very new writer, I’m not to any of these levels, but it helps to know that the work never stops. Like anything, we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Or, more appropriately, one word in front of the other. Thank you, as always, for your insight! It keeps some of us going 🙂

  11. Linda Fausnet

    I agree with everything in this article except ONE thing –
    "painfully false assumptions writers often make from little successes"

    I think you are 100% right when you say that getting an agent, editor, or publisher interested is no guarantee of getting published or gaining fame or fortune. I was just bothered by the idea of calling these "little successes". Getting an agent is HUGE. A really, really big deal. I think the best idea is to celebrate that like crazy! Open a bottle of (not TOO expensive…) champagne. Go out to dinner! Tell the world! But just keep in mind that what you are celebrating is getting an agent – not the fact that you are getting published ( you aren’t). If an editor likes your book enough to ask for revisions – hurray! A published takes an interest – go nuts! Be happy!

    My blog is a support group for Wannabe actors, writers, comics, musicians, etc and I am HUGE believer in celebrating every success. An agent asked for 20 pages of my novel the other day. So I’m excited! But JUST about that. She liked my idea enough to ask to read some of my novel – nothing more, nothing less.

    My point is to celebrate EVERY success – but celebrate it for what it is NOW. No guarantee it will turn into more success. We writers can write for months or even years with precious little success. We should celebrate every bit of good news we get because it is very, very hard earned.

    Thanks for your advice. It is spot on. Stephen King said in his book ON WRITING that less than 5% of writers make their living at it. That depressed me for a while, but I really took it to heart. I’ve really accepted it. I’m not writing for the money anyway…

  12. Suzanne Pitner

    First of all, congratulations, and happy book birthday for Playing Hurt. Second, thanks for this blog post. It will help to keep us grounded when we have successes. I totally agree with #1. Having an agent doesn’t guarantee a sale, but it’s sometimes difficult to accept that. Your closing sentence says it well…we can never stop to rest on our laurels.


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