Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's OK because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.
Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, hiding your pitch, or chasing trends. This week's writing mistake writers make is worrying about format.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Worrying About Format
As an editor with the Writer's Digest community, I've been asked more times than I can count over the years about how to get this published or that published. Oftentimes, it involves publishing a book. And by book, for many, the question implies a print book. But for many, though not all, worrying about specific format is a mistake.
Here's an example: A poet reaches out asking how to publish their book of poetry. However, they haven't yet published any individual poems or put any effort into building an audience to read the poems. In this case, chasing publication for a specific format (print book) will probably lead to frustration and failure, because it skipped a few steps and leaves out several opportunities.
Writers of fiction and nonfiction as well may be limiting or hurting their chances of finding success by limiting their writing and publishing goals to one specific format. Especially in this day and age, writers should be a little more open-minded.
Mistake Fix: Focus on Writing Over Format
While I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of setting goals (and that could include to publish a print book, as an example), a writer's first focus should be on the actual writing over the format. Going back to the poetry example, most poets do not start off by publishing a print book of poetry. Rather, most publish individual poems or small groups of poems in print and online publications before getting a chapbook or book collection published (sometimes traditionally, other times DIY).
A nonfiction writer may find a subject incredibly fascinating and want to write a book about it. This is a possible path to success, sure, but there are also many nonfiction writers who cut their teeth by writing articles for print and online publications to build an author platform before going for book publication. Others may set up a blog or a YouTube (or TikTok) channel to start finding their audience.
This can impact writers of fiction as well who may get too caught up on trying to write their way to a word count instead of telling a compelling story. After all, some stories should be novels, but others should be novellas or flash fiction. Let the story guide the way.
Also, for all genres of writing, be open and curious about the various formats available to you. For instance, novelist Liz Keller Whitehurst decided to turn her novel into a podcast, and it led to it being published as a print book. Others may find that self-publishing digital books is the right method.
The bottom line: Don't let format dictate the shape your writing takes (unless you're under contract, of course); instead, let your writing dictate the shape of your writing. Then, find the proper format and platform to share it with as many people as you can, whether that means in a magazine, podcast, video, live performance, or even a book.
Breaking into traditional book publishing can be tough work. After you write and revise the book, there’s finding an agent or an independent publisher, which involves time spent researching instead of what you really want to be doing—writing. So, Writer’s Digest has done the work for you with this 144-page guide. The Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory collects the resources you need to make 2022 the year your book gets published.