The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make - Writer's Digest

The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make

Publish date:

I wrote the first draft of my novel by hand, which I realize is slightly insane. Every morning I would wake up at five o’clock (or as I like to call it, o’dark o’clock), write three pages, and then go on with my day. Well, that’s a very simplified version, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say that’s what I did.


Column by Charlene Ross, author of FROSTED COWBOY (February 8, 2016,
Velvet Morning Press). She is also the author of the novella, LOVE ON THE ROCKS
, a contributor to the nonfiction book, THE MAKING OF A PICKY
and has been featured on NPR’s This I Believe series. She lives in the

suburbs of Los Angeles with her husband and two teenage children. You can find
Charlene at and on Twitter.

When I was done I typed the pages into my laptop and considered my book edited and finished; ready to shop to agents in hopes of signing a book deal.

Are you laughing at me? (You should be.)

(4 ways besides query letters you can contact literary agents.)

Fortunately I went to a seminar on queries given by a former literary agent. She told us the number one biggest mistake new writers make is querying their book before the manuscript is ready. We are so happy to be “done” and so excited to share our masterpieces with the world that we send our work out too soon. A well-crafted query letter will get you nowhere if you receive a request for a partial or a full and send an agent a manuscript that is a hot, poorly-written mess. She urged us to have our books professionally edited if at all possible. (And hey, she just happened to be an editor-for-hire, please be sure to take her card on your way out!)

I will admit to you that I can be terrible at listening to good advice and only hear what I want to hear (and I certainly didn’t want to hear “pay for my editing services after attending my seventy-five dollar seminar”), but for some reason this advice did resonate with me. Maybe my book wasn’t ready to query. (See above, it most certainly wasn’t!)

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. 
Order the book from WD at a discount.

Hiring an editor wasn’t an option for me financially, so I asked two friends for the favor of a lifetime: to beta read my book. And thank all that is holy and good that I did. If I had queried my original “finished” manuscript, I would have never signed a book deal.

When I received my manuscripts back from my two readers I reminded myself that the red marks were given with love. I took their suggestions to heart and re-edited my book. Then I edited it again. And again. (And again after that!) Then I sent it back to my beta readers and got the thumbs up.

It’s hard to know when a book is ready to submit, which is one reason the outside perspective of a beta reader (or two) is so important. The original “finished” manuscript I sent to my betas was over 124,000 words. The draft that got me a publishing deal was 83,000. Quite a difference!

(Hate writing queries? Find agents through contests, referrals, critiques and conferences.)

Writing is hard and editing is even harder. Waiting to send my book out was the hardest thing of all. But hard things are worth doing and good things are worth waiting for. Ugh, that was so cliché. For that I apologize. But clichés are clichés for a reason: because they are true. And so is this: sending your book out before it is ready is a huge mistake. Don’t make it!


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Three Keys to Crafting Chemistry Between Characters

Romance author Michelle Major explains her three go-to tips for ensuring your characters have believable chemistry.

Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

Take Two: Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

No one wants to break the bank to learn how to write a screenplay. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares practical tips on saving money on the pursuit of a screenwriting career.


10 Epic Quotes From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Here are 10 epic quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The story of a group of rabbits who escape an impending danger to find a new home, Watership Down is filled with moments of survival, faith, friendship, fear, and hope.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Quintilla Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the quintilla.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.


Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.


The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.

Grinnell_Literary Techniques

Using Literary Techniques in Narrative Journalism

In this article, author Dustin Grinnell examines Jon Franklin’s award-winning article Mrs. Kelly’s Monster to help writers master the use of literary techniques in narrative journalism.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 545

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a cleaning poem.