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5 Most Dangerous Career Pitfalls For New Writers

Writer Pitfalls

First Posted: 11/30/11 11:39 AM ET Updated: 12/01/11 08:46 AM ET

From Writer's Relief:

The writing life is fraught with dangers big and small—everything from life-crushing depression to sore fingers from long typing jags.

But there are a few dangers that can derail a new writer’s career at the outset. You’ll need a lighthouse (or two) when you’re navigating the dangerous waters of the publishing biz; we hope our list will help! (Note: We’re not talking about craft pitfalls; our focus is on professional dangers.)

5. Lame literary agents.
Some literary agents are awesome and reputable. Some are ethical but just starting to build a reputation. And some are just plain bad. There are certain signs that indicate a literary agent might be suspicious (like reading fees, editorial fees, etc.). If you contract with a bad literary agent and then that agent sends your book to a lot of editors but doesn’t sell it, it may be difficult to pitch that project (to a good agent) again.

4. Misunderstanding publishing deals OR signing a bad contract.
Whether you’re writing a novel or authoring a collection of poems, there are LOTS of dangers when it comes time to sign a book contract. We can’t tell you how many writers have approached us expressing disappointment and even despondency over lackluster publishing experiences (whether with a self-publishing company or a traditional press). Some writers have signed with small publishers only to see those presses dissolve shortly after a book is published—not exactly good for sales. The biggest problem we see? Many writers mistakenly believe that publishing a book and posting it to an online retailer will always and automatically result in big sales. Hire a consultant or lawyer to explain the contract to you—whether you’re paying to publish or being paid for your work.

3. “Everyone wins” writing contests.
While submitting a poem to a disreputable contest isn’t a career breaker, it can be disheartening. How do you know if the contest or anthology that you submitted to has a reputation that’s respected in the larger industry? If you are not compensated for publication but asked to buy a copy (or ten) of the expensive book in which your work will appear, chances are the contest you entered doesn’t have a strong reputation. The more “winners” the editors can cram onto any given page, the more money the project will make.

2. The “previously published” dilemma.
If you’re writing stories, poems, or essays (as opposed to books), you may be in the thick of questions about “what is considered published writing?” Here’s the problem in a nutshell: Many editors of literary journals don’t want work that has been published anywhere—even online. Even on a blog. Even on Facebook. Why so strict? There are many reasons. Here’s just one: Some individual people have huge numbers of friends and followers. So if you’ve published your poems or stories online (or even if you’ve collected them into a self-published book), lit mag editors will likely refuse to consider the individual works for publication, citing the fact that they were previously published. Book authors don’t quite have the same issues; as long as book authors hold all rights, their projects are still in the game.

1. The number one pitfall? Being misled because of emotions.
Writers, and new writers especially, tend to be emotional about their work—and rightly so. But that can cause problems. Here are our four most dangerous emotional pitfalls:

a. The impatient writer. Some writers are overly impatient about getting published. They say “yes!” even though the offer they receive is suspicious. Impatience causes rash and uneducated decisions. It’s dangerous when you don’t take the time to look before you leap.

b. The flattered writer. Devious companies count on the fact that flattery can cloud a writer’s judgment. In a writer’s brain, ego sometimes wants to grab the steering wheel away from reason (who is a more cautious driver). If someone says your writing is great, then, by all means, celebrate. Kind words may be deserved and appropriate. BUT be sure you have ALL the information you need to make an informed decision before you sign on the dotted line.

c. The rose-colored glasses writer. Writers who are basking in the happy glow of a newly completed manuscript may be a little naive. And that’s okay. At some point, we all are. But some writers seem to willingly STAY in that void. It’s a dangerous mindset.

d. The “I’m the exception” writer. Some writers believe that their projects are so very exceptional that they don’t need to bother learning how the industry works. These writers disregard larger industry etiquette, ignore submission guidelines, and tend to appear a bit egotistical on paper. They don’t want to pay their dues; they want to pass GO and collect $200 without first going around the board. They risk burning bridges and appearing unprofessional. They are susceptible to having clouded judgment in the face of flattery. Danger abounds.

What have we missed? What other dangers—emotional and professional—must new writers be aware of? Share your recommendations and help others learn from you!


Originally published on Writer's Relief

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Filed by Madeleine Crum  |