Mistaken Newbie Writer Beliefs

7 Apr

by Savannah J. Foley


I have been a noob. Or, as I have often seen it called, a ‘huge, flailing noob.’ Now, I’m still pretty new to the writing business in general, despite having written over six complete manuscripts, having an agent for two years, and of course being a part of this blog. I don’t have a publishing deal, and obviously I’m not an old veteran, but there’s a difference between ‘new to the industry’ and ‘noob to the industry’, and I have definitely been a noob. Noob is unaware there even IS an industry.

I see a lot of mistaken beliefs out here on the internet, so despite the fact that I’m not the world’s greatest expert on writing and the writing business, I was hoping to use today’s post to clarify some of the most common mistaken beliefs,  in an effort at educating all those ‘huge, flailing’ noobs out there:

Mistaken Newbie Belief #1: I am God’s Gift to Publishing

Sigh. I’m guilty of this one. Without a peer group of writers at a young age, I thought I was probably the best, youngest writer of all time (OF ALL TIME!). Clearly that was not so. But it’s something I see over and over: new writers think they’re the best ever. And they lack the perspective to see that their writing actually needs a lot of work.

So if you think  you’re probably, like, at LEAST in the top 10 greatest writers of all time, you might want to step back and reconsider.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #2: My Work Will Be Stolen

I see this on the internet a LOT, and I experienced it first hand during the meet-ups for NaNoWriMo.

Listen very closely: No professional in the industry is going to steal your work. Seriously. Agents and editors are SWIMMING in writing. They have editing and agenting to do; they’re not going to steal your work and pass it off as their own. Then they’d actually be responsible for revisions and promoting and detailed analysis of characterization, and I promise you that they all believe that’s a job best left up to the writer.

Now, will people plagiarize your work if you post it online? Absolutely sometimes. Some of our own LTWF members have been plagiarized by users taking their stories and posting it somewhere else under a different name. Whether or not to post your work online is a big debate, with lots of good points on both sides, but again I say that editors and agents are extremely unlikely to try and pass your work off as their own, so don’t be afraid to query. Not for that reason, anyway.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #3: I Have to Copyright My Work

This ties right into what I said above. It’s a common misconception that you have to manually copyright your work or else it doesn’t belong to you. I even wrote an article about an encounter with a young writer who believed she had to mail her manuscript to herself before attempting to get it published.

(Confession: I emailed Nameless to myself. It was like 5 years ago, shut up).

The truth? Once you create something, you own it. You hold the legal copyright for it, whether you put that obnoxious little (c) sign by it or not (Pro tip: do NOT put the copyright sign in your query letter or anywhere on your manuscript when you query. It screams ‘noob’).

Mistaken Newbie Belief #4: The Bigger the Book the More Publishers Will Love It/The More Genres I Combine the Better

Who hasn’t fallen in love with the phrase ‘sweeping epic’? Who hasn’t once thought ‘omg my SciFi/Detective/Romance/Literary novel is going to be a game-changer!

The truth is that, though there are very minor exceptions, you need to stick to the word count acceptable for your genre, you need to actually HAVE a genre (something I still guiltily struggle with to this day), and the likelihood that your book combining two opposing genres will be a game-changer is about nil.

Here’s the thing about books that combine genres: No one knows where to put them on the bookshelf at the bookstore. And that’s a huge problem for agents, editors, and booksellers. If they can’t figure out how to market you, they won’t buy you. Period.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #5: My Book Will Appeal to Everyone

Could literally everyone who is literate read your book and probably not hate it? Yes. But that doesn’t make the world your audience. An audience is the people you target with your books, and the demographic that will most enjoy them. It’s not the diverse types of people who would, if waiting in a doctor’s office, pick up your book off the coffee table and be able to pass the time with it while they wait. Figure out your audience.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #6: Publishing is Dead/Publishing is Out to Get Me/I’ve Been Blacklisted/I’m Too Good for Traditional Publishing

I’m not an agent. I don’t see nearly the number of queries and complaints that agents do. But I see a few. In my experience, people who claim that the industry doesn’t understand them/isn’t worthy of them/won’t take the time to see that they’re sitting on a gold mine, are… bad writers.

Yeah, I said it. If no one will take your work, maybe it’s not that Publishing is a Good Ol’ Boys club, maybe it’s that your work isn’t ready yet. Keep trying.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #7: I Don’t Need an Agent

Yes you do. Yes, you do. YES, you DO. And this article by an Editor explains why better than I ever will.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #9: My Book Would Be A Great Movie

You should never write a book because you want/hope to see it turned into a movie one day. Writing a book about a story is a great way to NOT get it turned into a movie. Movie rights are complicated, and just because your book gets ‘optioned’ doesn’t mean a movie will ever get made, or that the people who optioned it ever have any intention of seeing it get made. Yes, I’ve heard stories about people who option books just so the movie WON’T ever have an opportunity to get made!

In short, have a great idea for a movie? Write a film script, not a book.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #10: It’s Going To Be Easy/My Book Will Be Out Next Month

Sure, there’s always that one person who writes a book in six months, signs an agent in month seven and sells in month eight. But is any of this easy? No, it’s just fast. Even on this ridiculously short schedule, the book could still take two years to come out.

Personally, I’ve had my agent for over two years, with no sales. Lots of writers (more than you think) sign with an agent for one book, it doesn’t sell, they write another, and that one sells. And it takes years.

Other people query for years to no success. Others don’t even get to the querying stage; they labor for decades on their novel until they feel ready. But even those people who have ‘miracle’ publishing stories still have to put in the time and effort into making a marketable product. They put in  hours over revisions, they brainstorm every spare minute, and they keep up with their day job at the same time. Fast it may be, but easy it is not.


Any other Mistaken Beliefs you see frequently out there on the internetz? Do share in the comments!


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

33 Responses to “Mistaken Newbie Writer Beliefs”

  1. Ashley April 7, 2011 at 2:20 AM #

    I was just having this conversation with my CP. We both were saying as we learn more and more about the business and hone our own writing skills we still feel like newbies! :). Even if we publish 10 successful books, we probably will still feel that way!

    Awesome post, I think a lot of people need to read this. It takes more than talent and a great story to make it. A good and realistic attitude goes a long way. 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley April 7, 2011 at 9:09 AM #

      You know, I’ve heard that sentiment a lot from published writers “Maybe after my second book I’ll feel like a pro. Maybe my third, fourth, fifth, etc.”

  2. authorguy April 7, 2011 at 5:49 AM #

    What, you mean my SF/Mystery/Paranormal/Romance won’t be a game-changer?

    The downside to genre-busting books, aside from the lack of marketing niche (my publisher settled on SF for St. Martin’s Moon) is also in the querying. Try to describe one in less than a paragraph, I dare you.

    • Savannah J. Foley April 7, 2011 at 9:09 AM #

      I completely know what you’re talking about. My book Nameless is still not quite straddling either dystopian or fantasy.

  3. Julie Eshbaugh April 7, 2011 at 6:37 AM #

    Great post Savannah!!! This is essential info for everyone new (and not-so-new) to writing for publication. 🙂

  4. Liz April 7, 2011 at 7:08 AM #

    Noob writer belief eleven: having a blog is a great credit worth mentioning on your query. Especially when it shows the agent how in touch with the ‘biz I am because I’ve posted all of my previous query rejections with the agent’s full name and real email and the response I want to email back to them about how they’re WRONG!

    I wish it wasn’t true, but I’ve seen this a couple times now on a few blogs of unrepresented writers. Way, way unprofessional.

  5. Nathan Lowell April 7, 2011 at 8:53 AM #

    Mistaken Noobie Belief #8: I don’t need an editor.

    I guess that one goes without saying 😀

    • Savannah J. Foley April 7, 2011 at 9:12 AM #

      That ties back into Mistake #1: “My writin is perffect and no one is smart enouhg to edit me!”

  6. Heather April 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM #

    I’m ashamed to admit how many of these I used to believe. I’m so glad I found this blog and others like it before I started inflicting my former noobishness on the world. Take heed, noobs, these are definitely valuable lessons 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley April 7, 2011 at 12:08 PM #

      I’m with you. This list used to BE me! Glad we’ve been helpful 🙂

  7. Dawn Brazil April 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

    Great post. LOL I guess I’m definitely not a “noob” because I don’t think any of these things. Thanks for the info though!

    • Savannah J. Foley April 7, 2011 at 12:09 PM #

      Well, you’re starting out way better than I did, lol!

  8. Chantal April 7, 2011 at 4:44 PM #

    Great post! Very important things to keep in mind when trying to be a successful author haha

  9. Juni Case April 7, 2011 at 5:37 PM #

    I remember back when I was writing fanfiction and thought about some of these. Especially 1-3 and 5. Hoo boy. I still have to slap myself away from the daydreaming and stuff down some reality down my throat. 😉

    • Savannah J. Foley April 7, 2011 at 6:43 PM #

      Right there with you 🙂 A couple of hard lessons to learn. Although I still hold out that being a writer will make me a celebrity, frequently appearing in gossip magazines. 😉

  10. gabriellan April 7, 2011 at 7:14 PM #

    Love this list. I am so glad I found a list similar to this one when I first started out writing! That didn’t stop me from making dozens of different mistakes, but at least it managed to make me look like just a noob instead of an arrogant idiot noob!

    • savannahjfoley April 8, 2011 at 9:10 AM #

      Haha glad to hear you weren’t a n00b 🙂

  11. Gabriela Da Silva April 8, 2011 at 12:05 AM #

    I still think my book would make a great movie… but mostly because I’m terribly in love with the story and the characters. I’m also aware that if I really wanted it to be a movie I’d have to cut like 50% of it.

    On one hand I suppose that it’s nice to see people becoming more aware of books through movies – but you shouldn’t become an author solely to have your books transformed into movies. As you said, there’s scriptwriting for that. It’s good to have faith in your work and believe that it will work on any medium, but we should probably concentrate on one thing at a time, even more so when beginning our careers!

    • savannahjfoley April 8, 2011 at 9:10 AM #

      Lol I agree. Would be awesome to see my books as movies! But like you said, that shouldn’t be the sole purpose of writing a book.

  12. Krystle April 8, 2011 at 12:58 AM #

    Unless you post a draft of it up on Fictionpress than it could potentially get stolen if it gets popular…

    • savannahjfoley April 8, 2011 at 9:11 AM #

      Right, but internet plagiarism is different from industry plagiarism. Some of the girls here have had their stories stolen, though to my knowledge I haven’t.

  13. Caitlin Vanasse April 8, 2011 at 2:16 AM #

    I’m so glad you were willing to admit that you once suffered under many of these misconceptions, Savannah. I think it’s a lot easier to take from someone who’s saying “I’ve been there and I’m trying to save you from the ignorance.”

    • savannahjfoley April 8, 2011 at 9:11 AM #

      🙂 You know I appreciate that.

  14. Maybelle April 8, 2011 at 11:56 AM #

    N00b that I was/am, at 13 years old I had written my first “novel” and thought it was going to get published, and that I was going to rock the world, etc. etc. But I am SO glad I never followed through. Time and experience widened my perspective A LOT (and like they say, writing’s a lifelong process). I definitely don’t want to get a book out that I would regret later. 😀 Thanks for the post!

    • savannahjfoley April 8, 2011 at 11:57 AM #

      I remember writing a collection of short stories about animals when I was like 10, and I thought that was going to be an incredibly huge deal 🙂

  15. Newbie Author April 16, 2011 at 9:48 PM #

    I am a newbie! Guilty on several counts.

    Perhaps I’ll get a bit jaded after a while, but right now, I’m just thrilled to be writing.

    For years I pursued a career that earned good money. But I realized recently my heart wasn’t there. Once I released the creativity that I’d kept caged for years, I found pure joy in writing.

    Anything more is just pure gravy.

  16. Ella Schwartz April 16, 2011 at 10:11 PM #

    Great post!
    Here’s another noob mistake: I love reading books. This writing thing can’t be that hard. I’ll give it a try.

    That was me many years ago. It took me 4 years to finish the 1st draft of my novel, and it was pretty craptastic.

    And yet I still thought it would make a great movie 🙂

  17. Ardella Benton May 7, 2011 at 7:52 PM #

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