Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The 7th Deadly Sin: Overconfidence

It is often said that most people do not think writing a book is terribly difficult. Ask around, you’ll find several folks, going about their everyday business, who think that since they know something about something, they can write about it. (Which is probably how this entire project came about, if I were to think about it.) Those people generally haven’t gotten around to it yet, is all. Or so they say.

But the truth is, writing is hard. If you can read, you can probably write a page or two on a subject and feel pretty good about it. And when these people who think it’s so easy get around to actually doing it, they--like poliwogs taking on olympic swimmers--don’t get very far. They lose interest. They realize they were shooting their mouths off. Or, my favorite, they simply don’t have time.

Of the percentage of people who claim they can write a book, only roughly five percent will ever get around to trying. Only one percent of them will actually complete one. What percentage of them do you think can sell it?

If you said one percent of them, you’re aiming high.

I’m not here to say, “Do this and your book will sell.” I’m honestly not qualified to do that. Not because I haven’t yet sold one--though I haven’t--but because I don’t think anyone can promise that and anyone who tries is lying to you.

Publishing your book with a reputable publisher or distributer is a subjective goal. You not only have to write well and focused, you need to understand that you have to write to someone else’s preferences. And you have to be able to put your ego down far enough to be happy about it.

All I’m here to do is share with you what I’ve gleaned in eight years of writing toward publication and five years of working on a publisher’s website, meeting hundreds of writers and learning both with and from them as well as the hundreds of authors who’ve shared their experiences with us. It must be said, as well, that I’ve picked up quite a bit from my own rejections, of which there have been many. Thankfully, there was a lot of encouragement as well, and I’m hoping that this book can help you to identify not only these sins in your writing, but any others you may have added on.

As we cover the Seven Deadly Sins of Romance Writing, we will begin with the most basic, working our way up each week to the most criminal. Today’s topic is “OverConfidence”.

In today’s day and age, with the multiplicity of pubs, epubs andd writers flooding the place with book after book after book, it’s pretty easy to get to thinking that publishing won’t be difficult. Publishing romance shouldn’t be hard at all--since apparently those people read anything. And Writing Category Romance can be done in your sleep.

So let’s take a look at what you’re up against shall we, using Harlequin as an example because they have the widest worldwide distribution and the highest number of categories--which is always growing. We will discount, for the moment, that not all their US lines are Romance (about 4 of the open submission lines are specifically not romance geared.) and only count those that a person could submit to without an agent. That leaves you roughly 21 lines of varying types. They each offer a differing number of releases per month, but most put out between 4 and 6. For arguments sake, let’s say that generously on average, each of these lines puts out 4 books per month, because some imprints only release 1 or 2 a month, not counting rereleases. That’s an average of 84 books. 1008 books a year, give or take.

How many people do you suppose submit manuscripts a year? (And yes, include those already established authors, folks, ‘cause they’re your competition. They need some of thost 1008 slots to feed their families, too. And they have contracts that often require them to get read before you.)

The last round figure I was given was back in 2000, so you can bet it’s probably gone up as Harlequin has introduced their new lines and new writing contests for Blaze and for the new Epic line. Back then, it was a minimum of 10,000 unpubbed’s submissions a year.

Ten to one odds don’t sound so bad, eh? Well, you’re plucky. This can count in your favor, or against you. Remember those published authors? They will easily take half, possibly 3/4 of the slots. Now it’s as much as 10,000 submissions for 250 slots. Feeling the pressure yet? Now there are limited staff to read all of your submissions--please limit to one query at a time from any one author. And there’s the Query/Synopsis stage to pass before you even get a manuscript in. It can take you up to 3 months to find out that you can submit. How long did it take you to finish the book? Tack that on. Then add roughly six months. If you’re lucky, that’s how long it can take to find out you’re rejected. You can easily spend an entire year waiting on the fate of ONE BOOK.

If that doesn’t dry your mouth, you’re not overconfident.

You’re stupid.

So, now that you’re appropriately educated on your odds, you’re probably wondering what your state of mind has to do with actually publishing. This is a good question.

Should you go into writing with the belief that it is easy, you will not bother to learn the craft that will get you published. We all have to learn these skills, we mostly do it before we sell, some do part of it after they sell, some unlucky few, must do all of it after they sell.

Should you go into submitting with the belief that you will sell on the first try--though it has been done, I can’t argue that--you set yourself up for the worst kind of pratfall.

Publishers primarily want a good book. If they get a primadonna along with it, you can bet selling book number two is going to be difficult because no one wants to work with the unprofessional. You wouldn’t let a loudmouth plumber in your bathroom every time the sink had a leak, would you? Why should they?

Not to mention, there’s a reason we have the phrase “One-Hit Wonders”. The wrong mindframe--primarily overconfidence about your skills or your talent--can mean the difference between the quickly forgotten and the gainfully employed. Book number one does not ensure that they will buy book number two. There is no magic formula and though your contract will state they have first crack at anything you write next, they will only buy what is worth their time and money. Everyone has talent at something. But talent doesn’t put food on the table. Work does.

So how do you chip away at your own overconfidence without making yourself a begging peon? It’s not easy. But what will help are achievable goals that you can set for yourself. Appreciate that there are many others who came before you--and are willing to share where they made their mistakes. Of course you continue to write. Of course you continue to submit. But the main point is that you take the genre of romance as seriously as you would any other. And that you treat writing as the very difficult job it is. It requires talent, yes, but mostly it requires training, dedication and skill. You must be willing to accept that someone will have a similar idea. That someone you know will sell first--but that doesn’t make YOU any less of a writer. You must accept that failing is not the part where you get rejected.

Failing is quitting.

Quiting is usually the result of shattered overconfidence.

That, my friend, is where overconfidence can cost you your dream.

So be wary of thinking you have it all planned out or that you have the magic key or that the realm to which you have opened a door is easy to handle. You’re beginning a quest. The proper attitude is but the beginning.

Next Tuesday: The 6th Deadly Sin Number: Vanity


Larissa said...

Great post, Dee! Looking forward to all of them in this series! :)

Heather Diane Tipton said...

You Rock!!!

Stephanie Feagan said...

Wow, Dee, this is some powerful stuff. Thanks for posting it - and I'll be back to keep up with the rest of the articles.

It's a tough nut to crack, publishing is, and one thing I've noticed since I sold is this very thing - overconfidence. When someone asks me a question and I begin the reply, which I think is on target, and definitely framed in such a way that I think I'm offering help, I can immediately see whether or not this person is overconfident. They nod and smile and when I'm done, reply with something like, "Fascinating! But for me, I think thus and so works just as well." I mentally shrug and think, You go girl - whatever you're doing is clearly not getting you sold, but keep on keeping on!

Reminds me of Dr. Phil - "How's that working for you?"

Anyway - you're a good woman to do this - I'll send people your way.


Kat said...

This is some good reading.

Save me a chair on Tuesdays!

Dee said...

Thanks gals!

LOL, Steph--I think the number one thing I see--and to me is the mark of a beginner--is overconfidence. I remember being that stupid, lol. I love that, though, "And how is that working for you?". Thanks for the support!


Diana Peterfreund said...

Great post. I tend to see more of the idea that published authors know everything becuase they are published and unpublished authors know nothing because they are unpublished. I think that, usually the second the serious newbie actually gets up to their elbows in what it takes, reality sets in. Otherwise, they quit.

Before I sold my book, I'd be doing things a certain way, and be told, "Well, Jenny Crusie/Karen Templeton/Leslie Wainger/Donald Maas say this." And they've got some really great advice, don't get me wrong, but I don't think I need to agree with all of it. So I'd keep on keeping on, as Sandra said, and sold anyway. And now am I supposed to be the one that has all the right answers? NOT!

Jordan Summers said...

Great entry. I know a UK publisher of sci-fi said that most people who submit a manuscript 'self-disqualify' themselves by not following the rules of submission. He said out of every 100 would-be writers, you're really only competing with two. Still not great odds, but better than 100.:-D

Shesawriter said...


Wonderful post. Truth is painful, but it's good to know, nonetheless. Dee Davis wrote about this subject on her website too. Here's the link.


Dee said...

Thanks everyone!

I took a sick day, lol, and this is my first shot looking at the comp again. How nice to come along to some new faces as well as generous comments.

Tanya--that was a great post by Dee. (Hmm, wonder if the topic just occurred to Dees all over! LOL!) Makes a great argument for being TSTL! LOL! I hadn't really given that part of it so much as a thought, but it makes sense!

Thanks for the comments ladies!