Top Five Mistakes New Authors Make and How to Avoid Them


Twiggy and Lucy

“Lucy. What are we doing here?
“The Boss is a contributor here, Twiggy.”
“I don’t see any biscuits.”
“I think he’ll fix that. Keep smiling.”

Hello, SEers. I am delighted to be part of The Story Empire group. I have long admired the members and followers and am pleased to now be a part of the team. I feel like a kid who has been looking at penny candy with his nose pressed against the display case glass, and the shop keeper invites me to take my pick.

The good news is I’m in. The bad news is now I have to go to work.  As you know by now, you can find a wealth of information on writing, publishing, and organization on The Story Empire. The authors here have a lot of experience and are willing to share.

To that end, for my first post, I’m going to discuss the top five mistakes that most new authors make and how to avoid them. Since I have pretty much made them all, I guess I’m setting myself up as a mistake expert. I hope you enjoy my debut Story Empire post. If not, please don’t tell me.

The Top Five Mistakes of New Authors and How to Avoid Making them Yourself.

Mistake one – Rushing to Publication.

We all want to get out books published. We’ve worked so hard getting the manuscript finished, and now we want the glory and honor that comes from being able to say, “I’m a published author.” I have to ask a question here. What’s the rush? You’ve lived this long without being published, why now?

The reason I ask is there is nothing worse than rushing a book into print or an agent’s hands, and then the need for editing pointed out. The second worse thing is to have a book published that no one buys. Lack of sales comes from not having an adequate plan on how to sell the book once it is published. So, rushing to publish has its downside. It is better to take the time to make sure the book is as error-free as possible and backed by a solid plan on how to communicate its availability to the target readers.

Mistake two – Getting advice from family members.

Five Mistakes of New Authors

We all want to impress our loved ones with our erudite composition, but in trying to do so, we may encourage enough reasons to abandon the book. How’s that you ask? Picture if you will a loving spouse making an offer to read your material and provide some “editing” help. Next, picture a spouse reading that last love or murder scene. You got the picture? The first question they will want to ask is, “Where did you learn how to do that?” The “that” is the specific action that is going on in the love or murder scene.

Very few spouses or family members are qualified to give you feedback on your writing. They know you and will probably offer an opinion at some point that the writing sounds nothing like you. The downside when that happens is that you will naturally be discouraged and possibly quit the work entirely. To avoid all this mess, go to critique groups for input. If you don’t know where to find a critique group, here’s a link for a resource to help locate a critique group. My final word on using a spouse or family member for critique work. Just don’t.

Mistake three – Failure to read several books in the genre in which you are writing.

Five mistake new authors make

This one baffles me a lot. I think almost every successful writer has repeated the mantra, “If you don’t read, you can’t write.” I guess I’m extending this thought to include not just reading for reading’s sake but specifically targeting books in your genre to read. The best way is to find the leading authors in the genre and read as many of their books as you can. The result will be an excellent knowledge of the kind of writing that sells. How can that be a bad thing?

Mistake four – Failure to finish the first draft in a timely fashion.

Five mistakes of new authors

There are many reasons for this. Maybe the writing is just too hard. Perhaps the plot is too thin, or maybe the writer is off querying agents or publishers. Whatever the reason, an unfinished book is one that has no value. Finishing in a timely fashion is necessary so that the continuity of plot and characters are maintained. I have heard some excuses for not getting to the end of the first draft in a timely fashion. Most boil down to an underlying fear of getting the thing done.

It is understandable because the question after the first draft could be, “Now what?” There is plenty to do after the first draft, and the objective of every writer should be to get the first draft done as soon as is comfortably possible. The significant risk in not completing the draft is it will never get done.

Mistake Five – Not taking time to study the writing craft.

Five mistakes authors make

No matter how many books an author writes, there are still elements of the craft to learn. For a new author, it is especially important to learn to use the basics. The show/don’t tell aspects of plot, characterizations, and dialog techniques skills one learns. There is no such thing as a born author. If very successful authors still take time to hone their skills in writing, what makes a novice think they are above learning?

The only thing I can think of is a misguided belief that this writing gig is an easy thing to do, and there is no need to make it too complicated. Well, nothing is further from the truth. Writing is a soul busting way to express oneself, and the best way of doing it is to do it right. It is a saying that one cannot consider themselves a writer until they have written at least a million words. Think about that. Would you rather write a million highly crafted words or a million miserable ones? Study is the difference.



129 thoughts on “Top Five Mistakes New Authors Make and How to Avoid Them

  1. Pingback: Top Five Mistakes New Authors Make and How to Avoid Them | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  2. Pingback: Top Five Mistakes New Authors Make and How to Avoid Them | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  3. I appreciate posts like this so much, John. As a relative newbie to writing (I never wrote much until I retired from teaching), I appreciate all your suggestions. The one I’ve come to on my own is #1. As I continue the third or fourth rewrite of my work in progress, I constantly remind myself to respect the process. Perhaps because I’m older (and supposedly more mature😂), I’m more worried about getting it right rather than rushing to have an end product.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Hi, John! Congratulations! I see that Lucy and Twiggy are here for moral support. I hope you kept a few biscuits in your pocket for them. I made every mistake known to man with my first book (The Basement). I’ve learned a great deal since then, but you’re right in saying that writers should never stop learning and improving. I strive to make each book I write better than the previous one. Great post! 😀 xo

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I love the book propping open the laundry room door!

    My first effort, complete with beginning, middle, and end, still exists, but where? We’ve moved house so often I simply don’t know. I’m praying nobody finds it when I’m dead and decides to self-publish it. I remember a line about “the bare rugged hills of Ireland”. I’ve visited since, and it must be the greenest country in the world.

    Is Mistake Six not researching settings, or better still, visiting them, John? You’ve covered one to five very thoroughly. Excellent post, thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. So nice to see Twiggy and Lucy here to cheer you on with your first post, John. I have made these mistakes, after all, how was I supposed to know you needed a marketing plan to sell a book? I’d never published one before. I’m still struggling with this, especially living in a country where reading is not a big focus – sport and outdoor life is. I have to market offshore which means it is all virtual. My mom critiques all my books. She is a tough critic, I must say, and my books are vastly improved by her input.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I hope Lucy and Twiggy didn’t have to wait too long for the biscuits, John. Great inaugural speech, especially #2. I can see the spouse feels so honored and excited but it’s tricky after hearing his or her advice.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Great tips, John! I’m guilty of number 4 right now. I keep getting distracted by other projects. It’s more like avoidance, but I’m gonna put on my big girl panties and get working on my WIP just as soon as I finish… 😉 Okay, fine. I’m still procrastinating. Sigh…

    Liked by 6 people

  9. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I still have to remind myself of the basics now and then. I always hope that the book I’m working on is a little better than the last one, but writing’s a craft I’ll never master. I’ll always be learning. That’s a good thing…I guess:) Great first post!

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Delightful advice John — as only you can tell it. “Where did you learn how to do that?” LOL. Hysterical, but it’s true that people say that! 😀
    Seriously though, I agree completely with #3 (the genre reading). I tell people that all the time and they just don’t seem to see that it’s valid. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Yep, I think I’ve done all of these at one time or another. And #4 if still an ongoing issue for me!
    These are great tips and reminders, John. What a wonderful first post!
    And I’m so glad you brought Lucy and Twiggy along to check out the place. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  12. This is an excellent debut post, John! I think the single biggest mistake is #1 and I am guilty! I was so excited to finish “Flowers and Stone,” I couldn’t wait to get it into the hands of readers. I had an editor, but as a greenhorn, I had no idea what a “real” editor was actually supposed to do. 🙂 Anyway, long story short, I pulled the book down from Amazon a couple of years ago and reworked it. So, I can tell you firsthand, that going backward is NO fun! Thank you for sharing these invaluable pieces of advice!!

    Liked by 5 people

  13. So good to see the girls here. ❤ The five points you raise are relevant, John, especially the asking relatives/friends to critique and the rushing to publish. I have made both mistakes in the past. Thanks to you I have discovered Story Empire. All the sparkly best to you all. ❤

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Well, any post that starts with Lucy and Twiggy is going to put a smile on my face and in my heart, so…

    I loved your five points and examples. I think we’ve all fallen victim to one or more (or all) of them at some point. Thanks for illustrating them here. Great inaugural post, John.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Check out John Howell’s debut post on Store Empire today: Top Five Mistakes New Authors Make and How to Avoid Them. You’ll want to make note of these mistakes and do your best to correct them, if you aren’t already working on that. John has laid them out in a clear, concise manner, and I think many of you will find them as helpful as I did. As always, please consider sharing this one with the Immediate World, so others can learn, too. Thanks so much, and thanks to John for such a helpful post! 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  16. So great to read your first Story Empire post, John, and a super one it is, indeed. Each of your points is solid, and encompasses things we all are (or have been) guilty of at one time or another. For me, the biggest trick with writing (like everything else in life, pretty much) is–as you point out in #5–to never stop learning how to be better at it. But new technology, changing trends and tastes, and readers’ desires for more and more books add to the constantly shifting picture, and none of the five mistakes you list above can be ignored if we want to do well at this. (Pretty sure most of us do, though some have no idea how much actual work is involved in accomplishing that goal.)

    I’m in the middle of my first draft that hasn’t been finished in a timely manner, though there have been some issues beyond my control that slowed me down. But I don’t like the feeling of incomplete work, so I’m going to have to pay attention to #4, in particular, going forward.

    Super advice, John, and so happy to have you posting here today! Thanks! Sharing this on The Write Stuff. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Marcia. Not finishing the draft in a timely manner can be deadly. The first thing that can happen is a loss of interest followed by frustration. I’m one who writes crap and then clean-up time later. I don’t stop to edit or ponder the quality of the work. I just keep rolling. Of course, that works for me and we are all different. I enjoyed your comment today. 😁

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thanks, John.

        I write a pretty clean draft, mostly, because if I see a single word that could be better, I’m compelled to fix it right then. But I still usually write pretty fast. I finished two novels a year for my first six books, and then got interrupted by nature (hurricanes and health, etc) and lost my momentum. This little novella should have been out in March, and I’m just now closing in on the end of the draft. 😦 Loss of interest and frustration are beating up on me daily. Well, frustration more than a total loss of interest. I still want to tell this story, but focus is terrible now, too. You are so right that not finishing it in a timely manner is a BAD, BAD thing. At least for some of us. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  17. Welcome to this group, and thanks for sharing your advice, John. I love learning, and I can’t think of a better thing than learning from those who have been there and done that thing you hope to do.

    Wishing you continued success.

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Great debut post, John, and wonderful advice. I’ve made all of these mistakes at one time or another. In fact, I’m taking way too long to finish the first draft of my WIP. (You’d think I’d learned that lesson!)

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Highly interesting first post for Story Empire, John… Five clues to being a great writer should be indelibly marked on our brain!
    I seem to fail with number one, as I have so much trouble coming up with a solid marketing plan… (one that actually works, anyway!)

    Liked by 5 people

  20. I’ve written three manuscripts and still I feel like I need a whole lot of tip #5. There’s just so much to learn, and oftentimes I don’t even know what I lack (other than the craft in its entirety lol). I enjoyed this list. Thanks for sharing, John!

    Liked by 6 people

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