Friday, 24 August 2012

Aussie writer on the journey: Publishing pitfalls for new fiction writers

by Narelle Atkins

One of the smartest things I did as a new writer was to join professional writing groups and connect with other writers. I gleaned valuable information from writing organisation newsletters, email groups and critique groups that helped me to avoid some of the newbie writer mistakes. There are a couple of things I’ve learned about publishing that I hope will help any new writers reading this post.

1. There are writing industry professionals who provide helpful services for aspiring authors.

It is true that a professional writer will invest money in their writing career in a number of different ways. Memberships, conferences, workshops, mentorships, manuscript appraisals are all great things and can provide valuable assistance to aspiring authors. The trick is to know which stage you are at in your writing career and choose resources that will best suit your needs.

Join writing groups that cater for the genre in which you write. Attend conferences where there will be editors and agents attending who acquire books in your target market. Writing craft workshops are valuable for new writers because very few fiction writers are talented enough to produce an excellent first book without a sound understanding of writing craft. Mentorships by published authors who write in your chosen genre are enormously helpful when you have a completed manuscript that has potential but needs work to lift it to a publishable standard. Manuscript appraisals by professional editors are expensive and most new writers are probably better off finding a critique group and learning about writing craft first before paying for a professional edit.

2. There are unscrupulous people who make money by ripping off aspiring authors

There are vanity publishers that make money from authors paying to publish their books rather than by selling books. Vanity presses don’t reject manuscripts or screen for quality like a traditional publisher. They don’t care how many copies of the book are sold because they’ve already made their money from the author. Authors can buy publishing packages and often pay large amounts of money to see their book in print, often with a high cover price. Sometimes the author is contractually obligated to purchase a large number of copies that they will have to try and sell.

It is rare for fiction authors to make money from a vanity press arrangement. Subsidy publishing arrangements can work well in certain niche non-fiction markets but are not recommended for fiction.

Writing groups are an invaluable source of information about publishers. Writers are usually willing to share industry information to prevent other writers from getting conned by dodgy publishers.

The following sites provide helpful industry information for fiction writers:
Preditors and Editors
Writer Beware
Dear Author

3. Self-publishing your first draft or a manuscript that has not been professionally edited is always a bad idea

I believe the ease of access to eBook self-publishing is a new pitfall that can snare aspiring fiction authors. There is now a temptation to self-publish your manuscript that has been rejected by all the traditional publishers without assessing whether or not your manuscript is of a publishable standard. We’ve all heard about the ‘Kindle millionaires’ but the vast majority of self-published fiction books sell very few copies. Savvy self-published ‘indie’ fiction authors work hard to develop marketing plans and leverage social networking opportunities to reach new readers.

Readers are smart and they will download a sample of a book before hitting the ‘buy now’ button. If they get burned too often from buying badly written and poorly edited self-published books, they are likely to avoid them altogether and buy books from traditional publishers who have a reputation for producing quality books.

A happy customer will tell a couple of people about a great product they’ve purchased, but an unhappy customer will tell everyone they know about a bad product. There are now online book clubs, reading groups, customer book review sites and numerous other ways for readers from around the world to share book information. A bad first book will damage your reputation and deter readers from buying your next book.

I’ve only covered a couple of the pitfalls confronting fiction writers and I know there are many more. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences because knowledge is power and we can all help each other avoid the pitfalls.

Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She has published Bible Studies on Smashwords and blogs regularly at

She is a co-founder of the new Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA) and she is a regular blogger with International Christian Fiction Writers

To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.


  1. Thank you for sharing this advice Narelle.

  2. Thanks so much, Narelle, for all your very wise advice here for new authors--I get asked such questions quite a bit when speaking and I think it's so important to arm others with this knowledge. I learnt a lot initially from attending various weekends and courses at the NSW Writers' Centre that dealt with both the writing craft and preparing for publication. I also gleaned much wise advice by being part of American Christian Fiction Writers. I talked with and emailed published Christian authors. I read a lot of books and online info about various aspects of writing and was also part of a couple of writers' groups at different times. I think having critique partners/manuscript readers is extremely important too, as is a GOOD editor. Then we need the humility to listen to them and take on board their advice, at the same time as trusting our own judgement when we need to. All this can be a precarious path at times, but God will empower and guide.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences :) A good editor is essential and I look forward to working with an editor who can help me turn a good book into an excellent book.

  3. Such an excellent pool of information, Narelle. I admit when I first began writing I just wrote my story and thought that was all there was to it. Oh my, did I have scads to learn. Two books by James Scott Bell really opened my eyes. 1.Plot & Structure. 2. Revision & Self-Editing. Of course becoming a member of ACFW was a great help in countless ways. Your advice about flooding the market with books that are poorly written and edited is so important. If we want to write well for the Lord, we need to be willing to make the sacrifice of time and effort to learn the craft and continue learning as we go.

    1. Hi Rita, I've also found James Scott Bell's books and organisations like ACFW very helpful :) Learning writing craft is a lifelong journey and there will always be an aspect of our writing we can improve as we strive to write for His glory :)

  4. Thanks Narelle for that well thought of post with much useful information. That was a good point you made that we need to hone our writing so we don't flood the market with poor quality books. Yes, we do have a lot to learn and do have many choice methods of getting the help we need don't we?

    Thanks for the information and the weblinks. As Christian writers we need to aim at excellence of course, so it's good to heed your advice and get all the help we need.
    Blessings and thanks,

    1. Hi Anusha, We are fortunate to have so many different resources at our disposal to help us write great books :)

  5. As a reader I have to say I do tend to avoid self published books. I have read a few that authors have asked me to read and some have been really good but a couple had some glaring errors and also there were issues with the book where they seemed slow at times and even boring in parts. There are some really good ones out there but what Narelle said about being able to download a sample is important. I find even with free books I tend to avoid some of the self published books. (of course this is just one readers view)

  6. Hi Jenny, thanks for stopping by and providing us with a reader's perspective on self-published books. I actually wrote a blog post yesterday for readers with tips on how to find good quality self-published (indie) books (my Bible studies blog). There are good quality indie books out there and I hope readers will continue to seek out the 'diamonds in the rough' :)

  7. Thanks Narelle. And well timed.

  8. I have come across a lot of talks about self publishing lately. It certainly has many pitfalls if you don't do it properly. Thanks Narelle - knowledge is power where it comes to this topic.