I didn't fully appreciate the usefulness of mistakes until I published my serial killer novel, TALION. Now I can't survive without them. Here are a few valuable mistakes you might already have on hand, but as I said, they're reusable.
Publish with a bad attitude.
After a spectacular fail with my second agent, I decided I might as well self-publish my novel since no commercial publisher wanted it. I brought TALION to the world with a what-the-hell attitude that produced the mistakes that follow and taught me it's impossible to promote a book unless you believe in it.
Why bother with a virtual book tour if you're embarrassed to post the banner on your Facebook page, if you imagine your friends saying, "Poor Mary couldn't find a publisher, and now look what she's reduced to doing."
Don't bother analyzing the market for your novel.
TALION's protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl, but the adult language and graphic violence make it inappropriate for young adults. To complicate my marketing task even more, I added paranormal elements. Mixing genres is inventive and fun for the writer, but readers are liable to view the mix with suspicion. Kind of like a chocolate bar with hot peppers. Sure, it's tasty, but you have to overcome people's resistance to its strangeness.
Now I keep potential readers in mind. After all, I'm writing the story for them.
Don't pay for proofreading and do only a cursory job yourself.
My what-the-hell attitude resulted in my rushing to publication with only one read-through. Fortunately, my readers pointed out the mistakes. One local woman sent me a hand-written note on a pretty card, saying how much she enjoyed TALION. Then she added that one of the minor characters had two names. She thought I'd want to know.
I was too ashamed to sleep that night. I thought about withdrawing the novel from the market and crawling under a rock forever. But in the sanity of daylight, I unpublished the novel long enough to proof it adequately.
First I ran find/replace to make sure the minor character had one name. I ran it again to eliminate extra spaces within and between sentences, and again to conform dashes. After reviewing a punctuation handbook, I proofed the manuscript five times—twice on screen, twice on paper, and once reading aloud. No doubt a few errors still lurk somewhere in TALION. Please tell me if you notice one.
The proofreading took hours and hours. Next time I'm hiring a professional.
Choose a cover image without thinking about the marketplace.
TALION's first cover image was artistic but had only a slight connection to the story. It never occurred to me to wonder how readers would see it. Reviewers who enjoyed the novel panned the cover. That should have given me a clue.
During homecoming at my alma mater, Knox College, I joined other alumni and some faculty at a book signing. I sold several copies to friends. During the event, a woman marched up to me and announced she wouldn't buy my book because the cover was terrible. It told her nothing whatsoever about the book. Unlike the woman who wrote the note, she didn't bother being kind. This time I skipped the despair, thought about the criticism, and decided the rude woman was right. I hired a professional to design a new cover.
I could go on and on recounting my mistakes, but I'm sure you get the idea. Mistakes show me where I went wrong. They give me an appreciation of critics (even ones who aren't very nice). They teach me that negative emotions – disappointment, shame, anger—can be useful motivators as long as I don't give them too much scope. And paradoxically mistakes give me confidence. I know they can be overcome.
Has a publishing mistake been useful to you?
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