PhotobucketSometimes writers express sentiments that make me want to issue a red-flag warning: STOP. You are about to hurt yourself. Here are five of the biggest ones.

1. If I can’t get a deal soon, I’m self-publishing.

Why are you in a rush? Does your book have an expiration date? Even if your book is timely, should you invest in a book project that has a very short life span? Will you be able to get attention on your own? Is a book the best format for something that’s incredibly timely?

If you’re the type of person who is initially interested in traditional publishing, are you sure that self-publishing will satisfy you? Are you hoping to use self-publishing as a way to attract a traditional deal? If so, be careful. Self-publishing is a full-time job if you intend to build a readership. Are you ready to take on that full-time job of marketing yourself? Do you know who you’re marketing to? Do you know how to market to them?

I worry for authors whose back-up plan is self-publishing. I worry they will be disappointed if they are not genuinely committed to it.

2. I just want to get my book published.

This is the sister attitude to No. 1. It leads to all kinds of bad decisions, such as:

  • Signing with any agent
  • Signing a bad contract
  • Falling for scams
  • Becoming bitter
  • Partnering with a less-than-ideal publisher or service company
  • Focusing on book publication when another medium would be better

Believe me, you don’t just want to get your book published. Aside from the incredible amount of work for minimal monetary gain, many authors experience  post-launch depression. It’s that sudden realization that, even though your book now exists, nobody knows except for you. Even experienced and seasoned authors with good marketing and publicity plans can get discouraged, even angry, at the lack of attention. When most books land on the shelves, they rarely make an audible sound.

Before you call me a terrible cynic, I should clarify that I don’t think publishing a book is meaningless or without reward. However, my thinking aligns with that of Clay Shirky, who said, “In a world where publishing is effortless, the decision to publish something isn’t terribly momentous.” We live in a world of information abundance, not scarcity.

So make sure that you have a deeper and lasting purpose associated with your desire to get a book published. Make sure it’s part of a larger career path and contribution to the world. Don’t focus on just one book.

3. Quality is subjective, and I don’t need a professional editor.

I’ve already written about this to some extent. But it bears repeating.

An editor is not a family member, a friend, an English major, or your writing group buddy. An editor is someone with professional training whose only responsibility is to ensure you produce the best book possible.

A lot of cutting corners now goes on, and it doesn’t make a good impression on either your readers or your future potential publishing partners. Yes, it’s true that all publishers and content providers are guilty of putting out stuff that’s horribly average, even poor. But let’s not strive to be like them.

I know what your next question is: How do I find a reputable, credible, professional editor? How do you get your hands on the real deal?

I admit it’s a challenge. I’ve offered critical feedback to dozens of authors who protested that their work had been professionally edited, but clearly it hadn’t been. Whoever they hired was not really a professional. There are “editors” out there doing more harm than good, who don’t have appropriate experience.

If you want to find reputable help, start with the directories at Publishers Marketplace. Make sure the editor you hire can give you referrals and point to published works or authors they’ve edited. Another clue: Any solid editor will likely have a waiting list, and they won’t take on any kind of work that comes their way. They’re selective.

4. I just need someone to really pay attention.

Your work is so unique, right? It’s never been done before. Most importantly, it has your heart and soul in it. Your parents, kids, and friends all love it.

Not only that, there isn’t yet any competition for your work—nothing like it on the shelves—even though every man, woman, and child on the planet are the target audience for your work.

You’ve been told to write this story by everyone you know. You’ve been told it deserves publication. The only problem is, you can’t get anyone in the industry to pay attention to you. If only someone would pay attention, you’d have it made. Right?

Everyone thinks they’re the exception to the rule, and if only their work could get distribution across all major retailers, bestsellerdom would be theirs.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking only leads to one place: It’s always someone else’s fault that you or your work isn’t hitting the milestones you’d like.

5. [x] isn’t relevant any more.

What is X? Take your pick.

  • X = traditional publishers
  • X = bestseller lists
  • X = print books
  • X = agents
  • X = mass media
  • X = blogs
  • X = e-mail

I can guarantee that X is probably relevant to someone and still has an impact if you know where to look. Unfortunately, the Web is a place where people get attention for making bold claims. Plus, complex ideas are not easily Tweeted, Facebooked, or Instagrammed. Social media encourages a reductivist approach. (I am guilty of this like anyone else.)

The lesson here? Allow me to quote Nietzsche: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Pen Waggener

About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is the co-founder of Scratch, a new quarterly magazine focused on the intersection of writing and money. Her day job is at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she leads online and digital content strategy; she also teaches digital publishing at the University of Virginia. Prior to joining VQR, Jane was the publisher of Writer’s Digest and an assistant professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati. Find out more at Google+ or her website.