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Top Ten Rookie Mistakes (a second look)

I realized my first list, Rough Draft of Top Ten Rookie Mistakes, is a list directed solely at writing, but there are other ways to list rookie mistakes, like this list of top ten rookie mistakes with a squint on professional behavior.  I don't think these are all "rookie" mistakes either.  Some of them are easy to lapse into. I'm looking for ones to add to this list too.  Suggestions?

Top Ten Rookie Mistakes: the Behavior Edition

1)      Starting projects but not finishing them.

2)      LONG gaps where you produce nothing (but talk about the project you will do some time in the future).

3)      Failure of nerve (finishing projects, but not sending them out).

4)      All eggs in one basket (hanging all hopes on one project instead of moving on to the next after sending it out).

5)      Failing to know the market (not researching what markets exist, who takes the kind of project you are offering, and who it should be sent to).

6)      Failure to follow submission directions (type of story, length, manuscript formatting, SASE, etc.).

7)      Not being professional (sloppy manuscripts, embarrassing cover letters, threatening or otherwise ugly correspondence with an editor after a rejection, missing deadlines, etc.).

8)      Lack of professional aplomb (posting nasty thoughts about markets or editors on line, getting involved in flame wars on line, being a jerk in general).

9)      Failing to listen to advice (not all advice is good, of course, but listening doesn’t hurt).

10)  Focusing on how the whole publishing system is screwed up, blaming your inability to reach your goals on others.

11)  This is the Van Pelt rule: getting too full of yourself and pontificating on writing as if you know it all.

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
agilebrit
Oct. 23rd, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
Ooo, shiny!

How long is a "long gap"? I went nearly three months between finishing one short story and the next, this past summer, and it drove me crazy.

Also, if an editor actually gives me crit, or tells me why they rejected a piece, is a thank-you in order? I waffle between sending one and not--on the one hand, I'm sure they have plenty of email to slog through, but on the other; I'd kind of like them to know that I appreciate the time they took to actually let me know why it didn't work for them.
agilebrit
Oct. 23rd, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC)
*facepalm* Way to misplace a semi-colon there, ace...

This is what I get for not proofreading more thoroughly BEFORE sending a comment through.
jimvanpelt
Oct. 23rd, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)
Great question! In the world of long gaps, three months isn't terrible, but I know exactly what you mean about being driven crazy by gaps. I went through a period where I was finishing a short story every couple of weeks. It's taking longer now, and even though I have good excuses (I'm editing, I'm working on longer projects, etc.), it still saddens me that the short stories are coming out so slowly. Still, if it's a GOOD short story every three months, then you have reasons to be happy.

I always send thank you notes. For the longest time I figured that my relationship with editors was solely through my submissions, their rejections, and my thank yous. It was sort of a twisted pen pal thing. After enough of those, the editors started sending personal notes. I wasn't a nut case; I was polite (and human), and they warmed up. It never hurts to be civil.
agilebrit
Oct. 23rd, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC)
Ah, that's very good to know! Thanks very much. :)

I'd been cranking out about a story a month, and it was my goal this year to finish twelve of them. I'm...not sure I'm going to accomplish that; I've done eight (with a ninth in editing mode) and we're in October. Hm. I guess I'm closer than I thought I was.
j_cheney
Oct. 23rd, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
My goal was 10 this year, and it's been TOUGH. 12? That's impressive. ;o)
agilebrit
Oct. 24th, 2007 12:04 am (UTC)
Well, it might be impressive if I actually accomplish it. :o) My other goal, to send something to every quarter of Writers of the Future this year, I've actually done, so far--although the 2nd quarter had a moment of panic when I realized that I had absolutely nothing to send them a week from the deadline. I don't think I've ever cranked out a full-fledged story that fast before...

It also helps that I don't work outside the home, and I can tell my family "Leave me alone, I'm going to write now." Writing a story a month while holding down a 40-hour-a-week job would be tough.
j_cheney
Oct. 24th, 2007 01:06 am (UTC)
;o)
oneminutemonkey
Oct. 24th, 2007 12:57 am (UTC)
I'm personally guilty of #1-#4. :<
How about
#whatever: Overconfidence... thinking that after a sale or two, you've got it made and can sit back and wait for the awards and accolades instead of moving on?

#whatever+1: Procrastination... reading LJ all day long instead of working on those projects.


I planned to submit to Hardboiled Horror ... and read your journal and managed to totally talk myself out of finishing the project I was working on, reasoning that I couldn't produce what you were looking for. I'm still kicking myself. :>
jimvanpelt
Oct. 24th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
I have all kinds of kick myself moments. Maybe that project will be the perfect fit somewhere else.
middlevanp
Oct. 24th, 2007 05:26 am (UTC)
Rookie Mistakes
12) Falling in love with a word or phrase and making THAT the focus of the piece, rather than following through with the original and/or natural direction of the piece.
13) Rabbit trails....
14) Ridiculous punctuation and/or Italicizing. The font shouldn't have to identify expression or feelings
15) My current pet peeve with graduate students is their assumption is that online work requires no more thought or preparation than an email or an IM
16) My biggest bugaboo is procrastination. It seems to me, once long, long ago, I was going to keep up with you in acquiring those rejection slips.... How did THAT happen!?!?!
jimvanpelt
Oct. 24th, 2007 05:43 am (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
There's no time like the present to start a pile of rejection slips *g*.

Nice additions to the list.

Go, Rockies!
joshenglish
Oct. 24th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
Why? I'm trying to understand this idea Jim. Why encourage starting writers to "get that pile of rejection slips"?
jimvanpelt
Oct. 24th, 2007 04:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
Hi, Josh. I'm not sure I'd always phrase it that way. Middlevanp is my sister.
joshenglish
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
Well, the sentiment is the same. Why encourage novice writers to send out their early stories? What does a pile of rejection slips gain them? Experience in getting rejected? What is the true likelihood of a new writer striking it rich on their early tries?
jimvanpelt
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
Hi, Josh. Great question. The issue isn't to encourage novice writers to get rejections, but to start sending work out. The reality is that they're likely to be rejected, so we take the sting out of it by preparing them. A rejection is a kind of badge of honor: I've started submitting; I've taken the next step!

The true likelihood of a new writer striking it rich on their early tries is, of course, small, but the only way to progress from being a new writer to a not so new writer is to start trying. I don't think I would have ever reached the point where I was writing publishable stuff if I hadn't started submitting the stuff that wasn't publishable first. Knowing that I was preparing work for publication and actually sending it out (and receiving rejections) made me think of writing in a very specific way.

EVERY writer is a new, unpublished one until the day they make their first sale. By definition, all writers' stories when they start are their early ones. There's no standard of how many stories a writer should write before they should start sending them out.

Heck, for that matter, old writers don't strike it rich, and they're rejected too.

My sister is 48 (or so). How long is it until she's no longer new?
joshenglish
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
I played that game for two years. I walked away from it wondering if it gained me anything but an association with some editors between my name and the rejection slip. I doubt many editors (except the ones that know me) have made that association, let alone become familiar enough with my name to say "his stuff has gotten so much better, let's buy this one."
If I tie this in to the other great discussion about competence, doesn't this feed into moulding our work into some sort of generic, merely competent, mish-mash?
Anyway, I'd like to hear more about how the submission/rejection cycle influenced your writing.
jimvanpelt
Oct. 25th, 2007 08:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
Are you referring to Jeff Vandemeer's take on the state of short stories now? That's at http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2007/10/16/the-triumph-of-competence/, and Elizabeth Bear's reply at http://matociquala.livejournal.com/1232451.html and David Levine's thoughts at http://davidlevine.livejournal.com/103373.html and Jay Lake's take on it at http://jaylake.livejournal.com/1249866.html?

If so, I disagreed with Jeff and felt much more sympathy with Elizabeth's stance. I don't think sending early work creates the merely competent. The merely competent is always out there, and the later-to-become-classics are rare.

Everybody's path to publishing is different, I believe. My path isn't particularly instructive for anyone else, probably. I started writing for publication seriously when I turned 29. Before then I'd submitted a handful of things, but it was haphazard, half hearted and inconsistent. At 29, I was two years into a marriage that was going south in a hurry, and I needed something to throw myself into (I didn't know that was why I was doing it at the time). After a couple of years of not succeeding in any way, I knew that writing was what I really wanted to do.

Since I'm a teacher, and teachers get paid more for more education, I decided that I wanted my education in creative writing rather than the traditional teacher ed classes. This was my version of chasing the dream.

I was accepted at the U.C. Davis masters in creative writing program and spent two years there. I made my first fiction sale at the end of the second year, although, oddly enough, it was a story I'd written before starting grad school.

During that time and for several years after, I always had twenty or more manuscripts in the mail. As I revised manuscripts, knowing that I was going to send them out made me pay attention to them in a very particular way. I tried to read them as someone who didn't know me and didn't know what I was thinking.

I'd like to say that somewhere in there I made a conceptual or skill-related breakthrough, but I didn't as far as I know. Sometime around 1996 the stories started selling. I had a big backlog of stories written over the previous eight years, and over the course of the next couple years, they all sold. The new stories sold too. That's been the case ever since. My rejection to acceptance ration is about three or four to one. I never trunk anything. I hardly ever revise a story once I start sending it out, and every one eventually finds a home.

I've been blessed and lucky. And I'm persistent as hell.
joshenglish
Oct. 25th, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
I was referring to the whole conversation, really. Maybe I missed Elizabeth Bear's full take on it. That conversation seems to be taking place on at least five journals that I've found so far.

I've got lots of stories, but they're not selling. I hope what I'm feeling is more than sour grapes. Thanks for the line "I tried to read them as someone who didn't know me and didn't know what I was thinking." This is probably an important step I'm not getting in my own process.

I've been more interested in cleaning up old stories, especially the ones that have been rejected, than writing new stuff. On the other hand, I trunked 30 stories before ever sending them out. Maybe I tried to sell the wrong stories.
jimvanpelt
Oct. 25th, 2007 11:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
If you want, Josh, and if you trust me to be honest, send me one of your stories. I'll take a look at it.

I don't make the offer lightly, and I certainly don't want other folks sending things my way unsolicited, but we've been jawing back and forth for a while, so I don't think you'd go all nut case if I found areas to make suggestions. Or it could be that you stories are wonderful and just haven't crossed the right desk at the right time. Almost none of my stories have sold to the first place that saw them.

I can read MSWord, WordPerfect and .rtf files. Send it to Vvanp(at)aol.com.
joshenglish
Oct. 26th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Rookie Mistakes
Thank you for the offer. The email is on its way.
ruralwriter
Oct. 24th, 2007 01:28 pm (UTC)
I would suggest another mistake is not soliciting feedback (i.e., from early readers, such writer friends, solid readers--not ones who just say "good job," online critique groups) for revising a draft. I think this is key to the failure of nerve (i.e., how do you produce a finished project?).


jimvanpelt
Oct. 24th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
Good point. Although I know of a couple of writers who do not belong to groups and don't have a "1st reader," (L.E. Modesitt, for example), most writers do. We're too close to our own drafts to see problems some times.
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