Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make #3: Nope, you can’t explain yourself. Sorry, not allowed!

At a recent Author’s panel discussion, Jonathan Maberry, Mike McPhail, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jon Gibbs, Jennifer R. Hubbard, and Kristin Battestella discussed the biggest mistakes they believe writers make.

Mike McPhail commented that you CANNOT explain your novel to people.

Think about that. 

What Mike said is that you are not going to be there to explain anything about your novel.  It needs to stand on its own with no questions.  If it can’t stand on its own, you are not going to find a publisher (and remember, he’s a publisher as well as a writer)

I recently read a review from a “self-published” author that said:  “Just get through the first few chapters… you’ll be glad you did.”

I can’t help but wonder if they asked a friend to say that… This is probably why they self-published.  Why would you start your novel out weak?  Personally, if I’m not engaged in the first few pages, the book goes back on the shelf.

I wonder if this person ever had beta readers.

Note:  I would never let a beta-read pass with a bad first page, let alone a bad first few chapters.  That’s like literary suicide in my book.

Make sure your novel can stand on its own, and for goodness sake, if you feel like you have to apologize for your first few chapters CHANGE THEM!

Jonathan Maberry:

Mike McPhail:

Danielle Ackley-McPhail:

Jon Gibbs:

Jennifer R. Hubbard:

Kristin Battestella:


34 responses to “Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make #3: Nope, you can’t explain yourself. Sorry, not allowed!

  1. Pingback: Jon Gibbs’s Ten things I wish I knew before I was published #6: Belay that Opinion, Captain. | Jennifer M Eaton

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  4. So true! We always have to remind people of this at my critique group.

  5. thanks for the good info.

  6. This is why self-published books make me nervous. The author might not know to get professional help so their novel becomes the best it can be. Once they finished, they just publish. It’s too bad. I’m sure many a great novel has been lost.

  7. Excellent advice as always. Maybe writers could get away with it in the 1800s, when the pace of life was slower. But now? Yikes. I don’t want to be dropped into a battle with no idea who’s who, but I also don’t want to start out with a guided tour of the scenery and characters clothes!

    • Absolutely. I had entertained the world of self-publishing at one time, but now that I’m “on the road” with a tradtional publisher, I am glad they are there. Right now, I am blogging and they are worrying about the copy editing. It is there job to make it get done on time. They are dealing with the artists, they are creating the arcs. There is just so much more to it than I think many people understand to make it “professional”

      Yes, they are taking a cut for it. But honestly, I’d rather pay them to do it right. Maybe someday, but not anytime soon (for self-publishing)

  8. Excellent point. I’m currently struggling with where I should start my current WIP–before the incitiing event and work up to it or right in the thick of the inciting event. I’ll keep this post in mind while I decide.

    • Hey! New picture!

      You do know to slways start as close to the “event” that starts the story, right?
      Get as close as you can, while maintaining your characterization and setting.

      • Yeah, I know that’s what needs to be done. It’s just trying to figure out where that right point is. 🙂 Thanks!

        • Yeah, it’s tough sometimes. Believe me, I’m with you. I re-wrote Winter Red three times in my short timeframe, and the publisher asked for a COMPLETE re-write because they didn’t understand the setting at all. You never know what someone else is going to “read into” when they see your words. Come to think of it, I’m incredibly luck I didn’t end up in the slush pile because of it.

  9. Great post, always something to think about. 🙂

  10. Appreciate the info.

  11. Thanks for this info — I’m thinking now about my own book in relation to what you’ve said. This is again, helpful information.

  12. IntrovertedSarah

    Absolutely! I won’t make it through the first few pages let along chapters if the writing is poor and the story is not engaging.

  13. Ooh yes, that is a good rule to remember, not just with novels, but with any pieces of writing. If you ask someone to read over something you have written, and they come back with questions, then you probably need to change some things.

    By the way, whenever you reply to a comment I have made on your blog, it never shows up in my notifications (when I click the orange thingy on the top bar). I think I have that with one other blog I follow too, but the others all show up. It’s not a huge issue, I have to just remember to go back and look at the last comment when I visit to see if it has been replied to! Any ideas on why that is?

  14. I remember trying to explain this to a few rookies over the years. I don’t care what you meant to say, don’t give a dam what’s in your notes, because at the end of the day, none of that matters. All that matters is what’s in the book and whether it engages the reader and draws them in. I quit a writers group because I got tired of repeating this to people too caught up in being a special snowflake to listen. :p

    • I’ve also heard “I’m the author, and you’re challenging my artistic integrity!”
      Okay… but that does not make this magically make sense to me …

      • Lol, yeah. It’s like they think the problem is that we can’t see their brilliance. :p Actually, I think people like that often have the theory that the author’s intentions are the only thing that matters, something else that doesn’t make sense to me. But then, I subscribe to the theory that the story occurs where the words I wrote interact with the person reading them. I know I’m not there when it happens, and that I’m only part of the equation, so I don’t tend to argue with the other half of it. I just try to figure out how to make things add up to what I actually wanted them to get out of it (or as close as reasonably possible).

        To me, what the statement you quoted means is that they don’t understand that you’re only trying to help, that they’re human (aka imperfect), and that there’s no integrity in failing needlessly. They always say that we learn more from failure than success after all. In fact, the statement’s almost a red herring, as it isn’t about their artistic integrity at all. Unless you told them they should only write about sparkly vampires from now on… 🙂

        I think I gave up on teaching rookies the lesson of how to take critique when I realized that, in many cases, their arguing with the criticism in the first place indicated an unwillingness/inability to learn the lesson. I dislike futility. :p

        • I think all authors have to make a decision between their “art” and commercialization.

          Many stories may be great, but not commercial for one reason or another. If you want to make money, you need to write someting that people will like to read (other than your mom, who thinks you’re great) 🙂

          If you’re not writing to be published that’s fine. But you have to be honest with yourself which direction you are going in.

          • I would agree, though I think there can be some middle ground. After all, some of the biggest hits we’ve seen in the last while have been things no one would have called. But you’re right, it comes down to being honest about what you want.