Thursday, May 20, 2010


Deadly Attitudes That Kill Writers’ Chances

by Katherine Swarts

Everyone has the perfect story idea at one time or another. And everyone who writes down that story expects publishers and the public to snap it up.

That expectation is regularly disappointed. Whether you’re selling your work to an agent or publisher, or directly to the public, it can take years to get noticed among the mountains of competition. And blaming “the system” won’t help.

Besides, it’s often misplaced blame. Many writers set themselves up for failure. If you are guilty of any of the following “Deadly Attitudes,” you may be your own worst enemy.

1. Deadly Careless Research. Fiction readers want temporary escape from the real world—but not to cut all ties with it. An obvious factual error can knock the reader back to reality with an abruptness that ruins the story experience. If the population of Tokyo or some detail of a typical police investigation is important to your plot, don’t rely on your memory of something you saw on television; look it up. And look it up in an authoritative source (preferably two or three); never be satisfied with a random Internet search.

2. Deadly Dullness. Even if your facts are accurate, overdoses of straight information put readers to sleep. People want to read about people, not about facts and figures. Remove any technical explanation or historical exposition that isn’t essential to plot clarity. Include plenty of action and dialogue (and remember that a two-page speech by one character is not dialogue).

3. Deadly Stereotyping. Most writers have the sense to avoid blatant bigotry, but “stock character types” are almost as bad. If a dumb jock or popular snob seems essential to your plot, sidestep the “met this person in a hundred pulp novels” trap by adding an atypical personality trait—give your “jock” a taste for Renaissance poetry!

4. Deadly Sloppiness. No busy editor will correct a typo-laden manuscript for a writer who is too lazy to proofread personally. Even with self-published books, mistakes on every page annoy readers and make them suspect you are equally careless with facts. Don’t expect your word processor to do the proofing, either; few spell checkers know the difference between “its” and “it’s.” Word processing and e-mail software can even create errors; so check visually to make sure automatic formatting hasn’t put any tabs where they shouldn’t be!

5. Deadly Thoughtless Marketing. Never just open a market database and start querying publishers in alphabetical order. Read the entries in full; publishers are disgusted with fiction writers’ ignoring clear statements that “we publish only nonfiction.” Read your chosen publisher’s full official guidelines (market guides explain how to locate these). And even if you’re self-publishing, have a clear demographic vision of your expected readers and where to find them; writers who aim at “everyone” never hit anyone.

Probably the number-one reason writers fail is that they expect their talent to absolve them of any real need to work. Writers who succeed know better. No author ever outgrows the imperfect first draft!

Katherine Swarts is a professional writer specializing in corporate blogs/newsletters and other articles. Her Web address is


  1. Excellent suggestions and reminders!

  2. Attitude is everything! It not only affects how we approach life but also shows up in what we write and how we pursue our writing goals. :)

  3. Thanks, Katie, Marta and Carol. I'm in the middle of preparing my manuscript for publication, so Katherine's reminders were especially helpful.

  4. Thanks for this, Katherine. I have been lazy lately and needed to be reminded. Part of the problem is so many rejections make it harder to apply myself. But that's not a good excuse, I know.


  5. Thanks, Clarice. I know what you mean. Best of luck with your work and your search for a publisher.

  6. Thank you all! I'm hoping to turn this post into a whole book someday; in fact, I have an expanded e-booklet version available already.

  7. Katherine, it is such a pleasure hosting your column every month. You never fail to help me on whatever it is I happen to be doing. Now that's Karma.

  8. Thank you for the every-timely call to action. Great guidance for both emerging and established writers. Some keepers for my writer's toolbox ^_^
    Write On!

  9. Thanks for leaving a comment, Kate. Glad you enjoyed Katherine's column. She's back again every month.


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