Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Don't overthink it

The publishing process is a stressful one. And despite all our best intentions, I don't know a single person who is able to play it cool all the time.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, stresses out at some point.


And "I don't see this covered in your FAQs, but should I spell out the word "Street" when I provide my mailing address or is "St." okay?"

Deep breaths, people! (Those e-mails are fictional by the way. No authors were harmed in the making of this blog post).

A typo isn't going to sink your query. Fiddling with tiny, inconsequential changes in your manuscript isn't going to be the difference whether someone buys it or not if you decide to self-publish.

Success can seem so fleeting in the publishing process that it can feel like you're about to fall off a cliff at every moment. But it's not true. You're fine.

When you find yourself unsure or spinning, ask yourself a very basic question: "Is this really going to be the thing that sinks my query/manuscript?"

Chances are the answer is no.

The little things won't sink you. It can be tough to distinguish between what's a big deal and not when you're stressed, but try and keep your head.

Art: Mater Dolorosa by Titian


Peter Dudley said...

Generally good advice for life in general. :-)

Jaimie Teekell said...

This isn't entirely unprovoked. I remember 5-ish years ago you'd get some agent (not you) writing a blog post about how some little thing put them off. So pompous and unhelpful, seriously. But, I don't read their blogs anymore.

Atthys Gage said...

The most common little things that agents always mention: Don't send stuff I don't represent. Don't query as part of a mass-mailing. Don't misspell my name. Beyond that, it mostly comes down to stuff you can't control.

Anita Diggs said...

Very good advice for query letters. Authors tend to not know what to put in them, or what questions to ask. If you have an MFA, then yes you should say that. But what you do in your personal life or that you have five kids and are taking 10 minutes a day to write this, or how long it's taken you to write it, all of that is irrelevant. The only information included should be related to what the agent is holding in his hand.

Nikola Vukoja said...

It's good advice, but sadly, the reason we worry so much about the little things is because they CAN mean an instant "NO"
Several agents are on record as saying things like "If you make a spelling error in your query, its a no from me because I assume your entire MS is the same"

And to press this point further, only a few months ago I got a rejection from a well regarded & respected lit agent.
I was rejected because I (evidently) spelled my MC's name wrong -- I didn't, the MC in question was not Anglo and therefore her name wasn't either.

Said agent even went to the trouble of "correcting" my spelling error and wrote this (direct quote from my email)
"Unfortunately, while the theme and opening pages show a lot of potential, if you cannot correctly spell your own main character's name, it does not bode well for the rest of the manuscript."

I spelled my MC's name the same (3x in the QL) and the opening pages (also 3x). I also made it clear in the first two pages my MC was not Anglo. It did not occur to this agent that the spelling is correct...
...clearly I will not be submitting to said agent again, but it does beg two questions:
(i) have other agents assumed the same thing and not told me?
(ii) the level of bigotry would seem to be quite high.

On a previous occasion another agent told me they would "offer me representation" if I did a satisfactory R&R which included moving the main location from Australia to the USA and making the MC "more American and less unknown ethnic" -- I respectfully declined to do either.

So you see, the little and the big things are real and our worry is warranted. said...

Good advice. It's all about a sense of proportion. There are some people who just can't let go and strive for an unreachable level of perfection as a way of hanging on to their manuscript. I once had an undergraduate student like that. She had worked hard, contributed in class but in the end wouldn't submit her assignment. I knew she would get a decent pass and told her so but according to her it still wasn't ready. In the end I felt I bullied her into submitting by telling her that I wasn't going to leave the building until she presented her essay. I just couldn't let her throw away a year's work like that...

Ernie J. Zelinski said...

Forget about perfection. There is no such thing.

In the same vein, this advice from one of my favorite writers:

"It's better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project."
— Robert J. Ringer

Incidentally, my international bestseller "The Joy of Not Working" had over 150 spelling errors when I first self-published it in 1991. It wasn't until three years later when the book sold over 30,000 copies and when I did a spell check that I discovered those spelling errors.
Did this impact the sales to the book? Very little, near as I can tell. The book still sold over 5,000 copies in print last year, 22 years after it was released, and will make me over $20,000 this year.

This has alwasy been my motto (Enjoy the typo):

Do It Badly — But at Least Do It!

This approach has helped me get published in 22 languages and 29 countries, a total of 111 book deals with foreign publishers, all without using a North American foreign rights agent.

Ernie J. Zelinski
The Prosperity Guy
"Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free"
Author of the Bestseller "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free"
(Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller "The Joy of Not Working"
(Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

Laurence King said...

Thanks for the reminder, Nathan :-)

Nathan Bransford said...


I've definitely heard stories along those lines. I guess the question I'd have back is, if someone is going to hold a typo against you as saying something about an entire manuscript are they really the type of person you'd want as an agent?

wendy said...

hahah So true when you consider it in the light of day. As you might remember my mentioning, Nathan, I've a fifteen year old project I've been fine-tuning for a very long time. Although I feel the time is right to submit, I'm tempted to do one more illustration, or rework the cover, or improve the syntax, or add more to the inspirational side of the story. There's always so much to be said... But when is enough, enough? And perhaps there's another book - a sequel? - which could say even more instead of trying to say everything with just one. But we'll never know while not letting go of the first one.

Anonymous said...

@Atthys Gage...

"Don't misspell my name."

I did that once. (Some have odd names.) And the agent responded with TWO misspellings in the reply.

I was kind and didn't point out the irony :)

Ginny Moyer said...

Years ago, I was sending an article into a magazine that I really really wanted to work with. I accidentally sent the same email twice, and instantly started obsessing: I'm going to look like an idiot who can't use email, I'm going to look pushy, etc. etc.

A few days later, I got a response to my first email: a rejection.

A few days after that, I got a response to my second email: an acceptance.

Apparently, that accidental resend was a good thing after all.

Julie Musil said...

YES! And sometimes we writers can lose sight of what truly, good health, and all those other things we sometimes take for granted.

Ted Cross said...

I don't know, Nathan. I queried my first novel and got a few requests (including from you) that were positive but my book just wasn't a good fit. I get that, no problem. But my second book is so much better than my first one, and after forty query letters not a single agent is even willing to take a look at it. I understand agents not wanting to waste their time on manuscripts that won't lead anywhere, but I've been doing this long enough to know that something is wrong with the system when a book as good as my second one can't even get a single agent to peek at it's first few chapters.

Jaimie Teekell said...

@Anonymous 9:29 PM -

Ooo, I absolutely would have pointed out that spelling error, if I could have found a nice way to do it. Or as nice as one can be pointing out spelling errors. "Judge not lest ye be judged." They brought it up.

But there's this weird thing where people think misspelling names is the height of insult. My entire name is spelled weird. I can't afford to care. Consequently I get more picky when people misspell actual words.

Sweet Venom said...

There is definitely something wrong with the system.

A lot of great authors do not get published. I say if you make it big these days it's dumb luck! But you have to keep trying. If this is really your chosen path you will regret giving up.

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