Sunday, September 6, 2009


by Libby Malin

I just handed in the copy-edited version of my next Sourcebooks release, My Own Personal Soap Opera. I'm always so, so grateful to copy editors for catching my inconsistencies (uh, if the heroine's cell phone jingles in most scenes, maybe it shouldn't chirp in another) and my outright mistakes (like misspelling a major character's name).

I try not to beat myself up too much when I see these oopsies. What writer doesn't scratch her head trying to remember on page 170 what she called that secondary character mentioned on page 32? I've used the "find" function of MSWord more than once to doublecheck characters or word descriptions. Even though I try to be careful, mistakes still happen.

Mistakes were a big part of my heroine's life in Fire Me -- she was deliberately trying to make them, in order to win the pink slip and a severance pay package. Her rationale was that a little embarrassment was a small price to pay for the bigger prize.

But most of us aren't so sanguine about mess-ups, in manuscripts or in life. We turn red-faced or cringe when remembering past fumbles.

So, too, with memories of early writing life mistakes. I warm with embarrassment when recalling some of my goofs. Here are a few gaffes I made:

When I first started writing fiction, I thought all you needed to do to get a publishing house's attention was to send them a (query) letter. Uh, that's right -- a letter to the publishing house. My first query was addressed to Simon & Schuster, I believe. I'm not sure I even put "Fiction Editor" on the envelope.

Okay, so I learned quickly enough that was not such a hot strategy (but am grateful that someone at S&S had pity on me and sent me copied pages of a literary marketplace book with agent listings on it).

Next mistake: when I started writing romance, I actually wrote a few query letters that included this sure-to-sell-me pitch: "My sister, who is a huge romance fan, loves my manuscript."

I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't want to buy a manuscript from me after that? Really.

When I shared these embarrassments with a multi-published writing friend, she confessed to her own early goof -- she once wrote query letters that included her drawings of what she thought the cover of her book should look like.

Thank goodness the editors and agents who received these gems from us didn't laugh us out of the business. We've matured since then, and are both happy to share advice with beginning writers on the business side of writing.

I know we're not alone -- I once read an article in the Romance Writers Report by a successful author who, as a newbie, hadn't been sure what agents and editors meant when they said to send in a few chapters. She thought perhaps she should choose the best chapters out of the entire manuscript.

(I couldn't feel superior on that one -- it was something I, too, had wondered about when I'd received that request!)

So, are you willing to share some of your early stumbles? Don't be bashful -- we've all been there!


  1. ah the v8 moments in life. what would we have to laugh about or share with others without them? mine are generally not done in the privacy of mail but in very public ways for all the world to see what a dufuss i can be. now that i am in the "retirement" time of life, i have learned to accept that dufussism is part of who i am and just try to enjoy them.

  2. Omigosh, Libby, I thought I was the only one writing for Sourcebooks that changed the spelling of characters' names. Whew. I am not alone!!! My big early goof was sending mss (when you could send the whole thing) to publishers, but neglecting to watch word count. I got a very nice form letter checked off on the block, "Needs to be...and whatever their house required for publication." Of course, I'd sent off two like that in short order. So one day comes the one rejection and a couple of days later, the second which emphasized, check publisher requirements, first!!! They no longer accept unsolicited mss. Hmm, wonder why? :)

  3. Can I breathe a little easier now? Or is absolute perfection expected for unpublished authors. I know I have made a lot of mistakes. One of the more memorable ones was leaving a comment box in the manuscript. I was so embarrassed. Shortly there after I read an agent blog post about most common mistakes authors make. Much to my relief comment boxes were in the top ten.

  4. I have trouble with names, too, particularly since in my case, they sort of evolve. Other mistakes I make is in seeing something in my head that I don't describe to the reader, who obviously cannot read my mind!

    Like you, I've made lots of mistakes in this business, but, hey, we must have done something right!

  5. It makes you grateful for the kind editors and agents who must get impatient with newbie mistakes, but still don't treat you poorly.

  6. Oh, yeah, I've made 'em. No wonder many editors prefer agented submissions. I'm thankgful for RWA for helping me avoid some major ones.

  7. For me, mistakes are a way of life, but then I'm always the first or second to laugh at myself and how dumb I can be. Lord knows, I'm always good for a laugh.

  8. Yep, done a few stupid things in my writing life! After 5 books in the same series, it is real easy to forget a name or time placement, etc. I HOPE any glaring errors like that have been picked up!

    No doubt that all the editors earn their wages. Thank goodness a manuscript goes through so many stages and is seen by so many pairs of eyes. I am a huge perfectionist, so it was hard to have stupid mistakes pointed out. But now I have gotten used to it and am just thankful.

  9. I'm sure I made mistakes, but I guess I blocked them. :}

    I had an agent from the beginning, but I also had a great editor who was as new to the business as I was, so we learned together.