Note: This post is part of my seven-week series about the mistakes people make when writing a book. To read from the beginning, start here.
If there's one mistake I see new authors make perhaps more than any other, it's sharing the work in progress too soon.
I understand the lure of sharing. The writer mentions that there's a book in progress, and immediately, friends and family want to know what it's about, how far along it is, is there a publisher, and on and on. They ask to read it--sometimes incessantly.
Social media tends to exacerbate the problem. Whether it's NaNoWriMo or a writer's group or just an unofficial community of writers who are social media connections, there's a certain degree of peer pressure to share. What used to happen in private critique groups is now sometimes out in the open for broader public consumption.
And if social media weren't enough, the ease of modern self-publishing eliminates gatekeepers who used to throw cold buckets of reality on writers who thought they were ready to share.
To top it all off, there's a certain euphoria that comes from putting words on paper that can convince new authors to share their initial ramblings—or even later ramblings—with anyone and everyone, long before those ramblings are ready to be shared.
I have a few theories about sharing your work from both a reader and a writer perspective...
Non-writers don't know the number of times a book has changed before it get to their hands: The audience clamoring for a peek at the book is not insincere. People genuinely want to read what you've written, and it's even likely that your worst first draft is better than some of the best final drafts many people will ever write, simply because most people aren't writers. But non-writers honestly don't understand how many steps come between "first seed of an idea that I rambled onto a Kleenex after a bad night's sleep and half a cup of coffee" and "polished within an inch of its life final draft." There might be three, seven, or many hundreds of steps between those two points. Non-writers don't know this, because non-writers are non-writers. They are honest, sincere fans who want to read new things, especially from people they know.
Writers get a little high on the fumes of a new project: Writing a first draft can be intoxicating, even without alcohol. The act of "courting the Muse" can feel euphoric and intensely passionate--almost a bit like falling in love. The urge to share is strong because we want others to share in our excitement--and, maybe, to praise us a little and revel in our brilliance.
New writers think editing will be easy: I don't say this to cast aspersions on new writers. I, too, thought it would be easy--or at least a fairly uneventful part of the process that wouldn't change much more than some commas and maybe a few passive verbs. Uh... no. Editing is the hardest part of writing. We share early because we think it won't change much, but the reality is that most of what we share will change a fair amount--or even disappear entirely.
So why not share? What's the big deal with publishing a little teaser or several?
Well... Nothing--when those teasers are ready.
But if they aren't ready, sharing too early can lead to many problems:
Confusion: Have you ever watched a movie trailer, then seen the movie and wondered where the heck that one scene went? A lot of words end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Prevent confusion by holding off until you've thoroughly edited.
Frustration: Not everyone will love your work. Sharing too early will bring unnecessary frustration when people inevitably pan your earliest iterations. You will have to deal with bad reviews eventually--everyone does. Why not hold off until your work is final?
Stolen intellectual property: Admittedly, this is rare, but if you have a system, process, theory, or other intellectual property you wish to protect, wait to share until your work is final.
When I wrote my first novel back in 2009, I was so excited to share that I posted excerpts and self-published the e-book as soon as I could. I will confess to sharing in part because of the accolades received from friends and family who loved the book, but I also just simply thought it was ready. I was pleased with it.
My Mistake: Assuming the Book was Ready
The book was not ready.
It had not been professionally scrutinized or edited.
I had not given myself time to let it sit in the mental slow cooker for a while to see if I wanted to change anything.
And I was not ready for the responses of people who could see how "unready" it was.
Unexpectedly, shortly after I published the book on my own, I received an offer of representation from a literary agent. She would represent me, she offered, but she wanted to edit the book. She told me some of the things she wanted to change. I agreed, and we edited and republished the book with the changes. (The book did not sell to a major publishing house, and the agent and I parted ways amicably.)
The book you will find out there now is the second publication.
Is it better?
Yes, I think so.
Whether to protect intellectual property or your own peace of mind, hold those words close to the vest for a while. Your words are going to change. You’ll edit, revise, and even cut entire sections. Keep it all in the vault until you’re a little further along.
Exception: If you want to share with a book doctor, editor, designer, that’s fine. Freelancers take confidentiality very seriously, and they are prepared to help you get your project to the point where you can proudly share it with the world.
Success Strategy: Before you share with a wider audience, ask yourself a few questions:
Has a trusted second party (beta reader, editor, book developer, researcher) looked at this? If yes, would that person say to share it?
What would be gained by sharing this now? What would be lost?
What am I hoping for by sharing this?
If your trusted second party thinks you should share, and if you’ve weighed the pros and cons and find there are valid reasons, then publishing excerpts, posts, or articles about your book can be a great way to pique interest in the final product. Share, but share with a purpose in mind.
In two weeks, "Mistake #5: Editing Too Little."
Can't wait to read all the mistakes one at a time? Download the e-book today!