Shortcuts to Publishing Success

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti



Wait. You really thought publishing success shortcuts exist?

Some try. Writers can successfully employ time-savers, but shortcuts aren’t the positive elements they might be in mountain hikes or traffic jam bypasses.

Time Shortcuts

time shortcutsAt a recent conference, I overheard another agent tell a writer, “You’re about two years away from being ready to submit your work to a publisher.”

Cruel response? Not at all. Kindness colored the agent’s words. Why might years have been a success recommendation?

  • The author may have needed time to support a great concept with a strong platform. The investment of two years in building a solid platform could have meant the difference between the book reaching a few or many.
  • The idea needed time to percolate. It wasn’t yet fully formed.
  • The pain was still too fresh. Sometimes books intended to encourage others out of the painful experiences the author has endured wind up being cathartic only. Given time and the perspective that accompanies it, the book’s impact might be stronger, richer, and free of anger that would otherwise fog the takeaway value.

Craft Shortcuts

At the same conference, I asked to read a sample of an attendee’s writing. He replied, “I’m working with a professional editor. She hasn’t edited this yet.” I still needed to see it. An author might shortchange his or her publishing success–and the agent’s success–if unwilling to show a snippet of unedited work. Why?craft shortcuts

  • For an agent to consider representing a writer, he or she needs to know the level of writing talent or skill the author has pre-editing. Your highly polished piece will tell me how well the editor edits. But will it give me clear clues to the writing strength of the writer?
  • Can the writer present another book, many others, throughout their writing career? Or can the writer create only rough drafts?
  • How rough is the rough draft? If it shows lack of understanding of basic writing premises, basic storytelling skills, basic grammar, spelling, punctuation guidelines, the writer may need to invest in more craft education before embarking on an agent/author relationship. Without that investment, the author’s first book could be the last.

Self-Editing Shortcuts

A typo in a one-sheet, a proposal, or an email to an agent isn’t a deal-breaker by itself. A typo doesn’t spell instant doom rather than success. But if it has many typo friends…

  • Computer grammar, spelling, and punctuation checkers leave red flags for writers. Or double blue lines. Or red squiggly lines. Successful authors take time to consider and correct, when needed. Ignoring red flags is a mark of a writer in too much of a hurry, or unobservant.
  • Typos in a one-sheet don’t leave a good first impression.
  • Multiple typos in an email query sometimes keep agents from going any deeper into consideration. It takes very little time to proofread an email. In an email as important as a query, not spending a few moments to proofread is a path away from rather than toward success.

Marketing Plan Shortcuts

When creating the marketing plan section of a proposal, a writer who takes a shortcut–or a cookie cutter approach–may miss opportunities to win the heart of an agent or editor. What shortcuts might derail potential success?marketing shortcuts

  • Listing only local library or bookstore events.
  • Including what the author is willing to do, rather than what the author will do.
  • Noting that the author will cooperate with the publisher. That’s a given. More effective are the marketing plans that include innovative ideas that don’t merely “get the word out” but are likely to net actual sales.

Rather than settling for shortcuts, successful authors dig in, put in the work, and consider the time investment a small price to pay.

What other shortcuts are writers tempted to take?




14 Responses

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  1. God dropped the outline for my book into my head during a morning’s commute. Since it came from God, I thought, it would be simple to get on paper. I’ve since realized that the inspiration was more like God provision for the Tabernacle in Exodus 31: “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.”
    * God equips and inspires, yes. But countless hours of obedient work are required–with no promise of getting it right the first time (or the third time, or the 13th time). God’s way is a marathon, not a sprint.

  2. Shortcuts are often short circuits.

  3. Excellent points, Cynthia. Thank you for the advice!

  4. Great advice.

  5. The statement about an agent telling an author their work was about two years away from being ready was actually comforting and encouraging. I have my first manuscript completed on paper and the learning curve has been tremendous. It has been months in the making, but I am learning so much about the process. Each revision goes much easier. I don’t want to take two years to get it ready, two years is better than never. And book two is already coming together much better because of all I’ve learned on book one. Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. I can’t say it better than Shirlee, but as humans we do search for shortcuts. Sometimes we use it under the guise of “working smarter.” We had a couple sayings as teachers: “Work smarter, not harder” and “Keep It Simple Stupid” (KISS). But the best teachers and authors are the ones who work hard to learn the best techniques and strategies and the. Put them into practice. It isn’t easy and it takes work.

  7. Cynthia, when I read the title of this blog post, I knew it had to be a crafty hook to draw us in: Oh, wow, I knew there had to be a short cut! Finally, someone is spilling the beans; I’ll get a series out in no time! Oh, what have we here? Cynthia is letting us in a juicy little tidbit of how to get the ball rolling–faster. Yes!

    I knew it wasn’t true. Sigh. But, understandable. This year I and my husband celebrate twenty -five years of marriage in September. I consider our marriage an epic one because of where we came from and what we have been through together. It has been a long process, but we now have a marriage we could have dreamed of in our twenties. Perfect, no, but valuable and life-giving to ourselves as well as others? Assuredly, yes. So, I’m willing to go through the process of writing books that do the same. I just hope and pray it doesn’t take twenty-five years to get the first one out! 🙂

    Thanks for the truth. It can feel like, “Dag-nab-it! I though she was going to tell us about legitimate short cuts” But, I get
    it. It’s a good reminder.

  8. Research (or the lack of it) is a shortcut that can often be tempting – whether it’s in making assumptions about the way modern traditional publishing works (Modern traditional? :/ Sure) or assumptions about actual subject matter or proper terminology in the writing itself. And you can’t always trust that the thing you “know” is correct because another novelist used it…Oops. Take five minutes and look it up (just don’t get lost in the depths of Google when you should be writing…oops again).

  9. Carol Ashby says:

    Cynthia, thanks for the excellent summary from a successful author!
    *I spent more time rewriting to 3rd person limited POV and fine-polishing my first novel than I did writing the “polished” omniscient-narrator manuscript that I sent to an agent who started with proposals, not queries.
    *If anyone thinks going indie is a quick and easy shortcut to success, think again. If you expect to sell more than a few dozen copies, you’ve got to produce a manuscript as good as what the traditional publishers want and edit it to the same level of “perfection” as the trad publisher’s team of editors would. Plus you still need a solid platform and a marketing plan you can implement yourself.

  10. Cat Hoort says:

    Great advice, as always!

  11. Mary Kay Moody says:

    I saw the title and thought what a clever way to make a point by leaving the rest of the blog empty! But quality agent that you are, you still gave us morsels to consider. Thank you, Cynthia.