First I have to gloat that I turned in The Calling, book I of the Immortals, on time!! I mailed it off on the 30th and it landed on my editor's desk on the 1st. Woo hoo! Now I'm deep into my second dragon book for Berkley (under my Allyson James pseudonym).
I love to give authors, both new and still waiting for publication, the benefit of my experience. Mostly because, gee I wish someone had told me all this stuff when I was a newbie! It is only my experience, you understand, and so only as good as that.
I want to list some things that I have either done myself or seen other authors do that distracts them like crazy from doing the job they're supposed to be doing--writing books. I'll do a section for both pubbed and waiting-to-be pubbed authors.
1. Checking your Amazon ranking every ten minutes (every half hour, every day). The ranking is what it is, whether you look at it or not. Also, it's an inaccurate reflection of your real sales.
2. Googling yourself every day. Of course you want to know if people are talking about your book or you. But a) you might not like what they're saying; b) you won't miss a review because sites usually email you if they put up a review of your book; and c) well, there is no c. It's just a waste of time! Get back to work!
3. Over-online promoting. You can't possibly be on every chat, every loop, every forum, every blog, etc. Pick and choose, target forums/chats that have to do with your subgenre. Don't go so often that you're no longer a novelty. You want people to be excited and pleased when you show up, not think "oh no, it's her again."
4. Over-promoting, period. Your promotion is only as good as your product. You can only do so many appearances, conferences, talks, panels, and booksignings before you drop over dead. Pick and choose, target talks etc to coincide with the release of your book, then go back home and write. I mean, if J.K. Rowling hadn't written Harry Potter (or anything equally as popular) and yet went around to every convention in the U.S. and England, would anyone care? (ok, if you're hand-selling a self-published book, that's different, you have to do this kind of promo because that's where your audience is.)
5. Over-volunteering. Don't get me wrong. I volunteer. I'm secretary of my RWA chapter, I help out when I can, and I judge contests. But you can't be volunteer queen and get any work done! Again, pick and choose where you can spend the most quality effort. No one likes someone who volunteers for everything then backs out of half of it because they discover they don't really have time.
6. Staying with a bad or uninterested agent. You need someone who continuously sells your work and is continuously enthusiastic about you and your career. If your agent sits on your stuff and never sends it out, what's the point? It's hard to break up with an agent, but it's better to have one on your side. You can waste years if your agent is indifferent.
7. Professional envy. Hoo, what a waste of time and energy! I hear tales of disgruntled authors who write devastating and spiteful reviews of rival's books on Amazon--why?? Pay attention to your career, not everyone else's. Yes it's annoying when you want something very much and somone else gets it, but get over it--their success doesn't mean you won't be successful too. I've been at this long enough to realize there are opportunities for everyone out there. Your day will come--everyone's path is different, everyone's opportunities are different, everyone progresses at their own pace, everyone's at a different level. This isn't a zero sum game, and another person's success can only help you. If your "rival's" book does very well, that means bookstores will be amenable to that type of book, and you just happen to be working on one . . .
I think that's it for pubbed authors. Now for unpubbed:
1. Over-volunteering. See #5 above.
2. Being contest queen. You can spend endless amounts of time writing proposals for a contest a month (or more). Target contests where a) your type of writing seems to do well (e.g., do humorous entries final more often than dark stories?) and b) editors you wish to sell to are judging the finals. If you're trying to write a Harlequin Blaze and the judge for short contemp. is from Avalon, pick another contest or submit a different entry.
3. Finding and signing with a bad agent (see #6 above).
4. Trying to write to please six critique partners, every contest judge, every writer who gives you feedback. You could revise your ms. until your keyboard wears out and still not have a publishable book. Evaluate your criticism, and take seriously only that which has a common theme (if all six critique partners independently say your dialog is weak, work on your dialog). If you get ten vastly different opinions, that isn't helpful, throw them away. Better still, learn to judge your own work honestly and get the help of only a few others whom you trust.
5. Working on one manuscript for years that has proved to be unpublishable. You grow as a writer by writing. Some people do publish their first mss.; many do not. Often the first manuscript is your learning tool, your place to get the clutter out of your head. If you're frustrated with it, put it aside and write something else. As you become more skilled, then go back to the first ms. and see if it can be saved, or is worth saving. (I published on ms. #7--I think, I lost count!)
6. Professional envy. See # 7 above.
All right, I've wasted enough time blogging about this (but hey, I wrote my quota of 4000 words today already!). Others may not agree with everything I say, but I find that keeping things in perspective lets me get my writing done on time, which means I get paid, which means the cat gets to eat, and everyone's happy.