Career Authors

Joanna Schaffhausen: How I Got to Yes

Making the Most of Your Mistakes

by Joanna Schaffhausen

I feel so amazingly fortunate to have a published mystery novel out this month, but today I’m here to talk about all the books you don’t see that came before it.

There are twenty-three of them.

Yes, that’s a two followed by a three, which translates to roughly 1.5 million words in books that will never sell.

Let me share with you some of the mistakes I made along the way, so perhaps your journey can be shorter than mine…maybe just seventeen books!

It is possible to miss the ending to your story

First, I learned it is possible to miss the ending to your story—like, by a lot. Years ago, I wrote a story and posted it chapter by chapter to a hungry reading audience, only to find their interest plummeted at around chapter ten. Unfortunately, there were nineteen chapters in the book. Upon closer examination, I realized that, while I’d thought I’d been writing a drama, I’d actually written a romance novel. This means it was over, story-wise, when the couple got together. All the tension went out of the tale.

Endings are tricky business and have vexed me more than once. I wrote a mystery novel once where my friends got to the end and said, “Well, it was…okay.” In this case, I made the mistake of having the red herring be more interesting than the actual solution. I never did figure out how to fix it, so that book is still in a drawer.

Humor is hard

I also learned that humor is hard, perhaps the most difficult genre to write because it is idiosyncratic. What is funny to me, I’ve discovered, does not engender the same hilarity in other people. I stick to situational humor now, which works better for me.

Turn the mistakes of one book into the strengths of the new one

The most important lesson I learned is to keep writing the next book. I improved each time. I turned the mistakes of one book into the strengths of the new one. Eventually I had one polished enough that a publisher said, “Yes, we want it.” But there are a lot of “no”s behind that yes, many stories that didn’t quite work out right before I got to the one that did. Many aspects of the publishing industry are beyond the author’s control, but we are in charge of our literary education.

We make mistakes but keep on learning.

We keep writing. We finishing one book and start the next one, and the next one after that…until we get to YES.

What mistakes have you made along the way? Share yours on facebook.

Joanna Schaffhausen is a scientific editor who spends her days immersed in research on potential new therapies for cancer, addiction, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, she worked as an editorial producer for ABC News, where she advised and wrote for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America, and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter.

The Vanishing Season is her first novel.