Between moderating Ninja Writers, and the few years that I spent as an intern to a query agent, I’ve seen a lot of new, aspiring authors take their first steps into the world of sharing their work online.
Over time, if you pay attention, you can observe behavioral trends, if you’re so inclined. And, over time, I’ve noticed three hallmarks of amateur writers, all of them who are overly worried about things that they don’t need to be worried about yet.
1. Worrying about people stealing your ideas.
Plagiarism is a thing that happens. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. That is the theft of an extant work, in whole or in part, being published under somebody else’s name.
There are so many amateur authors scared to post their story ideas, because they’re deathly afraid that somebody is going to steal their idea. Their big, precious, special, absolutely unique idea that is going to make them a million dollars.
First of all, your idea isn’t that unique. If, while you’re writing a book, you don’t read at least a handful of books that make you think “Aw, fuck, this is like my book, but better!” you’re probably not reading enough.
You can have a good idea, but it’s probably not unique.
What’s going to make it unique is how you breathe your life, your person, your voice, your essence into it. Don’t be afraid of sharing your ideas, or talking about your ideas. Ideas come and go. Chances are, you will end up with a million different ideas that will come and go. Some of them will will die before their time. And some will go on to be great stories.
But it wasn’t the idea that was special. It was the story you told. And only you could have told that story.
Want to read this story later? Save it in Journal.
2. Plastering a copyright symbol *everywhere*.
Proviso. I am not a copyright lawyer. And I’m an American, so I’m speaking with regard to American law, which may or may not be your law. Again, I am not a copyright lawyer.
But, that said, including a copyright notice in the header and footer of the pages that you send out to agents and critique partners, and including a huge wall of legalese that you obviously copied and pasted from Google isn’t going to do anything to protect your ass.
Either the person is going to steal your stuff or they aren’t. Including a textual transcription of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and threatening them with Title 17 of the United States Code isn’t going to stop them if they’re hell-bent on stealing your work.
All it’s going to do is make you look like a paranoid noob, to use gamer parlance.
And, in a similar vein, you don’t need to mail and pay the U.S. Copyright Office every time you have a thought that you want to protect. Your work is protected by law as soon as you write it down. You’re putting the cart ahead of the horse.
So, keep writing. And, when it’s time to publish, you can research that and see what the best way to protect your work is. If you’re publishing traditionally, this will be something your agent or editor will handle. If you’re self-publishing, once it’s time to publish, there are plenty of resources out there.
But, as a new writer, sharing your work with other writers in your community, it’s not something to worry too much about. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep good backups, including digital backups that have timestamps. If you ever find yourself in a dispute, that’ll be what saves you, not a copyright symbol pasted everywhere.
3. Using sans-serif fonts for large amounts of small text.
I’m willing to admit that this might just be a pet peeve, but I’m going to include it here, anyway.
A little primer:
If you crack open any traditionally published book, you will notice that the main body of the text is printed in a font with serifs.I have seen exactly one printed book in my life with the main text in a sans-serif font. It was a self-published book, and it was a nightmare to read.
Something about those little extra strokes at small sizes makes it easier for most people’s eyes to track.
Sans-serif fonts are great for headers, for chapter names/text, for photo captions, even. But the main body of the text should be in a serif font. Most people will recommend Times New Roman. And if it’s an agent or an editor requesting TNR, you better use it.
(Sidebar: after my time in the newspaper biz, I hate TNR. It looks like poop when it’s italicized. Book Antiqua is my favorite, and my default. Unless an agent specifies TNR or Courier. Then I switch it over to TNR or Courier. After I write it in Book Antiqua.)
This isn’t that big of a problem — as long as you’re not sending it as a PDF, the end-user will be able to change it. But, for my money, there’s nothing that screams amateur more than opening an 80,000 word document and seeing the entire thing in Arial. Or, Gods help you, Comic Sans.
(Okay, there’s some research that Comic Sans is good for people with Dyslexia. But there are also specific fonts for that).
Serif fonts are industry standard. Get used to them. Start using them.
These are little things, but they can go a long way to making you look like you know what you’re doing. And, eventually, you will know what you’re doing.
Take all the time you would think about worrying about these, and use it to write!