Guest Post: I’ve made every mistake an author can make in their writing career

by Jason Sanford

Jason SanfordThis has been a tough writing year for me. I finished my first novel only to learn that at this point in my writing career it’s going to be a hard sell. I’ve struggled with short fiction, publishing only two stories this year. I’ve even wondered why I’m writing stories in the first place (which probably ties back with the issues I’ve had with the novel and short fiction).

All of this caused me to step back and reflect on my writing career up to this point. And I’ve realized I’ve made just about every mistake an author can make, career-wise.

For example:

  • I grew up loving science fiction and fantasy stories, but listened to teachers who told me I shouldn’t waste my time writing “that kind” of fiction. It took me years to dig my way out of that writing mistake.
  • I focused on short fiction when the market and readership for short fiction is nearly non-existent.
  • I avoided going to literary and genre conventions for many years because … hell, I’m not even sure why. But I avoided them for a long time. After all, why would an author ever want to meet fellow authors and editors and publishers and readers? (Note: This is sarcasm. Career-mistake sarcasm, but sarcasm all the same.)
  • I spent far too many years writing the types of stories others expected me to write, instead of the stories I wanted to write.
  • I assumed I was such a great writer that I didn’t have to plot out my novel-length fiction. (Note to new authors: If you try this yourself, expect pain. Lots and lots of pain, along with a novel you’ll likely struggle to publish.)

And those are merely a sample of the mistakes I’ve made. The list could easily go on and on. If you had to describe how to achieve success as an author, I’d pretty much be an example of what not to do.

Of course, the flip side to this is that the path I’ve taken, while perhaps not the best for furthering my writing career, has given me a unique voice and approach to storytelling. My love of short fiction has enabled me to experiment with stories and develop my voice in ways novel-length fiction wouldn’t have tolerated. I’ve also been able to both publish my stories and reach new readers thanks to some amazing editors and the support of magazines likeInterzone and Asimov’s.

And most importantly, every mistake has taught me something.

At a recent convention — yes, I now go to conventions — I met artist Len Peralta and purchased several of his prints. Above is one of Len’s prints which really stuck with me because it so perfectly highlights that great line from the blockbuster film Guardians of the Galaxy: “There ain’t no thing like me, ‘cept me!”

I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve all I want to achieve with my fiction writing, but I do know the creative path I’ve traveled has resulted in a writer who produces stories no one else could create. I also know I’ll never stop reaching for my writing dreams.

Career wise, I’ve made just about every mistake an author could make. But writing wise, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because my mistakes are part of what have taken me this far and helped me become who I am as a writer.


Jason Sanford‘s short stories have been published in the British SF magazine Interzone, Year’s Best SF, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and many other places. He is a Nebula Award finalist and has won the Interzone Readers’ Poll three times. This post first appeared on his website: