Advice for writers, from Melissa Delport

Melissa Delport, the author of The Legacy and The Legion, is writing a 10-part blog series for All About Writing titled ‘From Indie to Published & Everything In-Between’. Check their website each Friday, starting today, for some ‘writer-ly’ advice.

Here is a list of the topics that Melissa will cover each week:

Part 1 – Friday, 6 June ’14: My self-publishing experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Part 2 – Friday, 13 June ’14: Why you need to be in control of every production step if you opt to self-publish.

Part 3 – Friday, 20 June ’14: From indie to published, and why you need a great editor.

Part 4 – Friday, 27 June ’14: The power of social media – why all writers, both traditionally published and self-published, need an online platform.

Part 5 – Friday, 04 July ’14: The Legacy Trilogy – my writing process.

Part 6 – Friday, 11 July ’14: The Legacy Trilogy – Music playlist & dream movie-cast.

Part 7 – Friday, 18 July ’14: How to handle your first bad review.

Part 8 – Friday, 25 July ’14: The strange new phenomenon – The Book Blog Tour.

Part 9 – Friday, 01 August ’14: How would a writer survive without the love and support of family?

Part 10 – Friday, 08 August ’14: Does writing get any easier?

 

ALL ABOUT WRITINGwww.allaboutwritingcourses.com

 

ANFASA Grants Scheme for Authors (AGSA)

ANFASAAre you an author of general non-fiction work, educational or academic work currently involved in a writing project?  Are you finding to focus on your project an issue? Or maybe running short of funds to complete the needed research for the project?  Then AGSA may be there for you.

This grant scheme owes its existence to the generosity of the Norwegian Non-Fiction Writers and Translators Association, Kopinor (the Norwegian Reproduction Rights Organisation), and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The grants are intended to provide around R20 000 – R25 000 for an author to take leave, for instance, and devote herself or himself to the writing or the preparation of a manuscript, or undertake research for purposes of completing the manuscript.

An independent committee will assess the applications and select the most deserving. There are only two criteria for eligibility: membership of ANFASA and the desire to complete the writing of a general non-fiction, educational or academic work for publication in book or journal form.

The ultimate objective of the scheme is to develop writing and knowledge production in South Africa and to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality non-fiction works, especially by young authors. The short-term objective is to provide both established and aspiring authors with the means to devote themselves to writing.

The 2013 call for applications has opened (closing date for applications is 30 September 2013 and the winners for this round will be announced in December 2013).

Visit ANFASA’s website HERE to download an application form.

 

 

Secrets to designing your eBook cover

Are you self-publishing your own eBook?  If so click HERE to read a good article (written by Kristen Eckstein for The Future of Ink’s website) on what to take into consideration when you are designing your e.book cover.

This is what Kristen starts out with …

When it comes to your eBook cover, I cannot stress enough how important it is to look professional.

If your cover looks like it was created in Microsoft Word, your book sales will be directly affected and even your credibility may be at stake.

Most people, especially those who spend hours online, are visual creatures. When we’re searching the web, an interesting thing happens. Pay attention to your own browsing habits.

When you browse through eBooks on Amazon, how many times do you click on the picture of the book cover image versus just the title that usually appears next to it?

We almost always gravitate towards clicking the picture because that’s what we’re looking at. Our eyes are drawn to the image. If they can’t see the image clearly in that tiny little thumbnail in an Amazon search, then potential buyers are going to pass right over it.

So if your cover, especially as a thumbnail image, is so important, what are the secrets to making it stand out from your competition?

Continue reading the article (HERE) for Kristen’s secrets to a great eBook cover, covering these five key elements:

Secret #1: Title Design

Secret #2: Art and Photos

Secret #3: Branding

Secret #4: Study what Works

Secret #5: Beware the Template

 

The Pitch …

There’s a succinct little phrase that’s spilled over into publishing, I suspect from the movie industry – the elevator pitch – and I rather like it. If you found yourself in an elevator with Steven Spielberg in the Four Seasons Hotel in LA and this was your one opportunity to pitch your movie idea to him, how would you do it? You have maybe twelve floors before those doors are going to open and the chances of your ever getting an audience with him again are about nil. Three minutes tops, and he has his eyes fixed on the changing numbers above the door (he’s heard about the elevator pitch too), so what’s going to grab his attention? Certainly not ‘People keep telling me my life’s been so interesting it would make a great movie …’ He’ll have pressed the button for the next floor in a heartbeat and you won’t see him for carpet mites.

To attract the attention and interest of a publisher or agent, these days you could do worse than buff up an elevator pitch to go with your fuller synopsis, covering letter and first three chapters. Publishers hear the ‘people keep telling me my life’s been so interesting it would make a great book’ speech fairly regularly and I can promise you it doesn’t make their hearts race a little faster.

Whether you plan to approach an agent in the hope of being taken on as a client and finding your way to a publisher this way, or whether you are going direct to a publisher, the pitch and presentation for these two routes will be roughly the same.

By now you will have done your research thoroughly, and you will have targeted an agency or publishing house which looks like they take on authors who are writing your kind of book. You will have checked their requirements and complied with these. You will have polished up your first three chapters until they’re shining like diamonds, and have your synopsis succinct and not over long. The synopsis will be headed by your elevator pitch, five intriguing lines that will make an agent take notice and read on.

For your synopsis, longer than three or four pages is probably too long, but one paragraph may be under cooking it. It’s OK to reveal the plot in the synopsis – it’s not the same as the back cover blurb – but not in intense detail.

The writer Douglas Kennedy once told me that when he’s working on a new novel, he keeps a piece of paper stuck above his desk with the word KISS on it: Keep it simple, stupid. It’s good advice for your synopsis … not that I’d dream of calling you stupid.

Don’t forget to include a brief biographical piece in your covering material. This needn’t list your hobbies or record the fact that you won an English prize in 1978. It’s your glittering prose now, in 2013, in your debut novel that needs to captivate. If you’re writing non-fiction, however, particularly in an area of specialisation or competition, do list your credentials. For example, if your book is about post-traumatic stress disorder in conflict areas of Africa, it would be important to know how come you’re qualified to write about this. The publisher should immediately understand why your view and your book in this field might be a valuable contribution.

Do write a covering letter or email, but don’t include your full synopsis or your biographical piece in it. Try not to waffle. Also try to resist claiming that your book is way better than Wilbur Smith or any of the rubbish that’s out there on the shelves or that you absolutely know this is going to be a bestseller. Steer clear of suggesting who might play your main character in the movie (this is especially a no go area if you’re in the elevator with Spielberg). Some of the ‘rubbish’ that’s out there on the shelves has probably been agented or published by the same publisher you’re bragging to and that’s not a good start to a relationship. All this is doing is telling the publisher that at best you are insecure, have delusions, and don’t know very much about publishing or bookselling; at worst that you are arrogant, dismissive and disrespectful of other authors who have worked just as hard, if not harder, than you have to get where they are. And it’s disrespectful of the publishing process, too, which you’re asking to be part of.

Before you write that covering letter, remind yourself of these four fundamental questions you need to know the answers to: Why am I writing? Who is my audience? What are my hopes for my writing? What are my expectations? 

Articulate these answers, more particularly the last three, in your covering letter. Do this again if you get a ‘call back’, ie if the publisher or agent asks to see more material, or if you go into the office to meet with the commissioning editor. It’s important that everyone – writer, agent, editor, publisher – understands expectations at the outset of a publishing relationship. A disconnect here can often lead to disappointment later on. Your own expectations will be optimistic, even confident; the publisher’s might appear conservative in your eyes. The closer you can draw the two together will make for a stronger working relationship going forward.

 

The role of the editor

I think it was TS Eliot who said: ‘An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better.’

At which stage of your writing process do you need an editor? Should this happen first, before you send the manuscript off to a publisher or agent, if this is the route you are choosing to go? Do you need an editor at all?

To my mind this depends on what you understand by editing. When I put this question to aspiring authors I always get a variety of answers. None of the answers is wrong, however. Every writer’s needs are different at different stages of the writing process, and where one manuscript might benefit from a certain kind of editing at what might feel like the end of the journey to the author, another could need something else entirely. Different editors have different skills, too, and some specialise in working on fiction or non-fiction so my advice would be to have a good sense of what you believe you need before you engage one.

If you know that spelling isn’t your strongest talent and you have never been all that good at grammar and you’re not all that accurate on the keyboard either, then what you are probably looking for is a copy editor. This is someone who is good at those things you’re not brilliant at and will go through the manuscript and fix them.

Will it improve your chances of getting your book picked up by a publisher or being noticed by a sharp literary agent? A little, maybe, but to be honest, not really.

If, however, the intricately clever plot of your contemporary thriller or the inspiration in your heartfelt memoir makes for an unputdownable story but you suspect that your writing is rougher than you’d like, and that the manuscript is going to be extra challenging to read because of it, then yes, do have a copy editor work through it. You don’t want the publisher to give up the chase for that reason when the story may actually be very good and the characters compelling. But if you’re confident in your seven drafts and you just want the manuscript to be tidied up and for someone to check you on the technical stuff, then by all means get a copy editor to run through it.

This is step one to presenting a clean manuscript. But do find a professional freelancer, someone who copy edits for a living, not the smug and annoying friend who rings typos in library books and is doing you a favour in his spare time.

Most manuscripts have mistakes in them of the punctuation and grammar kind. And most publishers jump right over them at this point. They’re not fussed about your over-use of adverbs, too many paragraphs in italics, or cute use of symbols to differentiate sections of text. This isn’t what the publisher/editor/agent is reading for. They are looking through to the core of the book, what it’s saying and whether it’s doing it well. Is there something original here, a gripping narrative or a literary read that takes your breath away? That’s what they’re looking for, that elusive spark of originality or an angle on a topic that is fresh and intriguing.

Mistakes are expected. A handful of typos isn’t going to swing a yes or no decision. Sloppiness, however, can cost you. It says volumes about your seriousness about writing.

All respectable publishers will need the specialised skills of a copy editor at a specific point in the production process once they take a book on; they will either have in-house copy editors or they will outsource this function to a freelancer.

Should you engage an editor (as opposed to a copy editor) to work on your book with or for you before you submit it to an agent or publisher, or before you self-publish or go the vanity press route? The answer, at least in my opinion, is definitely Yes, if you’re thinking of going it alone, and Possibly, if you’re looking at the traditional commercial publishing route.

When you tell a commercial publisher that your book has already been edited by a friend, this mostly doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to them. In fact, it can even cause a frisson of alarm. What is this author telling you – that it’s ready to go to print and that there’s no need for the publisher to bother with wasting time on editing? Or that you’re in a real hurry to see your book in print and have already planned the launch function?

Publishers shouldn’t ever let a book hasten through the production system without an editorial stage, whether they use their own in-house editors or a freelancer they trust. Publishers have a reputation, too, and they will also want the book to be the best it can be once it goes out on the shelves. If it’s been sloppily edited or proofread, this reflects on the publisher, not the author, and reviewers are sometimes quick to say so and to dismiss the book in the same breath.

A commercial publisher will assign an editor to a specific book, and should try to match you with an editor who will be compatible with you personally, or who either specialises in fiction, if you’ve written a novel, or in lifestyle publishing if yours is a book on interior decorating, for example.

So unless your editing friend does this for a living, rather secure professional help in this preparation period. A good freelancer who is established and already has a good reputation in the business, can be a significant plus. The chances are that the editor is someone the publisher will already know and may routinely use. There are freelancers who only take commissions from publishers and not direct from individual authors, so check this out, too, when you’re doing your research. You might have to be a little patient. The local industry doesn’t have a very big pool of editors and the good ones are always kept busy. The publishers know who they are. And the good freelance editors, like the professional readers and copy editors, want to work on books where they see potential. Frankly, it’s more interesting and rewarding for them and it’s also good for their CVs and professional reputations to be able to say “I worked with Bess T Selling on all her crime novels,” for example, but less useful for them to record working with unknown authors whose books were never going to have a hope of seeing the light of day with a St Martin’s Press logo on the spine. Good freelance editors want to keep working and mostly they don’t want to work on books that might never be very good, despite their own skills being brought to bear on the manuscript.

There are also some poor or downright bad editors out there, who may do you more of a disservice than help your book be the best it can be. It’s very easy these days to set up a website and offer an ‘editorial service’. Always look for testimonials or ask them what books they’ve worked on before. Have a look at the books and contact their authors. No editor worth their salt will decline to allow you to talk to their clients. Referrals are how they work. The better ones rely on word of mouth and personal endorsements. A good idea is to filter your search through an organisation like PEG (Professional Editors’ Group).

If you are going to self-publish, pay a vanity publisher, or go the online ebook route, I would strongly suggest you employ a least a copy editor before you put your work out there, even if this is just for a bit of light dusting. You will want the book to be the best it can possibly be, surely, free of clumsy sentences and recurring habit phrases, and spelling of typographical errors. There’s nothing less appealing than a book that looks unprofessionally published, on whatever platform it’s showcased, and most readers are alienated by this and by typos as they trip over them. It’s disrespectful to your reader, if nothing else.

It’s astounding what you the writer can miss in your own manuscript, despite having read it through probably a hundred times – did you spot the deliberate typo in this posting, I wonder? Whatever you decide, in the end I think it just helps to have a fresh pair of eyes, and sometimes that’s all you need.

 

Beginning the editing process

One of the most nerve-wracking moments in the process of writing a book – and this applies across every genre, to fiction and non-fiction, and to novice writers as well as the most seasoned published author – is that moment of self-doubt when you ask yourself what on earth possessed you ever to put finger to keyboard in the first place. Some writers experience self-doubt all the way through, while others are assailed at regularly unwelcome intervals by that dull nagging feeling that what started out as a brilliant idea might not, ultimately, be as crisp and original and fascinating as they first supposed. It can be especially debilitating and bewildering when self-doubt sets in when you think you’re done. You have drafted and redrafted and scoured and examined your cunning plot line, and dealt with the characters who felt undeveloped, but still … is it actually any good? Will anyone want to read it? Will an agent’s pulse quicken when he reads the opening chapter? Will a publisher believe she has a bestseller in front of her?

Whether creeping self-doubt doesn’t apply to you and you have read and re-read your manuscript and you feel satisfied and confident that it’s the best it’s going to be, still you should welcome a last dispassionate, objective read before you send it off from someone who will offer you encouragement, wisdom, sound advice and support at this stage in your writing journey. Even if, as a result of their reading, it’s back to the drawing board for you.

Who should you trust with your manuscript and what can you expect from a good reader?

It may be stating the obvious, but while you may value and trust the opinions of your immediate family or friends, these people are seldom the best readers for your book just before you plan to submit it to an agent or publisher. Family and friends generally love you and want you to succeed (or maybe they don’t love you and meanly want you to crash and burn), but frankly, no one cares if your mother loves your romantic saga and your pilates teacher thinks it’s “very good”. These people have different roles to play in your life. The friend who was fabulous at English at school and always picks up spelling mistakes in books may not be the critical, dispassionate, intelligent eye that will be helpful to you now either.

Friends are also often and mystifyingly tempted all of a sudden to become writers themselves, and want to “help” you rewrite your book and question your use of commas. This can have the effect of throwing you back into serious self-doubt or endlessly obsessing over your grasp of punctuation and redrafting five more times. Here’s a tip: don’t worry about the commas. Copy editors are paid to do that.

Is it just a reader you want at this point, or an editor? Probably, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a combination of both in one person. In any event try to pick someone you believe can be objective and honest and will give you a frank opinion. If you don’t have anyone you know who fits this bill, an option is to engage a good professional reader to do this for you for a fee. There are a number of professional readers who offer this service to writers and to publishers, just as there are a number of freelance editors who will give you different kinds of editorial help. This kind of expert reader/editor, especially an experienced one, is worth their weight in gold. They can be the difference between getting noticed and published or getting passed over.

A professional reader could save you from, for example, a fatal timeline flaw in your plot that you simply missed – it’s hard to believe but this happens quite often. Or he will pick up a glaring error or something that is just plain factually wrong, something you’ve unforgivably overlooked even though your research has been meticulous. At the very least these things can jar and, at worst, jeopardise your authority as the writer and call into question the integrity of the whole book.

Professional readers/editors aren’t invested in your book or in you personally and have no interest in pleasing you by saying the right thing. They will give you a written report and a considered, professional opinion because that’s what you’re paying them to do. But do choose your readers carefully. Ask them which authors they have worked with before. Talk to those authors. Phone up publishers and ask them to recommend a good professional reader. Mostly, publishers will be helpful – it’s in their interest as much as yours to find that gem glinting brightly in the slush pile.

 

Getting your manuscript ready for submission

These days it’s unusual for writers to send off hard copy manuscripts and it’s unusual for agents or publishers to require this. A Word document sent as an attachment to a covering email is the norm. Still, do check the publisher’s or agent’s requirements on their website or wherever you’ve accessed their details, and do what they say. Occasionally, a writer simply doesn’t have access to technology and while this might present a difficulty or a chance of not being taken seriously, if you explain the circumstances, you ought to get as fair a reading as anyone else. Sometimes a publisher might even discover a gem this way, but this is rare.

This sounds ridiculous even to say it, but I have to say it anyway: before you send your manuscript off, in whatever format you’re sending it, read it through one more time from start to finish – you, personally, not a helpful friend who used to be a teacher. And make sure that it is as clean as you can possibly make it. These things ought to be self-evident, but having been at the receiving end of manuscript submissions, they’re worth noting again. It’s all about respecting the process and letting the publisher see that you do.

  • Don’t leave track changes on the script
  • Check your chapter numbering to make sure it’s sequential
  • If you’re sending hard copy, don’t scribble over a line that’s suddenly struck you as wrong and write the better sentence above it or in the margin. Print out a clean page with your corrections and rewriting already incorporated. Don’t be lazy or sloppy. It will only tell the publisher that you are lazy and sloppy.
  • Number the pages. Some editors and agents still read hard copy and if your manuscript falls off a desk or is dropped on the ground in a car park on a gusty day …
  • Don’t send off one version and then sit down and rewrite it in a panic and follow it up with frantic Please read this version instead emails and three more Word attachments. There comes a point when you have to let your book out of your hands to sink or swim on its own in the powerful current carrying the 150 or so other manuscripts destined for the same slush pile as yours in any given month. Then try to put it out of your mind. Clean out your kitchen cupboards or something once you have sent it off. Don’t brood and don’t fret. And don’t rewrite – or at least not yet.
  • Try to avoid a sans serif font. It’s not that comfortable to read, especially for fiction.
  • Double spacing might mean more pages, but it’s easier to read (and to make notes on) than single spacing at this manuscript stage. Use 1.5 spacing at least.
  • Don’t think you need to be a typesetter or book designer and attempt to make the pages look exactly like you imagine they’ll look when the book comes out of the oven. The chances are they won’t. And just because your laptop came with 35 new fonts doesn’t mean you should try them all out at once. No matter how carefully you have input the manuscript in Word and might have done clever things with dropped caps and spacing, once the book gets to the production department, the look and feel is probably going to be different to suit the format the publisher decides is best for the book. Word is not the programme they will be using. This is part of the publishing process, not yours – yours is the writing and rewriting process.

Whether you send off the full manuscript or the usually required three chapters, don’t forget to send a synopsis as well, and also a brief biographical piece. The synopsis that publishers and agents always ask for is more to see how well you can explain your book reasonably succinctly than anything else. Personally, if the writing in the first three chapters doesn’t hold my attention, it’s unlikely that your synopsis is going to make me want to read them again.

Don’t send off three ‘representative’ random chapters. If the publisher’s or agent’s requirements say submit a synopsis and three chapters, take it that they mean the first three chapters. Don’t send Chapters 3, 4 and 7 “because that’s when the story really gets interesting” and you were into the swing of the writing by then. If your first three chapters don’t grab the publisher, they’re probably not going to grab anyone else either so they’d never have got to Chapter 7 anyway.

How do you know when the book is ready to go? The minute you triumphantly key in the final full stop? No, not then. The chances are that whether you have been writing your novel intensely for only six months or have laboured long and hard on the last section for the last four years, you are going to be very close to the book. This can be a good thing or a not so good thing. Somebody else should give it a read before you send it off (besides you, that is). Pick your reader/s carefully. You need a neutral reader, not someone who will feel awkward about telling you that they didn’t enjoy the book. Try to find someone whose opinion you value and trust, or someone who doesn’t know you and will do this for you professionally.

 

Research publishers …

Having spent a good few years in the publishing industry, it always surprises me how little research aspiring authors do before they submit their finished manuscripts to a publisher. Even now that I am no longer in the mainstream of commercial publishing, many writers who are nearing the end of their first drafts contact me to ask for the names of publishers who might be interested in publishing their work. And when I listen closely and then suggest a couple of names of houses who could be receptive, they come back to me and ask for contact details or phone numbers. I am usually more than happy to help if I can, but what the latter question indicates to me is a lazy lack of effort and a diffidence that isn’t going to get them very far. It’s a tough world out there and you need to equip yourself to weather a few slings and arrows. The best way to arm yourself for the fray is to gather as much useful information as possible before you send your memoir/debut novel/state of the nation treatise off to a publisher.

Boring though it may sound, especially when excitement is building over the final full stop in your manuscript which may now be in your sights, some solid research and a dose of homework is recommended. These days you don’t even have to leave your desk to do this – that is, if you have online access, which you do have if you’re reading this – although it might be a good idea to get out of the house and go browsing. (Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is how many would be published authors rarely go into a bookshop and hardly ever buy a book themselves.)

Your first port of call, however, assuming that you have some knowledge of the local industry and know the names of the key publishers who operate in your home market, is their websites. All of them will have websites and a tab that tells you about their manuscript submission process. It will also clearly explain the kind of books they routinely publish and the kind of books they don’t. In a small market like South Africa, it is unusual for a publisher to specialise in a certain area – for example, publish only cookbooks – so most will offer a fairly broad range of fiction and non-fiction. Check, though, to see if your genre is listed. Their websites are usually clear about what they don’t publish – poetry or plays, for instance.

If, however, your genre is fantasy and your target audience is young adults, or you have a range of illustrated children’s books to offer, and these are not specifically mentioned on the site, ring them up and ask to speak to an editor. It will save you time and avoid a dispiriting standard rejection letter later on.

Another good exercise is to browse bookshops – bricks and mortar shops, on-line bookstores and other retailers. I would recommend going to your local bookshop, however, if you are able to. There’s something sobering yet exhilarating, if not a little daunting, about being surrounded physically by hard copies of the hundreds of books on shelves and front of store tables that have been released in a given month, but if you’re serious about writing, you’d better face up to it. This is the space you’ll be competing for one day, so pay attention. The names on those glossy hopeful covers will be your competitors for a reader’s hard earned cash. If you write crime fiction, you will be competing with every other crime novel out there for sales and space. Study your competition. How is your book going to be different, or “better” and how will you pitch it to the publisher you’re hoping to interest in taking it on? Make a note of which publishers’ books are prominently on the shelves and which local authors are being showcased. When you go home, find those books and authors on line and see whether they and their books have websites or Facebook pages. Make contact. Ask them about their publishing experience.

If you can, have a chat to a bookseller or the store’s manager and ask what’s selling well. Booksellers are knowledgeable people generally and they are in the business because they love books and they are readers too. Ask what authors and titles they have on their core stock lists. Ask them about local publishers and what they publish. They know all the publishers because their sales reps call on them every month to talk them through what’s new and what’s coming up. They often host author events and launch functions and know authors personally. Booksellers are a good source of who’s publishing what. They may even give you names and contact details!

 

Research book formats before printing

Far too often self-published authors print their books in the wrong format/size.

Before you begin your conversation with a printer go into a bookshop and do some research – look at the other books that have been published in the same genre that you have written, and make notes of the dimensions / finish / binding of the books on offer (know that A4 and A5 are never/seldom used, and this is what a printer will quote you on if you do not give them proper specifications).

Here are the most used, publishing industry, recognised formats:

Different sizes to print books

Hardback – 235mm high x 153mm wide (serious books such as histories, biographies, politics, finance) and usually has a dust jacket

C Format (aka Trade Paperback) – 235mm high x 153mm wide (same size as a hardback, but bound like a paperback)

Demy – 209mm high x 137mm wide

B Format – 198mm high x 130mm wide (paperback)

A Format – 181mm high x 111mm wide (mass-market paperback, mostly fiction)

And for genres such as coffee-table books, gift books, cook books, children’s board books and picture books, etc. there are various formats that you could use – so once again see what is out there on the bookshop shelves before making a decision.

 

Four questions you need to ask yourself

Whatever path you may come to choose in your journey towards publication, once you have a clearer idea of where you want to be and where you might actually be headed – and these two things could already be pointing to opposite directions without you even realising it – there is one fundamental rule that applies across the board: understand and respect the process and don’t rush it. Many writers, even very good ones, make the mistake of waiving this rule in their impatience or eagerness, once they begin to see the finish line in sight, to press Save and Send almost simultaneously on the day they complete a first draft of their manuscript.

Resist the Save and Send impulse. Wherever it is you’re sending it, your manuscript is not ready to go. Trust me. It’s not.

That finish line may actually be a mirage. It might be several kilometres ahead of where you think it is. Sometimes it’s not the finish line at all – it’s the starting line.

The point is that rushing or trying to short circuit the critical step between finishing a book and securing the best home for it can often scupper its chances of success altogether, and that is a dreadful pity when you have worked so hard.

I would recommend before you do anything else that you align your hopes and expectations for your book/s and writing career in your own mind. Make sure that you’ve done this before you even think of submitting anything “finished” to an agent or publisher.

Here’s how you might start.

It doesn’t matter where you are right now in your own writing process.  Whether you’re halfway through a novel or trying to put a proposal together for your book on subsistence farming in Zimbabwe, or wondering whether those stories you’ve been lovingly illustrating for your grandchildren wouldn’t make a great gift packaged in a boxed set – put half an hour aside in your day and try this small, deceptively simple exercise.

Put down, in writing, your answers to these four questions:

1              Why am I writing?

2              Who is my audience?

3              What are my hopes for my work?

4              What are my expectations? 

Think carefully and authentically before you do. It may look self-evident or even simplistic, breaking this important point down into four questions you ought to be asking yourself, but you would be surprised by how many writers, and not only inexperienced ones, don’t do this. If you can’t answer them, you’re already in trouble. If your answers and reasons are vague (eg “I’ve always wanted to write a book”; “Everyone says I should write a book”; “I think I just need to get my story out there”), this signals that you’re not taking your work seriously enough. And if you can’t take your work seriously and really think the process through for yourself, why on earth should you expect anyone else to take your work seriously, from publisher to reader?