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?