One main challenge is commitment. Most writers I work with who are preparing their first book-length work comment at some stage of the revision process that they had no idea what they were getting into when they began their first draft. Don’t you just write a manuscript, get an editor to tweak a bit here and there, and then send it off to a publisher? Well, actually, it very rarely happens like that.
Writing is a craft and it takes many years to learn it well. Even if you are writing a non-fiction book on an area you have expertise in, that does not automatically make you an expert writer. If you’re not committed to the long haul, you are less likely to find the time, patience, space and focus required to develop your work to a publishable standard. Without a deep commitment to the writing journey, you will find endless excuses as to why you can’t finish that draft. And you will need that commitment to be steadfast as you navigate the sometimes rocky terrain of the publishing landscape.
TAKING THE TIME NEEDED
Allowing the necessary time to see a work through to fruition is both a challenge and a hurdle. Often unpublished writers are in a rush to secure their first contract and they send their work out before it is ready. You may feel you have revised and polished and honed your work to within an inch of its life; you may be thoroughly sick of the sight of your manuscript by the sixth draft and just want to hit that send button; you may indeed have a manuscript ready to go out. However, of the hundreds of manuscripts I have read as a developmental editor, all have been able to be improved in some way, even those that were very close to being ready and have gone on to be successfully published.
It is always useful to get feedback from a caring, dispassionate reader (such as a fellow member of a writers’ group, or from a professional assessor or editor) and be prepared to listen to it. Even if the thought fills you with dread, you may well need to tackle another draft. And to be able to do that with the right attitude, you may need to put the work away and come back to it a few months later.
Take the time needed to develop your work to as high a standard as you can get. This is crucial for all writers, whether looking for a trade publisher or self-publishing; whether aiming for print publishing or digital publishing. By all means fantasize about your book launch, but don’t book a venue before you’ve had some professional feedback on your work!
The reality of the industry means that writers face stiff competition when trying to find a publisher or an agent as more and more people turn their hand to writing books. The percentage of unsolicited manuscripts taken up by trade publishers is miniscule, which is why it is so important to make sure your work is as polished as it can be. Getting a contract can feel like making it over a huge barrier.
Some writers unable to secure a contract with a trade publisher, or for other reasons, decide to self-publish. This sidesteps the competition in one way, but once a book is produced (whoever publishes it), you hit the water jump – you and a crowd of others at the same time. A writer faces competition for shelf life, media publicity and general exposure. There are on average more than a hundred new book titles hitting the marketplace on a weekly basis (and that’s just Australian publications).
THE FINISH LINE
In a typical 3000m steeplechase event, competitors have to get over 28 barriers and through 7 water jumps before reaching the finish line. The journey that transforms the adjective ’emerging’ into ‘published’ lacks such clarity of definition but possibly holds more challenges and hurdles. So to make it the finish line, you need to keep writing, keep revising, keep reading, keep learning, keep fit and keep breathing!