rules of writing

The Rules of Writing

Currently some 99% of manuscripts sent in to publishers end up in the rejected pile. This is a horrible statistic, but it can be avoided. Of that 99% possibly some 50% could have had a decent chance if only their authors had adopted a more professional and business-like approach. This page is designed to give you some general tips, from starting out on your first work, to presenting a manuscript to a publisher. It is not a complete guide to writing; if that’s what you’re after, you should make use of one of the many excellent books on the market.

First rule – don’t give up. It generally takes time and disappointment to get published. But if you keep at it, and are prepared to learn … then the chances that you will succeed are good.

Second rule – be prepared to wait. Publication, fame and fortune almost never happen overnight.

Third rule – be professional. The publishing industry is run on hard-nosed business principles, and the sooner you understand that, and approach your writing with business sense rather than emotional expectations, the sooner you will be published.

I reiterate the point I made above … for some reason people lose all common sense as soon as they have a collection of words down on a collection of pages. Writing is a skill, not a talent. No-one is born with a ‘talent’, so everyone has to learn the skill of writing … it took me fifteen years of practice and honing skills. Take time to learn the skill, practice your craft, and then approach a publishing house with the same degree of common business sense as you would a bank manager from whom you hope to get a loan.

Some general advice on writing: what kind of book might be best for you to write, how to establish a discipline of writing etc.
Learning how to make your reader’s imagination work for you. One of the big things in writing is learning to use your reader’s imagination; making your reader work will work for you.

Once you have a manuscript, then you need to know how to approach a publisher.

On a more personal note, how do I write? And where do I get my ideas and inspiration? Easy. I have a business-like approach to baths.

If you’ve written something, and would like someone to read it over for you and give you some advice, then there are people who can read your work for you … but for a fee. Reading and commenting on a manuscript is a great deal of labour-intensive work, and there are professional assessors (who often work as freelance editors for publishing houses) who can give you high quality feedback on your work. They will professionally assess your work, which is something friends and family cannot do. You can find professional readers and manuscript assessors listed in writers centres or even the phone book (please don’t approach writers to do it, no professional writer has time to read anyone else’s work!).

Two very good Australian services which I highly recommend are Edit or Die, and Driftwood Manuscripts.

A word of warning: there are a lot of sharks out there – people who feed off the desperate need of those who want to be published. Beware of people who charge a great deal of money for reading alone: if someone charges you to read your manuscript, then you have a right to expect something back in return – an extensive critique or commentary, for instance. The USA has had a huge problem with literary agencies who do nothing but charge people for reading their manuscripts – the agencies never actually seemed to take on clients. This is not, as far as I am aware, a problem in Australia. A literary agent should never charge you to read your manuscript (apart from a small fee for return postage) unless that agent is going to provide you with a lengthy written commentary on the manuscript. So just be a little bit wary about who is out there.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises