I deeply suspect that, if asked, most published writers would admit to getting it right the first time ‘by accident’. It requires certain perseverance with a dose of planetary alignment to get your book published.
From my own personal experience, I have learned that writing non-fiction is a process. This can be a positive and a negative. It is positive because, once you find the process that works for you, writing will become as natural as getting dressed in the morning. On the negative, it can take a while to streamline this process and it will take a few false starts to really get stuck in. Below are a few points that I wish I could have known in advance:
1. Turn up, keeping turning up and don’t forget to breathe!
While this may not sound original or particularly enlightening, struggling writers should focus on this as a first step. Turn up and keep turning up until it no longer requires any conscious effort. You might not be in the mood to sit at the computer, and you may even feel that it is a waste of time if your mind is blank, turn up anyway. The ego of a writer is a great thing as it means we will not tolerate a void, regardless of whether that void is in our mind, in conversation or on the screen in front of us. Our aim will be to fill that void. It’s a compulsion. Give into it. Over time, with discipline, your words and ideas will be transformed into concepts that can be shared with the world.
2. Be clear about your goals.
Why are you doing this? If your aim is to achieve wealth or fame, reality TV is probably a more direct (and arguably, less torturous) route. If on the other hand, you have a passion for your subject and your aim is to educate the wider community, start writing now. Your work may not be published through traditional channels, but your passion will find a voice. This might be through blogging, local print media , various on-line channels or self-publication … will this be enough for you?
3. Take advice, mistakes can be costly to the pocket and the ego.
Learn to take criticism. In fact, if you never aspire to write a book, still learn how to take criticism – it is a necessary life skill (I cannot expand on this as I am still learning).
Mistakes are a part of life. Yes, we learn from them and yes, we need them in order to grow but, in reality, life is much too short to make all the mistakes ourselves. Writers of non-fiction should know who their competing authors or titles are, indentify any mistakes or omissions those competing authors or titles may have made and learn from them. When it comes to pitching to a publisher, this could mean the difference between a kiss-off letter and a book deal.
4. Know the value but also the limitations of facts.
Non-fiction books are rarely the originating or only source of facts. Facts are, of course, important but they can be downloaded from many different sources, what makes your non-fiction writing unique and desirable to the reader will be context, reasoned commentary and expert opinion so do not be afraid to give it.
If you do not believe that you have something new and relevant to add to the topic, it is unlikely that you will convince readers, never mind a publisher. Non-fiction may not require the creativity of fiction but you have a duty to give it conviction of soul.
Do not limit your writing, allow your work to move in unplanned directions.
Being focused to the point of being ridged may result in you missing opportunities for your work. For example, when I contacted publishers with my property book, I got an email from one publisher who stated simply that they only dealt with business books. Rather than see this as a rejection letter, I promptly replied with a proposal for a business book!
6. Lastly (and this is particularly relevant if you are a woman, even superwoman) ask for help earlier.
We are creatures of habit, as are our families and co-workers. You cannot get more writing effort out of yourself without giving up some time drains. As most working women now know, ‘having it all’ is really just our excuse for doing it all. Stop. Prioritise. If necessary, forgive yourself and repeat step 1!