Linda Nix has twenty years of experience in the publishing industry, having worked for large and small professional and non-fiction publishers in production, editing, commissioning and marketing roles. Since going freelance in 2010, she has worked with trade publishers and authors on both fiction and non-fiction books. She is currently publisher and editor at Lacuna Publishing, an imprint she founded with her partner in 2012, and a professional member of the Society of Editors (NSW).
Linda is running the course From Manuscript to Publication with NSW Writers’ Centre starting Tuesday 1 March. Below she gives some advice on how to maximise the chances of your manuscript being picked up by a publisher.
Taking your work to the next level – publishing
Publication is about turning a body of writing into a commercial product: the book. It doesn’t matter if it’s a print book, ebook or some other kind of digital app, someone – the publisher – invests both time and money in making the work commercially available, in the hope of generating a return on that investment. Publishing is a hugely risky business – there is no guarantee that any book will cover its costs, let alone become a bestseller.
Like me, you probably hate hearing the word ‘product’ applied to a book, but the reality is that publishing is a commercial practice, even if the process of writing and the experience of reading are not, and even if the publisher is a not-for-profit organisation or you are publishing your book yourself. Unless you want to give your work away for free, you need to think of your manuscript or your idea for a book as a ‘product’.
Getting published happens when three factors coincide:
- The right product
- The right investor
- The right timing
Only one of these factors needs to be out for you to find it impossible to get off the ‘rejection roundabout’, so you need to know how to give your manuscript the best chance possible.
How do I know if my ‘product’ is right?
Having the right product means having a manuscript or book proposal that meets some market need – in other words, it is something that people will want to read. You need to have some idea of who those people might be – not just your imaginary, ideal reader, but the actual readers who will be your market – and also where your manuscript sits in the marketplace in terms of genre. You may believe your work is so unique that it defies categorisation. While possibly true, as for most books, categories are how readers find books in libraries, in bookshops and online, and it’s also the first thing a publisher or agent will ask: what is your manuscript’s genre?
The other aspect of ‘product’ is you, the author. All authors need to promote their books, so your credentials, media experience, social and professional networks form a critical part of the overall package you bring to the ‘investor’, along with your enthusiasm and ability to promote the book when it’s published.
How do I find the right ‘investor’?
The publishing landscape is changing for both better and worse. Commercial publishers of all sizes are taking fewer risks on new authors and on new works by mid-list authors, making it harder to be published unless you fit very specific ‘product’ requirements. Small presses are proliferating, providing more opportunities especially for riskier authors, while self-publishing authors continue to increase in number.
Finding the right investor means researching which kind of publisher is the best ‘fit’ for you, and which of these publishers might be interested in your ‘product’ – for example, what genres they publish. Then you need to find the best way to make your pitch, which means understanding what the publisher is looking for, as well as the times and places they are open to pitches. As far as possible, you need to know what will convince the publisher to invest in your product over someone else’s.
A literary agency will do the hard work of finding a publisher for you, at their own expense – but you still need to find an agency willing to invest their time in you, which means researching literary agents the same way you do publishers.
If you decide you are your best investor after all, you need to find out what’s involved in self-publishing, and also how to avoid the many sharks lurking under the banner of self-publishing services.
What is the right ‘timing’?
Timing is a bit of a catch-all word, but it is right when any (or all) of the following happen:
- the manuscript or proposal is ready for submission
- the submission is complete
- the submission is delivered when the publisher or agency is open to receiving it
- the manuscript or proposal fits what the publisher or agency is looking for at a particular time
- the acquisitions editor, publisher or agent most likely to love your manuscript or proposal happens to be working on the day you make your submission
- your manuscript or proposal is better than any similar manuscripts or proposals against which it may be competing.
Okay, so you can’t really control the last two – that’s a matter of luck. But the other factors are in your control. Timing is about researching – and following – a particular publisher’s submission guidelines, and taking the time to ensure your manuscript or proposal is the best it can be. Both manuscript and submission documents should go through several drafts, ideally after some editing or assessment process, and they should be proofread thoroughly and formatted properly. Assuming that you have submitted a manuscript or proposal to a publisher or agent likely to be interested in it, in the way most likely to get their attention, you don’t want to be rejected at the final stage because too many errors or poor formatting make the work too hard to read.