Writing a book is a monumental feat, which in itself has been known to take years. But that’s only half the battle. Once your manuscript is ready, the struggle for publication is where even harder work begins!
There are industry hints and insider know-how that can help you on your path to publication. However, the only thing that will assure you get your work into print is the quality of your writing. Even the greatest writers have to spend time honing their craft, producing many drafts before sending their work to a publisher. The Australian book industry is highly competitive, so it is essential that you present your best possible efforts when approaching a publisher. For this reason, Writing NSW strongly recommends reading our Resource Sheets on Revising and Manuscript Development before you consider submitting your work to a publisher.
Receiving feedback on your manuscript before submitting it to publishers is key. Check out our upcoming feedback courses, consider joining a writing group, undertaking a mentorship or booking into a manuscript assessment, so you can find out how to improve your manuscript, and give yourself the best shot of getting published.
Finding a publisher
The Australian Writers’ Marketplace is an online directory of contacts and services in the writing industry. It contains a complete list of Australian publishers, including key details about the type of books they publish, whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts and how they prefer to be contacted.
Identifying the right publisher
To cut down on your rejection rate, it’s essential to know what a publisher is looking for. Find books of a similar genre and style to yours and approach the publishers who produced them. You may have a few publishers in mind, check their website for what’s already in their catalogue. If your novel is a love story set during the Second World War and the publisher you’re approaching is already releasing a wartime romance, you might be better off approaching one of their competitors.
Subscribe to trade publications like the Books + Publishing to familiarise yourself with the market. Identify what’s popular, what isn’t, and if there are any niches you might be able to fill. Publishers want something fresh and new: a distinctive voice that hasn’t been heard before.
Networking can also be an invaluable tool to getting published. Attend festivals, events and workshops where you can talk to like-minded writers with similar goals. To see upcoming events in NSW, head to our monthly Writing on our Calendar blog posts, where we sum up the best literary and arts events happening across New South Wales.
Such events can give you access to publishers, agents, editors and published authors who can offer you advice and industry tips.
But be aware how many writers there are out there looking for help getting published. You’re more likely to get help – and for that matter get a publisher’s attention – if you can prove you’ve got talent. Winning competitions for short and extended fiction or poetry and having shorter works published in reputable journals will help you stand out from the crowd. Also, unpublished manuscript competitions such as the The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, The Richell Prize, The Text Prize, The Matilda Prize and the KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award, can lead winning and commended writers directly to publication.
Writing NSW’s free weekly electronic newsletter, Newsbite, lists competitions and literary journals with upcoming opportunities for publication. Subscribe here.
A ‘solicited’ manuscript is one that comes to a publisher by a known contact, in most cases a literary agent or sometimes an established author or assessor. An ‘unsolicited’ manuscript comes to a publisher without the recommendation of an industry professional. Many of the larger publishing houses in Australia do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. This information will be available on the publisher’s website.
Because of this, many new authors prefer to pursue representation by a literary agent who can approach publishers on their behalf. Finding an agent can be as difficult and competitive as finding a publisher but, should you succeed, will give you access to a greater number of publishing houses. For more information, see our resource sheet on Literary Agents.
Writers without agents can also have their manuscript professionally appraised and then send a query letter along with the assessor’s report to a publisher. However, be aware that because manuscript assessments are a paid service, not all publishers and agents will trust the objectivity of such reports. On the other hand, the Australian Society of Authors does recommend assessor’s reports as a useful tool for getting your foot in a publisher or agent’s door. But it is important to use an industry recommended assessor if you intend to use their report to approach publishers and agents. See our resource sheet on Manuscript Development for more information.
In the spirit of giving everyone a go, some Australian publishers outline time periods where they will throw open their doors to unsolicited manuscripts as a way of finding new material.
A few Australian publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts are listed below. Make sure you adhere to their submission guidelines. Go to their website for the most updated information.
- Penguin Random House Australia
- Hachette Australia
- Pan Macmillan Australia
- Text Publishing
- Allen & Unwin
- Harlequin Books Submissions
- Affirm Press
Presenting your manuscript
Most publishing houses have strict guidelines for submissions and failure to comply with these could lead to your manuscript being overlooked. You may be able to email your manuscript, and some publishing houses may prefer or only accept digital submissions so make sure to check. Even if the publisher doesn’t provide guidelines, be sure to follow industry standard layout:
- White A4 paper
- Double line spacing
- Indented paragraphs
- 12 point font
- Times New Roman font
- Wide margins (at least 3cm)
- Do not bind or staple
- Manuscript in wallet-type folder secured with a heavy-duty elastic band, cloth tape or a fold-back clip
As most publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts, the Australian Society of Authors advise sending the first few chapters rather than the whole book if you want a quicker response time. If the publisher likes what you’ve sent, they will ask you for the rest. Some publishers might only ask for the first few chapters, so make sure you read their guidelines carefully.
Another advantage to this method is that you can send off samples of your manuscript while you are still writing it, allowing you to incorporate a publisher’s feedback (should you receive any) into your manuscript as you draft.
Proper spelling and grammar are also very important. Publishers have so many manuscripts to read that often things like poor grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes can be the difference between your manuscript being read or thrown away. Get yourself a book on grammar and punctuation, take an editing course or even hire a professional editor to give yourself a better chance of getting beyond the slush pile. See our resource sheet on Editors for details.
Cover letter and synopsis
Along with your manuscript you should provide a brief cover letter including:
- Your name, address, telephone number and email address
- Your writing experience, qualifications and details of any published work or awards
- The genre, length and target audience of your novel
- Two or three sentences summarising the plot
The Australian Society of Authors suggests that you also include an outline (a single paragraph introducing your book, the broad themes, comparable books, potential readership, etc.) and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of your manuscript. Keep this clear and precise, not much more than a page. An outline is for selling your book to the publisher and the synopsis is there to tell them exactly what your book contains. Don’t hold back on plot twists and surprise revelations – the publisher needs to know them all. See our guide for writing a synopsis here.
It may take three to six months, or sometimes even longer, to hear back from a publisher after submitting your manuscript. Three months is a decent interval between submission and follow-up. Make a note to follow up after three months in your diary so you won’t forget. When you phone, keep the conversation businesslike and brief – you are finding out whether or not the publisher is interested. If they haven’t had time to read your manuscript, ask for an estimate of how long it might take and contact them again after that period.
The Australian publishing industry is a highly competitive marketplace, so rejection is likely even for the most talented writers. A key to success is persistence. If you are lucky you may receive criticism and feedback from a publisher – perhaps even an invitation to submit a revised draft of your book. Use that criticism constructively and redraft your manuscript. Then send it to that publisher again – quickly. You’ll want to catch that same person who took the time to give you feedback in the first place.
Once your manuscript is accepted, you will sign a contract with the publisher. If an agent represents you, they should review and negotiate your contract on your behalf. Many authors have successfully sold their manuscripts to a publisher without an agent. However, it’s important to get advice on your contract before you sign.
The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) sell a publishing contract template. This may help you compare your own contract against the ASA’s recommended clauses and negotiate an agreement with your publisher. The Australian Society of Authors and the Arts Law Centre of Australia provide contract advice for their members. Traditional publishers don’t ask their authors to pay for the publication of their book. If a publisher asks you to make any payments towards the cost of publishing the book, we recommend contacting the ASA for advice.
In many cases publishers are not willing to spend money on publicity for new writers and may not provide you with a book launch. However, there is nothing to stop you simply organising your own provided you have some money set aside. If you have never been to a book launch, it might be an idea to attend a few to see how they are run before organising your own.
Writing NSW takes venue bookings, so get in touch if you would like more information about hosting your book launch with us. Find out more here.
When deciding to self-publish it is in your interest to gather as much information as possible about the process and possible pitfalls. Finding the right self-publishing service is essential for the successful production and distribution of your book. Services can vary greatly in quality and do not automatically handle things like copyright, design, distribution or marketing – as a self-publishing author you will need to be your own sales, marketing and publicity team! The Australian Writer’s Marketplace contains a comprehensive list of self-publishing services that include editing, proofreading, distribution, design and illustration and printing.
More from Writing NSW
Check out our full range of writing courses in Sydney, our online writing courses and our feedback programs to see how we can help you on your creative writing journey. Find out about our grants and prizes, as well as writing groups across NSW, and sign up to our weekly newsletter for writing events, opportunities and giveaways.