The hot question on many writers minds as they stare at that flashing cursor day after day, is will anyone ever read this? How do I even try to get published? Do I need an agent? And what can I do to make my story’s song be heard from the depths of that dreaded slush pile?
I’m new to this caper, my novel hasn’t even hit the shelves yet so I’m no expert, but I have been to several writers festivals, panels and workshops covering this very topic, and here are a few things that stood out for me. (Note, these are just opinions of selected reps in the industry and are not necessarily the only viewpoints).
- What are Publishers looking for? “Good stories, told well.” And whilst we all probably think we are telling good stories, well, it is important to keep this basic concept front of mind. No matter where we are on the journey, we should never stop honing our skills, broadening our settings and experimenting with different points of view to make the story, and the way it unravels, the best it can be.
- I’m finished! How do I know where to send my manuscript? As a member of the Queensland Writers Center, I receive a monthly newsletter with lots of tips and links to publishing opportunities. Also consult their brilliant publication, The Australian Writers Marketplace, for a full listing of agents, magazines and publishers. And remember one rule of thumb when considering agents and/or publishers is that money should always flow towards the author (excluding manuscript appraisals or other services of course).
- What should I put in my submission? Stick to the guidelines (on the publisher websites) and be professional. Don’t rely on pink stationary or glitter bombs to stand out. Let your writing do that. (Remember, publishers are people first, so no hounding them at their hotel room at a conference either!) Many festivals have pitching opportunities for new authors (eg RWA annual conference, Genre-Con in Brisbane). Use them as a tool to learn, and get used to summarising the essence of your tale. Having a good shout line, or some catchy phrases for your blurb front of mind will always help sell your story!
- Do I need a literary agent? Alex Adsett (Literary Agent) mentioned (in an excellent presentation in Fremantle recently), that 60% of books published in Australia are from un-agented authors. In the USA it’s more like 90%, but here, having an agent is not compulsory. Having said that, some publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts from writers that are not represented by an agent.
- I have heard it said that in Australia, it can be easier to find a publisher than an agent, as many agents only have capacity for a few projects a year, some of which are already filled by existing clients. They will negotiate contracts, hound publishers directly on your behalf, and free up your time to write, but will take around 15% (of your 5-10%) for their efforts.
- Do I have an agent? No. I was lucky enough to be selected from that infamous slush pile with my debut novel, and I’m the first to acknowledge that a lot of luck went into that. The stars aligned for me. Beverly Cousins from Random House (and Lex, thank you!) just happened to be in the market for my kind of mystery, connected with my characters and engaged with my story, Losing Kate, to be published in early 2014.
- I have a contract! Where can I go for advice? For those that may not want an agent,but need some advice, Alex Adsett also offers literary services such as contract negotiation and/or reviews, even to authors that are not ongoing clients (for a fee).
- What commission should I expect, and how long does it all take? Ebooks, a growing market, can be up and running in a few months, and you can expect 20-40%. Print books (a dying breed!) require up to 1 year for publication, and you can expect 5-10% commission (less due to the additional expenses of the printing). Most print publishers offer an advance (less common in digital first). Keep in mind this is exactly that – an advance of your royalties. The bigger it is, the longer it will be until you see another royalty cheque.
- What is the next big trend and should I get on board? That is anyone’s guess! Rural Romance is huge (particularly in Germany!?) Coastal romance is the new genre I have heard people talk about. But for me, I believe you should write what you know, without emulating anyone else or crystal-balling the next big thing. Stay true to your own voice and it will shine in your words.
Keep in mind that, despite less than 5% of work submitted being accepted, publishers are after the same thing as you – getting good stories out into the world. Their livelihood relies on submissions, so get writing!
A recent Random House blog’s #1 tip for aspiring writers was:
“Write your arse off and read as widely as possible. In the first instance you will discover your own voice (and the voices of many others) by constantly engaging with your mind, the world and the page.”
I’ve got a free handout I provided at a recent USQ Workshop I ran on getting published – find it here.