What to Do Before Hiring an Editor

If you’re self-publishing, finding the right editor is crucial. But even writers looking to be traditionally published should consider getting someone to take a look at their manuscript. With so much competition, publishers want manuscripts that are as developed as possible, so they can save time and money on the titles they do choose. Getting a good edit can give your manuscript a huge advantage when it comes to submitting.

However, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into and what you should expect. Edits can cost a large amount of money, so it’s important to make sure that the editor you choose is right for you and your manuscript.

Finish & Understand Your Manuscript

The first step is to finish your manuscript as much as possible. Editors quote based on time required, so the more polished your manuscript is, the more money you will save. Leonardo da Vinci stated, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” This is true, of course, but write until you have confidence in your manuscript.

You also need to know your manuscript from a marketing perspective. What is the genre? Where would it sit in a bookstore? Who is the target audience? Which parts of the writing style or structure are non-negotiable? Which parts of the novel are you happy with, and which parts need work?

Write a synopsis—this is useful for you as a writer to ensure that you understand your manuscript, and it’s also great to pass on to a prospective so that they can see your vision for the novel.

Understand Different Kinds of Edits

Not all edits are created equal, and not all manuscripts need all kinds of editing before submission. There are three key kinds of edits:

  • structural or substantive edit is an edit that looks at your novel from a big-picture, structural point of view. This means looking at plot, character, voice, style, theme and each chapter/section to make sure they work in the book. This can include moving paragraphs or chapters around or making other changes to the structure of the book.
  • copy or line edit is a sentence-by-sentence edit that makes sure the writing flows. This is an edit for style and voice, as well as basic grammar and spelling.
  • proofread looks only at spelling, grammar and punctuation.

While all of these can be useful to do before submission, remember that if your work does get published by a traditional publisher, it will usually go through all of these stages again.

Other forms of editing include a continuity edit, which is when someone checks for continuity errors, to make sure that the sword mentioned in Chapter 3 doesn’t disappear. You can also look at getting a manuscript assessment, which is when a writing professional looks at your work and gives you a written feedback report, and is usually cheaper than an edit.

Know Your Budget

It’s usually good to have an idea of your budget before you approach an editor, and if you’re going through an organisation such as a writers centre to find an editor, this is going to be one of the first questions they ask.

The cost of an edit completely depends on the manuscript itself as well as the editor, and it’s difficult to give a ballpark number. An editor can charge anywhere from $60-200 an hour, but even that is up for debate.

  • What have they edited before? What is their experience?
  • How have they calculated their quote?
  • Will you be involved at all in the process? Can you meet the editor for coffee/chat on the phone before moving forward?

Find The Right Person

Now’s the time to think about the kind of editor that would be right for your manuscript and your budget. Editors have all different kinds of backgrounds; some work or have worked in commercial publishing houses or with other professional publications, some have lots of experience in academia, educational or corporate writing, and some are freelancers with a background in editing.

The best thing for your manuscript is to find an editor that is experience in the same kind of writing, whether that be in genre, form or market (or all three). Literary fiction editors may not approach a gory thriller in the way that you want them to, and someone who usually edits speculative fiction may not have the experience to edit a verse novel.

Of course, editors with commercial publishing experience may be more expensive than a local freelancer. This is the stage where you need to weigh your budget and your manuscript’s needs to determine what you’re after. If you’re unsure, you can always contact your state writers centre to see if they know someone who might be right for your manuscript.

Do Your Research & Understand The Process

Before you commit to an editor or hand any money over, ask about their past projects, or contact a writer they have worked with before to get an idea of the process and the quality of their work. Get in touch with your state society of editors or writers centre to find out if they’ve heard of or worked with the editor before.

Unless the editor has a set rate per word, it can be a red flag if they do not ask to see the full manuscript before quoting. Most editors need to see the full work to understand exactly how much time and work it will take. Take note on whether the quote is final or subject to change, and request that they consult with you before spending extra billable time on the manuscript.

You can totally ask the editor if they’d be willing to have a coffee with you or a chat over the phone during the quoting stage to get an idea of how they’d approach the manuscript, and to see whether you’d click together. Ask them whether they are likely to consult you during the process, how they envision the manuscript to look like in the end, and their timeline.

Finally, understand the mechanics of the process. When will you need to pay? When will you receive the manuscript? Will there be discussions throughout the process? (Note that it is not necessarily a bad thing if the answer is no here). Is there a third party like a writers centre handling the money to protect you? Does the editor have public liability insurance? These questions both protect you and the editor—and make sure that you’ll be prepared for the whole process.

What To Do Before You Start Writing

The piece of advice given out most often to budding writers is “Just write!”. This is important advice; writing is a craft, and most of the time, you learn by doing. A lot of the time, your first few projects will be more like practice projects anyway, or they’ll undergo a serious overhaul before you submit them.

However, there are a couple of things you might want to do before investing a large amount of time into a project. It’s always good to be as prepared as possible, and to make sure there won’t be any unexpected obstacles once you’re underway.

Research The Publishing Process

The first thing you want to check out is how what you are writing gets published. You’re not gearing up to get it published right away, but you want to make sure that you’re not going to pour months of effort into something, only to find that you haven’t followed industry protocol.

If you are writing a fiction novel, then yes, most of the time it’s best to write the whole thing before even thinking about approaching anyone. Once you’ve written the full manuscript, typically you’ll get feedback from writing friends, an editor or a mansucript assessment, you’ll rewrite and edit for a while, and then you’ll submit.

However, if it’s a different kind of form, there could be a different process. Nonfiction books, in particular, are often sold via book proposal, as publishers like to have input into the manuscript as it’s being developed. You will need to write sample chapters and a brief, but you won’t necessarily need to write the whole thing. Memoir can be an exception to this rule, as many publishers like it to be treated like a fiction manuscript, but not always.

Often articles and short stories are pitched to publications, though it is possible to submit them once they’ve been written. Entering competitions are also a great option for shorter works (and occasionally longer ones).

Check For Any Legal Issues

For most people, this isn’t something that you need to think about. But just in case, it’s good to go into your project aware of any risks. Things you might need to double check include:

  • Using real people, especially if they might be offended by your depiction of them or if anything you’re saying is untrue.
  • Anything from another piece of pop culture, including characters, plots, settings (such as fantasy worlds–don’t worry if it’s a real place!) or anything else that is identifiable, especially if it’s not in the public domain.
  • Including any and all quotes or other copyrighted material, including poetry, song lyrics, lines from books, and scripts. Again, this is one is especially important to look for if the source isn’t in the public domain.
  • Any information, even if true, that you’re not supposed to disclose for legal reasons, especially if you’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement or if it’s from a place you’ve worked.
  • Anything else you’re unsure about.

Most of the time referencing things like this will be okay, but it really depends how you do it. Of course, we can’t give you legal advice, but ArtsLaw have lots of great information on their site as well as a free legal advice service. You can also contact other writing support organisations.

Understand Your Publishing Rights

Another thing to be aware of is that if you post your writing online, you’ve given away your first publication rights. Basically, if you sell a manuscript or article to a publisher, most of the time they’ll pay for the rights to publish your manuscript for the first time. If it’s already been out there for free (such as on the internet) or for money (if you’ve self-published it), you’ll have already used these rights.

This doesn’t mean you’ve given away the rights to your writing, and no one else can sell or publish your writing without your permission. It does mean that it might make it a bit harder to sell your work to a publisher, even if you end up reworking the piece later.

This isn’t always a bad thing–lots of people have earned publishing deals through gaining a following by posting their writing online or self-publishing it. What is important is making sure you have all the knowledge you need to make a decision. You should also read the terms and conditions of any sites you upload your work to, to make sure they include anything that might

Of course, especially when you’re first starting out, this might not even matter to you. Places where you can post your work online for feedback can be really helpful as you’re learning your craft, so don’t feel pressured to save your work for publication.

Decide if You Want to Join Social Media

This one’s a bit more fun than the others on this list, but most publishers will really appreciate if you get on social media sooner rather than later. There are lots of writing communities online, and plenty of places to make friends and network. Joining now gives you time to experiment with the platforms and share the writing experience with the internet.

Take some time to look at the different platforms, and see where you might fit. For interaction and networking, writers might like Twitter as both a social and networking tool, and there are tons of tools and hashtags for writers. If Twitter’s not your thing, check out Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, or any others—more are popping up all the time.

Of course, if social media’s just not for you, that’s totally fine! It’s way more important that you work on the writing part, and now that you’ve checked off all the things on this list, you should feel totally free to go ahead and do just that.

How to Write a Manuscript Synopsis

Querying a publisher or agent is never an easy task and it’s important to get all the essential bits right, including the synopsis. Your synopsis is your chance to sell your novel as a complete story, and when most publishers only request the first few chapters with unsolicited submissions, a great synopsis can convince a publisher to request the rest of your manuscript.

Of course, writing a synopsis is a totally different mindset to writing a novel. It’s strategic rather than creative, and you need to include certain pieces of information so that the reader has a clear idea of your manuscript.

What’s it for?

The first thing to consider when crafting a synopsis is the purpose of the thing. Most of the time, you’ll be trying to sell your work to a publisher that may or may not have read your query letter or sample chapters. You want to convince the editor that you can carry the story through to the end, and that you have a clear sense of the manuscript as a whole.

Usually when submitting you send in a query letter and sample chapters as well as the synopsis. The purpose of the query letter is to sell your manuscript to the publisher, and include the details including target audience, genre, wordcount, your bio, etc. Your sample chapters give the publisher an idea of your writing style and the pacing of the novel. Your synopsis is there to do the rest—convince the publisher that you can do this thing all the way through.

Now, it’s a totally different thing if an editor or manuscript assessor has requested a synopsis. Here, describe your vision for the novel, so that they can understand what you’re going for when reading your work. It’s important to spend some time on this—if they misunderstand what you want, they may make suggestions that aren’t relevant or helpful.

The Structure

A synopsis is a 1-2 page (500-800 words is a good guide) description of the major events in your novel. It’s designed for a publisher to be able to see the structure of your manuscript as a whole, so that they can determine whether it is appropriate for them to asking to read the full manuscript.

This should be easy and fun to read (i.e. not a laundry list). Make it as legible as possible. Use paragraph breaks, and if it makes it easier to read, capitalise the names of each character as you mention them for the first time.

Unlike your query letter, this doesn’t need to change from publisher to publisher—a good synopsis gives a clear idea of the manuscript, and as long as you’re submitting the same manuscript, you shouldn’t need to personalise it too much.

The Basics

  • The plot: Your primary job is to list the major plot points and events, including the ending, to give the editor a sense of the structure of the book. If you have a defined structure (such as a three-act structure), your synopsis should reflect that.
  • The characters: Mention each character by name as they appear in the plot. For major characters, include their goals and motivations.
  • The setting: Explain the parts about your setting that are important to the plot. The reader should have some idea of where the book is set, but you don’t need to include all the details.
  • The writing: Make the synopsis easy to read, and match the tone to the tone of the manuscript.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do finish the book before writing your synopsis. Especially if you’re writing fiction, you’ll generally need to finish the book before submitting. Besides, you don’t know if major plot points or structural bits will change if you don’t have a polished manuscript.
  • Do take time to write your synopsis, and to edit it. Great synopses are very rarely written in the first go, and you really want to get this part of your submission right. If you can, get writing buddies or other networks to read over your synopsis before using it.
  • Do search for example synopses online to get a feel for the structure.
  • Don’t include a cast list, or every character in the book. If a character is central to the story, they should make it here—and if they don’t, you should consider their relevance to your novel.
  • Don’t include all of the details of your worldbuilding or setting. If there are key plot elements related to your setting, mention them, but don’t waste room describing your world and forget to tell your story.
  • Don’t be ambiguous. Clearly outline all of the major events in the novel, including the ending—and if the ending is intended to be ambiguous, say so!

6 Myths About the Australian Publishing Industry

To the average writer, the publishing industry may as well be fairyland. It’s easy to imagine that publishers are faceless gatekeepers that only care about what sells. But that’s totally not true. Most of the time, publishers are truly passionate about writing and writers, and they’d love to give your manuscript a chance—as long as you approach them in the right way.

Because most writers don’t know a lot about the industry, it’s easy to believe things that aren’t necessarily true. Here are six myths that people commonly believe about the publishing industry that could actually damage your chances of getting published.

It’s impossible to get published without an agent.

In Australia, agents totally aren’t compulsory, and whether you get one is up to you. Many successful writers don’t have agents, or didn’t get them until later in their careers. Having an agent does have its benefits, but several of them (such as contract negotiation) can actually be done on a consulting basis for a set fee if the author does not find the right match or only plans to publish one book.

Agents are essentially career partners. When they take on a new writer, generally they have the view that it will be a long-term relationship. Other than pitching to publishers and negotiating contracts, agents will search for other money-making opportunities for the writer, such as speaking engagements, be a sounding board for the author when thinking strategically about their writing and their career, and some may even assist with the development of the manuscript.

That being said, it’s totally possible to get published without an agent, and even without hiring a consultant! Australia has several organisations that act as advocates for writers, which you can go to for support or for a contract assessment, and most of our publishing industry accepts unsolicited submissions. 

Breaking submission guidelines will make my manuscript stand out.

This is almost always a no! Publishers set their submission guidelines for a reason. Many receive hundreds of manuscripts a year, so if you’d like them to truly consider your work, it’s best to respect their requests. If you can’t take the time to double space your manuscript, why should they strain their eyes trying to read it?

The best writing shouldn’t have to rely on gimmicks, like scented paper (looking at you, Elle Woods) or strange fonts. If you’re confident in your writing, let it stand on its own merits. This will also show the publisher that you’re courteous, pay attention to detail, and have actually looked at their website, which can only be a good thing.

Another thing is to be careful that the publisher actually publishers manuscripts like yours. Sending a sci-fi manuscript to a literary fiction editor isn’t a good idea—if they don’t publish your genre, they don’t have expertise in publishing your genre. They may be missing important contacts, or be unfamiliar with tropes, or not understand the market you’re trying to reach. For your sake (and theirs), only submit your work to publishers who work in your genre.

Agents and publishers don’t read unsolicited submissions.

Again, wrong! As long as you submit within their guidelines (noting that some publishers only accept unsolicited submissions on certain dates), most publishers in Australia do read unsolicited submissions, and do encourage writers to submit. Penguin Random House actually has a monthly meeting where everyone in the organisation goes through the manuscripts in the slush pile. It can be a little bit harder to get published, but if your writing is truly great and it is right for the editor reading it, it will stand out.

Writing an excellent query letter and synopsis is essential here, as well as making sure that your manuscript is truly developed. If you’re unsure whether you’re ready to submit, contact your state writers centre to see if there are any development programs you can apply for or if you can get a manuscript assessment. Look at joining a writer’s group, or go to workshops. There are lots of ways of getting feedback on your writing, which will either show you what you need to work on, or give you the confidence to move forward.

Self-publishing is the easier option.

Self-publishing is a huge investment, and you should be really sure that it’s the right step for you before getting started. It is really like starting a small business, and there’s a lot of work involved. All the stuff that a publisher would normally do falls to you, including editing, designing, printing, distributing, marketing and selling. You need to be sure that you can do all of these things sufficiently, and that you won’t be losing money in the process.

Particularly important here is the distribution: you should have a plan of where your book will be sold and how it will get there before you invest any money. Especially when self-publishing a print book, this is the area where many authors struggle. Even Hugh Howey made a deal with a publisher for the print edition of his books. That’s not to say it isn’t possible – many independent bookstores stock local self-published authors, and some distributors may be willing to work with you.

But, before you spend any money, beware of vanity presses and publishing scams! Always be very sure of what you’re spending money on, and what you will receive in return. If you’re paying someone to do a service for you, such as editing your work or marketing your book, take a look at the projects they’ve worked on previously beforehand.

Agents and publishers are terrifying beasts that cannot be approached.

Publishers are more accessible than ever, and most love talking to writers—especially if they’re at a writing event, like a festival or workshop. Having the courage to chat to a publishing professional at an event could get you a business card, some sage advice, or the chance to submit.

They’re just people who love books. Nowadays, it’s ridiculously easy to connect with publishers. Between Twitter, easily guessable email addresses, writing events and conferences, it’s easy to reach out to professionals from all over the industry.

As always, it’s important to be professional and polite. Make sure to respect their time. If they’re on the phone or eating their lunch, it’s probably better to wait. Don’t demand they read your manuscript or tell them that you’re the next J. K. Rowling. Perfect your elevator pitch, chat to them about their work and the kinds of things they publish, and ask them any questions you have about the publishing industry.

If an editor doesn’t publish my work, that means that it wasn’t good enough.

There are many reasons that writing gets rejected, even good writing. Editors don’t usually get the final say on what they publish—often they have to pitch the manuscript to representatives from every department in the publisher. They have to convince their colleagues that each manuscript is the most viable for the current market, and that’s not always possible.

Keep in mind that publishers aren’t gods of taste. Every publisher has passed on something fantastic, whether it be because they weren’t in the right mood when they read it, there wasn’t room in their list, they weren’t sure how to sell it, or it just wasn’t right for them. And many bestselling writers weren’t accepted at the first place they submitted to.

Don’t take rejection personally. Do take a step back to look at your manuscript with fresh eyes, and do what you can to get feedback on your writing to make sure it is the best it can be, but don’t let it fester. Often the best thing to do is just to send it out again to someone new.

How to Write an Author Bio (Even Without Experience)

One of the most fearsome things about getting published is the dreaded author bio. Even established authors with hundreds of stories and articles published struggle to get it right, so how can the rest of us mere mortals even try? Especially if we don’t even have a publication record?

Relax, friends! There’s an art to writing the perfect author bio, and if you can pull it off, no one will dare question your writerly authority.

Remember, if your author bio is being read, it’s likely that someone else has endorsed you. An editor has decided that your writing is perfect for their publication or website, or even if it’s on your own blog, it’s likely that someone has shared it. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you can write; you’ve already gotten at least one tick of approval.

What Do You Write?

First things first: your bio should make it absolutely clear what kind of writer you are. What topics or genres take your fancy? Do you write fiction or nonfiction? Longform or short? Is your ethnicity or culture important to your work? Are you a freelance writer, or do you only write what you want to, when you want to?

Often, when planning festivals and events, or sourcing people to write articles, planners rely on writer’s bios to tell them what they are. You don’t need to answer these questions one-by-one, but make it absolutely clear to anyone who has never heard of you exactly what kind of writer you are.

Where Are You From?

If you want opportunities to come to you—especially the speaking-at-events kind—it’s very important that you say upfront where you are located. As someone who has worked in arts programming, it can be a little frustrating not to be able to figure out where a writer lives (and even if they’re still in the country!). Make it as easy as possible for people to think of you for stuff.

You might think that you’re not experienced enough for these kinds of opportunities, but you never know. Often, a young or fresh voice can be great on a panel, or you could be in a particular niche where appropriate writers are hard to find.

Any Particular Achievements (Or Experiences)?

Mention any writing achievements, such as being featured in a publication, placing in an award, doing an internship or receiving a fellowship, straight up in your bio. If you can, include at least one specific, tangible achievement that people can be impressed by.

Be creative! If you don’t have a tangible achievement just yet (or this bio is for your first one), look to see if there’s anything relevant in your life, either to the writing piece itself, or to writing in general. For example, if you’re publishing a food article, you can mention the time you won a pie-eating contest, or how you grew up in a household made of chefs.

Another approach is to take a look at the audience of where your bio will be displayed, and try to relate to them somehow. If you’re writing to an audience who loves painting, mention how you’ve been fingerpainting since you were three, or if it’s a publication about your local town, talk about long you’ve lived there or your experience with a local landmark.

Read Other Bios

Take a look at the other bios being published in the same place yours are. Pick up a copy of the publication, or take a look at the website, and spend some time reading them to pick up any common themes or styles. Odds are, if you’re being published there, there will be other writers at a similar stage.

Also take a look at the bios in similar publications, on blogs, at the Emerging Writers Festival, and anywhere else where writers at a similar stage to you might be posting. This will also expose you to different structures and different types of bios.

This will help you to play with the structure of your bio. Copy a few other people’s, and play around until you find a fit that’s right for you. It’s also a good way to figure out how to adapt your bio so it’s appropriate for different audiences: chances are, you’re going to use it in places with totally different styles and audiences.

What’s Your Voice?

The author brand is an intimidating term, but really it’s quite simple. What kind of person do you want people to think you are? What kind of voice do you like writing in? Why should they read your stories?

Think about what people come to your writing for. Are you funny, do you make them think, or do you create wonderful worlds for them to escape to? Is your prose lyrical or sparse or something else entirely? Are you calm and professional, quirky and funny, or dreamy and full of wonderment?

Try to use this same voice in your bio—remember that your bio is an introduction to you, and if you can use your own voice while also matching the style of the publication, you’ve really succeeded.


How to Spot Vanity Presses and Publishing Scams

Almost every writer wants to see their work in print. You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer that doesn’t want the kind of recognition (or gloating) that comes with the phrase ‘I’ve had a book published’. But there are many so-called publishers that prey on that dream, and unfortunately, they make a lot of money.

But that doesn’t mean we should lock our work up and never submit it, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t self-publish it. It’s about looking at each opportunity individually, and carefully following a few simple steps to reduce the risk as much as possible.

Be Careful If There’s Money Involved

In a traditional publishing relationship, money should always flow to the author. If you pay someone to publish your book, they have no incentive to sell it.

There are many horror stories online of people paying thousands of dollars to a publisher, only to receive 20 copies of their book with additional typos and misprinted illustrations. If you are giving money to a publisher, make sure you get in writing exactly what you will be receiving for your money, and how they will be providing it. For example, if they are including an edit, does the editor have a high profile in the industry? What other projects have they worked on? What makes this edit worth your money?

If you are self-publishing a book, or you’re knowingly going into a partner-publishing relationship, then yes, you will likely be handing some money over. (Though, it should be noted that it is totally possible to self-publish a print book without breaking the bank.) But if the publisher claims to be a traditional publisher, they should not be taking any money from you. If a publisher asks for a ‘reading fee’ or an ‘assessment fee’, this is a warning sign.

Quality Control

Can you find a copy of another book the publisher has produced? Is it available in physical and/or online bookstores, and can you find an ebook version? If you can’t find any books by that publisher, think about whether that publisher is really going to sell your book well. Take a look at the publisher’s social media presence. Do they have an active, loyal following?

Invest in a copy of the book in each format; is the quality of the product at a level that excites you? Are the words well edited, is the book well-produced, is the paper of a nice quality? Think about all of the things that are important to you in the design of your book, and check your sample book for those.

Get in touch with another writer or organisation who has worked with the publisher before. How was their experience with them? Would they recommend them? This is also a good time to do some quick googling to see if you can find any online reviews or stories about working with the publisher, and stalk their employees on Twitter and LinkedIn. A little sleuthing now could save you a lot of stress in the future.

The Legal Stuff

Before signing anything, make sure you read through your contract carefully, and that you understand it. If something is not in the contract, don’t assume it will happen; the contract is the only thing binding the publisher to do what they have told you they will. What you’re signing is what you’re going to get, and you could end up being legally bound to dangerous or shifty clauses.

This is by no means legal advice, and for different writers there will be different priorities. Some writers might want a big advance, but other writers might prefer the publisher pick up several books at once. Other writers might focus on the royalty rate or the reversion clause or the adaptation rights. It’s important to consider your plans for the book and what your needs are.

If you’re unsure about doing it yourself, and you don’t have a literary agent, there are contract review services offered by Australian Society of Authors, Arts Law and Alex Adsett Publishing Services, and if they’re going to advise you not to sign a contract, both the Australian Society of Authors and Alex Adsett Publishing Services will not charge you unless you want to move forward. Alex Adsett Publishing Services also negotiates contracts on an hourly rate.

Some Important Clauses To Check

Again, this is not legal advice. These are just a few areas that you should make sure you understand before signing a book with any publisher.

  • Royalty clauses: How much will you be paid, and when? Are there different rates for different forms of the book (e.g. ebook vs print book)? If the book is remaindered, will the rates go down again?
  • Advance: Will you be paid an advance? How much will you be paid? Note that smaller publishers may not offer an advance, and if you do receive one, it is the norm that you won’t receive royalties until you have ‘earned it back’.
  • Reversion: Will the rights to the book be reverted back to you if the book is not selling? Note that some publishing contracts may say that the rights revert if the book is no longer available, but with digital publishing, it is very easy to make a book always available.
  • Indemnity: Many publishers (including reputable ones) state if the book breaks any laws (e.g. copyright, defamation, etc.), that the liability stays with the author.
  • Multimedia and Language Rights: Who retains the rights to adaptations and translations? Who is in a better position to use or sell these? If you have a well-connected literary agent, they may prefer to hold onto these rights.

Pre-Publishing Checklist

  1. Are you handing the publisher any money? If yes, do you have written terms on exactly what you will receive for that money? Have you received quotes from other publishers, or opinions from industry professionals on whether that is a reasonable rate?
  2. Have you found any other works the publisher has produced in bookstores (if they are promising this)? Are they well-marketed online (and if so, is it from the author or the publisher), and does the publisher have much of an online following?
  3. Get your hands on another book the publisher has produced. If you want illustrations or pictures in your work, try to select a book with similar content. Is it well designed? Are there typos? Do you feel the work is well edited? Is the paper of a decent quality?
  4. Contact another author who has been published through them. Google the publisher’s name alongside words such as ‘experience’, ‘warning’ and ‘review’, search on Twitter for their authors and reach out to people to ask for honest feedback. Feel free to contact your state writers centre or the Australian Society of Authors if you’re unsure.
  5. Consider getting a contract assessment. The Australian Society of Authors, Arts Law and Alex Adsett Publishing Services all offer contract assessments, in which they will go over the contract and advise you on whether it is fair and if there are any warning signs. The Australian Society of Authors and Alex Adsett Publishing Services both offer your money back if they feel the contract is a scam.

How to Write a Query Letter

If you’re hoping to get your writing published, sooner or later you’re going to need to write a query letter. This is basically a super professional letter written to a publisher or agent which gives your elevator pitch, what your manuscript is and why it would be perfect for this purpose, your writing credentials, and anything else the letter-reader needs to know.

Above all, treat whomever you’re submitting your novel to with the utmost respect. They are professionals doing their jobs, and if they choose to take on your work, that is a real risk for them. Read the submission guidelines, address it to them by name, and don’t tell them that your book is the next ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Hunger Games’.

Submitting Fiction vs. Submitting Nonfiction

Submitting novel-length fiction and nonfiction are totally different processes. When you submit fiction, generally the book has already been written. This doesn’t mean that the book won’t go through further edits during the publishing process, but you should have already written the thing. Generally, a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines for fiction will ask for a certain amount of pages or chapters, a synopsis and a query letter, though sometimes these requirements can vary. If they like what they see, they may ask for the full manuscript, and you want to be able to provide it as quickly as possible.

Nonfiction, on the other hand, is a totally different beast. Generally, while you will need to have a few chapters of sample writing, a synopsis and chapter outline, publishers like to pick up nonfiction books before they are written. This is a double-bonus for you; firstly, the publisher will tell you exactly what they want, lessening the amount of edits you’ll have to go through, and secondly (the holy grail), you’ll get paid while you write!

submitting to an agent vs. a publisher

When approaching an agent or publisher, keep in mind the approach you want to take. Generally speaking (though you don’t necessarily need an agent in Australia), it’s better to approach agents first, as a huge part of an agent’s role is to sell the book to a publisher. Remember that you’re not selling your book to your agent—you’re asking them to become your career partner. Agents usually represent authors for much of their career, so it’s important to make sure that you approach them with this in mind.

It is more like you’re selling your book to a publisher, but also keep in mind that the publisher or editor is someone you will have a relationship with. They aren’t a robot that sends out form rejection letters; they are a human with little time and lots of choice. Remember that if you haven’t found an agent and you receive an offer from a publisher, you can still contact an agent to help negotiate the deal. Just be careful not to accept any terms before the agent gets to the contract.

The Elevator Pitch

The Elevator Pitch is your one sentence, 30 second summary of your novel’s crux that will make your reader want to pick up your book immediately. Think of it as the first sentence of the blurb that will go on the back of your book. It’s good to get this one figured out early, partly because it’s useful for query letters, and partly because it will save you every time you’re at an event and someone asks what you write.

Try writing the blurb you would put on the back of your book if it were to sell. Then, cut as much stuff out as possible until you have one sentence. The trick here is to figure out what part of your plot is most intriguing (and the easiest to market), to give a hint of who your characters are, and to keep enough of the story mysterious that your readers will want to pick it up right away.

Examples (Taken From the Blurbs)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman:
After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Note: This one works because it is well-balanced. There are enough playful and light elements (toddler wandering, supernatural residents) are put next to the dark elements (grisly murder, ghosts).

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is offered her freedom on one condition: she must act as the Prince’s champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Note: Notice how this shows that the story takes place in a different world, the main character is an aggressive female, and there will be some kind of dynamic between Celaena and the Prince, without having to specifically tell you these things.

If you’re having trouble, try writing the blurb you would put on the back of your book if it were to sell. Then, cut as much stuff out as possible until you have one sentence. The trick here is to figure out what part of your plot is most intriguing (and the easiest to market), to give a hint of who your characters are, and to keep enough of the story mysterious that your readers will want to pick it up right away. Remember, the universal piece of writing advice, show, not tell.

 details about your manuscript

Think of this as selling your product to an educated buyer. Of course, you need to include the specifications, including the wordcount, genre and target audience, but you should also look at how your manuscript fits both into the marketplace, and into this particular agent or publisher’s list. It’s a good idea to include some comparison titles, to give the reader a sense of where your book sits (and how it differs), and also to show that you have been thinking about it. When picking comparison titles, however, be careful to make sure they are relevant, that the readers of their work would likely be interested in yours, and that you’re being realistic.

Generally, it’s best to avoid statements like ‘This is the next Harry Potter‘ or ‘This is like The Hunger Games but better’. It’s also best not to tell the editor that they are holding the next bestselling novel, or to ask if they are up to the challenge of publishing your book. No one (not even publishers) can tell whether a book is going to be a bestseller from the first draft, and you’re likely to just earn an eyeroll.

Take a look at the authors and titles that this publisher or agent has worked with. Is your work the genre that they normally publish? Why is your manuscript perfect for this person? Mention any similar titles, as well as what makes your manuscript different. A publisher or agent will notice if you look thoughtfully at their list, and can show why your work would complement it.

your writing credentials

This section is where you convince the letter reader that you are a fabulous writer, and you include any awards, opportunities, mentorships or publications you have received. It’s fine if you don’t have much to include here, but building a publication history before submitting can really set your manuscript apart.

If you’re writing nonfiction, this is the part where you need to outline exactly why you are the right person to write this book. What gives you authority on the topic? What makes your opinion or perspective different or fresh from what’s already been done? This is one of the most important parts of selling a nonfiction book, so take some time to put some thought in it.

It’s fine to think a little outside of the box. Even if you don’t have any experience in your current genre or form, have you received any relevant accolades, or spoken at an event, or do you have relationships with anyone in the industry? Do you have any life experience relevant to what your story is about?

query letters that work

The internet is full of examples of query letters that have worked.Websites like QueryShark and Slush Pile Hell, and the #tenqueries hashtag are full of great examples of why some pieces are rejected. In particular, QueryShark gives in-depth commentary on a lot of examples, and has lots of practical tips for writing an effective letter.

Take time to search for ones in your genre, to look at the publisher/agent’s list (and it’s not a bad idea to check out their personal social media accounts to make sure that what you’ve written will be up their alley). Take time to truly personalise each query letter, and fit it to the specific person you’re sending it to—they will notice and appreciate the effort.

Query letter Checklist

Finally, here is a checklist of all the things you need to include in your query letter. Of course, you may want to add other things, but you should at least think about including everything on this list.

  1. Address it personally to an agent or publisher. (Do some google-fu, or call if you’re not sure who to address it to. Calling may be of extra benefit, as you may get to chat to the publisher before submitting.)
  2. Your contact details, so they can get in touch (even if you’re digitally submitting the letter, as they may print it out).
  3. The title, wordcount, genre and target audience of the manuscript.
  4. An ‘elevator pitch’ for your manuscript.
  5. Where your manuscript fits in the marketplace, and in the publisher/agent’s list.
  6. Your writing history and credentials, including why you are the right person to write this book (especially if it is nonfiction).
  7. Make sure everything is formatted and submitted as according to their submission guidelines.