If you’ve been wondering how to get your book published, first-time writers will find in this article down-to-earth, practical advice and suggestions to help them overcome the publishing hurdle.
How to Get Your Book Published: Top Tip
Finish your Book First
Publishers and editors don’t have time to hear about great ideas. They need something they can sell. Do yourself a favour: finish your book before you even think about approaching a publisher or an agent.
Take a Break
Once you’ve finished writing your book, set it aside for a week. This is a piece of advice I often give writers, and it invariably works for them. Put your manuscript in a drawer. Forget it for the week. Go dancing. Go skiing. Go to the beach. Treat your girlfriend / boyfriend / husband / wife / partner / family to dinner to thank them for not having seen you in two years. After a week’s break, you’re likely to experience a ‘Eureka’ moment or ‘aha!’ effect. You’ll come to your writing with fresh eyes. You’ll have the distance, the objectivity, to see things you didn’t notice before. I find this works just as well for me when I am editing a manuscript or doing a manuscript appraisal. I go away from the book for an hour, and while I’m doing some unrelated activity (be it mundane or exciting), I’ll think of something that didn’t occur to me when I had the manuscript on the screen in front of me.
Now is the time to revise revise revise. This may sound brutal after the hours, months or years of work you’ve put into your book, BUT YOU MUST REMEMBER – YOU HAVE PRODUCED A FIRST DRAFT. Congratulations. It’s a huge achievement. Now is the time for rewriting. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to rewrite the entire book. Some authors have been known to abandon their first book, to look upon it as an apprenticeship in writing. Writing is a skill that takes years to develop to the level of being published. The odds are unlikely that the first draft of any manuscript is up to scratch – even that of a professional author. Heed the words of Australian author Ian Irvine in his article The Truth about Publishing: Part 1 Getting There: “Most writers work for 5-10 years before getting their first book published (my first took 9 years).”
In How to get your First Novel Published, Australian author Jackie French has this to say: “Rewrite it, and be really honest about it – yes, of course you can damn well make it better, and I don’t just mean changing the odd word. The first four chapters almost certainly need rewriting to really drag the reader into the narrative so they can’t bear to leave it…Not prepared to do this? Then go no further. Literary honesty is the most important attribute of a writer – the ability to accept [that] your work can always be improved, and invariably needs to be.”
During your revision or rewrite, ask yourself these questions, and more:
- Have I hooked the reader from paragraph one, chapter one?
- Am I engaging the reader throughout the book? Do my chapters begin and end on a high note to tempt my reader to keep reading? If I wasn’t the writer, would I want to read this book?
- Are my characters believable?
- Are my characters’ actions consistent with how I’ve portrayed them?
- Have I committed the novice writer’s offence of overusing descriptive passages to captivate my readers, instead of focusing on writing an engaging story?
- Am I trying too hard? Write to express, not to impress.
- Do I have a good balance between narrative and dialogue?
- Does the story flow, or does it get stuck in parts?
- Do I need to prepare a time line to ensure that all the events tie up at the end?
- Does my book have a satisfying ending?
- Have I used the spell checker and grammar checker, to check for technical inaccuracies?
Have your Manuscript Professionally Assessed
The role of an editor is not to rewrite your manuscript. If this is what you want then you need to seek the services of a ghost writer.
If you are a novice writer with your first book, and you’re not confident that your book is in good enough shape for editing let alone presenting to a publisher, it is often a good idea to have your manuscript professionally assessed first. An edit will correct obvious errors, but if the book is structurally flawed, then having it edited won’t mean it will be published.
A manuscript assessment will help you focus on the areas that need attention. A professional manuscript appraisal takes into account not just making your book ‘better’. In addition to crafting a great story and being technically accurate (spelling, grammar and the like), when you are serious about getting published, you also need to focus on creating a product that has market value.
Have your Manuscript Professionally Edited
After you have finished your rewriting, and had a manuscript assessment completed if that was necessary, it’s then time to have your manuscript professionally edited so that it is fit for submission to a publisher.
Refer to the blog post on the different types of editing (structural editing, copy editing, proofreading) as to the type of edit best suited to your manuscript.
Take notice of Ian Irvine under his heading ‘Your editor is wise and you are foolish’: “Don’t believe all that nonsense…about books not being edited any more. My editors put many weeks of work into each of my books, and always have. One of the best things about being published is having the opportunity to craft and polish your work with the aid of an experienced, sensitive professional. Editors…know a lot more about writing and the marketplace than you do, and they’re usually right. Consider carefully every point your editor makes. Where you reject an editorial suggestion, make sure there’s a good reason for it. I would agree with 9 out of 10 suggestions my editor makes. If you’re rejecting most of them, you’ve got a problem. In rare cases an editor may be wrong for your book, but more likely the problem is that you can’t accept criticism. Beginning writers have less leeway than established ones. An established writer can ignore most of her editor’s suggestions and still be published (though few would be so unprofessional). A novice who does so may never be published. If your editor tells you to cut your 1000 page manuscript to 500 pages, do it. Cutting a long book almost invariably makes it better. Big books cost a lot more to edit, print and distribute, but a publisher can’t charge much more for them. That’s OK if they’re by a bestselling author, but it’s a recipe for losing money if they’re the work of a novice.”
Listen to what the professionals say about your work. Don’t listen – necessarily – to friends and family. On the odd occasion, they may be right but let’s face it, they’re not professionals in editing, writing or publishing. Accept their opinion – because that is what it is – gracefully, but not seriously. As Ian Irvine says, by heeding the advice of professionals, “If you do have talent…you’ll immediately have an edge over most of your competitors, because few unpublished writers are really willing or able to act on criticism.”
Don’t be discouraged by your editor’s changes and comments. They are only helping you to improve the manuscript.
Present your Manuscript Professionally
As a professional editor, I often need to spend considerable time not just editing but formatting a manuscript. This is no problem, but you may save your editor time (and therefore yourself money) by setting up your page correctly before you start writing. The basic setup isn’t difficult. For Australian writers, set up your page as A4 size, lines double spaced, font Times New Roman 12 point, wide margins. Add automatic page numbers. You may need to adjust formatting slightly for each publisher, however this is a fairly standard setup. Never, ever use manual line returns. You’re using a computer, not a typewriter. A single space between sentences is also standard. Of course, your editor can make these changes for you, but if you format the manuscript correctly first, then you will save editing fees.
To find out more, download this file. Bottom line: if your manuscript makes it to a publisher, they will only look at it if it has been professionally edited and is professionally presented.
Approach the Right Publisher for your Genre
Make sure to submit your manuscript to the right publishing company. Do they publish books in your genre? What are their submission guidelines? As Jackie French says, “Go to a bookshop. Have a look at six books of the same genre as yours. Write down the publisher’s address.”
Take advantage of the great resources available to writers to help with getting their work published, such as The Australian Writer’s Marketplace, The Australian Society of Authors, and writing guilds (there is one in every state).
Your research needs to focus not just on the industry, but also on the market you are trying to sell your manuscript to.
Jackie French humorously advises, “Don’t bother looking for an agent unless you are already famous or the Duchess of Windsor. Most agents only take work from those who have already been published. But if you know one socially – or you ARE the Duchess of Windsor or have any other reason a publisher or agent will pick you up even though you haven’t had anything published, go to it.”
There are a few publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts (see next heading). If you want to try a publisher who does not, having an agent is the best approach. If you are an unpublished author and don’t have strong connections in the industry, this may be challenging. Nevertheless, agents are just people, like you and me, and it’s worth a shot. One of my clients recently decided she was going to be represented by a well-known agent who is incredibly hard to track down. Well, she tracked her down, and now she’s being represented by her. These things can happen. Like publishers, agents vary in their submission criteria. Some accept unsolicited manuscripts; others don’t. Read their guidelines carefully.
Here is a list (not exhaustive) of Australian literary agents: https://austlitagentsassoc.com/ And click here for another website listing 19 Australian literary agents (some agents appear on both lists).
Mainstream Australian Publishers who Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts
Here are links to the submission guidelines for mainstream Australian publishers currently accepting (at October 2020) unsolicited manuscripts:
- Allen & Unwin Australia – ‘The Friday Pitch’
- Pan Macmillan Australia – ‘Manuscript Mondays’
- Penguin Random House – Submit in the first week of every month
- Harlequin Books (an imprint of HarperCollins) – Click here for details
- Hachette Australia – Click here for details
- Text Publishing – Click here for details
- Affirm Press – Submit first Monday of each month
Let us know how we can help you get your book published, no matter where you are with your manuscript or what editorial service you may need. If you’re not sure, just ask. We’re a friendly lot!