Finding a Publisher

1.  My story is complete. What now?

Firstly, congratulations! Give yourself a big pat on the back. You have achieved what many say they will do, but once they get started and realise it's not as easy as they first thought, they give up.

Now that the easy part is over, yes that's right, the easy part is writing your story. The work really begins with trying to get your work published.

How many times have you edited your work? Successful authors go over and over their stories before submitting. Often they will have edited and reworked their manuscript 3, 4, 5 and even more times before sending it off. Just because you've had work published before doesn't guarantee you will be published again. You've heard the saying 'you are only as good as your last book'. It's true.

Research your market thoroughly. Look up publishers' websites and study their submission guidelines. It is very very important to adhere to their guidelines before submitting any piece of work.

It's extremely hard to get published, but not unachievable if your work is quality. The market is extremely competitive and when you realise that publishers only publish a handful of books each year, that can be discouraging. But don't let that stop you.

Read books, websites, in fact any information you can get your hands on about publishing and presenting your work. When your work is before a publisher it should be polished, professional and your best effort.

2.  Choosing a Publisher.

The possibilities are endless and that's just in Australia. I always have a copy of The Australian Writers' Marketplace on my desk. I refer to it as my bible. There is also an American version – 2012 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. I'm sure there is one for every country. Jump online and do some research.

The AWM is a great reference guide. Be sure to check that the contact details of your intended publisher are still correct. Even though great care is taken when producing this book, contact details can change. This guide lists all kinds of Australian Publishers. eg. magazines, journals, children's, adults and newspapers.

Some publishers only open their doors to unsolicited manuscripts at certain times of the year. You will need to check individual publisher's websites for more information.

3.  Ready to submit.

In our 'Tips 1' page we touched on the subject of joining groups, attending festivals and enrolling in courses. Some festivals and writing centres also offer 30 minute manuscript assessment sessions. This allows you to sit one on one with someone from the industry and get valuable feedback. Some published authors have been discovered this way. You might make some useful industry contacts by simply attending a local writers' festival.

As we have stressed again and again you must adhere to the publishers' guidelines. Failure to do so could result in your submission being disregarded. Here are some layout guidelines:

Single sided on white A4 paper.
Double spacing (in between lines) with paragraphs indented.
'Times New Roman' or 'Arial' font in 12 point.
3cm margins all around your page.
Don't staple or bind your manuscript. Use a fold back clip or place loose sheets in a plastic sleeve or wallet style folder.
If you are submitting a picture book text, don't include illustrations. If you are successful, publishers will have their own illustrator in mind.
Never send your original work; make copies. Most publishers will only send you a response letter. If you would like your manuscript returned, ensure you enclose a return envelope with sufficient postage.

Each publisher is different but some publishers would prefer you send a few chapters of your manuscript with a short synopsis. If they like what they see they will contact you for your complete manuscript. Don't forget to include a cover letter.

This letter should be brief with all your contact details listed. eg. Name, phone numbers, address, email and fax if you have one. You should also use this letter to sell yourself although don't make it a 'War and Peace' novel. If you have any writing experience or qualifications in this field, include that in your letter. If you've won any literary competitions, had something published or won awards include that as well. Also include the genre your manuscript is for, as well as the intended age bracket.

Have a look at publishers' websites. Some are now accepting part submissions online.

Before you submit, ensure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct. Publishers do not have time to edit your submissions. Correct formatting can mean the difference between being read and being overlooked. Professional editors can assist you with your manuscript. Agents or established authors can provide recommendations to help you climb the slush pile.

The Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPED) has a state by state guide of editors. Australian Literary Agent's Association (ALAA) is the place to contact for an agent.

In days gone by, you submitted your work to one publisher at a time but when the wait for a reply is so long, it's unrealistic to do that. Try and not submit your manuscript to ten publishers at once. I know you're pretty sure you've written the great Australian novel and you want everyone to read it ...NOW! Take your time, submit to maybe 2 or 3 at a time and be sure to tell them in your cover letter that you have submitted to other publishers too.

4.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Get used to it! Publishers are very busy people who receive thousands of submissions every week. Generally the timeframe on which you will hear back from a publisher is three to six months. But sometimes the wait is even longer. It's not advisable to call them every week to find out where your manuscript is sitting in the pile.

5. The rejection letter.

You can almost hear the sinister 'dum, dum, dum', sound when the words 'rejection letter' is mentioned. You will receive them and lots of them.

The odds of being accepted on your first submission aren't high. Not impossible, but rare, sorry. Being realistic will help you to remain focussed and passionate.

I'm sure you've heard how many times JK Rowling was rejected before a little publisher gave her a break. Well lots of successful authors have similar stories. The key to your success is perseverance.

If you are lucky you might receive personalised feedback with some encouraging words. These responses, whilst not exactly what you wanted, should be treated as gold. All publishers are extremely busy people so if they have taken the time to address you personally, take that as encouragement.

In an attempt to minimise the amount of rejections you receive, ensure that you research the publisher first. Make sure your manuscript complies with the publisher's requirements. Most publishers state very clearly which genres they do NOT publish. Visit your local library and browse through books of a similar style to yours. See who published them and when. Ensure that they are still around and their contact details are correct before submitting to them.

Research the publisher on line and have a look at their recently released list. For example, if you have written a story about a wombat who likes to have tea parties with his forest friends and the publisher you were thinking of approaching has just released a similar story, they won't want another the same. Try their competitors instead. Your local Writers' Centre will be able to give you more advice on how to get published.

The best advice is to fill a niche that's not already been exhausted. Don't just write for what's popular now. Publishers print lists are at least twelve months ahead of what's currently on the shelf. They are always on the lookout for a new voice, a new perspective. Go ahead and dazzle them!

Just because you have been rejected by a publisher, there is nothing to say once you've reworked your manuscript that they wouldn't read it again. In fact, you may have even made an impression on them the first time you submitted to them.

Good luck!

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
- Mark Twain