In Part 1 of this article, we talked about approaching an agent. Now it’s time to nut-out what it means to approach a publisher, and whether this is the right option for you.
Should I submit my
unsolicited MS to publishers before an agent?
The downside to agents is that they can be as hard to lock-in as a publisher, and they are still a step away from that elusive publishing contract.
For a long while publishers didn’t want to wade through a ‘slush’ pile – they didn’t want unsolicited manuscripts (this means a MS without an agent representing it, or without some formal introduction from somewhere respected, or without the publishing house finding and commissioning the work). But there are now many, many publishers that will accept unsolicited manuscripts in programs like Allen and Unwin’s ‘The Friday Pitch’.
And this is a fine option. Every option has its ups and downs. It is a matter of weighing up the elements that are most important to you. Submitting to a publisher can be done in two ways:
- Through one of the many emerging ‘slush pile’ programs. Many publishing houses now have programs for unsolicited manuscripts; making it easier and more fruitful for authors to approach publishers directly. It can be a good start, you may even receive useful feedback about your work (although, don’t hold your breath!).
- Submitting ‘cold’ to the editor at your chosen ‘house’. You might have a publishing house in mind that you like the look of, who you wish to work with. If this is the case, it will be a matter of calling/emailing the appropriate editor to submit your cover letter to. I am not a huge fan of this method, editors are busy people and you end up becoming just one more item on their to-do list. You don’t want to look like work, you want to look like an opportunity. A well-written, concise email with your cover letter might be a good way to approach an ‘unknown’ editor. It puts the ball in their court as to whether they want to see your manuscript or not.
Out of these two options I would always advise the first. Look for publishers with ‘slush piles’ that are right for your work. This means doing your homework, because as I have said in previous blog articles, publishers want to see the kinds of work that they have asked for…so don’t give them a sci-fi manuscript if they are asking for romance submissions. Keeping up to date with what each publisher is seeking, or ‘knowing’ what every publisher publishes, is hard as it changes constantly (depending on what they have recently acquired and whether that has ‘filled’ their list in that particular genre). You simply need to keep revisiting the same pathways until you eventually see the fork in the road that is right for your MS.
How do you choose the right publisher?
Agents and publishers operate in a similar way, in the sense that they each have talents and interests in different genres. It also depends on what they are already representing – they aren’t going to take on your title if it is going to be in direct competition with another that they are ‘flogging’.
The best option to keep up-to-date with publishers’ (and agents’) websites, there you will find all the information you are seeking.
What other things do writers need to consider?
The genre you are writing in can impact your decision (whether to submit to an agent or publisher). Slush pile programs are often focused on fiction. So if you are writing fiction, then this might be a more fruitful place to begin, than seeking an agent.
Non-fiction is a little different for a few reasons: a non-fiction title can actually be sold-in based on concept alone, and this is where having an agent on your side can be really helpful.
As for children’s fiction, this is a popular and competitive area to break into. There are agents and publishers who specialise in children’s fiction and non-fiction and it is important to know who these are. Creative Kids Tales is a great resource for all things related to kid-fiction and have wonderful insights into the industry. There is a huge level of competition in this area and very few spots, so finding the right representation through an agent could prove useful.
As always, no matter what genre you are writing in, making your MS the best it can be is the key to the first steps in success.
What if you don’t get ‘picked’ by either team?
Don’t give up! Like everything in publishing…no single element will get you published. It is different elements that come together, when the stars align: it is having a well-drafted manuscript; available publishing spaces at the right time and in the right genre; it is about having the right editor/publisher read your MS (because two eds/pubs in the same organisation, at the same time, can feel differently about your MS!); it is also about having an ed/pub read it at the right time, i.e. when they aren’t too busy, good manuscripts are easily missed by under-pressure professionals.
Exhaust every avenue, and if these don’t work then consider revisiting your MS and reworking it; with fresh eyes or with feedback you may have received in your rejection letters. Or, if you feel your work is ready, wait a little while and try the same avenues again. We all know that many of the great authors received many, many rejections before finding success!
The best defence is offence…
Your manuscript still needs to win the battle, regardless of which one you choose to fight. The best defence is offence. Be prepared before going into the battle; make sure your manuscript, cover letter and synopsis are the best they can be. The first three chapters are particularly important – this is what the agent or publish is most likely going to read first and if they’re not pulled-in then it doesn’t really matter if you are approaching a publisher or agent!
Who accepts unsolicited manuscripts?
- Panterra Press
- Random House
- HarperCollins Publishers – The Wednesday Post
- Pan Macmillan Australia – Manuscripts Monday
- Allen & Unwin – The Friday Pitch
- Text Publishing
- Hachette Australia
- Penguin Books Australia – The Monthly Catch
- Five Mile Press
Please note, these were the major publishing houses that were open for submissions at the time of writing, publishers regularly change what and when/or if they are accepting unsolicited manuscripts.
For more reading on this subject, you might like to check these pages out:
Virginia Lloyd’s Website – although this is an old post, it is still relevant.
Here is one from a UK writing teacher: http://www.novel-writing-help.com/finding-a-publisher.html. The UK market has more similarities to the Australian market, than the U.S. However, each publishing climate is different and it is always best to refer to advice from within your own jurisdiction.
Another interesting article to glance at is http://www.jeffherman.com/publishing-secrets/; don’t spend too long on this one as it is written about the U.S. publishing market, which isn’t altogether reflective of the Australian market. However, it is still an interesting read with some good ‘world-building’ to give you a sense of the publishing industry (albeit the U.S. industry).
In terms of agents, https://austlitagentsassoc.com/ is a starting point.
Read about approaching an agent in Part 1 of this article.