Part 2: Approach an agent or publisher…what to do?

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:

  1. 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!).
  2. 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?

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.


Further reading…

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: 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; 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, is a starting point.

You might also like to read about how to write a synopsis or cover Letter in preparation for submission to agents and publishers.


Read about approaching an agent in Part 1 of this article. 











About Kit Carstairs

Kit Carstairs has background in book and magazine publishing, academic research, marketing and broadcasting. She has almost a decade of experience working with a wide variety of content including: fiction (adult and children’s), general non-fiction (craft, gardening, home improvement, general DIY, food titles, natural history, general reference, photography) as well as working with corporate (marketing and sales material, business reviews and papers) and academic content (research publications and thesis). Having worked both as a freelance editor and as an in-house editor and project manager in publishing, Kit has a comprehensive understanding of the importance of content development and the need for authors to be proactive in developing manuscripts that represent their full potential. As well as providing manuscript assessments Kit is also able to offer her editing and proofing services (POA) as well as fast and accurate transcribing services (POA). Contact Kit to discuss these services in more detail. Kit lives and works in the inspirational surroundings of the Blue Mountains, in Australia's New South Wales.



Part 2: Approach an agent or publisher…what to do? — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for all this information. I recently just finished writing my first book and I just started looking into the process of getting in published. I had no idea how difficult it can be. This was super helpful!
    I do have a question, my first book I wrote was general adult fiction, now I am in the middle of writing a second book that’s in the romance genre. Say I get my first book published and the publisher doesn’t deal with the romance genre. What would I do for my second book?

    • Hi Rachael, I am glad you found this information useful. My advice would be to initially focus on the first MS you are trying to place. If you get a publishing deal for that then you will have more credentials to rest on when finding a place for your second MS. The publisher may decide to keep you on and publish your next book, even though they don’t usually publish romance. Or, they may wish to edit it to be less of a romance and more of a general fiction title. Or you may find yourself in the position of needing a new publisher. If you are a writer of many genres, then it might be worth considering approaching and agent and including this information in your submission. They might be better placed at locking in a publishing deal for both with the right publisher, or will have the means to place your second book with someone new based on your track record with your first book + their contacts/relationships in the industry. Again though, I would focus on this first title and perhaps mention in your covering letters that you write across genres. It’s a little like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’… I hope this helps in some small way. Cheers! Kit

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