Radio National recently lifted the lid on the Australian book publishing slush pile, that ‘unlovely place’ (according to Picador publisher Geordie Williamson) where unsolicited manuscripts go for assessment by an anonymous reader inside a publishing house.
If you listen closely to the 10-minute piece (online for another week or so), you’ll hear the lottery-level chances an author has of his or her manuscript being plucked from slush-pile obscurity. Two examples from the report:
- Scribe Publications opens to unsolicited manuscripts twice per year for limited periods; asks to see complete manuscripts for about 25% of submissions (which surprised me at being so high) … but has published only 3-4 books from the slush pile in the past five years.
- Text Publishing receives 100 hard-copy manuscripts every week, and reviews them each Friday in a team meeting at which each manuscript* gets read twice. It finds ‘a couple of things per year’ to publish. (*It is neither possible nor necessary for this number of manuscripts to be read in full – a manuscript that isn’t at a publishable standard will reveal itself in the opening pages.)
Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch, which accepts a synopsis and first chapter every week, is a relatively good bet for any Australian author attempting to submit an unsolicited manuscript. A&U publisher Louise Thurtell, who established the system ten years ago, reported that up to 75% of her list has come from Friday Pitch manuscripts, including well-known novelist Fleur McDonald.
So, should you submit your manuscript to an electronic slush pile?
My views on this topic have changed little since I wrote this post several years ago, which remains one of my most popular. The main problem with submitting your work this way is that
- Rejection is a deafening silence – you receive no feedback from the publisher. (Unfortunately, this is also the case when submitting to many literary agents.)
- Once rejected, you can’t submit your manuscript to that publisher again.
- Your work may well be good enough, but is easily lost in the size of a particular publisher’s slush pile. As Geordie Williamson of Picador says, ‘You have to be lucky to get a good reader of the slush pile.’ Which means that it’s kind of luck of the draw, to an extent, as to who’s reading on the day it’s your turn.
Fed up with the silent treatment from agents too?
If you’ve been submitting to agents or publishers and not hearing back, may I make a few suggestions:
- Try submitting to competitions – just make sure you check the fine print and don’t sign all your rights away
- Take classes or workshops with industry professionals – you’ll get to meet folks working in publishing, and ask them all the questions you want
- Join your state writers’ centre – they are a great resource for classes, competitions, literary industry events and other opportunities
- Twitter is a fabulous resource for writers – if you can resist disappearing down the internet black hole
- Get a professional manuscript assessment or consultation with an experienced publishing professional to see how you can improve your access to decision-makers, and your manuscript or project.
What has your been your experience of the slush pile? Have you had success with any of the suggested tactics above? I’d love to hear from you.
(And thanks to Jenny Ackland and her Seraglio blog for alerting me to the RN report.)
I wanted to draw your attention to two grants currently available for writers at different stages in their careers.
The first is the Writing NSW Early Career Writer Grants for writers residing in NSW. There are four grants of $5,000 each available for projects to be conducted in 2017. According to the guidelines, activities supported under the grant program include project-related travel, professional development and mentoring, in addition to the creation and development of new work. Applications close on 28th August.
The second is a lucrative $80,000 Author Fellowship offered by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund for one writer to focus on creating his or her next work. It’s open to writers of almost all genres, but the eligibility criteria are tough – five works already published (two can be self-published), with a publisher’s letter of intention to publish, or a publishing contract, for the work the Fellow would conduct during the 12 months of Fellowship money. I suspect these criteria are why the deadline has been extended from 24th August to 23rd September.
If you’re working on a manuscript and have hit a creative block, or if your manuscript has been knocked back by a literary agent or publisher and are wondering why, I may be able to help you.
Because of my background in publishing, and as an author myself, I help writers get to the level they need in order to attract a publisher.
My clients get published. Some of them are listed here, while others have kindly contributed testimonials about working with me. Many clients I work with remain confidential because they come to me to develop their manuscript before they send it to the publisher who has contracted it.
Other clients are unpublished authors who have contacted me for honest and constructive feedback about their project. Too many serious writers are attending expensive workshops and courses without practical guidance about how they can improve their chances of attracting an agent or publisher.
Then there are those with professional expertise of some kind – but who may not be natural writers – who need a different sort of assistance in developing their book.
Publishing is a business, and unfortunately a great idea or beautiful prose is not, in and of itself, enough.
While I’m booked solid until the end of September, I am open to inquiries from authors at any time. Because my hours are erratic (due to a toddler in the house), email is the best way to reach me as a first step: info @virginialloyd.com. Or join my newsletter (sign up at right).
I love seeing my clients get published, and I look forward to hearing from you.
To see my client Tim Elliott’s memoir Farewell to the Father make the cover of The Good Weekend last weekend (left), as well as this extract on news.com.au, was pretty exciting, to say the least. I’ve already received several emails from people who read one of the extracts, bought and read the book, and have been moved and inspired by it.
The May edition of my monthly email (subscribe at right) featured my Q & A with Tim on his writing process, exclusively for my email subscribers.
I hope you will consider joining my list. Subscribers receive practical advice about getting published and how I work with my clients, as well as information on grants and competitions for writers.
Fairfax journalist Tim Elliott’s memoir, Farewell to the Father, will be published in April. The gorgeous cover speaks to the richness, power and detail of Elliott’s recollections of growing up with his brilliant but manic-depressive and suicidal father, Max. It is a book that explores the pain and joy of a son’s love for his father, and of the son’s love for his own children when Tim becomes a father himself.
I am deeply thrilled to have helped Tim’s story evolve from its origin as a Sydney Morning Herald feature article to its publication as a memoir.
The reader response to the article was overwhelming, and Tim knew he was finally ready to write his story. But how to move from a 3,000 word piece to a work of perhaps 70-80,000 words?
A mutual friend referred him to me, and I helped him develop the chapter outline and clarify the arc of the story for his book proposal. Publisher interest in the proposal was extremely strong. Pan Macmillan won the right to publish Tim’s book at auction, and Tim set to work.
Nearly 18 months and several drafts later, the result of Tim’s fearless and tireless efforts is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. I hope it gets the attention and the readership it deserves.
Tim Elliott will be a guest of the Sydney Writers Festival at two events: My Family & Other Obstacles on Sat 21st May 6.00-7.00pm (with ABC Radio’s Richard Glover), and The Legacy of Family on Sun 22nd May 11.30am-12.30pm.
PS: Manuscript development and book proposal development are two of the services for writers that I offer. Please get in touch if you think you’d like to work with me, or sign up for my monthly email newsletter about improving your writing and getting published.
Hello writers! I had a baby last year, so I’m a bit behind on my query pile. That’s why I’ve hit the Pause button on new submissions. However, I love helping authors get published – and have a long track record of doing just that – and I’d love to hear from you, whether you’re looking for an agent or just need some information.
What is the one thing you really need to know about getting published in Australia?
If you’d rather not make your question public, please feel free to email me: info at virginialloyd dot com. Thanks so much in advance. I promise to read and respond to every comment.