My second book, Girls at the Piano, will be published in 2018

Auguste Renoir, Two Young Girls at the Piano, 1892
Auguste Renoir, Two Young Girls at the Piano, 1892

I’m extremely happy to report that GIRLS AT THE PIANO, the book I have been writing, on and off, for the past seven (gasp) years, will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in early 2018.

While it’s good news for me personally – the second book is notoriously challenging for many writers – it’s also good news for my clients, who can feel reassured that I might actually know what I’m on about when I read and respond to their work.

If you’re interested in working with me to complete your manuscript to a publishable standard, please get in touch.

I firmly believe there are no stupid questions, and I would love to hear from you.

Nature writing and nonfiction for women: trends from the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016

According to a roundup of rights sales at the book industry’s biggest get-together, the Frankfurt Book Fair, psychological thrillers are going the way of wizards, but nonfiction about the environment is in, in, in.

What’s the Frankfurt Book Fair?
Each October, the world’s largest annual trade fair for books draws thousands of publishers, editors and agents from around the world, who are all attempting to buy or sell rights in books that have sold strongly in their respective home territories. For example, many Australian publishers and/or their foreign rights managers attend Frankfurt in order to interest overseas publishers and editors in books already published in Australia, for which the Australian publishers hold world rights.

Trends
According to book industry newsletter Australian Bookseller & Publisher (subscription required), which interviews Australian publisher representatives at the industry event, international publishers are looking for narrative nonfiction for women readers (a genre that describes fact-based storytelling, for example memoir, travel or personal history, or some untold story of a specific group of people). They’re still strong on crime fiction, but less enthusiastic for the psychological thriller – unless, of course, it’s the next global phenomenon (think Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train).

What do these trends mean for authors?
While any publishing professional will tell you that a ‘great story, well told’ will always be publishing’s holy grail, it’s useful for aspiring authors to be mindful of the business realities of the industry. Some subjects and genres do get saturated (zombies, anyone?), which means that it’s that much more difficult to interest an acquiring agent or publisher in your manuscript. If you’re concerned that your subject is too similar to what’s already been published, then you should listen to your instinct and revisit one or more aspects of your story – whether it’s location, historical period, characterization, plot twists, and so forth.

On the other hand, because publishing trends do come and go, I do not recommend that a writer changes his or her project based on a trend that might prove short-lived.  If you happen to be writing nonfiction about the environment, then feel encouraged at increasing interest from those who acquire book manuscripts. If you’re not, just continue with your project – but do your homework about potential audiences for your subject matter. Agents and publishers want as much proof as possible that there are lots of  potential readers out there for what you’re writing about.

A personal example
A book titled The Lost Pianos of Siberia by British journalist Sophy Roberts was one of the most talked-about books of this year’s book fair. Apparently it mixes memoir, travel and nature writing to explore Siberia, including its involvement in the history of piano production. It was acquired in a pre-empt by Transworld (a division of Penguin Random House) before the festival, an example of the kind of literary-commercial nonfiction crossover work that is very tasty to publishers these days.

This was interesting to me because I’ve just completed a nonfiction manuscript titled Girls at the Piano, for which I will soon be seeking a publisher. My project could not be more different from Roberts’s (not the least because one has a publishing contract and one does not!), but at the most superficial level, both cover aspects of the piano’s history. Is that good news for me – Roberts’s book might tap into a hunger for piano-related stories – or bad news, in that her book might obviate the need for anything that seems too similar? From the little I know about The Lost Pianos of Siberia, it seems very different from the hybrid personal-literary-musical history that I’ve attempted in my manuscript. But I’ll have to wait and see. Either way, I’ll let you know how I go.

Questions?
Let me know if you have any questions – I really want to hear from you.

Australian publishers talk about the slush pile

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’m here to help you get 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.

 

How many things are wrong with this query letter? Let us count the ways.

This query arrived in my inbox this morning. It is possibly a joke, but experience tells me it is not. I have pasted it verbatim. How many things about it can you count that would irritate a prospective literary agent? (Not including the fact that the author attached the manuscripts to the email.) I’ll wait for some comments before providing my own list.

Dear sir /madam,                                           9/11/15

As a literary agent i request your office to edit and assist on  selling my three short stories.I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf.You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.My payments can be send through either PAYPAL or WESTERN UNION money transfer.

Thanks

[Name Withheld]

 

Update: 12/12/15

Okay, so here’s a very quick list of what ‘got my goat’ (as my mother would say) about the query above:

  • The author has taken no time to personalise his approach. I have no insight into why he decided to contact me – for example, if I had represented another writer whose work is in a similar genre to his – and therefore it feels anonymous and scattergun.
  • ‘As a literary agent i request’ – aside from the lack of punctuation, the lack of graciousness and understanding as to how agents operate is profound. Assuming that I’ll jump at the request is probably the worst part. Unfortunately the fact is that an unpublished author has little bargaining power on querying an agent, unless they have millions of fans on social media or are a celebrity.
  • Asking me to sell short stories – my Submissions page (at the time of this query) clearly stated that I do not represent fiction.
  • Asking me to sell THREE short stories – this person has no idea about the business of publishing, which is difficult to respect given the quantity of information available online. Submitting short stories to literary journals and magazines is the lonely work of the isolated writer who does the work in the hope of acceptance, and at a later time, of publication of a longer work. Perhaps a BOOK of short stories.
  • ‘I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf’. Well, thanks very much. Even if it was due.
  • ‘You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.’ Again, you’re too much. Thanks! I’ll be sure to spend the time and money to set up an account with Western Union in order to pay you your proceeds, which will come to exactly … nil. You must not be aware, sitting under a rock as you evidently do, that literary journals mostly pay nothing in cash. In any event, no one in their right mind mentions money in their initial piece of correspondence with anyone, on any topic … do they? Or have I missed some recent transformation in business etiquette?

Becoming Westerly by Jamie Brisick

I’m thrilled to announce the publication of Becoming Westerly by my client Jamie Brisick.

The book explores the extraordinary life of Peter Drouyn from his days as a champion Australian surfer to his transformation into the woman he always believed he was meant to be: Westerly Windina.

I met Jamie at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2013 when we attended a nonfiction workshop with Geoff Dyer, a writer we both admire greatly. At that stage Jamie was working on the first chapter of Becoming Westerly.

Jamie, a longtime sports journalist, is a wonderful writer. I compare this book with Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief in its ability to weave together biography, surfing history, the complexities of gender identity, and Jamie’s personal observations as a former pro surfer himself.

Why is this aspiring author so angry at ‘lazy snob’ literary agents?

After the smattering of positive feedback I usually get from readers seeking to know more about the realities of Australian book publishing, it was thoroughly refreshing to read this lambasting from aspiring author Jeff Martin in response to one of my most popular posts (from 2012), Australian writers: think twice before diving into the publishers’ slush pile. I reprint it in full, unedited, so you can feel the full force of the hot wind that blew in my face as I read it.

Have to shake my head at your utterly off-the-mark explanation for publishers seeking to acquire manuscripts directly. The REAL reason publishers have opened their door to direct submittals is because agents want NOTHING TO DO with authors that write fiction. Especially commercial fiction. They issue knee-jerk rejections of said manuscripts as fast as they can get them out the door. This trend has become so rampant worldwide that publishers are not getting the volume of manuscripts in certain genres that they should. In short, agents are not doing their jobs. These lazy snobs are deliberately damaging the careers of talented new authors because, quite simply, they can’t be bothered to invest in them. Story quality doesn’t matter. Story originality doesn’t matter. Story creativity doesn’t matter. 5-star reviews don’t matter. Nothing matters. Unless the newbie is a celebrity! Then they’ll fall over themselves to request the manuscript. Stephen King himself, if twenty-five years old today, could not get published because of these agents that should be more properly be viewed as roadblocks. In fact, in light of this, some time ago, King advised new authors to skip agents entirely and submit directly to publishers. He said a new author has a better chance of his/her manuscript being plucked from a slush pile and read than an agent reading it. He was absolutely right. Just so you know, Virginia, I sent a query for my outstanding work of (eerie) commercial fiction to thirty-five agents in the U.K. that stated their literary preferences included the genres of horror, the paranormal, fantasy, etc. Thirty-five. The novel had received rave reviews from major websites and top reviewers on Amazon. The query letter contained those reviews, of course. Guess how many agents requested the full manuscript, Virginia. Zero. Guess how many agents requested reading material, Virginia. Zero. Well, that did it for me. I changed course for good. Sent my manuscript (as a soft-cover book, complete with artwork. Very slick looking.) straight to editors/senior editors/editors-in-chief with the top publishers in the world. Within six weeks, four had replied with personal messages! Two informed me they would take a look at it. (One of them — an editor-in-chief — asked for the story in MS Word form.) The third — an editor-in chief — said to get an agent! LOL! (This person is utterly disconnected from reality.) The fourth actually wrote a personal reply, commending me on my ‘compelling’ query letter. Added he is not able to accept unsolicited submittals, however, and wished me well. But he has the book. In response to his note, I thanked him for his courtesy and asked him to give the novel to someone outside the publishing industry for his/her feedback. Should he do that, and that person comes back two weeks later and tells him the story is great (and it is great), he may well skirt the rules, read it himself and take it on. At the very least, he will regard the book differently than before that may lead to something. But NONE of these four publishers would have even become aware of me/my novels had I not done as Stephen suggested. If left to agents, my books would have died on their computers right then and there for agents are in the business of not helping authors of fiction but stopping them from going any farther. They ruin careers. And they enjoy it. They actually think they speak for the literary public when they most certainly do not. 75% of all agent-approved published books are flops. 75%! They don’t make a dime. Book bin material two weeks after release. That tells everything you need to know about agents’ judgment. But ask yourself, Virginia — how many best-selling authors can you name that have PUBLICLY COMPLAINED about the number of rejections they received for their works? Off the top of my head, I can think of Stockett, King, Meyer, Rowling, Grisham and Forsythe. No doubt there are others. No doubt. What do these authors have in common, Virginia (beside the fact they are/were best-selling authors)? I’ll tell you — they all write commercial fiction. The biggest selling books in the world are those of commercial fiction. And what do agents do when they receive this genre from new authors? They reject them out of hand no matter how good they are. Isn’t that amazing?! THAT’S why more and more publishers want to directly deal with authors. Oh, and by the way, the editor-in-chief of Tor Books in London, fed up with the number of complaints she has received from authors regarding agents’ outrageous behavior towards them, invited authors to submit to Tor. No agents needed or wanted. Well, as of late September, Tor has, I believe, acquired nineteen manuscripts that had previously been rejected and likely numerous times by know-it-all agents. If I were the chief editor of Tor and so alarmingly discovered that publishable material was routinely being tossed in the garbage by these incompetents, I would never use agents again. I mean, what do I need them for? They are DAMAGING my business as a publisher, keeping from me tales I can sell. In point of fact, Tor’s open submittals portal has yielded TONS of excellent product neither this publisher nor any other would ever have seen if left to agents. Stephen King was right. Submit to publishers. Forget about agents. Don’t waste your time with agents. And, Virginia, I do not want you making excuses for these people. I have no interest in reading anything you have to say in defense of them. And likely neither does Tor. I have all the proof I need of agent arrogance and apathy towards authors of fiction, and nothing you say is going to change that. But tell you what, Virginia — YOU write a work of commercial fiction and submit it to as many agents as you want anywhere in the world. Use a pseudonym. Jane Smith. See how far you get, Virginia. Yes, get ready to paper your house with form rejection letters from people that didn’t read a word of your manuscript, don’t want to and perhaps didn’t even finish reading your query. Yes, good luck with that.

So as a lazy snob who rejects commercial fiction manuscripts no matter how good they are, I can’t really explain my excitement at news overnight that advance copies of Wife on the Run, the new novel from my client Fiona Higgins (whose The Mothers’ Group was the bestselling Australian commercial fiction title of 2012) will soon be in my destructive hands.