Advice on how to attract a publisher

A full plate of manuscriptsIf 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Other clients are unpublished authors who have contacted me for honest and constructive feedback about their project.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 Or join my newsletter (sign up at right).

I love seeing my clients get published, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Packing my bags for Florida

I’m pretty excited to be attending my first artist’s residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida (above) starting on Monday 13th May. I’ll be one of eight people working with acclaimed British writer Geoff Dyer, the author of some of my favourite difficult-to-classify books including Out of Sheer Rage and But Beautiful.

The Center describes the interdisciplinary nature of its residency program thus:

The essence of Atlantic Center’s Artists-in-Residence program is to provide talented artists the opportunity to work and collaborate with contemporary masters. Through a competitive application process, the associates are selected by the master artist with whom they wish to work. The associate artists come from around the world, and are university professors, post-graduate students, professionals, or full-time writers, dancers, painters or composers. During their stay, the artists spend a portion of the day working with the master artist and their group in meetings, workshops, casual conversations and other activities. They are free to spend the remainder of their time pursuing their own projects. The residencies culminate with a public presentation of works-in-progress developed during the residency.

I’m looking forward to meeting the other writers in my workshop as well as the musicians and other interdisciplinary creative types working with writer/performance artist Coco Fusco and composer Judith Shatin. Here’s a full list of attendees of the 149th Artists in Residence Program.

My goal for the residency is to find a clear path to finishing my work in progress, which is coming together but still feels a bit wobbly and unbalanced.

Advice from friends who have attended residencies in the past has ranged from “take a flashlight” to “remember, you can always leave.” I’ll let you know how I go.

Can’t afford a freelance editor? How to get the feedback you need without burning a hole in your pocket

A writer asked me recently how can she get her work edited if she can’t afford to hire an experienced freelance editor.

Affordability is a big issue for many writers who are serious about their work and prepared to do the revisions necessary to get closer to publication. In this post I’ll suggest some ways to get around the hole in your pocket.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about careful copyediting. I’m astounded at how many queries I receive that cheerfully reassure me that their manuscript has been “edited for typos” when the manuscript itself is undercooked, simply too many drafts away from a submittable standard. In many cases it appears that the author is not aware of how much further development is required, or that apart from her  BFF cheering her on I’m the first person to have read any of the manuscript. In those cases I typically suggest that the author seeks out a writing group or an experienced independent editor to help her develop the work further. I never hear from 99% of these people again.

In this post I am referring to developmental editing or structural editing, which looks at the overall work to identify problems with characterization, plot, tone, point of view, pacing, transitions, the organization of material and so on. Wikipedia’s category definitions in this area are unhelpful, focusing on working with the authors of textbooks and academic articles. Here is a better definition of development editing.

Alternatives to hiring a freelance editor
Aside from cost, there are good reasons why you should not rely solely on the services of a freelance editor. Without a personal recommendation or word of mouth suggestion, it’s difficult to know how heavy-handed or light-of-touch any editor will be. If you’re looking for areas of weakness in your manuscript, you’ll be disappointed if you get back a manuscript only lightly dusted with the editor’s suggestions. Also often overlooked is how much experience the editor has in your genre.

Here are some suggestions for places where you can find cheaper alternatives to hiring a freelance editor to get the feedback you’re looking for.

  • Short-duration or one-off in-person classes that focus on a particular aspect of writing craft. This is a burgeoning industry, so depending on your location there’s bound to be something on offer. Meeting face to face is valuable for a range of other reasons – finding a new friend with whom you can exchange pages to edit; learning from the teacher’s informal discussions of writing and publishing; realizing that you’re not the only one struggling with a work in progress.
  • There is a proliferation of online classes available. I think the Writer’s Digest University has loads of useful resources. They’ve recently reduced to $25 a one-month all-access pass to their archived workshops, which I think is great value.
  • Post your work online to seek feedback. There are formal and informal channels by which to do this. I’ve dealt with authors who were writing in isolation until they tried posting a chapter of their work on one of the established forums such as At the other end of the spectrum, if you have a regular online presence then perhaps you could ask your Twitter followers or blog readers to give you feedback on a set number of pages.
  • There must be more — please share in the comments if you have a good suggestion — but you get my drift.

The trick is knowing what questions to ask to get the feedback you need
In editing, as in life, you need to know what to ask for in order to get what you want. It doesn’t matter if you seek feedback from a trusted friend or a total stranger: you must be clear on what you want to know.

Here are some questions to prompt you before you brief a reader on a novel (I’m assuming this reader has generously agreed to read the full manuscript):

  • What does not make sense or is not clear?
  • How do you feel about character X? Y?
  • What did you want to read more of?
  • What did you want to read less of? / Where does it get repetitive?
  • Does it begin in the right place or does it take too long to get started?
  • What (if anything) did you find amusing or downright funny?
  • What moved you?
  • What bored you?
  • Are there any threads/themes from early on in the work that disappear later or that you missed?
  • Was there anything about the story or characters or setting that did not ring true?
  • Does the title work for you?

Some additional/alternative questions for briefing a reader on a nonfiction manuscript (memoir or narrative nonfiction):

  • Is this the best possible arrangement/order of the material?
  • Is the story clear?
  • Are the characters alive on the page? Where are they static?
  • Where is there too much observation/analysis at the expense of scenes/dialogue in which the characters reveal themselves?
  • Is the difference clear between the narrator’s younger self and the older narrator looking back on her younger self (where relevant)?
  • Is the narrator’s point of view sufficiently established?

The result of a developmental edit is that the author usually has a lot of work to do. I speak from experience on this point and will write about that in a later post or posts.

Writer, edit thyself
I believe that the best writers learn to edit themselves. Becoming a tough editor of your own work — after the ghastly first draft is complete and not before  — is essential for a writing life that includes regular publication. (That’s also a subject for a separate post.)

If you’ve read this far, I have two things to say. First, thanks. Second, please share your thoughts and questions about editing in the comments. I firmly believe there is no such thing as a stupid question.

My most-reTweeted resources for writers: January-March 2013


I’m often told that I share useful things on Twitter, but for a variety of reasons, loads of people don’t go near that social network with a ten-foot pole. So for those readers I thought I’d offer here this collection of the most-often shared links I’ve posted to Twitter since January. (I’ve been reading Dan Blank’s excellent ebook A Writer’s Guide to Blogging and am attempting to get more organised with my posts.)

If you like this kind of roundup, please let me know in the comments (or via Twitter, of course), and I’ll do this once a month.

  • Of these ten tips for editing your work, in my opinion it’s 7 (let a trusted third party review your work), 8 (implement the correct feedback) and 9 (cut the dead wood) that sort the wheat from the chaff.
  • A fascinating profile of the remarkable Sydney literary agent Selwa Anthony, which ran in the Sydney Morning Herald in November but I only came across recently.
  • A fantastically useful collection of links on getting published, courtesy of Ploughshares magazine.
  • The Art of Editing: insightful and revealing interview with legendary editor Robert Gottlieb at The Paris Review.
  • A list of 17 essays by female writers that “everyone should read” (in quotation marks because I hate being told what to read, which is why I’ve never been a member of a book club) – thanks to Flavorwire.
  • John Updike’s rules for constructive criticism
  • A revealing interview with novelist Jamaica Kincaid, who proclaims that marriage should be a verb instead of a noun: “A person is a verb is what I say.”
  • Writing tips from W G Sebald, via his former student, Faber Academy director Richard Skinner.
  • Looking for grants for writers? Here’s the Australia Council’s grants finder to help you identify the right pot of funding for you.
  • Video: Helen Garner’s insights into her nonfiction writing process – her keynote address at the 2012 NonfictioNow conference


I hope you found a few of these useful. Do let me know, and I’ll keep going until you ask me politely to stop. Thanks!

Is your novel ready to show an agent?

It’s the early days of the new year, but already I’m fielding inquiries from novelists about when I will be accepting submissions again.

I’m grateful for your interest and attention. My books will open later this month, and I will let you know by posting my submissions guidelines then.

In this post I want to give you some practical advice to help you determine whether or not your work is at the stage where you should show it to an agent.

While I’m thrilled at the idea that there’s a wonderful novel out there somewhere waiting for me to discover it, the truth is that the majority of the unsolicited manuscripts I’ll receive in late January will be nowhere near ready for submission to an agent. Which means that I will have to write you a polite note saying thank you but I will pass. And I don’t like having to do that because I always want to say yes, and it’s tedious to have to think of different ways to say no.

So in an effort to save us all time and heartache, here are some tips for those considering submitting a novel to me sometime down the track, based on common weaknesses I see in unsolicited submissions.

Tip #1: Get a well-read person, preferably persons, to read your manuscript. These beta-readers are not your partner, best friend or parent. They are people you know through work or a volunteer association or some kind of group. You’re not necessarily good friends but you know that they read a lot. If they agree to read your work, ask them lots of questions to get the truth – what they liked, didn’t like, what they didn’t understand. (Now I need to write a separate post on what questions to ask in to elicit the specific feedback you need.) And buy them something to acknowledge how generous they were to read your writing, even if you are finding it tough to swallow some of their comments.

Tip #2: Make sure you have told your story in scenes in which the reader watches action unfold. Often we are so eager to tell the reader everything that we forget that most of that information can be revealed during dramatised scenes in which something happens. Cut backstory (eg how Ed and Jane came to meet five years ago) and show us anything relevant to the story by taking us to a scene of that moment.

Tip #3: Is it clear where your story occurs? It is astonishing how many manuscripts fail to establish a sense of geographical place.

Tip #4: Does your writing engage the reader’s senses? This may sound like an odd question, but details of sight, sound, taste, touch and even smell can be powerful ways of connecting with readers. Too many narratives become lost and stuck inside a main character’s head, becoming detached from any sense of the external environment.

Tip #5: How many words is it? If your novel is more than 90,000 you had better be sure that every word is necessary. Be ruthless about getting rid of cliches, repeated words, redundant characters and so forth.

Tip #6: Use the Internet. We have this infinite information resource for better and for worse. In the case of preparing your manuscript for submitting to an agent, search for tips on revision. You will find way more than you need, but the process will make you better informed about how other writers approach rewriting and editing their work.

I’ll leave it there for now as I have to eat. I have a favour to ask of you: I would love it if you would post some of your own suggestions in the comments below, plus any links to useful articles you’ve discovered. I will add to this tip-list with an updated post. Thanks in advance for your comments.