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.

Fiona Higgins tour dates for Wife on the Run


Bestselling Australian author of The Mothers’ Group, Fiona Higgins (at right), is part of the Wordy Women tour of the East Coast of Australia with Allen & Unwin stablemates Kylie Ladd (left) and Maggie Joel (centre) to coincide with the publication of new works including Fiona’s new page-turning novel Wife on the Run. Here are the key dates:

Friday 24th October

  • 11.30am for 12.00pm start. Lunch with an Author: Travelodge, 12 Steel Street, Newcastle West. Bookings essential through Maclean’s Bookshop,  69 Beaumont Street, Hamilton Ph. 02 49692525
  • 5.30pm for 6.00pm. Girls’ night out: Author talk followed by Q&A and signing. Drinks and nibbles served on arrival. Cardiff Library. Ground Floor, Cardiff Marketplace, Cnr Main Road and Macquarie Road. FREE.

Saturday 25th October

  • 1.30pm for 2.00pm. Author talk, Q&A and signing at Tamworth Library, 466 Peel Street. Drinks and nibbles served. FREE.

Monday 27th October

  • 2.00pm. Author talk, Q&A and signing at Chermside Library, 375 Hamilton Road Brisbane.

Tuesday 28th October

  • 5.00pm. Author talk, Q&A and signing at Ebony Quill, next door to Dymocks at 793 Burke Ave, Camberwell Melbourne.

Wednesday 29th October

  • 12.00pm for 12.30pm Geelong Literary Luncheon. Ticket price includes lunch and a copy of the book. La Parisien restaurant, 15 Eastern Beach Road, Geelong. Bookings: 03 5229 3110 or here.
  • 6.30pm Panel discussion at Readings, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. Cost $5.

Thursday 30th October

  • 5.30pm for 6.00pm. Bega. Author talk, Q&A and signing at Candelo Books. FREE.

Friday 31st October

  • 11.30am for 12.00pm. Bateman’s Bay Literary Lunch as part of the Bateman’s Bay Writers Festival. Festival Hub Marquee, CoachHouse Marina Resort, 49 Beach Road, Batemans Bay. Bookings here.
  • 5.30pm for 6.00pm. ACT Writers’ Centre. Author talk, Q&A and signing. Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra.

Saturday 1st November

  • 12.00pm (noon). Nowra. Author talk, Q&A and signing at Nowra Library, 10 Berry Street. FREE.

Monday 3rd November

  • Sydney. 10.30am-11.30am. Author talk, Q&A and signing at Castle Hill Library. Cost: $7.50. Bookings essential.
  • Sydney. 6.30pm for 7.00pm start. Constant Reader Author Talk at Small Bar, Willoughby Road, Crows Nest. Cost: $10. Canapes included.  Drinks and food available for purchase at the bar.

Video trailer for Fiona Higgins’s new novel Wife on the Run

If you read or heard about The Mothers’ Group, the debut novel by Fiona Higgins that was one of the biggest selling Australian novels of 2012, then I have some good news.

Wife on the Run, Fiona’s new novel, will be published in Australia in November.  Which, as most of us know too well, isn’t as far away as we like to think.

Fiona is not only my client but my good friend, so I am doubly thrilled to report that she’s done it again. In Wife on the Run she’s created a page-turning story full of characters who face recognisable contemporary dilemmas but who also challenge and defy stereotypes about people of all ages. She also manages to provide enough plot twists and turns to count reading the book as a yoga class.

In this video Fiona introduces Wife on the Run and thanks all the readers who helped make The Mothers’ Group so successful. To stay in touch with Fiona as she moves through the final stages of the book’s production towards publication and promotion, consider joining her Facebook page.

Point-of-sale and selling points: How to market a debut novel

Check out this checkout POSD

Allen & Unwin guru Jane Palfreyman sent me this photo of the Big W point-of-sale-display (POSD) for my client Fiona Higgins’ debut novel The Mothers’ Group. The POSD began as part of a Mothers’ Day push for the book, published in late March, and continues at some Big W department stores.

The novel continues to sell very strongly in print and ebook editions and is soon to be published in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and other French- and Spanish-speaking countries. Reorders from booksellers are strong, which indicates good word of mouth. Without divulging details, I am thrilled to say we have a hit on our hands.

Elements of a publisher’s successful marketing campaign
It’s fascinating to watch a book publisher roll out a major marketing campaign. There were clear steps for every month out from publication, beginning about five months out.

The publisher’s marketing and promotion plan included specific actions for every target audience, from their own sales team to booksellers, long-lead-time media outlets (women’s magazines, for example), key retail accounts (chain bookstores and major independents), relevant bloggers, banner ads, and reading groups.

On publication, the high-visibility tactics such as advertising, giveaways, extracts and promotions for book-friendly and parenting websites began.  The POSD above happened exactly when the publisher scheduled it to happen.

For all of that detailed, thoughtful and downright hard work, book publishing remains a lottery in which even the most well-marketed books can fail to translate into sales and word-of-mouth recommendations. Novels are difficult, and debut novels notoriously so.

Success story
I get a particular kick out of this success story. I came to publishing fresh from an intellectually satisfying but totally impractical PhD in English Literature and was rightly regarded with some skepticism by some of my more experienced colleagues. Little Miss Literary had no clue as to commerciality or the difficulties of getting attention for books or the implications of publishers’ tiny profit margins.

So I can’t help but be thrilled that readers are responding to the intelligence and honesty of this novel of contemporary Australian life, and that I recognised its commercial potential. Little Miss Literary certainly could not have done that.

An important reality check for authors
Publishers cannot and do not put the sort of resources behind every book that Allen & Unwin put into Fiona’s. Publishers take calculated risks every week, but they are not gamblers. Some books are deemed more equal than others. When I worked in-house, inevitably I seemed to edit the books consigned to the figurative scrap-heap. It infuriated me until I realised that every single company – just like each reader – makes decisions about where and how to spend their available dollars. It’s a harsh but necessary aspect of running a business in order to stay in business.

So here’s a question for you. Do you think authors have unrealistic expectations of what publishers can and should do for them in marketing and promoting their books?  I’d be curious to hear your questions about this aspect of book publishing. (NB I’ve deliberately not talked about authors’ own marketing and promotion activities – I’m hoping to leave that for a separate discussion.)

Australian writers: think twice before diving into the publishers’ slush pile

Hope this is the right pool …

Have you noticed that some of Australia’s leading book publishers are actively seeking unsolicited manuscripts? It has been years since most publishers accepted an unsolicited manuscript, whether fiction or nonfiction. Until recently, most manuscripts arrived via a literary agent, whose decision to represent the author was supposed to indicate quality. This recent development is the publishing equivalent of looking up into the sky and seeing pigs flying in formation, one after the other, instead of ducks.

The three major publishers accepting submissions are:

Pan Macmillan, Manuscript Monday. If you submit the first chapter of your manuscript, plus synopsis, electronically between 10am and 4pm every Monday, you’ll have your work read within one month. Details.

Allen & Unwin, The Friday Pitch. This is a long-running program, by which authors can submit the first chapter of their manuscript, plus synopsis, each Friday. Details.

Penguin’s Monthly Catch. Submissions are restricted to the first week (1-7) of every month. Details.

I have to confess that when I worked as an in-house editor in the 1990s, unsolicited manuscripts were the bane of our lives. They haunted us as we worked on the dozen scheduled books we each had in different stages of production, stacked in piles by the door of our offices. Guiltily we would grab a handful every few months once in a while and read the first few pages chapter, just to make sure we weren’t missing a gem in the rough.

Back then, it was an extremely rare manuscript that made it out of the slush pile and into the production schedule. Today the odds are exactly the same, though the submissions process for unsolicited manuscripts is changing.

So why are these publishers looking for your unsolicited manuscripts now?

According to the Wheeler Centre’s recent interview with Penguin Publisher Ben Ball, it’s all about the digital transformation of the book industry. ‘Perhaps the main reason is that the digital world is bringing us closer than ever to readers, and therefore aspiring writers,’ said Ball. ‘We want to be an even more active part of that community.’

While the relationship between publishers and writers is more interactive than ever before, I believe other structural forces are at work in the industry. I suspect that a generational change is occurring in literary representation in Australia and that publishers have realised that they are not seeing enough new Australian writing from literary agents. In a recent meeting one publisher admitted to me that they were finding it very difficult to find exciting new voices, and that they weren’t seeing a lot of new fiction writing (in particular) from agents.

There are lots of reasons for this, but here are two. One, a lot of successful established agents have enough authors to represent, so are taking on fewer new clients. Two, their clients, often several books into their careers, seem happy enough with their respective publishers that they do not want to shift publishing houses. Put those together and that’s a recipe for leaving a lot of new writers out in the unrepresented cold.

Another development is also relevant. A few publishers in the US are setting up film production companies (see this Hollywood Reporter piece). In order to maximise their profits, they will need to retain all the relevant rights to the stories their book authors create – which is much easier if you’re working with an unrepresented author who knows nothing of his or her rights.

Things to consider before submitting an unsolicited manuscript
As a literary agent* I do not endorse the submission of an unsolicited manuscript via this electronic process. An agented submission means that the agent has done a lot of this gatekeeping work for the publisher, and is sending a manuscript to a particular editor/publisher because the agent believes it (a) is of a submission-worthy quality, and (b) might be to the taste of that person. The decision is based on knowledge of which editors like which sorts of books, of relationships built over time.

If you are impatient enough to consider submitting an unsolicited manuscript, be aware of a few things:

  • Without expert third-party advice, many writers who believe their work is ready are mistaken, and then disappointed when their unsolicited manuscript submission is unsuccessful. In my own case, I often do a lot of editorial development work with my authors to ensure the manuscript is ready for submission to publishers.
  • It is almost impossible to step into the same river twice – once you’ve been rejected by a big publisher, you can’t return with a revised version of the same manuscript. You would have been better off doing more work up front with an experienced editor or finding an agent who is willing to take you on, on the condition that you work on revising your manuscript.
  • The volume of electronic submissions will dazzle you. If you don’t follow the publisher’s guidelines, you won’t get read at all because there are plenty of people in the submission queue who did things properly. Take the time to read them.
  • If you do succeed in attracting the publisher’s interest, how will you know which rights to give them, which rights to keep for yourself, and what happens each step of the way along the path to publication?

Here is a great document from the Australian Society of Authors about the contractual agreement between a literary agent and an author. It explains what a literary agent does (or should do).

If you have any questions, please put them in the comments below or contact me directly.

*I am not a member of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association because I do agenting work only occasionally and do not meet their criteria for membership. I regularly provide consulting advice, editorial assessments and manuscript mentoring for writers whom I do not represent as an agent. All of those paid services disqualify me from membership.

Fiona Higgins’ The Mothers’ Group is almost here!

Fiona Higgins' first novel released in March 2012

I am delighted that my client Fiona Higgins’ debut novel, The Mothers’ Group, will be released in just a few weeks. Allen & Unwin are publishing the book in Australia, where it’s already getting a lot of buzz from booksellers. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes with this wonderful book that I can’t reveal quite yet, but I will happily blow Fiona’s trumpet when all becomes official.

On Fiona’s website you can read in more detail about the six intriguing new mothers whose lives she explores with humour, insight and drama in the novel. Allen & Unwin’s author page for Fiona summarizes the story like this:

An unthinkably shocking event sends shockwaves through a tight-knit mother’s group, testing their bonds and revealing closely-held secrets that threaten to shatter their lives in an explosive, enthralling debut novel about motherhood, friendship and love.

This book is going to get a lot of media attention because it confronts a lot of things about new-motherhood that Fiona believes are kept secret or even taboo. Even better, it’s a great story, well told – which is every reader’s (and agent’s) dream.

The Mothers’ Group is the second book I’ve worked on with Fiona. Her first was the memoir, Love in the Age of Drought, which was published in 2009.

You can follow Fiona on Facebook.