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What Australian publishers want

I’ve just returned from a too-brief trip to Sydney where, in addition to catching up with family, a couple of old friends and a few clients, I enjoyed a number of meetings with publishers from the major trade publishing houses based there.*

Would you like to know what I learned from these meetings about the state of Australian publishing? Read on as I attempt to summarize the main points.

The general mood
I’d have to say it was a mixed bag. Everyone seemed relieved to be at the tail end of a difficult year, but some publishers had enjoyed less difficult years than others. Ebooks and all things digital seem to have settled in publishers’ minds as both a reality of the business and a real opportunity, with some publishers willing actively to experiment with new models (such as Macmillan’s digital-only imprint Momentum). Rather than being some kind of comet shooting uncontrollably across the publishing sky, “e” has become part of the ongoing challenge for all publishers to find readers and to sell books to them. Sales of fiction generally did not meet publishers’ expectations, let alone their hopes, in 2012.

What publishers are looking for

  • In a word, nonfiction! Please. The truth: nonfiction sells more books, and publishers want to keep their jobs. Stories of “tree-change” and aspects of relationships that haven’t been done to death seem particularly welcome.
  • They want intelligent commercial fiction for women that has a darker edge to it. What does that mean? Great story-telling that takes on social issues without moralising or speechifying, which doesn’t necessarily tie up every strand of plot in a pretty bow, and which may or may  not include an element of suspense. Take a look at the two best-selling examples of this genre from 2012: Hannah Richell’s Secrets of the Tides and Fiona Higgins’s The Mothers’ Group. (Needless to say I am thrilled to represent Fiona.)
  • Historical fiction seems to be having a moment at the moment.
  • They seem rather taken with “farm-lit”, aka the girl-meets-man-on-the-land or agri-romance. Or even the agri- sans romance, such as Mary Groves’s An Outback Life. This genre can work in fiction or nonfiction.
  • They still want memoir … IF it has a strong hook. Surprise recent hits of this nature include Cleo, about a cat who helped a grieving family; and The Happiest Refugee, Anh Do’s true tale of his Vietnamese family’s struggle to reach Australia and build a life here.
  • With the death of Bryce Courtenay, the door is wide open for a new teller of large-canvas Australian tales.

What that means for you as a writer

  • I suppose literary agents must sound like broken records, but I’ll say it again: it is really difficult to sell fiction. It has to be outstanding. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
  • If you’re writing memoir, you need to frame your story in a surprising and fresh way. A story of overcoming trauma, in and of itself, is no longer enough.
  • If you have a subject you’re passionate about and an existing/growing platform of some kind (blog, radio spot, speaking circuit), you potentially have what it takes to publish a book on your subject.

What that means for me as an Australian literary agent considering your work

  • I have to be tough about what I choose to take on. I can only say yes to your manuscript if I think I can sell it. Agenting is a business, not a charity, just as publishing is. By definition I will have to say no to most manuscripts I consider.
  • I need to work with authors who are willing to do more work on their manuscripts. Almost every manuscript I see is at least one serious draft away from publishable standard, which is a lot further away than its author believes it to be. Having worked as an in-house editor, as a literary agent, and having been a published author myself, I know what I’m talking about. (In this area of life, at least …)
  • I want to hear from a journalist with a subject he or she is passionate about. I’d love to discuss possible book ideas with you.

Your thoughts?
So, what do you make of this list? Are you encouraged, infuriated, inspired, depressed? I really want to hear from my readers. I know you’re out there because of all the emails I get thanking me for the valuable material you find on this blog, but I’d love it if you would leave me a comment. Thanks!

 

* I am disappointed that I could not extend my visit to spend a couple of days in Melbourne, where there is much fine publishing happening and several people I am keen to meet in person. (Let alone friends, restaurants, the fabulous Bennetts Lane jazz club … ) It’s always much better to chat face to face than via Skype or in chains of email, where one spends too much time trying to read between the lines.

** I will be opening my books again to new queries in January. Take the time to get a tough reader to give you honest feedback on your current draft – please.

{ 75 comments… add one }

  • Thank you so much for the above Virginia. Very, very helpful and comes at time when I am about to embark on finding an agent for my third book. I already know its tough out there but your pointers were very helpful, particuarly “commercial fiction with a dark edge to it” which is what I believe I’m working on now.

    • Hi Debbie. Thanks for the comment! Please feel free to share a link to this piece with anyone you think might find it useful. And don’t be shy about contacting me in the new year. — Virginia

  • Bennetts Lane will still be here when you make it down, Virginia. Great blog post and while there are no huge surprises there (eg that things are tough) it’s still a privilege to be able to have your insights on these matters.

    Interesting about the publisher interest in dark themes, also about historical fiction having a moment. Are you able to mention a couple of titles of which historical fiction they are liking?

    • Thanks for your comment, Jenny. I sure hope you’re right about Bennetts Lane! As for your question regarding historical fiction, I checked my notes and unfortunately I did not seem to write down specific titles. One additional detail about historical fiction I can share is that the “dual narrative” seems to appeal to readers at the moment (everyone should keep in mind that reading tastes and subjects do change over time – I for one am very glad that the age of vampires seems finally to be waning, for example). By “dual narrative” I mean twin storylines, one contemporary and one set in an historical time period, which are connected in some way, typically through a character and/or place. The other critically important thing to note here is that publishers and agents smell copycat storytelling a mile off, so jumping on an apparent bandwagon for the sake of it is not a good idea. Thanks for reading! Virginia

  • I know that you only take Australians as client, so I just want to ask a general question. Non-fiction sells much more than fiction. What about a book that is both fiction and nonfiction at the same time? A fiction with a storyline incorporating many non-fiction elements?
    Giora recently posted..Berlin

    • Hi Giora. Thanks for reading. It’s a bit difficult to tell from your comment, but what you describe sounds to me like a novel that has a strong element of factual research. If the story is invented, it’s fiction. –Virginia

  • Thanks for this Virginia – it is a trifle depressing when you consider how many fiction writers there are out thee, but excellent advice and insights nonetheless (eg agents and publishers are businesses not charities!).

    Some odd and very specific ones in there – ‘farm lit’ and ‘aspects of relationships not done to death yet’. Just goes to highlight the big gap between what publishers are looking for and what people are writing. Cheers!

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comment. It was quite funny to hear some of these terms – farm lit was new to me, for example. Also keep in mind that publishers can say they’re looking for one thing, but if they’re shown something else and absolutely love it and can see a market of potential readers for it, they will forget what they said. Kind of like people who know what they want in a partner. They can meet someone who is “great on paper” but feel no connection to the person, or they can bump into someone who doesn’t seem to tick the required boxes but who turns out to be a wonderful surprise. Keep writing, in other words. –Virginia

  • Thanks Virginia for those extra details. No bandwagon-jumping here, that’s for sure, I don’t write to prescription but the idea of twin storylines, one contemporary and one historical that somehow intertwine, is fascinating because this is how my second ms is structured. I’m not an historical fiction writer but it’s just how this second one has come out. It makes me happy in a small way to hear this.
    Jenny Ackland recently posted..What publishers want

    • Oh Jenny, a little ray of sunshine is marvellous to see! Very happy to hear you’re encouraged. Look forward to reading it when it’s cooked. –Virginia

  • I think I’m probably more depressed by this revelation more than anything else. As a poet and a novelist it doesn’t give me much hope. Thank you for sharing, though – it’s important to know the lay of the land regardless of whether it’s hard or smooth going forward.
    Adam Ford recently posted..Things that I want to see more of in poems

    • Hi Adam,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that my reporting refers only to conversations I had with the very largest commercial trade publishing houses. There are many fine boutique publishers in Australia whose fiction acquisition policy is more porous, shall we say, than some of the houses represented in my comments. Smaller independent publishers can tend to be more generous in what they are willing to acquire. But even the small ones must balance their experimentation with more reliable titles. When I first started working in publishing I had a PhD in English Literature but no clue about the realities of the business. These days I’m more sanguine about the fact that it’s the “big books” each year (those that rush out in October and November for Christmas, and those released for Mothers Day and Fathers Day) that keep the whole house afloat. I think every industry must have some version of the literary versus commercial tension in book publishing. If you have any other questions I’d be glad to try to answer them. Keep writing. –Virginia

  • I tried to read the first chapter of you book but the page wouldn’t open. Sounds like a beautiful story. Thanks for your wisdom and independent voice on the state of the publishing industry.

    • Hi Susanna – thanks for your feedback and for letting me know about the link. I switched over to a new Wordpress theme and I suspect a few links are down. I’ll try to let you know when it’s working again. Best wishes, Virginia

  • Hi Virginia,

    ‘Are you encouraged, infuriated, inspired, depressed?’

    Thanks for the above post.

    I feel like I should be a little bit depressed about this closing in of options. It’s often talked about around the traps and there’s a sense of everyone being unsure about what is actually happening in the publishing industry. I keep hearing that there are more options for writers in the U.S. than here in Australia.

    I’m not going to be writing memoir or non-fiction but I enjoy the process of writing a book and will do it anyway, published or not. Also, my writing fits into the category of ‘dark fiction’ and I’m quite happy to manoeuvre my book into that direction to make it even more so if required. As I said, it’s the process I enjoy rather than having to stick to a story-line that I’ve become attached to. So my options to publish are possibly still out there somewhere! Hopefully!
    Julie recently posted..Passages of Writing: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

    • Hi Julie,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I wrote the post not to make writers feel depressed, but to give them a realistic picture of current market conditions. The magical thing about book publishing is that something new always comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone in the industry. We tend to hear only the extraordinary stories in the mainstream media – the Harry Potter, the 50 Shades – but there are loads of titles that start off with small print runs and go crazy.
      It may well be that there are more options for writers in the US than in Australia. It depends on what you mean by options. But that is inevitable with a population of 300 million compared to 24 million or however many we are now. Keep in mind there are many options for unpublished writers to be taken in and sold services they do not need by enterprising US-based operators.
      You are spot on when you say that you will write your book anyway. That is how I look at my writing process (my own work in progress does not fit neatly into any of the trends/areas outlined above) and it is critically important for sanity’s sake.
      Good luck with your writing. –Virginia

  • Historical fiction? Of course, after Hilary Mantel’s success! They are probably hoping there is an Aussie version of her out there. Cross fingers there is.

    Glad to see the vampires losing their bite, but I think fantasy is still big/popular.
    AM Gray recently posted..Nanowriwon’t?

    • Hello AM — Yes, I couldn’t agree more that I’d love to read (find) an Australian Hilary Mantel. Some responses to this post have suggested my conclusions are a bit depressing for literary fiction writers, but I think there is always room for quality Australian fiction, historical or otherwise. The key issue is that there must be a compelling story of some kind. Beautiful prose is not enough. Thanks for reading! –Virginia

  • Naomi

    Thanks so much for this! Any feedback on childrens?

    • Hi Naomi,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Children’s publishing is an area I am slowing dipping my toes into, so it was not a focus of my meetings. Having said that, I have it on good authority that all publishers are completely over anything to do with vampires, although stories “with a touch of the supernatural,” as one children’s publisher phrased it, might still find appeal.
      Hope that helps and good luck with your writing — Virginia

  • Bruce Elder

    Hi Virginia,
    Hugely enjoyable and accurate analysis. I always remember my agent, Fiona Inglis, saying years ago “Don’t mention the F word” and she was talking about fiction. These truisms have been known for many years but, amazingly, writers seem to take absolutely no notice of them and tend to pooh-pooh them as the jaundiced propaganda of no-nothing agents. I also remember an agent I worked with in London saying “Publishers take more notice of agents because they know agents are trying to make a living. An agent will never submit a manuscript they don’t believe will sell (sorry for the double negative).” This is a beautiful distillation of truisms that need to be hammered home to would-be writers. And, just for the record, having reviewed five non-fiction books a week for the SMH for the past nine years I can assure everyone that there are far too many non-fiction books being published and that too many of those are just a horrible waste of good trees.

    • Bruce Elder! My goodness. It’s lovely to know you read and enjoyed my post. That theory of why publishers pay attention to agents is a neat one, though every agent will confirm that there have been a few manuscripts they have loved and failed to sell on behalf of their clients. Market conditions are irrevocably changed in some respects – I feel there are parallels between fiction and photography these days. The additional channels for publishing your own work make it easier for anyone to call themselves a photographer or a writer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone can get paid for it. In terms of the quantity of books being published (fiction and nonfiction) I suspect that traditional publishers will be publishing fewer titles, if they’re not doing so already. Which of course has implications for agents as well as authors …
      Can I also thank you, however belatedly, for your wonderful review of my memoir in SMH a few years ago now. As a reviewer known for not beating about the bush, I was deeply thrilled and encouraged by your response to it. Needless to say your words have been much-quoted, including on this very website. Thank you so much for leaving this comment. –Virginia

  • Carm

    Hi Virginia,
    Great piece… I really value this summary of your reflections for people like me who don’t have much of an insiders’ view. I work with a very successful self-published non-fiction author who has a good national media profile, loyal fan base and spends most of the year travelling on the speaking circuit. Books sell direct and from the website. I’ve been saying for ages that I think we should take the next book to a mainstream publisher though to get a bit of their expertise behind us and reach more people and have access to better distribution channels. This article has really validated that for me and reminded me that it’s an agent we need to be looking for! Thanks.

    • Hi Carm,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s so easy for people in publishing to forget that to the “outside world” the industry seems both difficult to understand and impossible to reach. So I’m thinking I need to be doing posts on “translating” aspects of the industry to help readers get more of a sense of how it works.
      As far as your colleague goes I would naturally be very happy to have a conversation with him, or you, about the pros and cons of a publishing deal in his case. I’ll contact you separately about that. Thanks for reading –Virginia

  • Bruce Elder

    Thanks Virginia. Mind you The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement is one of those books I treasure.

  • I needed this blog! :)

    I am based in Australia and presently working on a novel that crosses two time zones, with two more stories rising in the background, urging me to write this one so they can find their place in ‘the world’ – which are all set around Sydney in the 1800s.

    In seeking a publisher, I’ve found that not having a set genre is my problem – and that caused me to lose hope swiftly. You see, while the latter two stories awaiting their voice are Historical Romances, the first one is not. (Is there such a genre for dual voices in a Historical-Contemporary novel that is not based around romance? I cannot find one…) My question then was “Kill the story or self-publish?” Neither appealed to me, and my confidence swiftly slipped away… I continued my online search not for a publisher this time, but for something to revive my hope. And here you are. :)

    Disheartened, I came across your site, across this blog, and in your words I have found the courage to get up and keep going. I see the odds may be against me, and small at that, but through this blog I suddenly see the door is still ajar. :)

    Thank you!!

    • Hi Donna,
      Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. I’m always glad to hear that I have inspired rather than discouraged a writer. The most important thing an unpublished writer needs is constructive and tough feedback from experienced readers. Whether it’s a writing group or an online forum or a mentor or even a freelance editor, you must show it to others before you go down the path of researching agents and publishers. This is true whether or not you eventually self-publish your book or secure a traditional publishing deal.
      Good luck with your writing –Virginia

  • Good Morning Virginia,
    Serendipity! I have not been on FB for a while but just now, via Susan Wyndham’s post, I found your substantive blog. Thank you for the inspiration! I have finished three coffees, answered emails, created unnecessary ones, paid bills, walked the dog, rang elderly aunts and cleaned out the linen cupboard and now, I will certainly discipline myself to open my word processor and ‘attack’ a-new, novel-in-progress (commercial women’s fiction set in the ’90s with a very dark edge…a romantic thriller would be the nearest genre I can claim for it) and get down to work on chapter seven. I have blocked out the whole of January as an ‘unplugged’ time to work. My memoir, Sheer Madness; sex, lies & politics (Harlequin 2010) sold over 10,000 copies. No idea, yet, how my debut novel, Goodbye Lullaby is going, except from the encouraging feedback I get from readers and on line reviewers. I am fortunate to enjoy wide national media coverage for my launches. Goodbye lullaby certainly filled the bill, a la your analysis (… story-telling that takes on social issues … doesn’t necessarily tie up every strand of plot in a pretty bow, and which may or may not include an element of suspense. ) and I believe my present one will be significant in addressing a different theme in an entertaining fashion. I am interested in engaging an agent and would be pleased if you would receive a query letter from me next year.

    • Hi Jan,
      Thanks for your comment and your lovely feedback on this blog. Serendipity is a marvellous thing. I’m glad to hear about your writing projects and would of course be delighted if you got in touch with me when you were ready. In the meantime, congratulations on your two books published already, and good luck with the writing of the third. –Virginia

  • You’ve got some great information here, Virginia. I totally understand where you’re coming from with ‘what’s hot’. I’ve had a few books published (different genres) and my historical fiction novel is selling very well at the moment (which is putting a huge smile on my face – and that’s always a good thing!) – Dianne
    Dianne Gray recently posted..WIP it good

    • Hi Dianne,
      Great to hear that your historical fiction is selling well. There are always good news stories in publishing amid the often gloomy tone, so thanks for sharing. Hope it continues to sell strongly. Thanks for reading and commenting — Virginia

  • Virginia, thanks for this very heartening Blog. Cheers, Karen :)

    Karen Tyrrell recently posted..ME & HER: a Memoir of Madness: UNCENSORED

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Karen, and good luck with your memoir. –Virginia

  • Cass

    I have to admit I found this depressing, but that’s because my book is YA genre fiction. I’d already decided I’d probably have to try overseas anyway, so your blog wasn’t a surprise. Depressing, but not a surprise! (The hitch is that I set it in Australia. Silly me!)

    Thanks anyway for the blog post. It was very informative, and I hadn’t heard about Momentum so that part was exciting!

    • Thanks for your honesty, Cass. There are a few agents in Australia who specialise in YA. I’m sure they would be interested to hear from you. Best wishes with getting published. –Virginia

  • Sandie

    Interesting that publishers are looking for women’s fiction with dark edge. I was in Dymocks a few weeks ago buying a book and the manager was asking me about the author as she hadn’t read her. She was interested as was saying she get SO many women coming into the store looking for good women’s fiction that ISN’T too dark or confronting, but with redemptive qualities and she just doesn’t have enough of those novels on the shelf.

    My first thought was ‘well you need MY novel on your shelves’ :)
    My second thought now is why are publishers looking for books the reading public don’t want???

    • Hi Sandie,
      Thank you for sharing that anecdote. I think that the commercially successful novels I referred to in the post do have strong redemptive qualities, although no one could convict them of giving readers uniformly happy endings. Was the bookseller was talking about themes and subjects that readers are sick of? Did she mean genre fiction (thrillers, mysteries) or fiction more broadly? I do agree that sometimes publishers do misread what readers will respond to. The famous difficulty that JK Rowling had in getting Harry Potter accepted for publication, or more recently the astonishing sales of the 50 Shades books are two obvious examples. The publishers I spoke to were all disappointed at the low sales of fiction generally, but your comment makes me wonder whether there’s a misreading of readers’ tastes going on in addition to the dampening effect of current economic conditions. Thanks for your thought-provoking comment. –Virginia

  • The book I was buying was by Santa Montefiore, so I took the comment to be aimed at fiction more broadly. I think a lot of busy women get to the end of the day exhausted by work or kids and want to pick up a book at night and be transported to a world outside their own without having to face dark themes like child abuse or killing sprees. While The Mothers’ Group did have a heart wrenching event in it, it primarily focused on healing, so I don’t consider it a ‘darker’ novel. My book club want to do We Need To Talk About Kevin, but I can’t bring myself to face it. There is enough misery in the real world (recent events at Sandy Hook for example). After I’ve tucked my cherub in bed at night, I want to be carried away by a great story with characters I fall in love with who I look forward to spending time with each night. Something that makes me laugh and cry without tearing my soul to shreds. I don’t necessarily want a ‘hollywood’ ending, but if I wanted to read something dark then I head to a different part of the book store…

    I know myself and the ladies in my book club can’t get enough of reading, so maybe low fiction sales are more to do with what’s being put out there?????

    It would be interesting to know how much ‘dialogue’ happens between publishers and booksellers.
    S

    • Thanks for clarifying, Sandie. I know that booksellers talk to sales reps as a matter of course, but your point does make me wonder how effectively the word on the ground from the bookstores trickles back up the food chain to the people acquiring new books to publish. I agree that depending on where you are in your life will influence the kinds of stories you will make the time for or tolerate. I also have a sneaking feeling that there are great books out there that aren’t getting the marketing attention that helps readers to find them. This problem of “discovery” is a big one for publishers and authors that is getting bigger in the age of selling books online. I wonder if you’ve had any success with the GoodReads website and those sorts of auto-recommendation tools. I tend to get frustrated with the selections a computer shows me – I’ll take a word of mouth recommendation any time over an algorithm, myself. The Australian Women Writers website, begun earlier this year by Elizabeth Lhuede, has loads of reviews of books by Australian women that might help your reading group find some hidden gems. Let me know how you go. –Virginia

  • Thanks Virginia for sharing your knowledge and experience. And for being so open to debate. I agree word of mouth is wonderful for recommending books. I’ve had a quick look at the Australian Women’s Writers website after you mentioned above and look forward to exploring it properly.

    Happy and safe holidays to you and yours.

    • Great! Glad to be of help, Sandie. Best wishes for 2013 — Virginia

  • Thank you for writing your blog. I was interested in the perspective of publishers. You make me realize that I have to get back to work.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Susan. I hope the post helps you with whatever revision you will be undertaking. Good luck with your writing! –Virginia

  • Hullo Virginia, and thank you for your helpful and practical information. I have a manuscript specifically written for women which is a guide to help recognise and identify emotional/psychological abuse in relationships. I recently received from a publisher one of the euphenisms you mentioned, but am not totally put off, as I had a reputable editor go through my work and received a positive report. However, a line or two of either negative or positive feedback, would have helped, as no real comment seems to leave one in a type of limbo. I am a semi retired experienced counsellor, tertiary educated in the social sciences, and after many years stumbled onto a person’s whole life experience that opened huge doors of understanding on the above subject. I feel if my book only reaches just one beautiful young woman full of hopes and dreams, and saves her from long term damage, then I have done my job. Unfortunately there is the possibility that some male publishers might find the content of the book confronting, causing them to give me a “NO”, so maybe I need to only concentrate on female publishers – or is this thinking foolish? Secondly, is my perception that being backed by a publisher is a better way to go? And lastly should I have a second editor do a report, to see if it agrees with the first one? Marilyn

    • Dear Marilyn,
      Thank you for sharing your experience. Publishers do not have time to provide any feedback because of the number of submissions they receive. An editor can provide valuable advice on the content and style of your manuscript but not necessarily on the commercial viability of your project.
      Please contact me later in January when I reopen my books for queries. Keep an eye on my website and Twitter as I’ll promote the news there.
      I look forward to hearing from you then. –Virginia

  • shaun

    Hi and good luck this year, Virgina. I took your advice and managed to cut 50,000 words from my historical/female/dark/ suspence story, losing some depth and flavour but no loss of story and with better momentum and some improved writing. This took six reads, whittle by whittle, just as I had done with pevious eight novels after thinking I was done editing. I mention this to say thanks for your time and the suggestion and so other new writers can see it is as hard and necessary as, for instance, losing weight is for many people.

    • Thanks Shaun for letting me know. That is a lot of words to have cut. Keep in touch! –Virginia

  • Jaq

    Quote…”I suppose literary agents must sound like broken records, but I’ll say it again: it is really difficult to sell fiction. It has to be outstanding. It’s as simple and as difficult as that”….Unquote.

    If the fiction has to be outstanding please explain why Matthew Reilly is currently Australia’s number one bestselling author?

    • Hi Jaq,
      Yours is a great question. My answer is that reading taste is very personal as well as being very broad. While I’m not a fan of Reilly’s writing I do know many people who are. His long-term success is at least in part due to his ability to come up with great stories, which is important no matter what kind of fiction you write. The silver lining of such breadth of taste is that there need to be books available to cater to diverse tastes. The part of my post you quoted really refers to literary fiction, which will always have a smaller audience than the thriller/action books in which Reilly has succeeded commercially.

  • Jessica

    Hi Virginia.
    I am a mother of four who is looking into getting one of my manuscripts read and then possibly published. I have a tendancy to follow the slightly darker fantasy-fiction side of writing . But I also have a manuscript I have been working on that has alot of mytholocical connections in it. Entwining past and present together.

    After the hype of Twighlight… True Blood…. Vampire Diaries. Is there still the Hunger for this type of novel? Or am I really deluding myself into thinking I can break into the fold of the hundreds like them, just to try and make mine shine?

    I have had friends read what I have written and they have told me that they can’t put it down, and even harrassing me for the next part. Do I still get out and try to give it a go? I have a disabled child and find the cost of getting an agent a little out of my price range.

    What do you suggest, with the option of possibly getting it self-published, with the hope of a larger publisher picking it up? I am a bit of a reading nut and want to show myself and my family, that my writing rants aren’t just to keep me sane.

    Would love to hear from someone who actually knows the industry and can point… or kick me in the right direction. Thankyou.
    Jess.

    • Hi Jessica
      Thanks for contacting me. At the outset I need to tell you that it should cost you nothing to get an agent other than the blood, sweat and tears involved in writing a great manuscript that an agent who loves fantasy fiction wants to represent. If anyone calls themselves an agent but wants to charge you a fee for reading your ms, they are not an agent. Unfortunately there are loads of them around, so any unpublished writer needs to do their research.
      As for your preferred subjects, I am not the agent to advise you as I do not know or represent fantasy fiction. I do know from conversations with Australian publishers that everyone is “over” vampires, but the fantasy genre was around long before Twilight etc and will find something new to get excited about. Publishing tends to go in cycles like that.
      Perhaps you should look into the various online competitions that exist where you can post a chapter and get reader feedback? Those tend to get the attention of agents and publishers.
      Good luck with your writing. –Virginia

  • Fiona

    encouraged! a memoir is on it’s way to being read as per your tip. Not by a best friend but a a couple of avid ( and honest readers).

    • Hi Fiona — Pleased to hear it. Most people submit their manuscripts way too early in the writing process, so constructive feedback is essential. Good luck!
      Virginia

  • Natasha

    Hi Virginia,

    First of all I’d like to say thanks for such a great blog. It’s helpful and inspiring at the same time, and as a writer looking at getting published for the first time, that is exactly what one needs!

    I’ve read your blog a lot in the past, but I’m excited to read this post especially. As an Australian, non-fiction (travel memoir) writer, you’ve given me hope in a market that everyone else seems to be so pessimitic about. So I look forward to sending you my submission. Once again, thanks!

    • Thanks Natasha, it’s always great to hear that readers value what they find here. It’s always difficult to get published by a major publishing house, that’s just the way it is. I suspect that because it’s so easy for anyone to publish their work online these days, the challenges involved in traditional publishing seem all the greater. –Virginia

  • Hello Virginia
    I have completed a part-contemporary, part-historical novel set in France in 2006 and 1916-18 during the Great War. Would you, or any other agent you know, be interested in seeing it?
    My blog address above:
    snowflakeshope.com
    contains the first eight or so chapters of a fictionalised and serialised memoir based on my experience as a Federal MP from 1987-90. You may find it entertaining.
    Thanks.
    Elizabeth Harvey

  • I am looking a Australian or Kiwi Publisher for my book … [editor's note: I have removed the rest of this comment]

    • Hi Kent. Please check my Submissions page for guidelines on the information I’m looking for. Thanks for reading the blog. –Virginia

  • Hi Virginia – just read this post about the state of publishing in Australia and very interested in your perspective. It certainly seems to be a tough time right now for this industry and the emergence of the ‘e’ book such a huge element in that. I appreciate your comments.
    I am a writer of memoir, looking for the elusive edge that will make what I am writing stand out. I have several manuscripts that reside in my bottom drawer, some have purely been cathartic for me, some may perhaps see the light of day!

    I keep writing, believing that there is a place for my story, if I can just find the way to tell it. I read somewhere recently that when a door closes we should try just turning the handle, so glad I found your blog this morning after yet another , ‘Thanks for your well-written m/s but we are not sure we could sell it widely enough,’ letter yesterday!
    I’m heading over to your submissions page, checking if the door knob will turn!

    warmest regards,
    Sue

    • Thanks for finding me, Sue. You are right that the key thing in memoir is to find the best way to tell your story. The other key thing is to keep writing, which you are doing. Many great writers have at least one complete manuscript in their bottom drawer. –Virginia

  • Hamish Murray

    Thank you Virginia,
    Your blog has given me some life as a first time writer who is having a hard time finding an agent. I’m especially glad to hear that memoirs with an edge to them have some potential. Mine is a medical memoir about a doctor who becomes the patient, and which has been thoroughly scrutinised by a few friends who loved it, but suggested a few changes because some of it is not particularly P.C.
    From your experience, do publishers like medical memoirs that are funny (hopefully), and is it wise to let close friends read your work and remain totally objective? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Also, are you currently accepting submissions?
    Kind regards,
    Hamish

    • Hi Hamish,
      Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. I’m glad to know it’s helpful, as that is certainly my intention. Two pieces of advice:
      1. Publishers want something very simple, but very difficult to achieve: a compelling voice on the page. The voice could be funny, it could be dramatic, it doesn’t matter which as long as it is interesting to read. Publishers and agents don’t like saying no to so many manuscripts; it’s just that the reality is that it is very difficult to write well, and the vast majority of writers submit their work way too early in a manuscript’s development.
      2. Close friends are not ideal readers of your work in progress. Even if they point out a few things here and there, they are unlikely to be reviewing your prose with the steely eye of a professional reader, assessing your tone, pacing, structure, characterisation and so on. I strongly recommend the use of an independent editor or perhaps an acquaintance who is a serious reader whom you should compensate for the serious task you are asking of them.
      Submissions: If you have looked around my website at any length you will have seen the Submissions page under the Contact tab. Please follow the guidelines carefully, but I do hope to hear from you when your manuscript is as good as you can make it.
      Good luck with your writing! –Virginia

  • Thanks for the comments Virginia re the popularity of memoir. I have read lots of memoirs this year and truly find them the most satisfying read. Life truly delivers the most amazing journeys with twists and turns that are hard to invent. I have been writing a memoir for most of the year and find that I am somewhere between being really proud and wanting to press the delete button with frustration. Frustration because I know in my heart that what I have done is simply write what happened in chronological order. This is not a story it is just the “what was”. The transformation that needs to occur will probably take more energy that what it has taken to date. So I am stuck in between fear and excitement.

    I think I need to just finish all the missing pieces, put it aside and then the question is what happens next? I am reading as much as I can to absorb, but am not sure if a class in writing is next, or simply a case of time and all that is needed will come from within. I already have that first manuscript in the bottom draw and was really wanting to get this one to the stage where it is able to be submitted to prospective agents, but I am under no delusion that it is where it should be.

    Katische

    • Hi Katische,
      Thank you for this thoughtful comment. A great memoir is as deeply satisfying as a great novel. The truth is that writing such a book is incredibly difficult. When you talk about where you are with your own manuscript, I remember being at exactly the same point with my own book. I read everything I’d written and cried buckets because (a) the material I’d written was so raw, so sad, and (b) I knew as I read it that it was simply raw material, it was not anywhere near being a book. Unfortunately a lot of writers send their work out when it is still in the raw-material phase, then wonder why agents or publishers reject it. From the raw material the writer must impose story and structure, which to me are largely the same thing. In your case it is probably a good idea to put your draft away for a while and perhaps ask yourself, what is your journey over the course of the book you want to write? What is it about, really?
      I hope that’s helpful, and I wish you good luck with your writing. Best wishes — Virginia

  • Annabel Tellis

    Got a series for 8+ readers. Got interest. Got no agent. I’m finding it harder to get an agent than a publisher! This was the same with my published picture book which came out with Chicken House/Scholastic 2007 and went on to sell 40,000 copies. No agent.

    • Hi Annabel, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m not sure I understand why, if you already have a publisher’s interest, you need an agent? Certainly if you’ve had commercial success with a publisher they would be interested in seeing your new work. Let me know if you have a specific question that I can attempt to answer. Best wishes — Virginia

  • Renee

    Interesting information here. Where would a collection of memoirs stand in the current market? By this I mean, stories I have collated from various individuals on a specific topic .

    • Hi Renee,
      Thanks for your question. Very difficult for me to answer without any knowledge of your topic, the appeal/credibility of your contributors, and your natural fit as an author/anthologist for the collection. Typically for a commercial publisher to become interested in such a project, there would have to be well-known people contributing to the volume, at least a few who are known nationally from TV, radio, magazines and so forth. Feel free to email me if you’d like to keep the information private at this stage. — Virginia

  • Bede

    I have a similar question to Renee’s. I wonder whether there is still a print market for collections of short stories and fables. I read somewhere that for eBooks short and intense is in.

    • Hello Bede — Another tricky one to try to answer: if you’re not already known, then you’ll have a hard if not impossible time getting a commercial publisher to release your book of short stories. David Sedaris had a book of fables published in the last couple of years, but he has sold millions of books, so his publisher supported his moving into new territory. The good news for writers today is that because of the available technology, everyone can be a publisher. You can publish your work as an ebook for next to nothing. The trick is finding the sorts of readers who will be interested in the stories you want to tell. That’s difficult enough for traditional print publishers to do! Good luck with your writing — Virginia

  • Deanna

    Great to hear that non-fiction is a good area. I am a novice embarking on a book regarding Motivation. I was a presenter and coach for long term unemployed and found an ingredient that helped to change lives. hence I decided to write a book about it and the program. Think this kind of book will work ?

    • Hi Deanna,
      Thanks for your question. It’s clear that you have a solid background and special expertise in the subject area you wish to write on, which is essential for any ‘how-to’ book. However, before you embark on a book-length project, I’d recommend trying to place some articles on your topic in relevant publications and actively participating in relevant websites. Book publishers need to see that there’s a need for the information you have, and by contributing to the public conversation, you are going some way towards demonstrating that.
      It would be also worth your while to establish a website and possibly develop an email list of people interested in your message. The truth is that today there are many paths to publication, and it’s not either necessary or best for books to be published by the big trade publishers.
      I hope these comments are useful, and I wish you luck with your writing journey. –Virginia

  • Jennifer

    Hi Virginia,
    I’m a first-time reader of your website and found this post very helpful. As a journalist, I’m very interested in the state of publishing in Australia at the moment. As I’m also an aspiring author, I’m curious to know whether all of the above still holds true for 2014. I noticed the post was written in 2012. Any updates?
    Cheers
    Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks so much for visiting and leaving this comment. I plan to update this information in a new post shortly, though the overall patterns are similar to what they were when I first wrote this post. I am also planning a revamped website to make accessing the information on it easier for new visitors such as yourself. Please let me know what other questions you have, because I am happy to answer them in future posts or privately at the email address on my Contact page. Best wishes — Virginia

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