What do I look for in an unsolicited manuscript?


The Out of Print Writing blog has just published a short series of interviews with an Australian publisher (Rebecca Starford, Affirm Press), an Australian literary agent (me) and a writer (Neil Randall) on what happens when a writer gets “a nibble” of interest in their unsolicited manuscript.

In my interview I answer a range of questions about the process of querying agents, submitting your manuscript, and being prepared to edit your work further. I suspect I’m a little different from other agents because of my professional background as an in-house editor — I work with writers to take their manuscript to a publishable standard if I feel it has the potential but is not quite there yet. Here are a few potted quotes from the interview.

On what makes me respond to a query:

Sometimes it’s a sense of humour and an engaging tone, other times it’s an intriguing scenario for a novel, or a nonfiction idea* that hasn’t been done to death.

On what happens when I request to read a partial or full manuscript:

The unfortunate truth of this stage of the process is that it’s entirely a matter of my personal taste combined with a sense of what the market is looking for.

On what writers can expect if I offer to represent them:

Most unpublished manuscripts need more work of one kind or another. I do not make editorial suggestions for the sake of it, but I know what constitutes a work of publishable quality.

You can read the full interview here.

*I must say that I — like many Australian publishers — am wondering where all the Australian nonfiction writers are. From my query stream it appears that everyone wants to write a novel. If you’re on the fence about writing fiction or nonfiction, I’d advise you to zig when others zag. Your chances of publication will improve enormously, as long as you have the magic ingredient of an engaging writing style.

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