These notes apply specifically to submissions to Hachette Australia, but there’s a lot of relevant tips and suggestions for people who want to know more about writing a query letter to a literary agent and how to get a book published.
(If you’ve never heard of me before, I’m a former literary agent, developmental editor and a twice-published author who works with aspiring authors on their submissions to maximise their appeal to literary agents and publishers. I have a solid track record of helping quality projects get over the line. So if you run into any challenges or doubts while preparing your submission, please check out how I can help.)
First up: respect the guidelines
Two important points about submitting to Hachette Australia, one of Australia’s largest commercial (trade) publishers:
- When Hachette states they are not accepting fiction submissions at the moment, they mean they are not accepting any fiction submissions, including yours. There are business reasons that have led them to make that clear on their website. Reasons that are beyond your control. Move on. Such decisions are the result of calculated risks that publishers take. If you’ve written what becomes the next global fiction phenomenon, then the decision-makers at Hachette can reflect on what might have been, just as all the publishers who rejected Harry Potter do regularly.
- You need to be a resident of Australia or New Zealand. Being disingenuous about your residency status wastes everybody’s time.
The good news
- There are many other Australian book publishers looking for your adult fiction manuscript! Check out my list of Australian publishers accepting unsolicited manuscript submissions.
If you’re looking to submit a work of adult nonfiction, or a children’s or young adult (YA) manuscript (fiction or nonfiction), Hachette Australia wants to hear from you.
What to include in your submission to Hachette Australia
On their website, the publisher clearly sets out what information they need in your submission, so that they can decide whether or not the project is potentially a good fit for them. The easier you make the publisher’s job, the better your chances of having your emailed submission opened and read.
The following elements apply whether you are submitting a query for a children’s manuscript or an adult nonfiction manuscript.
In your email subject line: title and genre
Pro tip: obtain a few responses to your working title from people other than friends and family before you submit your work to a literary agent or book publisher.
Your title is extremely important. It’s the publisher’s first impression of your work, and your best chance to intrigue and communicate.
Before you submit, I strongly encourage you to review your title from the point of view of someone to whom your work is completely new. They know nothing about the manuscript or your intentions: does your title mean to the reader what you think it means as the writer? Does it have the sort of clarity you assume it does — or does it raise more questions in the reader’s mind than it answers?
Pro tip: if you’re unsure about the genre of your work, then it might not be ready for submission.
Is your project a chapter book or is it middle grade? Is your novel better suited to YA readers than middle grade? There are easily Googled resources to help you clarify what’s considered appropriate (and inappropriate) for children’s reading age groups.
Following this children’s book illustrator’s guide, for example, the age ranges for picture books, middle-grade and YA fiction and nonfiction are broadly as follows:
- Newborn to age 4: Picture books whether board or soft books
- Ages 2–5: Early picture books
- Ages 5–8: Picture books, coloring, activity and novelty books
- Ages 4–8: Early reader books
- Ages 6-9: First chapter books and graphic novels
- Ages 8–12: Middle-grade novels and graphic novels
- Ages 12-18: Young adult (YA) novels and graphic novels
The next part of your submission to Hachette Australia is the main section: the cover letter. As per the publisher’s submission guidelines, the cover letter must contain the following elements:
Your contact details
Self-explanatory, except I would strongly encourage you to obtain an email address that sounds professional. Compare ratkiller666@hotmail and firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s all part of reassuring the total stranger reviewing your submission that, while an artistic creative type of person, you are nevertheless rational and easy to work with.
(Ed. note: Not sure where ratkiller666 came from; but I do use the New York City subway.)
A short summary
Short. As in, concise, brief, succinct.
You must be able to summarize your work in no more than two paragraphs. Concision is hard. Have someone else do this for you, or double-check your edits, to make sure it reads clearly and leaves out nothing essential to the reader’s understanding. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own work that we forget others don’t know as much as we do about our manuscript.
The intended audience
Pro tip: your book is not ‘for everyone’
See above for details of target age ranges for different types of children’s books.
For adult nonfiction, you need to paint a picture of the type of reader who will be interested in your project. Some elements to consider:
- Demographics — age range, gender, location, relevant family characteristic (eg is it a book for grandparents or divorced fathers) or lifestyle goal (eg people wanting to go vegan or leave a big city for a rural life?)
- Media appetite — what TV, radio, podcasts would your target reader be likely to consume or have enjoyed? Be specific.
- Timeliness — I recommend nonfiction authors address the timeliness of their project. Why is now a suitable time for this particular book? And how does the relevance or urgency of your subject matter help your ideal audience?
Comparable or competitor authors and titles in your market
Pro tip: you are not a unicorn.
By providing comparisons to your book, no matter how tangential, you are showing a prospective agent or publisher — in this case, Hachette Australia — that you are aware your book fits into an existing ecosystem of books published in physical and online book stores.
People such as booksellers, literary agents, publishing houses and the folks who acquire manuscripts (publishers and commissioning editors), don’t want unicorns.
A publisher or literary agent will instantly reject any query letter that claims “There is nothing that has ever been published in the history of the world like my book.”
The reason is that the job of the sales reps is to pitch forthcoming titles to booksellers so they can determine approximately how many copies to print in the first print run. Naturally their bosses want the maximum possible number of copies in bookshops to meet the demand that PR and marketing campaigns are designed to generate.
How hard would it be for the sales rep to have to say to a bookseller, “Hey! We have this book coming up that’s unlike anything that has ever been published in the history of book publishing. I recommend you order 100 copies.” The bookseller says “Well, that’s a lot of money for me to bet on a unicorn. Where should I put it on the shelves of my bookshop so book buyers can find it? And how should I categorise your unicorn in my inventory? I’ll take one, just to be safe.”
Comparison titles (also known as ‘comps’) are therefore useful. They are not threats. They help publishers visualize how they might present your project to the market. So, they need to know where it would reasonably sit in a bookstore, and what sort of reader is most likely to buy it.
What comps to include
You need to look for other authors and books, preferably published in the last five years, and preferably avoiding best sellers, huge runaway phenomenon type books. You must be realistic.
Even though great stories are timeless, the taste and emphases of the book publishing industry can wax and wane over periods of five to ten years in response to the changing preferences of readers. So it’s helpful to you if there is something relevant that you can point to in the last five years that has done reasonably well. It doesn’t have to be a bestseller, but something that has gained attention on some level.
You need to pick at least three to five comps, with at least two authors from your home market. So for Hachette Australia I’d recommend you include a couple of relevant Australian projects published in the last five years — and ideally at least one they have published!
In terms of relevance for your comparison titles, think about elements such as:
- historical time period
- particular personality quirk
- Particular social issue or problem
- Specific fear (eg being accepted, or first day at a new school).
Pro tip: Don’t say your manuscript is the next Wimpy Kid or Harry Potter or other publishing juggernaut.
Brief author bio
Many prospective authors worry about the author bio.
What if I don’t have any publishing credits?
Don’t worry about it. And don’t make something up! But if you do have any publishing credits, or media exposure related to your book’s subject, then this is the place to mention them.
For example, if you’ve had a story appear in an anthology or if you have been published in a University journal, or you are a semi-regular contributor to a website that enjoys solid traffic.
Or if you have an active social media account, or a mailing list. Many authors take a list of permission-based email addresses for granted, but direct-to-consumer marketing is increasingly valuable for book publishers, so a growing and engaged email list is considered very good news indeed.
Pro tip: do not include prizes or encouragement awards you received during childhood.
Is your ms on submission elsewhere?
This question seeks to know whether your work is already out on submission with literary agents or other publishers. Frankly, I think it’s a little cheeky for a publisher to insist on exclusive submissions then take months to respond (if ever). However, you don’t want to lie.
Be aware that you are shooting yourself in the foot if you query publishers while also waiting to hear back from literary agents. The reason is that a literary agent who might be interested in representing you will be unlikely to be able to shop your manuscript to a publisher who has already rejected your query.
A literary agent who might be interested in representing you will be unlikely to shop your manuscript to a publisher who has considered your query.
I’m here to tell you that you can’t have it both ways. You must decide if you’re going to try the agent route or the direct-to-publisher route.
Short synopsis and word count
If you’re reviewing submissions requirements for different publishers, you will notice — with some irritation, no doubt — that the word count for a synopsis varies. In the case of Hachette Australia, they want approximately 300 words to sum up your manuscript. That means about one to one and a half pages, double spaced. If you’re having trouble with that, get a friend or ideally an acquaintance, maybe a work colleague or someone from a writer’s group, to do a brutal edit of it.
Make sure you include the total word count. Do your research before submitting. Be sure that your word count sits within recommended ranges for your genre. For example, if you’ve written a picture book containing 10,000 words, the publisher concludes that you do not know your audience and your genre, and they will be unlikely to contact you.
Chapter outline (for nonfiction)
If you’re pitching nonfiction, Hachette Australia seeks a detailed chapter outline.
The reason for needing an outline is that publishers need to be able to see or visualize the entire manuscript in their mind’s eye. They need to really grasp what you’re bringing to the world that’s distinctive and fresh, and feel confident you have a book-length work of material (frequently people have an extended essay rather than a book on their hands). Your outline should demonstrate what’s different about your project. It should demonstrate the nature and shape of your argument, so that the outline, chapter by chapter, ultimately proves your argument.
I’m surprised that Hachette Australia seeks the whole manuscript. Most submissions require partial manuscripts or the first x number of pages — I hear from writers all the time who are slowly going insane complying with the varying requirements of publishing gatekeepers.
- For children: a Word document, or a low-res PDF of illustrated works
- For adult nonfiction: a Word document for a completed manuscript, or a detailed chapter outline and the first 3,000 words (minimum).
I hope this has been helpful to aspiring authors making a submission to Hachette Australia. But if you have further questions, or if anything here is unclear, please let me know.
If, having started the submission process, you decide you’d like some personalised feedback and constructive help with your submissions, then please get in touch. I love to see great projects find the right home and get published.