Writers: think twice before diving into the publishers’ slush pile

Writers: think twice before diving into the publishers’ slush pile

Hope this is the right pool …

One of my most popular posts, I’ve finally given my take on unsolicited manuscript submissions to Australian book publishers a makeover for 2019.

Most writers who submit their manuscript electronically are wasting their time. Here’s why – and what you can do about it.

The slush pile

The slush pile is an unflattering but widely used publishing term for unsolicited manuscripts. They arrive direct from authors without representation (such as a literary agent or other referral) or invitation (from a prospective editor or publisher).

When I worked in-house at Pan Macmillan Australia during the late 20th century, unsolicited manuscripts could be found in large piles under editors’ feet or in an unlucky junior’s office. They were full-length printouts, mailed in by aspiring authors, and they seldom received attention. In importance they lagged a long way behind the manuscripts that had already been acquired and scheduled for publication.

In other words, we read unsolicited manuscripts every once in a while. During the bluest moon. There was no accountability, no reading deadline, and no feedback.

Why are Australian publishers accepting submissions?

Thanks in part to digital technology, many of Australia’s leading book publishers now actively invite unsolicited manuscripts. There are a few reasons for this:

  • FOMO. Despite the industrious efforts of literary agents, numerous writing competitions and prizes, writing industry workshops and meet-and-greets, publishers experience the Fear Of Missing Out. They are ever mindful of the possibility that one of these months, the next international bestseller (or its first 50-100 pages) may arrive via an unsolicited submission.
  • Using electronic submissions portals, publishers can determine when and how to accept unsolicited material (for example, the first Monday or Friday of the month).
  • Publishers can limit how much material a writer submits. Typically they accept the first three chapters or first 100 pages.
  • Publishers can also easily filter out work that does not respect their stated guidelines (for example, if a writer submits 55 pages instead of the set maximum of 50 pages, it will not be considered)
  • Anecdotally, publishers aren’t seeing enough exciting new voices from literary agents.

Like anything that seems too good to be true, publishers’ openness to unsolicited submissions is not all it’s cracked up to be. The points above reflect the power imbalance of unsolicited submissions. That’s not going to change.

Want to dive into the slush pile anyway?

If you want to dive into the slush pile without reading further, I’ve put together this page with links to the major houses’ electronic submissions pages. But don’t say you weren’t warned.

The problem(s) with unsolicited manuscript submissions

As a former literary agent, as the author of two books, and as an editor, book coach and writing mentor, I do not endorse the submission of unsolicited manuscripts. The main reasons:

  • The sheer volume of electronic submissions puts you at a disadvantage. Your manuscript is one in a crowd rather than part of the publisher’s to-be-read pile. Getting into the publisher’s reading pile should be your goal.
  • It’s easy to write a cover note that does nothing to appeal to the decision-maker.
  • It’s sometimes difficult to identify the reservations and questions a book industry professional might have about your project.
  • If you do not hear back, you will never know why. It could be that a junior reader who loathes fantasy / crime / (name your genre) happened to review your work, and didn’t have the experience to differentiate her own taste from commercially viable work. It could be that your work isn’t yet strong enough. Or it could be that there was a view that that publishing house had already acquired too many books on a similar subject. Whatever the reason, you will be none the wiser.
  • Similarly, you will never receive any editorial feedback. Most writers need some constructive feedback to improve their writing or their story structure. Too many writers submit work to publishers that is not ready.
  • If you do succeed in attracting the publisher’s interest, you will need a third party to help you understand which rights to give them, and which rights to keep for yourself. It would also be handy to have someone to ask all the questions about each step of the publishing process.

What can you do instead of submitting an unsolicited manuscript?

If you’re convinced your work is ready for submission to an agent or publisher, you need to connect with people active in the publishing industry. Like any other field of human endeavour, agents and publishers place value on word of mouth, referrals and personal introductions. I’m not saying it’s easy or even fair, but there are some ways to do it:

Take a class or workshop.
Look for courses, whether online or in-person, led by industry professionals. Ask all the questions you can think of. Seek feedback on your work. Respond to it.

Enter writing competitions/prizes.
Agents and publishers keep a sharp eye trained on competition shortlists and prize announcements, because they are a short-cut to good work they might have otherwise missed. If you keep missing out, seek feedback to find out why.

Develop connections with other writers online.
Whether it’s a Facebook group, a dedicated website for writers of a particular genre, or a Twitter hashtag, connecting with others with similar goals can help you gain confidence, knowledge, opportunities and even introductions. I won’t name names but I’ve seen it happen.

Get professional feedback.
If you’ve been submitting your manuscript and not hearing back, or if you’re not sure that your work is ready to submit, you could probably use some constructive professional feedback. Make sure your reader has experience in a commercial publishing house, and is not a friend or family member.

Can I help?

Please contact me if you think I could help you along the path to publication. I’ve helped many writers achieve their dream of seeing their work in print.

My Publishing Insiders newsletter contains no-nonsense advice for writers working toward the goal of getting published. Please consider subscribing to join this community of aspiring authors.

Feedback-wise, I offer editorial reviews of your first ten pages, of your materials for agent submission (synopsis/chapter outline and 50 pages), and individual mentoring (I currently offer a three-session package of mentoring and feedback).

I truly love working with writers and would like to help you if I can.


I am not a member of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association because I do not meet their membership criteria. I regularly provide writers with feedback, mentoring, and occasionally publishing introductions, but these are paid services which disqualify me from membership. I rely utterly on my reputation and the opinion of writers who’ve worked with me.

This Post Has 83 Comments

  1. jennifer mills

    Thanks for this post. From an author’s perspective, it is perceived as just as hard to get an agent as it is to find a publisher, in part I think due to the small scale of the industry in Australia (I’m only beginning to consider it now, with my third book). I have to wonder whether the major publishers are returning to unsolicited manuscripts because of a real desire for new writing or if it’s a bit of PR, given how many readers are aspiring writers these days.

    I wouldn’t rule out the slushpile, but with a strong caveat for unrepresented authors: know your rights!

    1. Virginia

      Hi Jen, thanks for your comment. As always, I feel there’s probably a bit of both elements you suggest at work behind publishers’ embracing of the slush pile. I’ve heard too many comments from publishers about the reduction in number of manuscripts they receive from (some) agents.There seems to be a feeling among them that a few agents decided the combination of economic climate, the typically low sales of debut fiction, and the transformation of the publishing industry was an unholy trinity they decided not to pursue. As a result the pipelines of new work from agents to publishers has dried up a bit.
      You are quite right that there is only good PR to be had from publishing houses opening up their rusty front gates to unsolicited manuscripts. On close inspection of the publishers’ guidelines, however, they really are not committing to look at much more than a synopsis or a whole chapter. If they want more, don’t call them, they’ll call you. Which is no different from how it’s always been.
      Thanks for reading! Virginia

  2. Joel

    Hi Virginia! Great article, but I’m not sure you’ve really identified a recent theme here. Many Australian publishers have been accepting unsolicited manuscripts for years. Including Pan Macmillan, which you identify as a new addition. A few of them have started taking unsolicited manuscripts in electronic form for the first time, and I suspect the (relatively) onerous submission guidelines are added to make the flow of submissions slightly more manageable.

    The last Unwin Fellowship to come to Australia covered off quite a few of these issues in his report, which I think is available publicly. It’s not particularly kind to Australian agents, but it still has some useful things to say.

    At any rate, I tend to think the reasons for the high rate of unsolicited manuscript acceptance among Australian publishers is as much about our market as anything else. It’s a small country, and as I’m sure you know it’s difficult to sell foreign rights from Australia, so it’s very hard (and becoming increasingly so) to be an agent. So there aren’t that many of you. That creates the perception that publishers might miss something if they don’t keep the slush pile open. But that’s surely not a recent thing!

    1. Virginia

      Hi Joel, thanks for reading and commenting. You’re right that unsolicited submissions have continued to be accepted by Australian publishers while in most major markets that channel has been blocked by gatekeeping agents for some time. I hope for publishers’ sake that the electronic submissions process makes sifting through them easier and quicker, as that will reduce the agony of waiting for writers as well as the publishers’ dread of a pile of unread submissions. It’s always great to hear about a great writer “plucked from the slush pile”, because agents certainly are not infallible. But that person tends to be the exception who proves the rule, which is that the slush pile is a very difficult route towards publication, and leaves the successful author relatively vulnerable with regards to his or her rights.
      Thanks also for your reminder about the Unwin Fellowship report, which I will find and make some points about here.
      Good luck with Momentum, which must be keeping you and your colleagues rather busy!

  3. Alan Skinner

    Perhaps there are other things at work, too. Literary agents have gained a reputation for being an unscalable fortress for new writers (not so much gatekeepers as guardians of a drawbridge permanently raised), and an intractable battering ram by publishers. They way they operate at Frankfurt book fair for example, reinforces this: their own ivory tower on level 6 with stern minders at the reception desk. So, I don’t think they have done themselves any favours, particularly from the view of unrepresented authors who so wish to have representation. Combined with this, the activities of some in acting as e-publishers for their clients, thus diminishing the value they bring to publishers, has understandably led publishers to circumvent them.

    For a publisher, one of the advantages of sourcing through an agent is risk-reduction. That hasn’t changed. But, with the increasing economic pressures on publishers, the agent is becoming a risk-reduction policy with too high a premium. Weighing that against the undoubted benefits, as you mention, makes hedging their bets more sensible.

    All that you say regarding the value agents bring is true, and notwithstanding my comments above, I believe they play a valuable role, especially your second bullet point. Once agents start to lose the trust of publishers, and don’t have it from the new writers because they are appear closed to them, then their position in the chain is starting to look uncertain. I think it is beholden on the agents as much as the publishers to address this. Your comments make it seem as if it is the publishers who need to re-think and the new writers who need to beware, which sort of lets the agents off any hook.

    As a published (print and digital), but unrepresented author of very little note (but very great talent, of course), I had initially decided I did not want to approach publishers directly but wanted the reach, knowledge and connections of an agent. Mostly what I got was a world-weary sigh, and often not even that. The number I contacted, both in Australia and the UK (where I started) who didn’t even respond, was disturbing. Of a dozen I contacted not one even agreed to accept a submission. So, with more hubris than sense, I said, ‘Sod you’ and did it myself. OK, I started with the creme de la creme (AP Watts, Curtis Brown, WMA and the like) but it hardly made me feel that they were actively pursuing new talent.

    Advising writers to tread carefully about direct submissions when most feel as Jennifer – that agents are as hard a nut to crack as publishers – does provoke a certain exasperation.

    1. Virginia

      Hi Alan, thank you for reading my article and for your thoughtful comments. I did not mean to imply that publishers should rethink what they’re doing with regards to accepting unsolicited submissions. If I were a publisher I might well make the same decision. I simply noted its prevalence in Australia and wondered why that might be the case. The great comments I’m getting on this post indicate there are plenty of factors at work, which are worth exploring in other posts.
      It is always disappointing to hear of the rudeness (there is no other word for it) and unprofessionalism of so-called book publishing professionals who do not bother to respond to inquiries. This industry is built on human relationships, no matter how digitised aspects of acquisition, production and distribution continue to become. You are quite right that agents who are either battening down their hatches or undercutting publishers by e-publishing books by clients that might otherwise have gone to a traditional publisher are doing themselves and their profession a disservice. But equally writers must know their rights and not be flattered into accepting the first offer that comes along from a publisher without questioning the terms of a contractual agreement.
      All of the things you mention are leading towards a blurrier line dividing writers, agents and publishers. Agents do need to work to maintain and build trust with writers and with publishers. I have been very surprised, for example, that the agent of a writer whose memoir turns out to be fabricated seems never to get censured, it’s always the publisher.
      As an aside, in the US we’re also beginning to see agented self-published books, in which the agent seems to be acting as a kind of curator among what is often a huge volume of poor-quality material. I’ll have to leave thinking about the implications of that for another post.
      Thanks again for writing, I’ll check out your website now.

  4. Elizabeth Lhuede

    A fascinating insight, thanks, Virginia. Great to see the considered responses, too.

    If you’re right that a “generational chance” is happening, I wonder if part of that might be to do with genre? Would it be fair to say that younger players are less focused on the need to discover “literary” talent, and more focused on fostering the aspiration of writers who read, write and enjoy genre fiction, while publishers – especially ebook publishers – recognise genre fiction’s commerical possibilities and see that as the profitable way of the future? The electronic slush pile of that paradigm makes a lot more sense than the stacks of unsolicited manuscripts gathering dust in the old editorial office.

    There has certainly been a perception among aspiring and writers I know that, until recently, agents in Australia haven’t been interested in popular fiction, especially women-dominated genres such as romance and women’s contemporary fiction. Many of the published authors I know have sought representation elsewhere, such as the US or UK, or have attracted the attention of editors via competitions and only become agented once they have a publisher’s interest, and yet several of these have become internationally best-selling authors – though their names continue to be barely recognised in Australia, except by devoted fans.

    I’d be very interested to know your thoughts.

    1. Virginia

      Hi Elizabeth, I’m very happy to have found your comment – WordPress has a funny idea of spam sometimes! I am intrigued by your argument about agents and genre fiction. While it’s quite true that some agents have had a “literary” focus, it’s also true that there are successful agents who have been around for years who represent writers of romance or crime fiction whether as a special focus or as part of their larger stable of authors. Certainly it is increasingly difficult for an Australian agent to pursue a purely literary focus, whatever we mean precisely by that rather unstable term. Any reputable agent should be fostering their clients’ aspirations. I am interested to learn that there is a perception of some Australian agents’ lack of interest in contemporary women’s fiction. One of my clients, Fiona Higgins, has a wonderful novel called THE MOTHERS’ GROUP that is as contemporary as women’s fiction gets. That book is released in March by Allen & Unwin, who are doing a brilliant job of bringing it to market. In our information-flooded era, perhaps it’s inevitable that winning competitions and so on is a faster route to getting a publisher’s attention. That’s why there’s such a sense of urgency about platform-building and using Twitter etc to establish some kind of profile in the absence of published works and stand out from the competition for the attention of so-called gatekeepers.
      Thank you again for writing. I will now have to check my spam folder regularly to ensure I’m not missing out on other insightful and thoughtful responses to my posts!

  5. Aline Tayar

    It takes hours to prepare every submission in keeping with each agent’s requirements. One of the agent’s functions is surely to help writers not waste time in non-creative activities. But the search for an agent is surely one of the most dispiriting non-creative activities that eats into a writer’s time. I feel I would rather spend my non-creative time approaching a publisher rather than an agent but publishers have surrounded themselves with barriers – of course, I can understand why. As to agents sifting through the chaff, I am not sure that they do that job very well. The slur against self-published books is that they have not been through an editing process, but that is not always true. And even when a book is edited by a publisher disasters can still happen – witness Robert Hughes’s last book which was riddled with errors. Hughes is a polymath. His best work might be behind him but a good editor with the same broad sweep of knowledge as Hughes would not have let those mistakes get through.

    1. Virginia

      Hi Aline,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I agree that querying agents is time consuming, but I think if you spend the time to come up with a strong pitch, a synopsis, and some thoughts as to what other books are already out there in the marketplace that might (however tangentially) be considered similar to yours, then those elements should stay consistent in your approach to every agent. What would change would be the sentence(s) about why you approached that particular agent. For example – how did you discover her? Does s/he represent an author you love whose work relates to yours in some way? Did s/he recently sell several books in your genre? It’s like sending out your resume, you alter the cover note to suit the job and the person to whom you’re sending the application.
      You’re quite right about sloppy editing, it can be a problem for major trade publishers as well as self-published authors. I have no knowledge of the Hughes book you mention, but there are reasons that poor editing can creep into the books of well established authors. Sometimes those reasons have to do with the author’s willingness to revise or to check proofs; sometimes the publisher gets lazy in the belief that the author’s name will be enough to sell the books even if they’ve cut corners by not getting a proofreader. As I say, this is pure speculation but based on experiences I’ve seen close up.
      I appreciate your comments and wish you good luck with your writing.

  6. Brian Grove

    Hi Virginia,

    Great article, but I have to disagree “It has been years since most publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts.” My website contains a list of over 1000 worldwide, all currently accepting book proposals and submissions.

    Check it out, and I hope you will be good enough to leave my link here to help your followers!

    1. Virginia

      Hi Brian,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, you’re quite right that there are many places where authors can send their work uninvited (a list of 1,000 boggles my mind and must have taken you years!). This post was really about the major trade publishing houses in Australia promoting the fact they are seeking book-length manuscripts. In the back of every writing magazine there are classified ads screaming for unpublished authors’ attention. Come to think of it, I should write a post about those … My point is that authors should be clear about their goals and their rights when they do submit their work, because it is too easy for them to be lured by the prospect of publication to think clearly about what exactly the publisher is offering in a contract.
      Best, Virginia

  7. Olivia Ashe

    I have to say after years of trying to be published, I’m more confused than ever.

    What does it mean when a publisher says: “this is good, better than a lot of other work we’ve received, but not for us at this time?” (That was from Penguin a few years ago).

    I’ve re-written and polished my novel several times and sent it to all three of the publishers above and still was still rejected.

    So could you please tell me what I’m doing wrong?
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Virginia

      Hi Olivia,
      Thanks for reading this post. It is hard not to feel disheartened along the road to publication, although many great writers have felt the sting of rejection for long years before finally seeing their work in print. Your questions have prompted me to write a new post attempting to answer them, which I will publish in the next day or so. –Virginia

  8. Skye

    Hi 🙂 so I wrote my book, polished it and did all of the boring stuff. I sent it off to random house who replied that they were interested in my writing style and the storyline and they would like me to send the entire book. Nine months on, no reply. Either they are still genuinely considering and reading it, or they just forgot to tell me that they’ve decided to not go with it … anyways, I’m just curious as to the general selection process.
    Thanks so much this is a great site 🙂

    1. Virginia

      Hi Skye. I appreciate your taking the trouble to read and reply to this post. Unfortunately I hear a version of your story a lot. It’s too easy for an unrepresented author to slip through the cracks. Often it’s nobody’s fault, there are many ways that it can happen. It’s a great idea to do a post about how publishers select books. It’s a lot slower and more complex than you’d expect. I will contact you separately about your work. Best wishes –Virginia

  9. Jaq

    I would suggest that the reason more major print publishers are open to submissions these days is because they are aware that a lot of writers, and I mean a lot, are simply turning to self-publishing ebook platforms to get their novel out into the world.
    And who can blame writers for doing so, many of whom have had their story rejected time after time after time.
    Twilight began life as an ebook did it not?
    50 Shades of Grey also.
    JK Rowlings has just released her first non-Harry Potter novel as an ebook.
    I’m fortunate to email with a number of well known midlist authors, in the UK and the USA…they tell me that the situation for midlist authors is the most dire it’s ever been. Citing that the five big publishing companies seem to want bestselling novels only, and now have little interest in even well known midlist authors.
    Advances are down. Publishing contracts are down. It is now harder than ever for midlist authors to make a living from writing alone.
    When one of the most popular MilSF authors of recent years tells you this, with the added information that his twelve book MilSF series was cancelled at book three, you have to sit up and take notice.
    A well known thriller writer I chat with had to get his last novel published by a small press in his home town…and it sold as well as the first three books in the series that he had published by one of the big five.
    A popular author of Sci-fi action in the USA just emailed me to say from now on he’s going the self-published ebook route, because the publisher he has been with for years declined his latest book…this despite his numerous fans around the world. His books sell consistently, including his back listed books.
    So when well known authors are going the ebook route, is it any wonder many new authors are doing the same?
    The big five publishing companies are well aware of this and are looking at ways to encourage more submissions, I’m sure.
    For far too long the publishing companies and agents have been reveling in the false security that authors need them to be published; this is no longer true.
    The ebook revolution is underway and the big publishers are struggling to keep up.
    Note: I say big five publishing companies, rather than six, because I understand Penguin and Random House have now become the one company?

    1. Virginia

      Hi again Jaq,
      There’s a lot of interesting points in your comment, and it’s true that today’s publishing environment is radically improved for writers wishing simply to get their work in book form. Self-publishing offers many writers a path that is often better suited to the type of books they write. However it’s also true that the traditional publishers offer marketing, publicity and distribution that self-published authors — even the most successful — find hard to match. Which is why several of the best-selling self-published authors have signed publishing deals with traditional publishers after finding success with independently published works. So all up I think it’s an exciting time for the publishing industry.
      Good luck with your writing. –Virginia

  10. Dave

    I’m nearing the end of writing my first book (fiction). I’ll be the first to admit I’m clueless about where to start with publishers etc etc. Hence I really appreciate the candid article you’ve written.

    My one let down is punctuation. Honestly it’s horrid. Fortunately my life partner is an ex old school type setter, she really is a gem! Not that I envy her task but along with adding all the correct punctuation, it gets proof read too.

    I do have one question. Is there generally accepted format which one should submit to a publisher or does each publishing house have its own unique criteria?

    1. Virginia

      Hello Dave, thanks for reading. Each publisher has a “house style” in which all the books they publish are printed. For example, most Australian publishers prefer ‘single quotation marks (“doubles for quotes within the quote”)’ whereas US publishers prefer the other way around. But you are not expected to know that. Adapting a manuscript to house style is something that copy editors and typesetters do as a matter of course. On punctuation, you should present as clean a manuscript as possible, but a publisher who loves your work is going to overlook some errors of punctuation and grammar. By far the biggest issue — and one of the reasons I wrote this post — is that most people who think they have finished their book-length work, whether fiction or nonfiction, are nowhere near finished. There are still many drafts to go, major revision, cutting back or expanding as the case requires. These things take time, tough constructive readers who are not related to you, and steely determination. Most manuscripts I see are completely undercooked, nowhere near ready to present to an agent or a publisher. So please think about those things before proceeding to show it to the decision makers. Typically they will only consider your manuscript once.
      Having said all that, I wish you well with your writing. –Virginia

  11. Wayne Harris

    many thanks for the insights. I’m afraid I was caught by the difficulty of getting a proper agent and agreed to an agent who, I feel, may have conned me into self publishing and then dumped me. I struggled for years as a result and it set my writing back a decade as I wasted my time trying to do my own marketing. I won’t go into the details here. I am now so wary of agents I will approach publishers first, so I like the idea that they’re accepting direct requests.
    Alternatively, how do I find an agent that I can trust and is genuinely open to new authors? Do they even exist?

    1. Virginia

      Hi Wayne,
      Thank you for reading and commenting here, though I’m sorry to learn about your experience. If an agent asks you to pay for anything up front then they are not reputable. The speculative model — by which an agent assesses the commercial viability of unpublished manuscripts and attempts to match them with a publisher, and sees no remuneration until that match is made (via commission made from the publisher’s advance to the author) — is in many respects quaint and is certainly full of risks for both parties. In the context of your experience I can understand why you would prefer approaching publishers directly. If you had a personal connection or invitation from a publisher to submit you work to them directly then that would be preferable. However what I find increasingly is that writers come to me after they have tried and failed to attract publisher attention with their electronically-submitted first chapters, and it’s often because the work is still several drafts and a long way from being of publishable standard. A good agent will not only never ask you to pay for anything up front, but should be able to provide editorial advice that will increase its chances of getting across the line. Though the line, it must be said, is more like an Olympic high-jump bar. As for finding an agent, there are resources online to help. But you must do your homework and only approach agents who are looking for the kind of writing you do. Hope this helps, and good luck. –Virginia

  12. Selina Hill

    For now, I will just express my thanks, to you, your readers and the intenet which enables these conversations to take place; South west australia is quite remote otherwise. Thank you Virginia ( discovered via Jennifer Ackland’s link)

    1. Virginia

      Hi Selina, it’s lovely of you to leave such a nice comment. Best wishes — Virginia

  13. I’m wondering if there are complications in submitting a work to a publisher or a literary agent if the manuscript has already been self-published. I have a number of these titles, and many have already been favourably reviewed by experts such as Shelleyrae at Book’d Out, and Brenda Telford. Most of my titles are collections of romantic Short Stories, though I also have three novellas. Despite these reviews, sales are just not happening and therefore I am considering my options.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Margaret, thanks for your great question. These days it’s not unusual for the author of a self-published title to seek representation or approach a publisher directly. The critical point is to know what rights you hold to your work, in which territories and for what duration. Typically you would hold all rights yourself throughout the world but a publisher will insist on proof. If a publisher were interested in your title(s) then it would insist on the self-published edition being removed from the Internet. Unfortunately it is also true these days that whether you are traditionally published or self-published, authors are expected to do a large amount of promotional work themselves. There are loads of resources online to help you in that regard. Good luck — Virginia

  14. Brenda Rudolph

    Helpful, thank you. Please could you tell me how recent this page is, and the comments thereon?

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Brenda,
      I first posted this in Aug-Sep 2012. Most comments date from the first month after that but others are more recent. The freshest comments are listed from the top. I will update some of this information in a new post shortly. Thanks for your interest — Virginia

  15. Tiana

    I would LOVE to have my novel published by a traditional publisher. Unfortunately, not one literary agent I have contacted, both in Australia and (more recently) internationally, has even considered looking at my manuscript. The only literary agent who requested my manuscript took almost a year to reply, telling me that they assume I had found someone to represent me by now.

    As it is, I’m left with sending queries directly to the publishers and, if failing that, self-publishing.

    Any ideas on how I would be able to find a literary agent? I have been sending queries to those who publish in my genre, with no success.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Tiana,
      Thanks for reading and leaving this comment. Your frustration is shared by a lot of aspiring authors around the world, which is why self-publishing has become such a popular channel for some writers.
      As to advice, my first thought is about the strength of your query. Have you researched carefully what constitutes a good query letter? Have you had a trusted adviser (writing group peer, online acquaintance, serious reader friend) look at it? Unfortunately I see query letters that shoot themselves in the foot, from authors who reveal themselves to be clueless about what an agent’s looking for and the business realities of publishing. Given that the query letter is your first impression, you need to put loads of thought and effort into it.
      And, saying all of that about the query, your novel must be the best it possibly can be in order to get across the line. I’m not sure how much third-party advice you’ve sought or received about your work, but many novelists take years writing and revising before finding a publisher.
      The other advice I’d suggest is to submit to writing competitions and contests in your genre. Getting shortlisted or noticed in such things helps you stand out from others who are querying the same agents.
      It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. Good luck! –Virginia

  16. Yasmine BONNER

    Reading the below comments, reminds me of my one occasion that I submitted my chapter etc. to a literary agent, only to be told that i did not comply with her directions! Upon further emails to her, she retracted that statement and found my correct submission. I thought this pretty unprofessional. I also think that there is an awful lot of censorship going on in relation to what they will even look at let alone what they might publish. My thoughts on your comments with respect to the author’s rights, any agreement whether it be verbal, written or both can be pursued in the courts. I have heard a few times from different people in the industry that they have no rights! rubbish! It is not hard to obtain a copy of the new ACL (Australian Consumer Laws) from your local Fair Trading office and read up on the section pertaining to your complaint. This is another way to frighten people off from contemplating even looking at an agreement. There are departments that can help you in understanding your rights and how to read agreements or at the very least point you in the right direction to get that information for a reasonably low cost. I also think that the industry is in dire need of ‘BASIC’writing skills courses. There is a huge gap between generations and how they were taught to write! Me included. I have relied on a paid editor to help me in the next stage of my memoir and that was just for the basics. Some one should put their hand up, I think they would be overwhelmed at the response, and this in turn would raise the level of quality. Just my thoughts. Thanks for your ideas in your article.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Yasmine,
      Thanks for your comments. I hope in regards to submitting to agents that you didn’t stop at one! It’s true that agents are selective about what they will consider, but it’s less a matter of censorship (after all, the agent is not the only path to publication) than of individual reading preferences and knowledge of the market. For example, I don’t represent fantasy or science fiction or children’s books, because I don’t read them myself and therefore am no judge of what’s good or what’s selling in the current market.
      As for rights, you’re absolutely correct. Another good source of information for writers considering a publisher’s contract is the Australian Society of Authors.
      On the topic of basic writing skills, I will respectfully disagree with you about the demand for editorial services. Unfortunately I’m of the view that those aspiring authors most in need of editorial help are those least likely to seek it.
      I’m starting a monthly newsletter soon so please look out for the signup form on my website. — Virginia

  17. Jeff Martin

    Have to shake my head at your utterly off-the-mark explanation for publishers seeking to acquire manuscripts directly. The REAL reason publishers have opened their door to direct submittals is because agents want NOTHING TO DO with authors that write fiction. Especially commercial fiction. They issue knee-jerk rejections of said manuscripts as fast as they can get them out the door. This trend has become so rampant worldwide that publishers are not getting the volume of manuscripts in certain genres that they should. In short, agents are not doing their jobs. These lazy snobs are deliberately damaging the careers of talented new authors because, quite simply, they can’t be bothered to invest in them. Story quality doesn’t matter. Story originality doesn’t matter. Story creativity doesn’t matter. 5-star reviews don’t matter. Nothing matters. Unless the newbie is a celebrity! Then they’ll fall over themselves to request the manuscript. Stephen King himself, if twenty-five years old today, could not get published because of these agents that should be more properly be viewed as roadblocks. In fact, in light of this, some time ago, King advised new authors to skip agents entirely and submit directly to publishers. He said a new author has a better chance of his/her manuscript being plucked from a slush pile and read than an agent reading it. He was absolutely right. Just so you know, Virginia, I sent a query for my outstanding work of (eerie) commercial fiction to thirty-five agents in the U.K. that stated their literary preferences included the genres of horror, the paranormal, fantasy, etc. Thirty-five. The novel had received rave reviews from major websites and top reviewers on Amazon. The query letter contained those reviews, of course. Guess how many agents requested the full manuscript, Virginia. Zero. Guess how many agents requested reading material, Virginia. Zero. Well, that did it for me. I changed course for good. Sent my manuscript (as a soft-cover book, complete with artwork. Very slick looking.) straight to editors/senior editors/editors-in-chief with the top publishers in the world. Within six weeks, four had replied with personal messages! Two informed me they would take a look at it. (One of them — an editor-in-chief — asked for the story in MS Word form.) The third — an editor-in chief — said to get an agent! LOL! (This person is utterly disconnected from reality.) The fourth actually wrote a personal reply, commending me on my ‘compelling’ query letter. Added he is not able to accept unsolicited submittals, however, and wished me well. But he has the book. In response to his note, I thanked him for his courtesy and asked him to give the novel to someone outside the publishing industry for his/her feedback. Should he do that, and that person comes back two weeks later and tells him the story is great (and it is great), he may well skirt the rules, read it himself and take it on. At the very least, he will regard the book differently than before that may lead to something. But NONE of these four publishers would have even become aware of me/my novels had I not done as Stephen suggested. If left to agents, my books would have died on their computers right then and there for agents are in the business of not helping authors of fiction but stopping them from going any farther. They ruin careers. And they enjoy it. They actually think they speak for the literary public when they most certainly do not. 75% of all agent-approved published books are flops. 75%! They don’t make a dime. Book bin material two weeks after release. That tells everything you need to know about agents’ judgment. But ask yourself, Virginia — how many best-selling authors can you name that have PUBLICLY COMPLAINED about the number of rejections they received for their works? Off the top of my head, I can think of Stockett, King, Meyer, Rowling, Grisham and Forsythe. No doubt there are others. No doubt. What do these authors have in common, Virginia (beside the fact they are/were best-selling authors)? I’ll tell you — they all write commercial fiction. The biggest selling books in the world are those of commercial fiction. And what do agents do when they receive this genre from new authors? They reject them out of hand no matter how good they are. Isn’t that amazing?! THAT’S why more and more publishers want to directly deal with authors. Oh, and by the way, the editor-in-chief of Tor Books in London, fed up with the number of complaints she has received from authors regarding agents’ outrageous behavior towards them, invited authors to submit to Tor. No agents needed or wanted. Well, as of late September, Tor has, I believe, acquired nineteen manuscripts that had previously been rejected and likely numerous times by know-it-all agents. If I were the chief editor of Tor and so alarmingly discovered that publishable material was routinely being tossed in the garbage by these incompetents, I would never use agents again. I mean, what do I need them for? They are DAMAGING my business as a publisher, keeping from me tales I can sell. In point of fact, Tor’s open submittals portal has yielded TONS of excellent product neither this publisher nor any other would ever have seen if left to agents. Stephen King was right. Submit to publishers. Forget about agents. Don’t waste your time with agents. And, Virginia, I do not want you making excuses for these people. I have no interest in reading anything you have to say in defense of them. And likely neither does Tor. I have all the proof I need of agent arrogance and apathy towards authors of fiction, and nothing you say is going to change that. But tell you what, Virginia — YOU write a work of commercial fiction and submit it to as many agents as you want anywhere in the world. Use a pseudonym. Jane Smith. See how far you get, Virginia. Yes, get ready to paper your house with form rejection letters from people that didn’t read a word of your manuscript, don’t want to and perhaps didn’t even finish reading your query. Yes, good luck with that.

  18. Mike

    Sometime around 1990, Harper’s Magazine began accepting non-solicited fiction. In the mid-90’s I heard Lewis Lapham, the long-time editor, speak at a Writer’s Union meeting. He concluded by saying something like, “All you have to do is do great work and you’ll find your way into Harper’s.”

    He opened the floor up for questions, and I said that my short fiction had been receiving raves from Harper’s editorial assistants (i.e., grad students)for years, but nothing seemed to have ever been passed on, and no reason was ever given for the stories being returned. I then asked how many unsolicited stories they received a week, and I asked if they’d ever published an unsolicited story.

    Mr. Lapham noted that Harper’s received insane amounts of unsolicited work and that in all the years since the policy began, they’d never published a single unsolicited piece of fiction (which I guessed, as they published one story a month, and most were by famous authors).

    Similarly, the fiction editor of The New Yorker, despite their policy of accepting unsolicited fiction, acknowledged that their last acceptance of unsolicited fiction was decades in the past. She said they bought sophisticated fiction and she doubted a writer without an agent was even capable of writing sophisticated fiction (she, while part of the literary elite, clearly lacked certain social graces).

    After Mr. Lapham (in a much more gracious fashion than the New Yorker editor) explained the bleak reality facing the unsolicited story, I asked, “How does one get published in Harper’s?”

    And he said, “You get published by doing what you’re doing. By making a case that your work should be read, by finding a way to get your work into an editor’s hands. Stop by the office on Monday, and I will make sure your work gets read.”

    I wish the story ended with Harper’s buying my short fiction. I did get some stories into his hands (or, at the very least, he signed someone else’s long rejection letter), and I did get an education.

    These pinnacles of American short fiction are not looking for unsolicted talent; they are looking to engage with their readers. They don’t want to be associated with the idea that they don’t accept unsolicited work, but that is the reality. They want would-be submitters to subscribe.

    Of course, had I truly nailed one of those follow-up stories, I might have been the exception. I blame myself.

    And what Mr. Lapham was saying really was (in a more gracious way than The New Yorker editor), “If you can, get an agent.”

    If you can.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to write this long and fascinating comment. I think a lot of publications are being disingenuous in having policies that welcome unsolicited submissions without the intention of ever publishing one. I’m not sure how much that policy strengthens their subscription or renewal rates, however. Hopefully your stories found their way into print elsewhere, and you didn’t give up after trying for the highest reaches of the US short fiction market. Certainly you should not blame yourself.

      Perhaps the point being made beneath the suggestions to get an agent and/or to get your work into an editor’s hands, is that relationships are everything. Certainly in the US it seems to me that college, MFA, residencies, workshops and conferences, are the necessary merry-go-round to ride in order to meet editors and agents. In these environments are forged the sorts of connections that remain invisible yet all-important to one’s chances of publication, despite the infinite tactical and craft-based information about getting published available online.

      Thanks again and best wishes — Virginia

  19. Renee

    Hello Virginia,
    I had my book published and the publisher who was supposed to publish 500 books only published two. I also paid them. After seeking legal advice, I have the rights to my book. Where do I go from now? Thanks.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Renee,
      I’m sorry to hear about this experience, but it’s impossible for me to advise you without further information. Please feel free to email me at the address given in my Submissions page. –Virginia

  20. Very informative reading.I have completed my manuscript and have paid to have it professionally edited.The whole process was constructive.My editor was encouraging, supportive and complimentary. Now to find a publisher as a next step
    Wish me luck.

  21. Ruth

    I just…accidentally…come across what you had to say about authors not sending their manuscripts to publishers. I tried that way a long time ago. Gave up. Have self-published a few full length novels but they haven’t moved much. Maybe, because I haven’t had time to push them. I’d prefer to be picked up a publisher. Most of the stories are fantasy with ghosts, witches, tiger eating people, “Sins of the Flesh” to be found on Amazon. Along with a few of the others. Will try to go via a publisher once I have finished the one I’m working on. Thanks for the advice.

  22. Prema

    Hi Virginia, this may be a silly question, but I’m just wondering: When Australian-based publishers say they are only accepting manuscripts from Australian and New Zealand writers, does this include expats who are living in Australia? When I look at their author lists, most look like ‘true-blue’ Aussies. Not sure if I would qualify.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Prema,
      I firmly believe there are no silly questions.
      If you’re living in Australia then you shouldn’t hesitate to submit your work for consideration to an agent or publisher, keeping in mind the reservations I make in this post. From the publisher’s point of view, they want to work with a local author who will be around and available if and when their work is published, for publicity and marketing purposes.
      Hope that helps, and good luck. –Virginia

  23. Trish

    Hi Virginia,

    Thanks for your article. I’m just starting to try to identify where to send our manuscript, and you have given me some good advice. I was curious to know your thoughts about my situation. My co-author is from the USA, and our book has been designed, written and edited for an American readership. It is an erotic fiction story. Do you think it’s worth testing the waters here in Australia, or should we focus our attention on US publishers?



    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Trish — It sounds to me like your best chance of success is with a US focus. Also keep in mind that ‘testing the waters’ can take many different forms given the available online channels for reader feedback and audience building, so some of the publishing industry’s assumptions about readership and cultural difference can be a little quaint, in my view. Good luck with your project — Virginia

  24. Janet

    Hi Virginia…
    Your comments and those of others are echoing my own experiences… Sadly there was in last five years a spate of australian Literary agents soliciting payment to look at a new author… I researched and found that such tactics are reprehensible and not approved eg by the UK literary Agents. T that point I gave up searching for an Oz Agent. Mud sticks to their whole community sadly.
    I am about to submit to the Oz slush pile… Des
    pite UK publishers saying such things as ‘deeply imaginative’ ‘well written and highly interesting’…. And a small Oz publisher ‘really enjoyed the read’ but ….we don’t publish this type of work.
    So now I am contemporary laying submitting to the Three Publishing Houses you discussed.
    Having dual UK and OZ citizenship, it would have been great to be published in UK as my works span across both countries.
    Another point of interest… Agents and Publishers seem to be ‘left-brained’ when it comes to identifying new authore/Rawlings etc. Virginia Wolfe and her husband created their own publishing/press due to her inability to get accepted by a publisher…
    And… Presented by the ‘ perfect pitch’ and some blurb, plus some data on the likely purchasers of the book and the gripping or tantalising first chapters… Well it does result in the agent having much less to do… And I am wondering…. The agent has the marketing pitch and justification of ‘why this book ought to be published’ there -already done… For the most part…
    Some further comment regarding what the agent brings to the new author… Other than a fee… Would great….

    Your passion and integrity both in the original posting and in all your replies is outstanding. Thank you for presenting the data.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Janet,
      Thanks so much for these comments and I apologise for the delay in responding – I’ve had some major life changes happen in January and am only just resurfacing. Slowly. I would love to respond at length in a dedicated blog post, which I hope to do later this month. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate you sharing your experiences and questions, and will reply as soon as I can. Best wishes — Virginia

  25. Angela Cockburn

    Hi, Virginia

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    About four years ago I attended a panel discussion with a mix of American and Australian publishers about how to get published. The audience of eighty or so people mostly wanted to know technical things like which publishers wanted first chapters only, and which wanted three, and who liked double spacing . The panel told some funny stories about people who sent romance manuscripts to cook book publishers, and so on. Then a well known American publishers’ representative, whom I won’t name but who has a very oddly spelled and distinctive first name, stood up. She made it clear that she wanted initial enquiries by email, but deleted any that did not start:

    “Dear Ms Lastname” – this in an email ! She made it clear she was not interested in writers as people at all; nor did she seem particularly interested in books. She despised manuscripts that came with maps, (one of the other sessions, ironically, was on “The Importance of Maps”) and ridiculed writers who submitted – say – the Scrolls of Avalon as scrolls. (I don’t think it’s a good idea, but not worthy of unkind disrespect .) She then announced that e-publishing was a dead end that would never catch on, to sage agreement from all but one Australian on the panel.

    I left at that point, I have to say. Very unimpressed. So out of touch it wasn’t funny.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Angela,
      Thanks for sharing such a peculiar experience – it’s really not helpful to anyone for a publishing executive to be rude and disrespectful to aspiring authors. It’s already so difficult for anyone to get published, and I say that as an agent and as a published author myself.
      I hope your own writing is going well. –Virginia

  26. Bronwyn Rodden

    Thanks for all these comments, much appreciated. I’m still holding out a slim hope that a publisher might pick up my most recent manuscript. I haven’t tried the tiny handful of Australian agents for a couple of years now as I have had little interest from them in the past. One of my novels was selected top of the list for a Hachette/QWC manuscript retreat and it was hinted to me that it was one of three that would be published. However, after a week with Hachette on the retreat, neither mine, nor anyone else’s manuscript was published by them, despite a glowing letter from the editor I had worked with. How useful are these retreats? It cost me money to enter, travel to the retreat and I had to pay some of the accommodation costs as well, so I was very disappointed. After reediting the Ms I have now published it as an e book and it has had some very good reviews. I have paid for professional editing of my most recent work (begun in 1991, so yes this one has take some time to finish) and do hope a print publisher will be interested, but I’m feeling more and more like it will end up as another e-book. Also, how important is it to mention things like grants, prizes and residencies in your covering letter? Are they interested?

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Bronwyn, sorry I’ve taken so long to reply to your follow-up. I’m going to write a blog about the manuscript retreats as I’ve been getting a few questions about them. So I’ll leave my thoughts for that post. As for mentioning grants, prizes and residencies in a query letter, I think that you should definitely do that in a succinct way – an agent or publisher will register that information as they consider the rest of your query. It’s always useful to have third-party validation of your skills, which is what those things boil down to.
      By the way, I’d love to know more about the ‘professional editing’ you mention – what it entailed, what it cost (roughly), and how substantial it was. Thanks! –Virginia

  27. Simon Ten

    Dear Virginia,
    I hope you are the right person whom I’m looking for. As a Chinese who lived in the Communist dictatorship country for 39 years, I had a distressful life. Since I came to Australia in 1988, I’ve had a dream. It was to write a book to tell the world what happened behind the Bamboo Curtain. To a Chinese who knew little English, you can understand how hard my work was. Even though it seemed impossible, I didn’t give up. Writing with dictionaries, I spent more than eighteen years to finish the book (about 580,000 words). Now the problem faces me is how to publish it. I know it is extremely difficult to me. Anyway, this is my whole life dream. I’m ready to do it at all costs. I hope to get help from you.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Simon
      Thanks for contacting me. Unfortunately I can’t help you with this enormous task, but I recommend you create a website or self-publish the work, and engage a publicist to help promote your remarkable labour of love. Good luck — Virginia

  28. Richard

    Hi Virginia, I’m not sure if this discussion is still open but I thought, nonetheless, I would comment. Firstly, thank you for starting the conversation. Secondly, I am astounded (yep, astounded is the word) with the care and insight you have displayed in answering each post. I am, at present, reading as much comment as possible to determine the next step in my writer’s journey and have devoured all your comments and those of your readers. As an Aussie, it is a change to read advice from another Aussie. My writing dream has come following a long teaching career, a confinement due to illness, a two-year online writing course, the near completion of a series of three, illustrated, first-chapter ‘who-dunnit’ books for kids and hundreds of paper models – weird eh? My experience in all my creative endeavours is – “the destination may well be rewarding, but the journey takes the prize.” Having so said, I do believe that there are children, and parents who would enjoy my yarns and, as such, have found your blog a great find and am ‘pressing on’. Many thanks and you are now bookmarked in my favourites. Cheers.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Richard, thanks so much for your lovely comments. I’m thrilled to know my comment-responses are helpful. I will be starting a regular newsletter soon so look out for that on my website. Good luck with your writing. ~Virginia

  29. Olivia

    Hello Virginia,
    Thanks for the informative article. I wish I had read it before I had entered the three manuscript submission “lotteries” you mentioned above. Everytime I’m rejected I always feel low for ages and I find it very hard to shake off, so much so that i’ve stopped writing.
    I think i’ll look for a “real” job now. At least that will make money not waste it.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Olivia
      Thanks for your comment, though I am sorry you have stopped writing. Literary history is full of wonderful writers who worked regular jobs, often quite menial jobs, while they worked on their writing. Some of the world’s most successful authors still do a lot of teaching and other work to keep themselves afloat, so it’s extremely rare to be able to make a living from creative writing alone. Perhaps your manuscript just needs some time in the bottom drawer, or a manuscript assessment. But don’t give up. –Virginia

  30. Bronwyn Rodden

    Hi again Virginia, sorry, I’ve been overseas for a few months and am only just getting back to writing ‘business’. Thanks for your comments. Re the professional editing, I had structural and line editing feedback from [redacted] ($500) and then redrafted the novel. Then had a writing friend do another read through and re-drafted it once more. I’m not sure how many edits the work has been through now, but there have been several. I’m feeling tired now.

  31. Ian D. MacDonald

    Being an artist as well as a novelist, I see many parallels between getting your paintings accepted by galleries and getting your novel accepted by a publisher. For galleries and publishers it is all about commercial risk. They only want to spend money promoting “sure things” e.g. proven money makers. Thus the genius of the unknown, novice writer is unlikely to ever be seen by going the traditional route.

    With Amazon and Kindle making it easy and very inexpensive for authors to publish and promote their own books, there now exists a way for authors to directly connect and sell to readers. Just as art galleries are disappearing rapidly because artists are selling their paintings over the internet, you will find that traditional publishers are facing competition from direct selling authors. After all, a book is just a book and a good read is just a good read. There can be something pure and interesting about reading what an author has written without the questionable filter of a publisher’s editor. It throws the whole relevance of “best seller” lists into question. Perhaps readers will have to rely on their own judgment as to whether they liked or did not like a novel?

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Ian, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I’ve wondered about the parallels between the author/publisher and the artist/gallery, so it’s interesting to hear that direct-selling by artists is working for at least some. The same is true for some self-published authors. However it’s also true that I hear regularly from people who have self-published, only to wonder at the difficulty of attracting awareness, interest, and buyers for their book. The large trade publishers are often criticised for their selectivity but one part of the commercial risk they take on an author is the expense of marketing and promoting that author’s work. Even then their efforts are not necessarily successful! If there were a secret sauce to these activities then everyone in the industry would be smothering it on every book published. I completely agree that readers should rely on their own judgement. We do that when we shop for other things like food or clothing, after all. The only problem is that of discovery: how do you raise the consumer’s awareness in the first place of the book/food item/piece of clothing so that s/he can decide to buy it? Whether you’re a commercial publisher or a self-published author, the problem is the same. –Virginia

  32. David farkhondehpour

    Dear virginia,
    I have been writing children’s books for a year now and I have 5 ready to publish. I can write books fairly quickly and each book is written with rhymes and an adventure that ends with a life lesson, which I believe will help children in their development into adulthood. I would love to have someone give me their feedback before I enter the rat race of self publishing and or try my luck with one of the big 5 publishers. I read your article and it was quite helpful but at the same time I do feel anxious about sending 1 book and having it rejected over something I could have done before submitting. I also do not know the best way to protect my books before sending them. I have read you can send your book to yourself through the post office and keep it in a safe deposit box. Do you have any other suggestions?

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi David
      I recommend that you find a class or workshop devoted to children’s publishing – check your state or local writers’ centre or simply do some internet research – for the kind of feedback you need. You are right to hesitate before submitting your work, feedback is essential. As for protecting your books, I’m not sure what you mean. You would submit a manuscript electronically in most cases, and copyright remains the author’s. As always, check the submission requirements of the children’s publisher to whom you’re sending your work. And good luck! –Virginia

  33. Sallie

    My surprise is not that my book(s) are not picked up by a publisher, it is a real lottery but when I read or try to read the books that are…..I despair! So many should never escape the slush pile.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Sallie
      I know what you mean. It’s true that some books are published for reasons that remain a mystery! But it’s also true that there is a wide spectrum of books published because there’s a wide spectrum of readers out there in the market. I tell my clients to think of book publishing like a visit to the supermarket – you’ll see something on the shelves that makes you shudder and wonder, Who would eat that? And then you come to the checkout and the person in front of you has bought a trolley full of the very stuff. Which doesn’t much help those still trying to get published, but hopefully provides some perspective. Good luck with your writing –Virginia

  34. majaz mungeri

    to publish new authors writers books,fiction non-fiction etc . without any agent ,because new authors have facing so many problems created by the agents. They demand a huge amount for submission their manuscript to the commercial publishers.As most of the authors are belong to poor family background and they have no capacity to arrange required money from the agents.As the result, they were unable to submit their manuscript to the commercial as well as royalties publishers due to their impoverish background.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hello Majaz. If an agent is demanding any amount of money in order to submit your manuscript to publishers, then that is not a reputable agent. Best wishes with your writing — Virginia

  35. John D'Mille

    Thank you Virginia. That sums up my years of disappointments. My worst experience was with a US “self publisher” that offered the world until they needed ever more money for marketing. Another has bad mouthed me for not persisting in their crazy routine. Amazon is pleased to retain their spurious comment.
    Right now, I am doing my own publishing by printing and binding my own books. It will never pay the bills but I am at least, getting books in print.
    (That’s a new website with a new web host. It worked well with Blacknight.)

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Thanks John for your comment. I’m sorry to hear of your disappointments but am glad to think of you printing and binding your own books. The art of book binding is a precious one. –Virginia

  36. Trevor

    Just remember for every best seller there were at least a dozen
    publishers who either did not read it or rejected it because it
    did not fit their guidelines….

  37. Shamsa Khan Niazi

    Hi Virginia

    I have completed a children’s (fiction) book and wish to publish it. This is my very first book and I have stored it in a file on my computer.

    The story is about the life of a little boy aged four. I received the inspiration to write this book from my grandson. He is a little precocious boy and meets life with considerable enthusiasm. He deals with the challenges of life by spicing it with imagination and pretend games. The book pretty much reflects this outlook

    As it is my very first venture, I am not sure at all of its success or the quality expected in the print industry. The manuscript does NOT have any illustrations.

    Can you please offer me advice for contacts for illustrations, an agent, (would you consider being my agent)? Whether this book is publishable or a flop etc. Any other advice to publish this book inexpensively if it has merit would be appreciated.


    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Sam
      Thanks for visiting my website. Before you go down the path of publishing, I strongly suggest you first get some feedback on the work. You can do this by attending a children’s book writing course, a workshop or some online course about writing for children (I’m not being location-specific because it’s not clear where you’re writing from). It’s not an area I know much about and do not represent children’s authors. In my monthly newsletter I address aspects of the publishing process you refer to above such as manuscript assessments, how to approach a publisher, and finding experts such as illustrators. The sign-up form is on the homepage. Good luck with your project — Virginia

  38. dale mcinnes

    Hey Virginia … Yes. Always submit your manuscript for proofing and editing. I’ve just started to write. I think I’ve done quite well. Very versatile writer. Did not expect that. Perfect manuscript until I submitted it to a proofer. Missed 90% of very minor errors … but still. Now I submit for editing as well. Couldn’t beleive how much I learned from that. To the point … I submitted to RandomHouse in the U.S. They told me to submit it to their subsiduary in Australia. I did. They are the clearing house for manuscripts for RandomHouse in general. I get that. The Australian firm told me 3-9 month backlog had to be cleared first. I was told by published authors … more like 18 months. Crap. But I get it. Amazon seems to be more attractive day by day. It doesn’t bother me. Adapt or die.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Dale
      Thanks for your comment. Are you saying that Random House Australia is the clearing house for all unsolicited manuscripts Random House worldwide receives? I find that a bit hard to believe. But it would explain an 18-month backlog! In those circumstances, one can see how an agented manuscript can command priority attention over an unsolicited manuscript. ‘Amazon’, by which I understand you to mean self-publishing, is certainly attractive and even preferable under particular circumstances. You must make sure you have excellent editorial, design, publicity and marketing assistance in place to maximise your chances in an extremely competitive self-publishing marketplace. Good luck with your writing — Virginia

  39. Cayuqui Estage Noel

    I’ve reached the point of either selfpublishing or simply giving up and dedicating my time and energy to other pursuits. I’m stubborn, but there IS a limit. Your blog has arroused some shame on my part, and I’ll keep at it a bit longer. Living most of my life in Mexico has given me a different outlook on life and slues of fresh material. Also, time is more abundant here than up there in the hectics. The only problem is marketing from Mexico when there’s no chance of attending workshops or conferences in order to “trap” an agent. I’ve even thought of translanting into Spanish and publishing here, though the material is slanted to a US audience. Middle grade and YA is my territory. Thanks for all this useful information and for the moral support. I will continue to thrive on it.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Thanks so much for your comment, and I’m sorry it took me a few days to respond – I’m actually holidaying at the moment. I don’t think your Mexico location should inhibit you from efforts to make yourself known as a writer. The Internet has proven particularly effective for increasing reader awareness of an author’s work. And there’s no reason for you to keep delaying self-publication, if you really have reached the end of your tether in regard to a conventional publishing deal. However, you can attract an agent in ways other than attending a workshop or conference. Many Australian authors end up with an agent based in the UK or US without ever having met the agent in person. It’s about the quality of the work and finding the most appropriate agent for your work. Good luck with your writing life — Virginia

  40. Rolando Rizzo

    I have no idea how an agent would receive my work? I self-published through Create Space, Amazon, Kindle, onlinebooks.net.au and direct marketed through my seminars. Selling my business books, fantasy stories, Children’s adventures and romantic family dramas, I have turned over far more than $100,000 so quite pleased.
    Now I have a new book to publish and am wondering if I should find an agent to look at my work.
    Is it well written? Well edited? Or what would be considered professional? Or is my marketing what sells my work?
    I could not tell you. All I know is that under my differing writing names I have been very pleasantly surprised with the results of my efforts.
    How well do I know my subjects?
    Winner of business achiever awards, owner of several companies and running businesses, I enjoy writing, designing front covers and promoting.
    My question is: How do I get an agent to look and comment on my latest work? Or do I just go ahead and publish it myself?
    The idea is to reach out to bookshops and other countries, which I have yet to do.
    Would love a reply.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Rolando
      Thanks for your interesting comments and questions. Most authors would be thrilled with the results you have achieved via self-publishing, so congratulations on that. Your circumstances are unusual, and I would encourage you to contact me via the email address on my Contact page so that we can have a chat. Best wishes — Virginia

  41. Michael Hole

    Hi Virginia,

    This post looks old, but if you are still answering, I would love some advice. I am close to finishing my first novel of speculative fiction. I would really love to talk properly with an agent who understands this genre. I describe my novel as organic science fiction and am clear that it is a very unique book with no human characters. Can you point me in the right direction to someone who would be open to looking at book that sits outside of the box?
    I would really appreciate any advice.


    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Michael. You are right – this post needs updating! I’d be pleased to help you, and suspect I can. Email me at info at virginialloyd.com and we can take it from there. — Virginia

  42. Deirdre OLiver

    One of the things that people don’t realise is that one man’s meat etc – My first book was knocked back by Allen & Unwin with a full page explanation and assessment, with an invitation to see my next book. The same book was submitted to another mainstream publisher with no response. The 3rd publisher (US) accepted the book and wanted an option on the second completed novel. When it came back it was red with editorial comments. But they encouraged me by saying I was a good writer, but that they would make me a great writer. On the whole their advice was very helpful. Unfortunately shortly after beginning the editing process I suffered a severe head injury and was unable to honour my contract. It was 3 years before I could read a book again, much less write one. I could never write a long narrative again but did well with short stories and plays. My point is that I eventually submitted the same book, revisited, to other publishers and one took both books but went bankrupt in the 2008 recession! My last round of submissions went nowhere and I’ve abandoned the whole thing. It seems there is a) a season, and b) one lover for a book…if that doesn’t come off…
    PS I’m now writing and illustrating children’s books but have no idea if I’ll be in the right season, or find the right lover.

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Dear Deirdre – thank you so much for sharing such a heartbreaking story. You are quite right that getting published is often a matter of connecting the right book to the individual editor/publisher who will love it. Finding that person, however, can take a lot of time (and rejection) – and sometimes certain types of books/stories/prose do come in and go out of favour. I think it’s extraordinary you were able to write short fiction and plays after your injury. I wish you well with your health and of course your new creative projects. –Virginia

  43. Kenneth Allen

    Thanks for your thoughts. They are refreshing. Having been a writer, editor, journalist, award winning movie maker, screen writer and a nationally successful businessman for a long lifetime, I began writing two novels three years ago and self published them. Self publishing was an experience. I have completed my latest novel and it feels good. What next? I have no qualms about being a world famous novelist. but naturally would love to break into the traditional publishing world. However, my business interrupts me and it must be obeyed. It’s what feeds me and my extended family.
    I would appreciate any thoughts you may have and would be willing to converse with you. Your reply will be awaited with great expectations. Who knows where a new beginning will end?

    1. Virginia Lloyd

      Hi Kenneth – thank you for your comment. In this scenario I typically seek to know how much feedback a writer has sought (and how many drafts have been written). If the work needs independent feedback I will (naturally!) recommend the writer tries either my assessment of the first ten pages or my agent-readiness report, which looks at the first 50 pages as well as synopsis and draft agent query email. These assessments give writers a sense of the editorial expectations, and the commercial questions, that apply in traditional (trade) publishing.
      Generally speaking a fiction writer aspiring to a traditional book deal must be clear on the genre in which he or she writes, research comparable titles, and be clear on the ‘hook’ or point of difference of the project, before approaching an agent or publisher.
      I hope that’s helpful. Please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to know more.

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