What Australian publishers want

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

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

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

What publishers are looking for

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

What that means for you as a writer

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

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

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

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


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

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

This Post Has 109 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  8. Hi Virginia,

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

    Thanks for the above post.

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

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

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

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

    Glad to see the vampires losing their bite, but I think fantasy is still big/popular.

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

  10. Thanks so much for this! Any feedback on childrens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  14. I needed this blog! 🙂

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

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

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

    Thank you!!

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

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

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

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

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

  17. Virginia, thanks for this very heartening Blog. Cheers, Karen 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy and safe holidays to you and yours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  28. Hi Virginia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    warmest regards,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  39. Hi Virginia
    I’ve only just come across your website (Surprisingly, because I browse on related search strings often!). Thank you for the helpful information. I’ve bookmarked the site to come back to regularly.

    Given that so many unknown authors now find the challenge of securing an agent agreement or publishing deal overwhelming and resort to self-publishing, can you tell me your thoughts on the likelihood of a self-published work being taken up by a publisher, and your likely response to a submission of a work that has been self-published? Thanks.

    1. Hi Lorraine,
      Thanks for stopping by my website. In answer to your question:
      A publisher or agent’s level of interest in a work that is already self-published will depend on a few factors. Publishers will typically pay attention to a self-published work that sells a lot of copies (by which I mean around 8-10,000 for an Australian author) and which they have heard or read about anecdotally.
      Agents, particularly in the US, increasingly are helping self-publishing authors to navigate the necessary services (editorial, marketing, distribution) which traditional publishers provide. My own level of interest in a self-published work will depend on the quality of the writing, the commercial appeal of the subject matter, and the author’s expertise on the topic — which is pretty much what I pay attention to in queries that come my way from authors with an unpublished manuscript. –Virginia

  40. Hi Virginia,
    I have a screenplay with representation in LA. I’m a jazz singer based in Melbourne, and I wrote the book to help sell the movie because it’s MG/YA fantasy, not dystopian, and the movie rights are not up for negotiation. Is this a block to getting a publisher. We have everything in place to self publish, but I would like to work with a publisher but I can’t give them the rights to the film.

    1. Hi Connie,
      Thanks for your question. A book publisher typically doesn’t expect to hold on to dramatisation rights but will often include it in a draft contract with inexperienced/unrepresented authors. Also, book publishers can tell pretty quickly if a book has been written for the purpose of landing a film deal rather than for its own sake. So if the movie’s your focus then perhaps just self-publish the book; you can grant the rights to a tie-in edition of the book to a publisher down the track once you know when the film is being made/released. Another agent may feel differently, of course. Good luck! –Virginia

  41. As a young fiction writer, it is a tad intimidating to hear this from someone in the industry.
    Nonetheless, hearing it just fuels my determination to create an “outstanding” book.
    Someone’s got to sell fiction; may as well be me, right?

    1. Hi Billy,
      Thanks for your comment. My intention is not to intimidate but to provide relevant information to help writers like yourself have a realistic understanding of what it takes to get published. It has never been easy, but if you do create an outstanding book then I guarantee you’ll have publishers falling over themselves to publish it. Good luck with your novel. –Virginia

  42. G’day Virginia, I posted last week about my submission and have since had a rather cathartic epiphany. My book is a memoir about two subjects and times of my life, one of them funny one of them very sad. I have always been focused on the funny side of the book. I have pitched it to you as humor. The sad story that I tell is still very deeply depressing for me and even though it is the major hook of the story I have emotionally been unable to even want to think about it much. I am still going through the pain of it everday.
    But I am thinking now that this has to be the focus of my pitch. Is a heartfelt story or a funny story more sellable?
    The sad part of the story is very unique and there are very few books on the experience wriiten and it is quite a contrast to the funny story which is a basic fish out of water story, but they both intertwine well and complement each other.
    Your quick thoughts? How do you think I should I pitch it? (And you will have to delete my email query if you say the sad story)

    1. Hi Simon,
      Thanks for your comment/query and apologies for the delay in responding, I’ve had some time away from my desk for personal reasons. If you have two subjects that contrast so starkly, one funny and one sad, then you have a recipe for potentially a very powerful work of memoir. Readers respond to stories that temper the dark with the light; too much unrelenting pain and sadness is difficult for most readers to bear. So my gut instinct is to encourage you to work with both funny and sad material, weaving them together so that the reader’s experience of your story is seamless in its transitions between humor and pathos. I hope that helps — Virginia

  43. Hi Virginia
    Have just stumbled across your site and glad for doing so. I am a poet and short story writer though am just embarking on a more serious project of which your comments have encouraged me and I feel I am on the right track in terms of mixing it up a little and matching what you have said readers/publishers are looking for at the moment so thanks for that. You really do stumble around in the dark a lot. I would be interested in your thoughts for new comers in the use of online sites such as tumblr. I am unconvinced about the integrity of the written piece being maintained. Also yours thoughts on the demand or lack of for poetry. It seems to be dying a slow death. Cheers

    1. Hi Leonie,
      Thanks for your comment and sorry I’ve been slow to reply. Stumbling round in the dark seems to be a common experience of writing even for the most experienced writers, so you are in fine company there.
      As for your question about tumblr and other online platforms, I’d like to use it as the basis for a separate blog post if you don’t mind. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean about maintaining the integrity of the written piece – are you talking about a situation where an author uses material from a work in progress on a site such as tumblr? Or are you referring to the problem of an author’s time being whittled away through the use of such sites? It would be helpful to know this before I write the post.
      As for poetry, I can only say that the death of poetry, like the death of the novel, has been talked about for a very long time — and yet it is still with us, and still has the power to move many of us. The fact is that there are many forms of entertainment these days that simply drain the available time (and attention span) of readers of poetry. But I say that as someone who reads a fair bit of poetry online, utilising the excellent resources available through the Poetry Foundation and so forth.
      Keep going with your new project, and keep me posted. –Virginia

  44. Hi Virginia

    Lovely to read your reply. I have shared your site with many since finding it. I am a part of a writing group in the Central West of NSW and we are all hungry for information. If you are ever back in Aust. and feel like a road trip over the mountains please let me know, I could fill an auditorium with no trouble. The region is prolific with writers of all ages, stages and genres. Sadly getting workshops/guest speakers out this way is difficult.

    My comment about Tumblr (and online in general)was more in regard to maintaining the safety of your work and respect for who has written it. It would be too easy for plagiarism or even vandalism perhaps. I think for me personally it is not so much about it been shared or possibly tampered with but the anonymous nature of being just a name, be it true or not. It seems that lack ownership somehow would be at threat through the vulnerability of being exposed on such a large platform. That is though of course a positive in one sense. I know it is an ongoing debate, one which also encompasses the decline of words on paper as opposed to words sitting on an imaginary cloud. I guess I am just after a reassurance that these sites are safe and that if my work is copied or shared that it remains as I wrote it with my name attached. I guess ownership is a common emotion among writers especially those unpublished. Happy for you to use my comments as you wish.
    A final word for now. Poetry to me looses something if you cannot sit by the fire or under the tree and turn the pages.

    1. Hi again Leonie,
      Some workshops/talks in your region are not out of the question, as I am now back in Sydney for the immediate future. Perhaps we could pursue that via email. As for the risks to your creative work of online publication, that is unfortunately the flip side of its benefits. One way to cement ownership of your own work is simply to publish it on your own official website. If you are submitting essays or short stories for consideration to another website or publication, there seems to me to be minimal risk of someone else claiming authorship of your work. As always, do your research as to the reputation and credibility of anyone claiming to be a publisher (which pertains online as well as off) before sharing your work. — Virginia

  45. Howdy, Virginia. (A little Western touch there).

    I must say I’m astonished at your revelation (certainly a revelation to me) of what publishers want. Non fiction? Fiction almost impossible to sell? Good lord, fiction has been the mainstay of publishers since Petronius wrote The Satyricon. What’s happened? Is this what’s known as an overnight revolution, or have I simply not been paying attention (the latter no doubt)? And if we must write fiction, apparently it needs to be hard-edged women’s fiction. Really? Don’t men read anymore? Not that I ever read him, but whatever happened to the Wilbur Smith’s of the world? Isn’t there a market for general adventure, war experiences, anything at all with a trace of testosterone? I’d certainly noticed that most of the writers appeared to be women, but I hadn’t realized all the readers were as well.
    Sorry if I sound sexist (well, no, I’m not really), but in a world where there’s considerable concern about illiteracy among boys this doesn’t seem like a totally positive trend. For a male writer with no interesting in adding to the world’s store of hard-edged women’s fiction, it’s without doubt not a welcome one. But whatever one’s personal preferences, in a world split 50/50 down the gender line, a little more balance would seem to be desirable.
    Or am I doing a John the Baptist and crying in the wilderness here?

    1. Hi Paul,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sorry to be slow to respond. This blog post, now a couple of years old, reports what I learned from a series of conversations with publishers looking to acquire books for the Australian market. You are quite right that readers love fiction, and there’s no shortage of sales for many American and UK authors of thrillers and mysteries. Australian publishers are quite desperate to find the next Bryce Courtenay, for example, but in the meantime they focus on finding manuscripts which they feel confident will sell. –Virginia

  46. Hi Virginia. I have found your website so helpful. It is a very daunting to realise how difficult and time consuming, it is to become a published author. On the other hand, a healthy dose of reality is important. It just makes me want to try harder. Usually, anyway!
    I don’t know if you can help me with my query. Part of my non fiction book involves a court room setting, and I have quoted from the Transcript of Evidence. I estimate I have used about 5% of the Transcript. Am I legally allowed to do this?
    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Bobby, thanks for your comment and apologies I’m late to respond. I’m afraid I don’t know about court transcripts but it should be easy for you to check with the entity that provided you with the transcript. Good luck with your project –Virginia

  47. Hi Virginia,

    Great to read the low-down from a gritty agent not afraid to speak her mind – it is encouraging.

    Publishers in the last two years have said they were down in the doldrums and flooded with work. Only a tiny amount of agents have their books open across Australia as they depend on their current list of authors and not new ones.

    I have story to tell. I am a former Journalist of more than 20 years. I am passionate. My fight with the NSW Government helped change the NSW prison system with 23 human rights changes across the State that will cost millions of dollars to implement.

    I will formally be in touch with you shortly via your submission criteria.

    Again, thank you for alerting writers and others of the current situation in the Australian publishing world.

    Christopher J. Holcroft

    1. Hi Christopher and thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing from you. –Virginia

  48. Hi Virginia great read, just a question I’ll throw at you, is there a market for
    Non fiction where my characters are based on 4 different emotions, each emotion has a separate identity which has allowed the narrative to survive life’s learnt lessons.
    Thank you – Regards Karen.

    1. Hi Karen, thanks for your question. I must admit I don’t quite follow what you mean, however. I’m not sure how a narrative can survive life lessons – do you mean a narrator? – nor how a reader could connect with a character based on an abstract emotion. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, readers respond to story and change. I hope that’s helpful and I wish you well with your project. –Virginia

  49. Thank you Virginia, that was a very informative post. I stumbled upon your blog, and found your thoughtful and warm responses to the commenters impressive. I am researching agents and publishers in the self-help/teen psychology area, and was sad to read your submission guidelines and find this is not your area! I am an American psychotherapist living in New Zealand, and use creative journaling, finding it helpful for teens from all cultures and backgrounds. I believe this need even more relevant with the continued demands of social media. I’ve designed a journal for teens/kids to use and individualize themselves. Perhaps you might have a suggestion regarding which direction I might pursue. I get lost between countries sometimes! Thank you again for a very useful blog and website.
    Tisha Carter

    1. Hi Tisha, and thanks for your lovely message. I suspect, due to scale, that you would be most likely to find a publisher in the US. You need to demonstrate to a publisher that a need exists for your book (journal) and that it is different from what is already out there in the market, so you must have a solid grasp on what has already been published. It sounds like you’re already doing research along those lines, and I do wish you well. –Virginia

  50. Rather than depressed by your comments about what Australian publishing houses want, you have cheered me immensely Virginia! I’m published in HK (vintage intrigue/crime) with book number three in a quartet being launched there next March. In vain I have tried to find an Australian publishing house/literary agent who may be interested in partnering with my HK publisher in order that my books can be distributed in Australia. While it is frustrating to know that I will never have a writing presence here, perhaps I should be content with my slightly unusual status of being one of a very few female crime writers who focus on Asia. I will cease this slavish addiction to what has been a fruitless search immediately. Only discovered your site this morning and love it. Jan P

    1. Hi Jan, thanks so much for stopping by my little website. I would encourage you to banish ‘never’ from your vocabulary when it comes to distribution, as you never know what’s going to happen. Keep doing what you’re obviously doing well, and I suspect that eventually the books will find their way back to Australian readers. Best wishes — Virginia

  51. If I have a manuscript of my book that fits your criteria, where do I send it to get considered to be taken on for publication? I was going to self-publish, and you are right that I do think it should be pretty right to go in its current format and I do not want to do loads more work on it (in that way I am your typical author) but the feedback I’ve had so far is that it is very enjoyable and very readable. It’s not fiction, it is set in Sydney and the content is very current.

    1. Hi Donna,
      Sorry to be slow in responding to your question. What you describe above is the work of literary agents, who assess manuscripts to see if they feel they could sell it to a publisher. Alternatively you can approach publishers directly, having done your research into which publishes publish books similar to the one you have written. But it’s often a long and difficult path, and I regularly find that many authors simply can’t wait and go ahead with self-publishing.
      Good luck with your writing — Virginia

  52. Hi Virginia, I recently discovered your very informative website (Love it!), and was interested in submitting my Contemporary Women’s Fiction MS to you, but I’ve just read on your submission page – “As of December 2015 I am no longer accepting manuscript queries from unpublished authors.”
    Looks like I’ve missed the boat by about 8 days.
    As it’s my first Novel, I’ve been developing it for quite some time now. I’ve done a number of writing courses with AWC and I had a professional assessment done over a year ago, which was really helpful and it’s now reached draft number Seven. I’m not in such a hurry that I’ll go the self-published or slush pile routes in the next twelve months as I’d rather put out the best quality work I can do. I’m also working on the first draft of another Novel that ties in with the first, so I’m happy to wait until both are ready before I consider self-publishing, although traditional would be my preference. I’ve also been working on building an online platform, (Which publishers all seem to want you to have established – published or not).
    My work also fits your second bullet point in the ‘What Publishers want” section of this article (They want intelligent commercial fiction for women that has a darker edge to it. What does that mean? Great story-telling that takes on social issues without moralising or speechifying, which doesn’t necessarily tie up every strand of plot in a pretty bow, and which may or may not include an element of suspense.)
    I’ve submitted to two Australian Agents in the past eight months and only have tumbleweeds in my inbox. Not even an email saying they’ll pass. I also submitted to a competition for unpublished authors where the organisers raved about how they were passionate about helping unpublished Australian writers, before quickly adding that if you don’t make the shortlist, don’t ask for feedback, as you will not receive it. (900+ entries and a shortlist of less than 10, my work didn’t make it). I can understand not making the shortlist, but to not provide ANY feedback to those who don’t make the shortlist (surely those who need it most) I found frustrating. I have had around ten people read my Novel now and all of them love it, and although their feedback was extremely helpful in developing my MS, none of them are in the publishing industry.
    I admit that since submitting to the agents who never replied, I have completed a course titled: Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers, which I learned A LOT from.
    What I’m wondering before I submit again is- Is there anything I’m missing? I’m aware that a one chance policy applies and I really don’t want to lose all my chances. I’m also wondering if there might be someone to whom you will be passing the submissions torch?
    Thank you again for your website. It’s great reading!

    1. Hi Kirsty, and thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy comment. Unfortunately I don’t represent fiction any more, so while my books are closed to submissions at the moment, they would open again for works of nonfiction only. It’s disappointing that you’ve had no luck so far with agents, but in Australia there are other ways to get publishers’ attention. There are several awards, prizes and opportunities for unpublished manuscripts; join your state’s writers centre for regular news of this kind. In terms of feedback, it would be impossible to pay any judge enough money to make reading notes on every work assessed for a competition. It’s just not economically viable. So it’s best not to expect getting feedback from competitions, and to look for it elsewhere. Taking the course was a good idea and I suggest you take more of them, because the good ones are full of useful information and they are run by people who have some level of involvement in the publishing industry. You can’t rely on feedback from friends, it’s just not the kind of feedback that will help you get published. Best of luck and keep persevering. –Virginia

  53. I recently self-published a women’s fiction novel that I’d certainly class as ”intelligent commercial fiction for women that has a darker edge to it”. It has had minimal exposure, though I entered it in an international novel contest in which it won 5th place. I am wondering if having self-published completely eliminates any hope of finding a traditional publisher. Is it worth trying to find an agent/publisher at this point. I’m happy to withdraw it from sale now if it’s likely to be considered by anyone reputable, but I didn’t want it to languish in my bottom drawer forever and a day.

    1. Hi Lorraine,
      Thanks for visiting my website and leaving this question. Self-publishing your work does not eliminate the hope of a traditional publisher altogether, but in my experience it is only those self-published novels that have sold tens of thousands of copies which are likely to be picked up for a traditional book deal. Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly is a good example of this, as is of course 50 Shades of Grey author E. L. James. An increasing number of self-published writers with smaller but enthusiastic audiences are attracting more readers and seeing income directly in their pocket from their efforts, though the work of self-promotion and marketing is constant. –Virginia

  54. You have been very helpful and have inspired me to write.Thank you.

    1. Dear Melissa,
      Well that’s a wonderful comment! I do hope you’re not a spambot. Best wishes with your writing — Virginia

  55. Hi Virginia, I have writen a manuscript in the non-fiction/memoir genre re:domestic violence, a subject very much in the public consciousness at present. My story is as much a discussion of the crucial warning signs that one may be in a relationship with an abuser, as a desciption of actual abusive events that I experienced over 17 years. From what you have siad on this page, it seems to me that my story fits the bill, however I am sending an unsoliticited submission and possibly sending it to the wrong traditional publishers as my rejections are framed in words such as ‘while we do not deal with such subjects you should continue to look for a more suitable publisher’ etc. Maybe this is a standard response but I keep trying submissions as I feel that my story is valid and useful to others in abusive circumstances. I don’t know what direction I should take from here nor what costs are involved in employing a literary agent. Any suggestions as to my next move would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Debbie,
      Thanks for your comment and for reading this post. Let me say straight up that you should never pay a literary agent to do the work of representing you to publishers. My gut feeling, without knowing anything more than what you’ve told me, is that perhaps the way you have presented your material is not resonating with publishers. Books about tough subjects such as grief, terminal illness, and abuse are extremely difficult to sell in the sort of quantities publishers want them to, which is why they can afford to be very picky.
      These days of course you have many other options, and you might be better off getting some advice before submitting your work elsewhere. Please refer to my menu page ‘How I can help’ for services I offer aspiring authors.
      Good luck with your project — Virginia

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