I have been sent a few emails over the last few weeks from people wanting to know the answer to this question so I thought I’d put together a bit of a summary of the process I went through in the hopes this will help.
1. Make sure your book is the best you can make it at that time. So don’t send out your first draft. Probably don’t even send out your second draft. It needs to be a very polished piece of work, one you’ve wrestled over and fought with and fallen in and out of love with over a long period of time.
2. Try to approach agents first. Agents are very important gatekeepers to publishers. I recommend only approaching agents who are members of the Australian Literary Agents Association as they are reputable and adhere to a code of ethics, meaning they won’t do things such as charging you to read your work.
3. If you can’t get an agent, try approaching publishers directly. Do your homework first. Take a look at the publisher information in books that you like. Chances are, if you like a book they’ve published, your work might have a similar fit. Make a list of all the possible publishers you think might suit your book. Then check out their websites to see what their submission guidelines are. Follow the guidelines. It sounds simple but apparently some people don’t and you are decreasing your chances of being read if you don’t follow the guidelines. Then send off only the information they’ve asked for.
4. Work through the list one publisher/agent at a time. That way, if you get a rejection, instead of feeling upset about it, you have a plan. You simply cross off that name and move to the next one on the list and send everything off again.
5. If the publishers and agents ask you not to send multiple submissions to multiple publishers/agents at the same time then, frustrating as it might be to wait for a couple of months to hear back, you’re probably best to do what they’ve asked as there is nothing more embarrassing than being caught out having sent an MS off to 10 different places at once.
6. Agents and publishers may say on their websites that they are not accepting manuscripts at that time. But this doesn’t mean forever. Make it a rule to bookmark all the publisher and agent websites and check them every fortnight. Because they occasionally open up to submissions a couple of times a year. If you don’t check regularly, you won’t know when that time is.
7. No doesn’t always mean no. I sent my first novel, What is Left Over, After to agent Jenny Darling, She sent me a lovely hand-written note, with some very positive feedback about the book, but she said no. However, I remembered her feedback and when my second book, If I Should Lose You, was ready to be sent off, I sent it straight to her and she took me on as a client.
8. Build up a publications CV. Send short stories or essays or poems out to journals regularly. Check out Writers’ Centre newsletters as they are full of info about writing competitions and opportunities. Join the Australian Society of Authors as an affiliate member. You’ll find out a lot about the writing industry and they also have a newsletter which will give you info about writing opportunities.
9. Go to events with writers, such as writers’ festivals, talks by writers, workshops etc. Meet them, talk to them, ask them questions, learn from them – we’re humans and we love meeting people (especially if you buy our books!)
10. Never give up.
Good luck! Feel free to ask me any questions or if there are any other writers out there who think I’ve forgotten something, let me know what it is and I’ll add it to the list.