Australian Writers Marketplace Online

All serious writers will eventually purchase a copy of their country’s writers marketplace. Most countries have them, as far as I’m aware, but they might have slightly different names.

Over the years, I’ve purchase a couple of these reference books. The first time I hardly used the book as I was over eager and purchased it too quickly. However, the fact that I had a copy sitting on the desk beside my computer often inspired me…and you can’t put a price on that. The second version I bought got a lot of use. There’s still post-it notes sticking out of it and pencil notations throughout the publisher section.

The only thing I have against these books is that they are 1) expensive (my last copy cost around $50), and 2) they are too soon outdated. I hate wasting money, but sometimes a writer really needs the information only found in these books.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the Australian Writers Marketplace Online website. Don’t be fooled, there’s no saving to be had here, but at least you’ll have access to up-to-date information.

It’s an option to remember for the future. 🙂

Looking for an Agent

For a long time, I have attempted to get published without the aid of an agent. Why? I’ve always had mixed feeling about them and preferred to go it alone.

The positives: They know the industry and the agents presumably know them, so that will get my manuscript(s) on more desks. They know what is normal and what is not in publishing contracts, so presumably they will get me the highest royalty payment obtainable. Having an agent would be like having a secretary, which presumably means that queries and full submissions are always on the go, instead of when I have time to fit them in.

The negatives: The agent doesn’t do any of this for love, so a portion of my royalty payment (in the region of 15%) will be kept by the agent. The agent will also require a contract, but can I be sure I’m not being diddled in some way. I’ve heard horror story where agents sit on a manuscript for the term of the contract, without doing a thing!

And there are probably more that can be added to both of the above.

Being an unpublished writer, I figure I don’t have a lot of choices. I know from experience that publishing companies are squeezing out unsolicited manuscripts and using agents to cull them instead. There are very few companies that are interested in looking at unsolicited material from unknown writers of children’s works, and even less for adult fiction.

I could self-publish, but I don’t want to. Not this early in the game. I might be vain, but I honestly want to experience the joy of receiving an acceptance letter (or phone call) from a third party. I guess that means I want confirmation that my writing is of an acceptable quality.

I would like to say that I put a lot of thought into this, but I didn’t. I believe that my opinions about getting an agent has been slowly changing as the months progress and I knew that, at some stage, I’d have to bite the bullet and do it. Yesterday is the day I stepped over the line and today I announce that I’ve sent a query email to an agent regarding Cat’s Eyes.

I feel more nervous about this query (which isn’t even a submission) than previous ones. I can only imagine that it’s because of uncertainties of my own feelings. None the less, the query is gone and I intend to follow through with other queries if this one is unsuccessful.

Edited on 28 May 2009:

The company is Curtis Brown (Australia) Pty Ltd and I received a lovely reply email asking me to submit the first three chapters, which means I’m over the first hurdle and approaching the second.

The submission was posted yesterday afternoon.

Edited (again) on 19 June 2009:

Read about the rejection here.

Piers Anthony’s Internet Publishing

Piers Anthony’s Internet Publishing has a long, long list of publishers and services. He covers all genres and all types of publishing. I think this is a good resource for anyone interested in having something published. Piers Anthony has included his own thoughts on the publisher where appropriate, and has tried to include all useful information that he was able to find out for himself. Also included are warnings on scam publishers, so don’t just click on the link and submit, read what he has to say first. You might save yourself some heartache.

I intend to work through the list myself and hand pick the publishers that may be of interest to me for my children’s chapter books … and for the anthology stories I’m trying to find a publisher for.

If I was an editor…

We hear horror stories about the slush pile all the time.

1. The great stories that have slipped through the fingers of an editor because they didn’t read it.

2. The dozens, more often hundreds, of rejection letters received by serious writers before they are accepted (if they are).

3. The gut feeling that the submission wasn’t even glanced at before it was returned to the author with a form letter saying “not interested”.

And there are many other things I could add to the list.

As writers, we repeatedly talk about the importance of having a great title, the perfect first sentence, correct formatting, acceptable grammar, writing styles and many other tips on getting our manuscripts noticed.

I want you to take off your writer’s hat and replace it, for a few moments, with an editor’s hat instead. This exercise is to help you see what it might be like to be faced with the following scenario every week.

Imagine yourself sitting at a big, wooden desk. Piles of manuscripts line the floor, the benches, the bookcases, and your desk. All these manuscripts are from writers who want their work to stand out from the rest.

You’ve been doing this job for many months, probably many years. And you generally only select three to five manuscripts for publication each year. Today, you have 100 manuscripts in your office.

How will you tackle the job of working your way through the “slush pile”?

Will you read every, single word of every, single manuscript and then make the all important decision?

Will you read the first three chapters of every, single manuscript?

Will you read each manuscript until it bores you, then reject it?

Will you read the first page and see if the writing style and story catches your attention? Rejecting the ones that don’t.

Will you first sort the manuscripts into two piles? One pile representing the poorly formatted manuscripts, which you’ll reject instantly, and the other pile being the manuscripts that have followed your guidelines and look professional, you’ll attempt to read these later.

Will you reject all of them, because you just don’t have time this week, and there will be another pile to go through next week?

Now, start your comment with “If I was an editor…” and tell me how you would handle the slush pile.

First Rights

This is a promise the manuscript has not previously been published anywhere, through any media. Often this might read First Australian Rights, or First UK Rights and so on, which means that the work has not been published within the specified country or area before. Once you have sold a manuscript’s first rights in one location it is possible to go on and sell them to other areas, but not in the same area again.

Manuscript Format

Benjamin Solah brought this website to my attention. It’s called William Shunn : Manuscript Format : Short Story and is naturally telling us how to format our manuscripts.

I’ve read through the page and agree totally with what he says. Do yourself a favour, if you want to be a professional, learn to set out your manuscript correctly from the beginning. This site will tell you how, and show you how, so you have no excuses. To do anything different to what is said, is only tossing chances away.

Writing a Good Query Letter

Following a recent rejection I received on behalf of the 2004 Anthology stories, it’s time to hit the query stage again. However, I want to revise the query letter I was using so I’ve been looking around for some hints on letter writing.

Most of the following is common sense, but I’m going to make a small list as a reminder to anyone who has to write a query letter:

1. Be professional. If you look like an amateur you’ll find your manuscript in the slush pile.

2. If you email a query, it doesn’t mean you can be any less professional. If you are then you are wasting your time because you will be rejected.

3. A query letter should be no longer than one page. Get to the point quickly and clearly. Never waffle on.

4. This is your only chance to make an impression, don’t blow it. Proofread your letter until you know it’s 100% correct.

5. Always ensure you include your address, phone number and email address because if you don’t, how are they going to contact you? Sounds stupid really, but from what I’ve read some people forget these essential things and then wonder why they never get a reply. You should include these things when doing email queries too because some publishers will not reply in the form of an email, they only send out letters.

6. Never beg or try to make deals in your letter, and never ask for comments. You’ll be rejected faster than you can ever imagine.

7. Never use coloured paper or fancy scripts. This is a sign of an amateur.

8. Always address the letter to the right person – use their name but make sure you spell it right. One thing that gets up people’s noses is seeing their name spelt wrong.

9. Know your market. Don’t send a fantasy story to a publisher who’s only interested in horror. You’re wasting everyone’s time and making yourself look foolish.

10. Make your letter stand out from the rest. Publishers and agents receive thousands of letters a year, so you have to show them that you’ve got spark…writing ability…professionalism.

Oh, did you catch on by now that you must be professional at all times? Those who are not, will remain in the slush pile.

Chatting with an Agent

I won’t go into details about how this came about but yesterday I chatted with an agent about writing, what is expected in the industry and what an unpublished author should be aware of.

The agent was Brian Cook, a well known figure in the Australian publishing world.

Word count has always been an issue for me and I wanted to “know” what was really expected in the industry. He said that a lot of people say a story takes as many pages as a story takes, but if you’re an unpublished author then this is not really the case. For unpublished authors the rules change, and economics come into affect instead. Publishers won’t invest a lot of money into an unknown so an unpublished author should tell their story in 80,000 to 100,000 words. 80,000 to 90,000 for young adult (age 12 to 15) manuscripts and 80,000 to 100,000 for adult (age 16 and over) manuscripts. He said for each 1,000 words you go over the 100,000 words you lessen your chances of getting published. The publisher might stretch to 120,000 words but your story “better be bloody good”.

The ages for young adult and adult was a surprise to me. I told him that I was aiming for 16 and 17 year olds and had been saying that was the young adult market. He told me I was wrong and that I was an adult writer if I wrote for that age. This was a shock.

Also, at this stage I must mention that word count is NOT based on what Word or OpenOffice tells you you’ve written. It is based on the proper way to work out word count. See this previous post for how this is done.

Anyway, once you’ve been published the rules change and you have a higher limit to play with – especially in the fantasy and SF genres.

He went on to say that every single word must have punch, must have a reason. If there isn’t a reason, delete it.

I asked him how an unpublished author should handle trilogies in their proposal. He said that it’s unlikely that the publisher would contract all three books up front. Most of the time they contract the first two books with the third book as an option. Sometimes they will only contract the first book and wait and see how things go.

However, the publisher doesn’t want to risk investing in a new author unless they know there are more books in the planning stages. I told him that in my trilogy all three books are stand alone, although there is a thread that will link them. I asked if I should mention this when submitting my manuscript.

He said that I definitely should because it shows that I have plans for future writing but it means the publisher doesn’t have to contract more than one book, which will go in my favour. Any trilogy where the reader has to read all three books to reach a satisfactory conclusion will be difficult to place (unless you are already published).

Then we went on to talk about our CV and what should be included on there. He said anything that shows you are an active writer should be noted (even if you haven’t been paid). However, he said to be careful about which internet publications you note down. Naturally, high profile ezines should be mentioned but if you only submit to a shabby ezine that has no credability then don’t mention it (this is commen sense, of course).

Actually, most of what was said is common sense, and all is subject to an exception if you have a fabulously great manuscript, but none of us know if we fall into that category (we’d like to believe we do, but do we really).

If you are unpublished, and you’re writing an epic, maybe you should think about starting another story which is shorter and can be your first novel. Get a name for yourself before you try to sell something that the publishers won’t want – not because you can’t write, but because they don’t want to take a chance on you.

This was my chat with an agent. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.