Varuna The Writers’ House

Varuna The Writers’ House is situated close to me, but I had never heard of it until today. I’ve spent some time today going through the awards, competitions and events and feel this website could be useful to me.

I have already put my name forward to be added to their mailing list. Unfortunately, they had the Sydney Writers’ Festival last weekend and the Sunday program was of interest to me, but I missed out which is a shame.

However, there is a short story program coming up that I’m thinking of submitting to. A selection of stories will be published in an anthology in 2011 in Scribe’s (not associated with me) New Australian Stories 2.0. I have to write a short story first!

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thing I have against these books is that they are 1) expensive (my last copy cost around $50), and 2) they are too soon outdated.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.

Russian Roulette or Author Guidelines

The last month has seen me increasingly busy over at Speculative Realm (which has now moved to its own website). The submissions are pouring in, which is great, but I’m seeing a pattern with the submissions which concerns me…yet also gives me (as a writer) hope.

I’m noticing that quite a few of the authors who have submitted have not read the guidelines. It’s frustrating for me and the other staff, as we are wasting time on stories that don’t even fit the theme. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it has to be rejected because it’s not what we are looking for. The guidelines are not that long and would take only a few minutes to read, yet the author can’t be bothered and submits anyway. No wonder so many rejections are being sent out (I’ve calculated it to be 95%).

Not all rejections have been for that reason, of course, but I’d have to say at least 50% of them have been and that’s way too many. Every website that offers writing tips will clearly state “read the guidelines”. This is important and I would have thought it was common sense to do so. Obviously, I’m wrong.

Honestly, to ignore the guidelines is like playing Russian roulette. You are taking a huge chance with your manuscript; not to mention the time you are wasting while the manuscript is tied up with a publisher that may not even want that type of story. Editors receive so many submissions that they can be ridiculously horrid in the way they sift through the pile. For example, they can think to themselves “I don’t like green, so all manuscripts bound in anything remotely green will be rejected instantly” or “all emailed submissions received on an odd numbered day will be rejected”. You should be doing all you can to improve your chances.

I have received submissions with no cover letter too – not even a “here’s my submission”. Two submissions have been blank emails with an attachment. I feel that’s not professional and actually thought about rejecting both on the spot…but didn’t. However, I really do feel that sending in a submission like this is not good enough and will reject future submissions for that reason alone.

As a writer I have visited many published authors’ websites and have been told over and over again, that if you want to stand out from the crowd then you must treat your submission like you would treat any business transaction. Being naïve, I assumed everyone did this already, so how would that make my submission stand out from the rest of the slush pile. Now I know that a high percentage of submissions are done unprofessionally and that my manuscript would shine next to them. That gives me hope.

If you write and you want to be published, then take this one piece of advice and remember it always. Read the submission guidelines and give the editor what they want. The editor might be fussy, but that doesn’t matter. Do what they want. They will see that you’ve taken the time to read their guidelines and that might convince them to take the time to read your manuscript.

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.

Set Out Your Manuscript Correctly

Thanks goes to Yzabel for sharing a link to Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Although the other posts are informative too, the post I’ve link to struck a cord.

Unlike Joe, I have never tried to work my way through 2000+ short stories trying to find “winners” (the mere thought makes me shudder), but I have judged 25 or so stories twice. The numbers do not compare, but it made me see that people do not follow simple instructions and are not professional in their submissions.

I did read the stories from first word to last, but some of them really got my blood boiling. One even made me want to turn violent and through something against the wall, it was so drawn out and boring.

It’s because of this that I can agree 100% with what Joe has said. Put in the same situation – remember, editors received hundreds of submissions a week – wouldn’t you find quick ways to get through the pile? I guarantee that you would.

No, it’s not entirely fair, because one of those stories might be a gem. That’s a shame, but the author of that story will hopefully learn the correct way to set out their manuscript. Being professional at all times is a must. Without it, you’ll never find your way off the dung heap.