HOW TO GET PUBLISHED – THE BASICS (UPDATED 2020)
(Estimated reading time, 2 glasses of wine)
So you’ve written a book or want to write a book and have no frigging idea of what to do next. Well hopefully over the next couple of glasses of wine I’ll help fill in some gaps and give you the motivation and knowledge to share your work with the world.
Disclaimer: This information is based on my own experience of getting published along with reading countless blog posts, websites and books and by talking to other authors, publishers and agents. So I’ve done a lot of the boring research for you. However, this is no way a definitive guide but it can demystify the publishing process and get you started.
I went from having no idea about publishing, to traditionally publishing 9 books, winning a major book award and becoming an in demand speaker on mental health at primary schools and writers festivals, all because I was brave enough to submit a manuscript. The same can happen for you.
Now pour a glass of wine and read on.
Show me the money!
Publishing is a business designed to make money. Agents and publishers don’t just publish books to make people feel good, they want to know if your book will sell and make money. It’s that simple. Always keep that in the back of your mind when going through this process.
How traditional publishing works – a thumbnail sketch
A publishing house will work with you to help get your book finished, printed and into bookshops (both online and bricks and mortar).
The publisher will create a ‘sales’ pitch for your book and use a distribution company to warehouse and promote and sell the book to bookshops, retail outlets, libraries, schools etc.
Author ——- publisher ——– distributor —— bookshop
Author ——- agent —— publisher ——- distributor ——– bookshop
A bookshop will buy a certain number of copies and if after a set number of months, there are any copies left, they can send the books back to the publisher and get a refund. Some distributors will charge a ‘return postage fee’ which may affect how many books the bookshop will initially order.
The publisher will also:
- Pay and arrange for everything, including manuscript review and advice, editing, spellchecking, cover design, typesetting, distribution, promotion and publicity. (This is good if you’re a tight arse like me)
- The publisher / agent will help you build an author platform that runs complementary to promotion and publicity from the publisher.
- You get paid a royalty (percentage) of each book sale. Usually 10%, paid twice yearly.
- You also get other royalties such as ebooks, overseas rights and subsidiary rights ie audio books, film rights etc.
- The publisher will offer you a contract on their terms and if you don’t have very good negotiating skills and you don’t know what you’re doing you could get diddled. Check out the Australia Society of Authors for more information about author contracts.
Do I need a Literary Agent?
Having a literary agent is like having your own manager. They champion you and your books to publishers and have your best interests in mind.
They make their money by taking a percentage of your royalties (around 15%), yet they can usually help negotiate a better percentage with a publisher than what you could have done yourself, so it all balances out.
If more than one publisher is interested in your book, your agents puts it up for auction, meaning you get the best deal, even a crazy arse deal!
Plus an agent will help you build your author brand and career.
All the top authors have a literary agent, however, unfortunately they are very reluctant to take on unpublished authors or unsolicited manuscripts. There are also only a handful of Literary Agents in Australia which makes it almost impossible to get one if you’re not known or even moderately known.
So you have to decide if you either want to start with a Literary Agent or go straight to a publisher.
NOTE: If you go to the publishers first and they reject you, you can’t go and pitch to an agent, because if the publishers reject your work, then an agent won’t able to ‘sell’ it to the publishers if they’ve already rejected it. It’s complicated. Top up your wine.
Check out Virginia Lloyd for how to pitch to an agent.
What about Self Publishing / print on demand?
With this model, you have to arrange everything (editing, cover design, printing, ISBN etc), however you get to keep most of the cash!
You could either pay thousands to get your books printed and fill up your garage or do POD (Print on Demand) via Amazon etc. Unfortunately it’s much harder to get your books into bricks and mortar retailers and it’s pretty soul destroying walking into a bookshop with your book baby only to be told ‘No, sorry we don’t accept self published books’ and ushered out quickly.
If your book is only text, you may want to look at doing an ebook and uploading straight to Amazon and other ebook sites.
There are some incredible success stories of authors publishing straight to Amazon and then being offered a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. AG Riddle is a perfect example.
Check out the videos on Youtube videos that take you through the process of publishing to Amazon.
However with this model, you have to do all the publicity and promotion yourself which is time consuming and may cause you to consume lots of wine. There are some great books out there on self promotion such as Emma Noble’s book, The DIY PR guide.
Legitimate Assisted Self Publishing Companies
There are some good companies out there who will ‘coach’ or guide you through getting your book published. They are upfront about costs and will offer different package options for different levels of service.
I recommend the below two companies as I know people who have had positive experiences with them.
Vanity Publishers look and feel like a traditional publisher, yet they expect you to pay some (if not all) of the costs.
They may not have a relationship with a distributor, so it’s harder to get your book into bookshops, if at all. I know of a few people that have been burnt or have been left disappointed by going down this path. Some people have been completely ripped off, with their ‘publisher’ skipping town, running off with all their cash and not a book to be seen.
Look out for words like ‘Hybrid Publisher ‘, ‘assisted publishing’ and the like. It can be a minefield and some vanity publishers may be genuine and give your manuscript the attention and criticism that any self respecting traditional publisher would give, but most don’t. They just want your money and will often accept any manuscript no natter how good or bad.
This is an example of how sneaky vanity publishers can be. This was buried deep on the ‘About us’ page on Austin Macauley’s website and not mentioned anywhere on the submission page. (I haven’t linked them for obvious reasons)
From the very beginning we have worked with the ‘hybrid’ model of publishing contracts, which has become increasingly popular in recent years. This means that while we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal, we also have the option of offering a partnership agreement instead, where the author may be asked to cover part of the cost of publishing the book.
Don’t confuse hybrid publishers with hybrid authors. Hybrid authors use a combination of traditional and self publishing. Research the topic well. It may involve more wine, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Know your book
It’s important to know where your book fits into the scheme of things. Is it fiction or non fiction? What genre does it fit into? What other books are out there like yours? Visit book shops to see what’s already on the shelves. (Any excuse to go to a book shop is a good one!) Also do a Google search for similar genres and categories.
It’s about learning how to describe your book in a quick and easy fashion, similar to an elevator pitch. Imagine you’re at a party and you’re meeting someone for the first time and they ask you what your book is about. You only have 30 seconds to describe it! What do you say?
Submitting a manuscript – what you need
If you want to go down the Traditional Publishing route, it’s best to Google the publishers in Australia who publish your genre. Read their submission guidelines and stick to them! I can’t stress this enough. READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES AND DO AS THEY SAY! Otherwise they will throw your manuscript in the bin before it’s even read. It’s tough love I know.
The guidelines usually involve (but not always) 4 things:
1. An introductory letter. This is very brief, less than one page and you have to sell your book, and yourself, in only a couple of paragraphs. Google how to write a killer intro letter.
2. The Book Pitch. This is the most important aspect of the whole process. You may have a sensational manuscript, but if the pitch is boring as cold porridge, then it’s not going to do you any favours. Google about how to write a book pitch or just email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you what I’ve done for non fiction so you can see what one looks like. A book pitch usually includes: genre, synopsis, target audience, word count, similar titles to yours, why your book is different and your writing experience.
3. An Author Bio. Again Google the best way to write an author bio. These are the hardest to write as they have to be in 3rd person (Josh is a prolific writer having published 9 books and drinks too much wine etc) and you have to talk yourself up (which most people find hard to do). Once you’ve written several versions, run them past your partner or a friend and get their thoughts. You’ll usually need write 3 different versions: short (one paragraph), medium (3 paragraphs) and long (up to a page).
4. Sample chapters: Again depending on the submission guidelines, usually you’re requested to send the first 3 chapters so they can get an idea of whether the book is remotely interesting, if it’ll be would profitable, and it gives them an idea of your writing style. If they’re interested they’ll request the rest of the manuscript to read and consider. It’s important that this is your best work! Check it for spelling and grammar and make sure there are no typos.
Once you have done all that, you’ll have a ‘submission pack’ ready to go and all you’ll need to do is alter it as per each agent / publisher’s submission guidelines – cut and paste!
Also set up a spreadsheet so you can track which agents / publishers you are submitting to with dates, submission criteria, contact details etc. Often it can get confusing and you might end up accidently submitting to the same publisher twice and you’ll look like a doofus.
Once you have to your ‘submission pack’ ready to go, then start hitting up the publishers and go to their submissions page.
Often the big ones like Harper Collins, Random house etc, don’t take unsolicited manuscripts (meaning you can’t send to them direct) as they only accept submissions from agents or their submissions window maybe closed and may not reopen until 2028 by which time you could be dead.
Yes I know; if agents don’t take unsolicited manuscripts and neither do the big publishers, how the hell are you going to get your foot in the door?
Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
Walker Books (Childrens books) has Walker Wednesday
And many smaller cool indie publishers are quite happy to take unsolicited manuscripts, like Big Sky Publishing, Echo Publishing, Pantera Press, Text Publishing, Fremantle Press and many more. Google Publishers in Australia and work out which ones publish your genre of book.
Also follow their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages etc and start to engage with them by liking and commenting on their posts and tweets. However don’t be an annoying twat.
I found my publisher by responding to a post they had made on Facebook where I asked who the person was to send a submission to. I got a name and an address, Bingo.
You pitch the same way as you do to an agent as you do a publisher. However triple check the submission guidelines.
Don’t pitch to more than 4 or 5 publishers at a time as it’s considered rude if you make a submissions editor get excited about your work only then to tell them that another publisher has already offered you a contract.
And with Agents only do one or two at a time. Wait for the rejection / acceptance and then hit up another one. Most agents take between 4 and 12 weeks to consider your submission. Yes that makes it a very lengthy and bloody boring process and you could most probably get married and have 2 kids by the time one finally accepts you.
For a full list of Literary Agents in Australia check out https://austlitagentsassoc.com/
The author platform
Ok, pour another glass of wine.
I’ll only briefly touch on this one as it could make another blog post altogether. It’s not enough to rely on your publisher to promote you unless you’re JK Rowling, Stephen King or Jimmy Barnes, so you have to develop your author platform and work it like a boss.
Basically an author platform is about how you interact with your readers.
- How personable are you? Are you friendly? Are you easy to work with? Do you like people? (I’ve heard horror stories of authors who have been rude and acted like little prima donnas to not only staff at writers festivals but also to their fans and readers)
- Social media. What platforms are you working? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? How many people to do you reach and how well do your interact with them? Do you interact with other authors and people with similar interests to your book?
- Public Appearances. Do you do book signings, talk at festivals, do radio , TV and press interviews? I’ve heard of people who refuse to do any of that and still expect their book to sell. I don’t think so!
- Blogs / websites: Do you have a website or blog where people can easily interact with you? Are you blogging and commenting on other people’s blogs? This blog post is an example of working the author platform. It’s important that you have at least a basic website with your bio and contact details as you never know who maybe wanting to get in contact and give you money!
- Other websites / news outlets and blogs. Do you contribute stories or articles to other outlets and blogs?
- Check out the front page of my website to see how I integrate my social media, blog posts and books together.
Any publisher or agent will be Googling your name like some crazed stalker to see if you already have a ‘presence’ and if your author platform is something they can work with.
There is so much more I could talk about but I’m sure your glass is getting nearly empty.
Now the positive ending
Persistence (and a little bit of luck) is the key to getting traditionally published.
Keep trying, trying and trying. If one avenue doesn’t seem be working, then try another one. Be humble accept feedback and criticism. Take it on board and use it to improve your work and your methods.
A wise thing to do is have a manuscript assessment done so you’re putting your very best work forward. Also think about getting a publishing mentor like Virginia Lloyd
You are going to be rejected, over and over again. It happens, it’s a fact of life. Use the rejection to inspire and motivate you.
You will not die because you got rejected by a publisher. So push on.Tweet
Go to writers festivals and ask other authors how they got published. Stalk them on Facebook as well and be that curious but not that too annoying fan that just wants to know everything. Authors secretly love being asked these questions as it makes them feel like they contributing something back.
That’s enough for now and your glass might need topping up, so if you have any other questions or want to tell me what a load of crap this is, then feel free to email me at email@example.com
I want to see your name on the cover of a book, and I’m sure you do too.
It need more more motivation then read Find Your Creative Mojo.
You’ve got this!
Also checkout the links below:
Writers resources for each state: http://www.austwriters.com/AWRfiles/groups.htm
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. East https://australiaeastnz.scbwi.org/scbwi-near-you/
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators West https://australiawest.scbwi.org/
Just Write for Kids – an online support group for writers and illustrators of children’s books to focus on achieving goals and connecting with others.
Creative Kids Tales – provides resources to empower aspiring children’s authors on their journey to publication: