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Monday, October 31, 2011


I've been running this weekly competition on my Facebook fan page all year, and it'll run into 2012. Each week all year I've been giving away three of my trilogies and quartets, signed, except for two breaks where I've given away greater prizes.

Total number of books won so far: 352.

To enter, go here,, Like my page then enter from the Promos tab.

For the next few weeks I'll be giving away 3 copies of my brand new book, Vengeance, each week.

WEEK 31 QUESTION – Why do you read fantasy? The cleverest, funniest, most moving or wittiest entries win. No knowledge of my books needed. 

THERE ARE THREE FIRST PRIZES – each a copy of my latest book, VENGEANCE, signed.

Week 31 (117 entries – the largest number by far for any of the weekly comps).

First, Sonja Mackay, Second, Charmaine Cree, Equal Third, Christine Bolton and Cameron Edwards. Honourable Mentions (get 3 HMs and you also win), Kaylon Fleay, Scott Mooney, Stephanie Elizabeth Kirsch and Joshua Lowe.

There are equal third places this week, so in fact there are 4 winners.

Congratulations, everyone.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jessica Shirvington on The Murky Waters of a First Draft

First drafts! I hate them. They make me feel as though I'm a fraud, not a writer, and I wouldn't even show one of mine to my dog. Or as Hemingway put it, 'The first draft of anything is shit!'

Jessica Shirvington's first three novels – all urban fantasy – have been published in Australia in the past year, and her fourth will be published in 2012. Clearly, Jess has had to survive quite a few first drafts recently, and here she shares her thoughts on them – and exiled angels. Thanks, Jess.

Currently, I’m working on punching out the first draft of the fourth book in, The Violet Eden Chapters. I know that doesn’t make it sound altogether pleasant, but in many ways it’s like all best relationships – lots of love, hard work, storming away from, and running back to.

Each time it’s a different experience; I have different expectations and goals for each manuscript and therefore I approach the writing process as best I can each time to achieve those goals.

Since I'm writing a series, the first book was all about creating my universe and the rules that would give the story function and the characters purpose. For that book, it was also about discovering my heroine, Violet, and her all-important voice.

When I look back on writing the first draft of the first book in the series, EMBRACE, it was all about letting the story flow, discovering my heroine and her purpose. I spent a lot of time creating the world rules for story function and writing about the premise and the structure of my version of angels and ‘exiled’ angels on earth – and then I spent a lot more time, reducing those explanations so I wasn’t giving readers an unwanted history lesson! But really, the redrafts were all about voice.

In book two, ENTICED, it was a slightly different experience. This time there was expectation (more by myself than anyone else) and also, it was a sequel so that meant it had a premise to be loyal to. Whereas my chapter breakdown for EMBRACE was short, maybe 3-5 pages long initially, my chapter breakdown for ENTICED was closer to 20 pages. And even then, I found myself stuck at the middle point. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was going to happen – even how I wanted to get there – but sometimes writing can become thick and sticky.

When you write so many words and so many scenes it’s easy to over-analyse and the most dangerous time for me to do that is in the middle of a first draft. Is it all too convenient? I don’t think I like the way that character is behaving? Has my writing become sloppy? Did I really just write the last 4 pages solely dialogue? What am I doing? Oh shit, everyone will know I’m a fraud! Things like this … to name a few.

But the trick, for me anyway, is to just keep putting words on paper. Sounds simple, right? Not always. Sometimes it can feel like forcing yourself further and further into quicksand – you know threads of your story have gone off on a tangent and you know that other story threads, you have changed course on as you have written but, somewhere back between pages 10 and 200 it is still completely wrong. This is one of the reasons why no one, NO ONE, ever gets a sneak peek at my first drafts.

So why persevere? Why don’t I just go back and redo what I know needs to be reworked and start from there with a cleaner manuscript? Because, like when I read a book – I’m fully committed and the only way for me to feel any kind of satisfaction, is to get to the end. Only then can I sit back and say – ok, now it’s time to start at the beginning. NOW, you know what you have to do. And it has proven true for each of my manuscripts.

Now I'm writing book four, ENDLESS. The chapter breakdown for this book is over 120 pages. And, yes, I’m in the murky, murky waters. Actually, I’m coming through the other end at about the two-thirds point, so I have the reward of writing the climax, but also, the unfortunate knowledge that the last 300 pages are rife with question marks. I’m tempted to go back, as always. Start again and make it better, but I won’t, because that’s not what works best for me.

Once I have put the climax and the conclusion down on paper I will have the first draft of my manuscript. It will not be perfect, not close. It will not be consistent. There will be pages, scenes, likely entire chapters that will be binned altogether and the entire manuscript will be re-written. Several times.
BUT, I will have a few small, tiny, nuggets of gold in my sieve and because I will have completed the entire story, I then know how to go back and write it the way it should be. And each time it’s like going back and searching for more gold and then welding it all together.

Sometimes, parts are just painted in gold and you have to look closely and be honest with yourself. Yes, it looks goldish in colour but when you scratch the surface – not so much. It hurts, the hair pulling, head banging kind of hurt, but – despite all induced distractions you can throw at it; the coffee making breaks, reformatting, researching sessions, pondering, trips to the shop to pick up dinner – you know it when you have to call it and rewrite. You don’t often hear a writer say rewriting didn’t make their manuscript better and there is a reason for that. It’s worth it. (But it still hurts!)

On the upside, a first draft is where the main magic happens. When, as a writer, you can surprise yourself and discover a scene you never saw coming, a character decision that surprises even you, a scene setting that comes together beautifully. Sure, it continues to happen in the re-drafts but I think it mostly belongs in first draft territory.

No one draft is more important than the first.

Not that I’m trying to freak myself out or anything!

Thanks for having me as a guest, Ian!

Some nice insights there, Jess, thanks very much.

The Truth About Publishing – 13

Lesson 12: The book production line

A lot goes on behind the scenes that you don’t know about. Therefore publishers like to have the manuscript ready for editing 9-12 months before the publication date. Your publisher won’t schedule the publication date of your book until she has the manuscript in hand. Believe it or not, not all authors deliver when they say they’re going to!!

Late changes to the publishing schedule are inconvenient, embarrassing and expensive for the publisher. They can also cost you valuable marketing opportunities, and sales! And money. If your book is scheduled for October, to take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales period when most books are sold, and you deliver a month late, publication is likely to be delayed for months. Your advance on publication will also be delayed by the same amount of time – tough luck if you’re relying on it to pay your bills.

The publisher’s schedule is set at least six months in advance and there may not be an available slot for you in November, December or January, while February is the slowest sales month of the year. Furthermore, promotional opportunities such as space in booksellers’ catalogues may already be booked up. If you miss your chance you may not get another.

About 20 milestones have to be met in the production of your book. Decisions to approve these milestones are normally made in meetings by people from editorial, sales and marketing, and production. Milestones include:
  • book design (including cover design, layout and typography)
  • editing (several stages)
  • typesetting and proofreading (3 stages)
  • cover brief and preparation of cover art (3 or more stages). Sometimes a number of cover roughs will be produced. It’s not uncommon for a cover to be rejected during this process and a new cover concept formulated, or even for a new artist to be commissioned. Even after the final artwork is in, the cover design, layout and text are likely to be tweaked a number of times, and all these changes have to be approved by several people. This often, though not always, includes the author.
  • program meetings to keep key people up to date
  • cover copy
  • marketing plan
  • sales brief
  • cover proof and printing
  • text printing and binding
  • delivery to warehouse (usually a month before publication date) – though for the major book chains, sometimes orders are shipped directly from the printer.
  • delivery of initial orders to the bookshops in time for publication date.

In an emergency, e.g. for a topical book or a blockbuster author who delivers late, all this can be done in two months or less, though this is stressful for everyone and not recommended.

For other authors, where a book is to be published in, say, October, the above process would begin no later than January or February, after the manuscript has been accepted and editing is underway. It be completed in late August when finished books are delivered to the warehouse. In the US, publishers like to have the manuscript in a year in advance, because proof copies (galleys, also known as advanced reading copies or ARCs) are circulated to key buyers 6 months in advance of publication.

Australian and British publishers will often consult you about the covers, though they won’t necessarily adopt your suggestions, which is fine. They ought to know what constitutes a good cover in their marketplace.

American publishers may not consult you at all, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. American covers are so different to Australian and British ones that you may not have anything useful to contribute. e.g., American fantasy covers without people on them rarely succeed, whereas to the Australian and British eye such covers often look cute or twee. Australian or British publishers may ask you to provide copy for the blurb. American publishers will generally write their own and may change the title to suit their own sensibilities or markets.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Golden Age of Aussie Publishing

I dare say some writers, especially those struggling to get published or republished, will take issue with what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it anyway. The past decade and a half have been the golden age in Australian publishing and, over this time, it’s never been easier to get published – and to succeed as a writer.

Let me take you back to the late 1980s, when I started writing. The Australian publishing industry was dominated then, as it is now, by a small number of international publishing houses. But back then, in their fiction departments at least, there was scant interest in publishing fiction by Australian authors unless it was either literary fiction or fiction for children. Or crime fiction, though there wasn’t much of that either, apart from Peter Corris.

I write mainly fantasy and science fiction, mainly for older readers, and at the time I first started sending my manuscripts out (1989), no Australian publishers were publishing SF, fantasy or horror by Australian writers for the adult market. This was curious, since Australians are keen consumers of speculative fiction and some UK publishers were shipping nearly half of their print runs here. There seemed to be a presumption that Australians couldn’t write this kind of stuff – or perhaps publishers preferred to import their proven big name international authors rather than risk the investment of time and money to develop local authors.

This situation began to change when Pan MacMillan started publishing Martin Middleton’s fantasy series, Chronicles of the Custodians, in 1990. The first book, Circle of Light, sold exceedingly well, as did the second, and this spurred a brief flowering of speculative fiction publishing in the early Nineties. Other authors published then included Shannah Jay (AKA prolific novelist Anna Jacobs who mainly writes historical sagas) and Tony Shillitoe (fantasy), and Graeme Hague (horror), though by the mid-Nineties, in the face of declining sales, publishers were dropping authors and pulling back.

Then, in 1995, along came Sara Douglass, whose first novel Battleaxe outsold many of the big name international fantasy authors, and this began the Australian speculative fiction Renaissance which continues to this day. Over the next few years a dozen or more Aussie writers had big sales or critical success, or both, including Caiseal Mor, Traci Harding, Kim Wilkins, Sean Williams, Kate Forsyth, Ian Irvine and Juliet Marillier and, for YA readers, Garth Nix, until, around the turn of the century, 10 or more new authors were being published a year.

Even towards the end of the Nineties, though, it was rare for Aussie SF writers to be published internationally, one exception being Garth Nix, whose charming YA fantasy Sabriel was a big success in the US in the mid-Nineties. Then suddenly, between 1998 and 2001, virtually every Aussie author successfully published here was also being published in the US, UK or in translation. Many authors, including all of those listed above, were being published in 8, 10 or more countries, and the deluge of Aussie novels was making a big impact internationally.

Now, in late 2011, more than 80 (and perhaps as many as 100) Aussie speculative fiction authors have had novel length science fiction, fantasy or horror published, not including children’s authors. Many, but by no means all, are listed in the following articles:

Quite a few of these authors have had major international commercial and critical success, including John Flanagan, Matthew Reilly, Garth Nix, and Lian Hearn, each of whose sales are known to exceed 4 million copies. Trudi Canavan, Sara Douglass, Juliet Marillier, Ian Irvine, Isobelle Carmody, Fiona McIntosh, Jennifer Fallon, Kate Forsyth, Sean Williams and Karen Miller (and probably others I’ve unintentionally left out) have also had big sales extending over many years in Australia and internationally. Aussie authors who have garnered great critical acclaim include Margo Lanagan (4 World Fantasy Awards for her short fiction) and hard SF writer Greg Egan.

It’s not just speculative fiction writers, of course – the world has opened up to our crime, thriller, saga and romance writers, and children’s and YA writers, as well. Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest children’s fantasy series has sold more than 15 million copies. Kate Morton’s three novels have been published in 38 countries and garnered sales of 6.5 million copies in five years. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief has been a No 1 international bestseller and translated into 30 languages. And in the past few years, two Australian writers, Sonya Hartnett and Shaun Tan, have won the Astrid Lindgren Award, one of the richest and most prestigious literary awards in the world.

Would these successes have been possible without the Australian market for Aussie authors opening up the way it has? I very much doubt it – in the majority of cases, it’s success in an author’s local market that opens doors internationally.

So what about those formerly reluctant publishers? They’ve done very well out of Aussie authors over the past 15, making good profits in most or all of those years, and many of them now publish more local authors here than they do international ones. Hurrah for us! They bow before our altars every day and give thanks for having known us (LOL).

What of the future? Is the golden age passing? With so many local authors being published, these genres are much more crowded than before and, save for those lucky few who already have a substantial following, it’s going to be hard for most authors to sell as many copies of a book as in the early days. The demise of the Borders and Angus & Robertson book chains hasn’t helped, either. I suspect it’ll be much harder to get a print edition of a book published in future, though it’s likely to be easier to be published in eBook form. EBooks still have to be designed and edited, but since there are no printing, warehousing, shipping or return costs, and no damaged copies, the financial risk from publishing this way is far lower. But that’s a topic for another post – or ten.

Interesting times –

And all the very best for your writing.

The Truth About Publishing –12

Lesson 11: Your editor is wise and you are foolish

Don’t believe the nonsense you read about books not being edited any more. I’ve worked with more than a dozen editors over the years, with many different publishers. All my editors have been experienced and diligent, and they all put many, many hours into editing each of my books. One of the best things about being published is having the opportunity to craft and polish your work with the aid of an experienced, sensitive professional.
Editors are overworked and underpaid, but they know a lot more about writing than you do, and they’re usually right. Consider carefully every point your editor makes. Where you reject an editorial suggestion, make sure there’s a good reason for it. I would agree with 9 out of 10 suggestions my editor makes. If you’re rejecting most of them, you’ve got a problem. In rare cases an editor may be wrong for your book, but more likely the problem is that you can’t accept criticism. In that case, kiss your writing career goodbye.
Beginning writers have less leeway than established ones. An established writer can ignore most of her editor’s suggestions and still be published (though few would be so unprofessional). A novice who does so may never be published. If your editor tells you to cut your 1000 page manuscript to 500 pages, do it. Cutting a long book almost invariably makes it tighter, clearer and pacier. Also, big books cost a lot more to edit, print and distribute, but a publisher can’t charge much more for them. That’s OK if they’re by a bestselling author, but it’s a recipe for losing money if they’re the work of a novice.
Once you’ve had a few books published, your editor’s comments will fall into a familiar pattern – an introductory paragraph of praise followed by many pages of detailed comments and suggestions. Don’t let the praise go to your head – she’s not going to rubbish a book the publisher has already paid good money for. Neither get too downcast about the cumulative effect of all those critical comments (one of my eco-thrillers, The Life Lottery, had 28 pages of them). They’re intended to make the book better and, after all, the publisher has paid good money for it, and must think it’s a goer.
Your manuscript will generally go through two stages of editing. The structural edit looks at the big picture: ‘content, structure, flow, style, clarity and consistency’, after which you do your major revisions. Then there’s the copy edit (or line edit), which is done to improve the formatting, style and accuracy of the text. Some publishers frown on the author making significant changes at the line edit stage. Make sure you get the book right during editing, though, because major changes at the proof stage (i.e., after it’s been typeset) are very expensive. If you insist on rewriting your proofs, you may have to pay for the changes and they won’t be cheap.
If you’re published in more than one country, you may have to deal with a number of editors. British publishers are often happy with Australian editing; American publishers will want to change the spelling, at least, but depending on the genre they may also re-edit the story to suit the sensitivities of the US market, or their own editorial concerns. This isn’t all that common with SF and fantasy but it happens all the time with children’s and YA books, for instance. This can cause problems if your US editor is undoing changes you’ve made to suit your original editor’s concerns.
A bigger problem occurs when you’re published in several countries at the same time, e.g. Australia, US and UK, you have an editor in each of these countries and they disagree. These disagreements have to be sorted out by the publisher, otherwise they can be impossible for the author to reconcile.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Truth About Publishing – 11

Lesson 10. Why you don’t want a tiny advance either.

A tiny advance is a vote of little confidence in your work; it means the publisher isn’t risking much on you, and therefore won’t need to spend a lot of money on marketing. The marketing budget for your book is, generally, related to the size of the advance.

On the other hand, you have the opportunity, by your own clever marketing initiatives, to have a significant impact on sales. If the publisher is hoping to sell 4,000 copies and you can get that up to 6,000, they’ll be very impressed. Publishers love authors who work hard to sell their books, and you’ll get a better deal next time, and more promotion.

But book marketing is a minefield, I hear you say. And fiction is much harder to promote than non-fiction. Where do I begin? And if I go to all the time and effort, how do I know it’s working? Help!

For an overview about traditional methods of book promotion, see this article on my web site. It’s a little dated now, because it doesn’t cover social media, however a future post will.

In the meantime, this article talks about my first steps into social media book promotion.

And for a great site devoted to the topic of book marketing, with a host of useful articles and tips, I recommend Dana Lynn Smith’s The Savvy Book Marketer,

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Truth About Publishing – 10

Lesson 9: Why you don’t want a huge advance

We all dream about the million dollar advance but if you’re unknown you’re probably better off with a moderate one. Huge advances create huge expectations and as an unknown author there’s a good chance your sales won’t meet the stratospheric expectations that go with the advance, in which case you’re probably doomed. Booksellers unwittingly destroy writers’ careers every day. Once booksellers get a whiff of declining sales, they’ll start returning your books, and if they’re not in the bookshops no one will be able to buy them. Then, because your first book flopped the bookshops won’t order many of the second (if there is one), guaranteeing that it’ll sell far less than the first.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say the publisher gives you a $50,000 advance for your first book, thus expecting it to sell at least 40,000 copies. But for some unknown reason it doesn’t catch on and, despite lots of expensive marketing, only sells 10,000 copies. Your publisher has lost money big time, and so have the booksellers – they’ve had all that shelf space occupied by books that didn’t earn anything, and now they have to pay to ship them back to the publisher for a credit.

Both the publisher and the booksellers now see you as a loser, and it will be extremely difficult for your agent to sell your second book to that publisher – or to another publisher, for that matter. Through Nielsen Bookscan, the whole industry has access to your sales figures. If another publisher should pick up your second book, you’ll be lucky to get a $10,000 advance and orders will be much lower.

How much lower? Suppose you have a 3-book deal and your first book bombed as described above, only selling 10,000 copies. Well, you say to yourself, the bookshops know they can sell that many, and maybe the second book will do better.

Fatally wrong. Because the booksellers did so much dough on the first book, they won’t order anything like 10,000 of the second. They won’t even order half that number. If orders total 4,000 copies you’ll be lucky. And they’ll be shelved spine out, where they’re almost invisible. Sales will be 2,000, at the most – a horrifying plunge from the 40,000 everyone was expecting just one book ago.

And for the third book? The same, only less so. Booksellers don’t mean to destroy writers’ careers, but that’s the effect of their collective buying decisions, and this is how it happens.

Looking at the alternative, suppose your publisher advances you $10,000 for your first book. If it sells 6,000 copies they’re in the money. If it reprints a few times and sells 15,000 copies they’ll love you and offer a much bigger advance for your second book. The bookshops will increase their orders and display your books prominently; there’ll be a small buzz about you in the industry and readers will remember your name and look out for your next book. Exceed booksellers’ expectations two or three times and you’re a rising star.

Postscript: Here are some of the most notable bombs of recent times.

Charles Frazier, whose first book Cold Mountain was a monster hit, was paid $8 million for his next book. It only sold a few hundred thousand and the publisher lost $5.5 million on the advance.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Truth About Publishing – 9

Lesson 8: Understanding your advance

Every new book represents a risk to the publisher, who is gambling tens of thousands of dollars that it will sell enough copies to earn a profit. As much as a third of all books published lose money, while another third only cover their costs or earn a small profit. Books by unknown authors present the greatest risk, because they have no following. Therefore, publishers have to keep costs down by offering small advances.
An advance is money paid to the author in return for the right to publish his or her book, before any books have been sold. Ie, it’s advanced against future royalties, and the author doesn’t receive any money from sales of the book until the advance has been earned back by royalties from sales. The advance is seldom more than half to two-thirds of what the publisher expects the book to earn in royalties. This is insurance in case the book sells badly. For example, say the book retails for $20 (plus tax), the author’s royalty rate is 10% and the publisher expects to sell 5,000 copies. If it does, the book will earn the author $20 X 0.10 X 5,000, i.e. $10,000 in royalties. With this expectation, the publisher would normally offer an advance of between $5,000 and $7,000 and the balance would be paid in royalties at a later date.
Nonetheless, a high proportion of books flop and don’t earn back their advances. In any year, the major global publishers will each have millions of dollars in unearned advances on their balance sheets, and eventually these losses have to be written off. If losses are too high for too long, the publisher will go out of business. Therefore, advances have to be kept to a minimum.
Most book advances in Australia, the UK and the US are less than $10,000. Surprisingly, average advances in the UK and US aren’t significanty higher than here, despite the much bigger markets. Why not? There are far more titles published, there’s much more competition and, in the case of the US, more fragmented markets.
If you’re writing children’s fiction, advances are typically lower, partly because kid’s books sell for a lower price and partly because, since Harry Potter, everyone’s writing children’s fiction and the competition has driven advances down. Partly offsetting that, those few books that do sell well can stay in print for a long time.
For literary fiction, which may get the reviews and the awards but doesn’t sell well, expect advances to be lower again: maybe only $1,000 – $3,000. Not much for the year or two you’ve spent writing the book.
When you finally get the advance, don’t spend it on something wasteful like food, clothing or rent. You’re going to need every penny to promote your book, because the chances are that no one else will. I’ll cover this topic in a future lesson.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I've been running this weekly competition on my Facebook fan page all year, and it'll run into 2012. Each week all year I've been giving away three of my trilogies and quartets, signed, except for two breaks where I've given away greater prizes.

Total number of books won so far: 348.

To enter, go here,, Like my page then enter from the Promos tab.

For the next few weeks I'll be giving away 3 copies of my brand new book, Vengeance, each week.

I'm even more shamefully late and slow than usual for this comp, for which I humbly apologise.

WEEK 30 QUESTION – name the character in a book (any book) who has most moved you or changed your life in some way, and say why you were moved or how your life was changed.

FIRST PRIZE - The View from the Mirror Audiobooks on MP3 CD
SECOND PRIZE - The Song of the Tears Trilogy, signed
THIRD PRIZE - The Grim and Grimmer quartet, signed.

Week 30 (20 entries). Winner, Emma Billing, Second, Jennifer Francis, Third, Kayla-Lynn Yetman. Honourable Mentions, Grey Dw, Roxanne Cole, Mitchell de Vries. Get 3 HMs and you also win.

Congratulations, everyone.

The Truth About Publishing – 8

Lesson 7: Wow, you’ve actually been offered a contract

As a beginning writer, if a respectable publisher offers you a book contract, sign it. The chance may not come again. As a novice, you’re not worth much to a publisher, so you have little power to negotiate. If you demand a lot of changes to a contract, or cause interminable delays, the publisher may withdraw the offer and go to the next writer on their list. A writer who causes trouble before the contract is signed is bound to be an even bigger pain afterwards. 

By all means ask your agent about the contract before you sign, then take her advice. Be wary about taking the contract to your lawyer. Some superstar authors use a lawyer because it’s cheaper than paying an agent 15% of millions, but it doesn’t work for novices. Few lawyers know anything about book contracts or the realities of publishing. If they get involved, they could lose you the contract then bill you for more than the advance you didn’t get.

If you haven’t got an agent, get one now; it’s easy once you have an offer from a publisher. Though publishers are hard-headed businessmen, they tend to think of new authors as amateurs who should be grateful to be published at all. It’s good to be assertive, though if you’re equally hard-headed they may see you as aggressive and difficult to deal with, which is counterproductive to a good working relationship. Let your agent do the hard-headed stuff while you be the nice, creative one who is giving them the product they require to stay in business, and everyone’s happy.

Agents normally take 15% but she’ll earn back her commission in contract concessions, a higher advance and, for established authors, deals you would never have gained by yourself. Therefore she costs you nothing. Once she’s done a deal for you, she’s entitled to her percentage of all income earned from that deal for as long as it lasts, even if you subsequently change agents. For foreign rights or special deals (eg movie rights – as if!), she’ll work through other agents who also get a percentage.

Once you’ve got an agent, never talk directly to your publishers or editors about contractual matters. You could disastrously undermine negotiations your agent is having with them, eg your agent is negotiating hard for a $20,000 advance and you’ve just told your editor you’d be happy with $10,000. Bad move!

Tomorrow – understanding your advance.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Truth About Publishing – 7

Lesson 6: Get advice – from professionals

Is my writing any good? My friends and family loved it, yet publishers keep rejecting my manuscripts and won’t say why. Or worse, they don’t respond at all. What’s the matter? Why won’t they tell me anything? What am I supposed to do now?

There are a number of reasons why publishers won’t tell you why they’ve rejected your manuscript. The main one: they don’t have the time to provide detailed analysis on the thousands of manuscripts that flood in each year. But also, a number of writers (clearly, suffering from a death wish) have threatened to sue publishers for giving candid advice about the quality of the manuscript, and it’s simply not worth the effort.

So, you need advice. But amateurs, no matter how well-meaning, cannot provide the kind of feedback you need to identify the flaws in your writing and fix them. Only professionals can. If you’re continually being rejected, seek them out. Look for people with experience in the genre you’re writing in. Suitable professionals include:
  • Experienced fiction editors. There are plenty of freelance editors around who have had experience in major publishing houses. To find them, Google “freelance editor fiction”. The state branches of the Australian Society of Editors (and its international equivalents) also have freelance editor registers.
  • Manuscript assessment services. An incomplete listing for Australia can be found here: For other countries, Google the keywords. But beware, there are sharks in the water, so check their bona fides carefully.
  • The various state writers’ centres provide writing courses and events where you can meet professional writers and other writers like yourself, attend seminars, obtain advice and mentorships, and identify manuscript assessment services:
  1. ACT Writers Centre:
  2. New South Wales Writers’ Centre:
  3. Northern Territory Writers’ Centre:
  4. Queensland Writers Centre:
  5. South Australian Writers’ Centre:
  6. Victoria Writers’ Centre:
  7. Western Australian Writers Centre:
  • Writers’ groups. These can be useful, in some circumstances. They can also be damaging, depending on the people who are in them. Check them out and see if they’re for you.
  • Literary agents occasionally provide advice on a manuscript, though normally only to writers in their stable. Beware of any agent who offers to provide advice for a fee.
  • Published writers. Rarely, you might prevail on a published writer to take a look at the beginning of your manuscript, though realistically, the demands on writers these days are greater than ever and few can spare the time. I certainly can’t.

When a professional gives you advice on your manuscript, act on it. A high proportion of writers can’t or won’t act on the advice they’re given. This is great! It means they’ll never be published and it thins the herd for you, gentle reader, who will act on your professional advice to the letter.

My next post deals with what to do when you are offered a contract.