You may be familiar with the phrase “we don’t take unsolicited manuscripts” on publishers’ websites. It can be a disappointing sight for an aspiring writer yearning to be published. Fortunately, publishers are always soliciting; you just need to know how to get your work into that category.
Madonna Duffy, Head of Publishing at the University of Queensland Press, has some reassuring words, along with a few inside tips for all our readers. The range of avenues she searches through to find manuscripts to solicit include: literary agents, writing competitions, pitching events, portfolio building and industry networking. With just a little bit of work, your manuscript could soon be sitting in a publisher’s lap…
1. Literary Agents
While many publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, some literary agents do. Literary Agents are there to connect writers with publishers and to help handle the legal documents regarding copyright (including print, film and radio) and royalties.
An agent’s recommendation will certainly help your manuscript rise to the top of a publisher’s slush pile.” The NSW Writers’ Centre
Be aware that if you’re manuscript is rejected by a publisher it’s unlikely they will change their mind once you have an agent. Australian agents are usually picky; it’s important to have a good-quality manuscript, and very helpful to have a good resume of competitions and a portfolio.
Finding An Agent
For an Australian agent, the best place to check out is the Australian Literary Agents’ Association. They have a list of contact details, plus heaps on the code of practice, contacting and submitting to agents. Be sure to check what type of submissions each agent is accepting, and make sure you follow their submission guidelines. Some agents also temporary close or open their taking of submissions, so check their website regularly.
Entering writing competitions is a great way to get your name and work in front of publishers. Winners and those short-listed are often named in literary media—the same media that publishers read. To start off your writing competition days, ArtsHubs has some great tips.
In addition to the publicity, some competitions also offer publication as a prize. The publication could be in media such as a magazine or newspaper, or it could be as a printed anthology or book. Manuscript competitions and awards have also helped many first-time writers publish.
These sorts of awards are so important. They help you get that foot in the door...” Hannah Kent, author of Burial rites and winner of Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2011.
Where To Enter
Madonna Duffy has worked with authors who have won competitions and awards supported by UQP such as the David Unaipon Award, The Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction, Emerging Queensland Author Manuscript Award and the Varuna’s Publisher Introduction Program.
There’s a whole range of options for all forms of writing. It’s good to do research and make up a list or calendar of the ones you can and want to enter. Here’s a quick sample to get you started:
- Poetry: Australian Poetry site, National Poetry Competition
- Short stories: Aerogramme Writers’ Studio site, National Short Story Competition
- Manuscripts: Australian / Vogel’s Literary Award, Text Prize; Young Adult and Children’s Writing
- Novellas: Griffith REVIEW’s The Novella Project III, Viva La Novella
- Scripts: Playwriting Australia site, Solo – A monologue Writing Competition
- Blogs: Bloggers Bazaar site, Best Australian Blogs Competition
- Non-fiction: National Non-Fiction Award For Essays and Articles, Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing
- Multiplatform & Interactive: Platform X Multiplatform Writing Competition
- All: Australian Writers’ Centre site, SA Writers Centre Inc site, Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre site, Australian Writers’ Resource Competitions site
Make sure you read through the terms and conditions of the competitions, as some require entry fees or the copyright to your work. Aside from that, you don’t lose anything by entering, but you have a whole lot to gain!
Publishers and editors may not have time to read manuscripts, but they do have time to listen to pitches. A pitch is a short, sweet and powerful way of sharing your manuscript. If you can capture the essence and selling points of your story in a quick and compelling way, you could get someone willing to read your whole manuscript.
Where To Pitch
The best places to pitch are at literary events, writing festivals and writers’ conferences. Check out those nearest to you for pitching opportunities. Sometimes these come as one-on-one bookings, a short time in front of a panel, like the one Madonna Duffy sat on at the 2013 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, or just with a friendly “hello” as you wander around the venue.
It’s acceptable to approach an editor or publisher at an event to pitch them your work. Make sure you keep it short – have a three second pitch ready – and only use the time to pique their interest before asking if you can submit the full work to them.” Writers Victoria
Make sure you are approaching the right person. Pitching a children’s fantasy to someone who only publishes or edits crime fiction won’t get you anywhere. Also, if you want to attend a pitching event, you’ll usually have to book months in advance. Here are a few to look forward to this year:
- Sydney: Literary Speed Dating (Australian Society of Authors)
- Melbourne: Melbourne RWA 2015 Conference (Romance)
- Brisbane: GenreCom Pitching Program
- Perth: Pitching Panel (KSP Writers’ Centre)
How To Pitch
You don’t have a lot of time to secure someone’s interest, so you want to make your pitch good—no, amazing. Pitching workshops for writers are often run by professional publishers, editors or experienced writers and are worth every cent. The Australian Society of Authors’ workshop event “Pitch Perfect” is available in New South Wales and Queensland, and SA Writers Centre Inc’s “Getting Your Work Noticed” is run in South Australia for members.
A portfolio is a collection or sample of your work. If you are a long-prose writer it might be beneficial to work on your short-prose skills, as portfolios usually aren’t made of novels. Portfolios can be attached to your resume, but if you want a publisher to notice you, you want it out in the world.
Getting Your Work Out There
Ironically, most of the time you need to be published in order to get published. Fortunately this is the 21st century, and we have the internet. Writer’s Edit’s article “How To Get Your Writing Out There” has some helpful suggestions about having an author blog or website.
Many online and print media take short story, poetry and article submissions. Newspapers, local bulletins and magazines are great places to start. If you have a hobby, passion or interest aside from writing, try looking for media that explores that subject; you’ll likely produce better work if you enjoy the topic you’re writing about. Writer’s Edit also has a couple of great articles to help get your work in a magazine: “How To Get Published In A Magazine” and “How To Write A Feature Article For A Magazine”.
Madonna Duffy agrees that a great media to get your work into is literary magazines. Publishers definitely keep their eye on these, and they’re more open to fiction submissions. Your first published work might be a short story or poem in an anthology. The great thing about this is, once a publisher knows your publication history, they’re more likely to read your manuscript submission!
A combination of all of these is your best bet; you want your work in as many places as possible. Don’t forget that entering competitions is another great way to build your portfolio, particularly if your piece is published. Another tip: don’t be afraid of non-fiction. You may not find writing articles and essays as exciting as fiction, but they pay better in the end and are in higher demand.
Lastly, but certainly not least, you need to know the right people. Part of a Madonna Duffy’s job is to have a network through which she can find new manuscripts. If you want a publisher to hear about your manuscript, you want to tap into that network. Pitch your manuscript to the right people, and they might know a publisher who could be interested and pass it along.
When you’re next at a publishing event or conference imagine that, if you put your hand on the shoulder of the person next to you, you would have a connection to all the people they know; and likewise they would have access to all your connections. If everyone put their hand on the shoulder of the person next to them, the chances are you’d have most of the publishing industry covered.” Book Careers
Finding The Right People
A great place to start is at your local (or, if you feel like travelling, not-so-local) writers’ festival. On top of attending them, you can also volunteer and actually find yourself working alongside the very people you want to talk to. Again, make sure you research the event’s genre or style before you go.
Going to university or taking short courses or workshops is another great way to meet the right people. You’ll form connections with those studying alongside you who, one day, may become your editor or may know your future publisher or agent. Also the facilitators and lecturers should be in the industry in some way.
There are various organisations that you can become a member of, giving you access to excusive events and courses. Some organisation memberships to consider include: Australian Society of Authors, Australian Writers’ Guild, Australian Crime Writers Association and NSW Writers’ Centre.
How to Network
For some, networking is pretty simple once you’ve found the right person. For others who lean towards the more introverted side of the spectrum, it can be quite a challenge. The best advice for those in this situation is to take it slowly, allow yourself breaks and pre-plan what you want to say and ask.
The online world is a great asset to the introvert looking to network. Following, commenting on and sharing social media and blog posts of industry professionals is a great way to expand and build-on your connections (find our more here). Just be sure to remember that face-to-face conversations are still important.
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We are always soliciting.” Madonna Duffy, Head of Publishing UQP
Now you no longer need to worry about that phrase “we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts”. Don’t let your good writing go to waste: check out some literary agents, enter competitions regularly, pitch your story, build your portfolio and get out there and meet the right people. Above all, keep at it!