Advice from a publisher

Fiction

One of the most important things to remember is that you really only get one chance to send your work to a publisher. If your manuscript has been rejected once, you'll have to overcome the memory of the first rejection and compete with all the other submissions the publisher is considering the second time you send it in. (Allen & Unwin receives around 1000 submissions a year, and that doesn't include countless email and phone enquires.) So make sure your work is reasonably polished the first time you send it out - first drafts aren't a good idea.

If you're a non-fiction writer, let me know if you have identified a gap in the market, and explain why you're the best person to write on the topic. Establishing writing credentials is always a good idea. For fiction writers this means having short stories published, entering lots of writing competitions, or trying your hand at journalism. We want to know that you're serious about writing and plan to continue doing it. Writers who want to be published must be passionate about, and have faith in, what they are writing about. Writing takes a long time, and so does publishing a book, so you have to be able to maintain your enthusiasm.

Finally, don't make your submission complicated. It should be printed on A4 paper, double-spaced and bound with a rubber band. These little things can make a big difference to the person who is reading submission after submission.

Good luck!

Annette Barlow
Fiction / Non-fiction Publisher, A&U

Non-fiction

I always ask a potential author to write an introduction to the book. This should be the actual introduction that goes into the book and which will encourage the customer in a bookstore who reads it to buy the book.

In the non-fiction area it's essential that you and your publisher agree on why the book should be published, what it does that the competing books in the area do not do and what it does better than the existing books. Be aware that in this highly competitive industry there will be competing books and that your publisher will be aware of them as well. Be very careful in saying 'nothing like this has been published before' because that is a warning signal that perhaps that is the case because the demand for your book does not exist.

Prepare a detailed table of contents consisting of chapter headings and a paragraph describing each chapter. Then prepare a sample of your writing, which should be as good as you can possibly make it. This is important because your publisher will make the decision on whether to offer you a contract or not on the basis of this work.

Never write the whole book without getting agreement from a publisher to publish your work. There is every possibility that if you do this no publisher will take on your work and you have wasted an enormous amount of time. Remember two things about your publisher. While still being fallible he or she will know the market and what sells or doesn't sell into that market. So if no publisher offers to publish your work that is a pretty good indication that there is no market for that work. And your publisher will work with you and guide you while you are writing the book.

Finally, writing a book is difficult and your publisher cannot promise you that it will be a success and earn you a million dollars. The publisher who claims 'I've never published a failure' is either a liar or has never published a book. You must be absolutely committed to your ideas and to the book you are writing. If you don't believe in it nobody else will.

Ian Bowring
Business, Science and Military History Publisher

Non-fiction

When considering writing a work of non-fiction it is important to ask yourself a few key questions. These will help you determine whether the project is worth pursuing and whether it is the best subject area for you to undertake. They will also ensure you give your project the best chance of being taken up by a publishing house.

Who wants to know?
This may sound obvious, but it is important to be sure there are enough readers interested in your topic to make publishing a book on it viable. You may have a deep passion for – and encyclopedic knowledge of – the lesser-spotted numbat, but how many others will be willing to part with their hard-earned dollars for a text on the cute little critter?

Rather than relying on the anecdotal support of close friends and family it is important to undertake some considered research at this stage. For example, it may be that the dedicated lesser-spotted numbat fan club has a huge, well-networked membership; or that our furry friend is about to become the mascot of a major sporting group. Such factors will inform your decision, and more importantly provide sound supporting evidence for the proposal you present to a publisher.

What is the best way to convey the information?
Once you’ve established you have an audience, give some thought to how they would most enthusiastically receive the information you wish to share. To return to our numbat, will they expect lots of colour photographs (which will mean high production costs for the publisher); are they interested in the historical context of the animal or should the focus be more on its biology; is this an audience that enjoys a good narrative or would they prefer the information to be provided in point form, charts, etc? Alternatively, your topic may be one that will require regular updating of material and as such might it be better suited to an electronic format than book form?

By considering such issues you can determine what will work best for the market, and whether this is still the sort of project you wish to undertake.

Are you the right person to write this book?
While being enthusiastic about the project is absolutely essential, it may not be sufficient. By thinking about the sort of book it needs to be and who your primary target audience is you should quickly be able to determine whether you have the credibility, credentials, knowledge and ability to write it.

You don’t, however, have to be an expert in the field. Many successful non-fiction titles are written by journalists or researchers who have a passion for a particular topic and are able to pull information together in an interesting and illuminating way. However, you do need to keep in mind that the publisher, and equally importantly their marketing and publicity departments, will be asking themselves questions such as, ‘how do we get this book to stand out from the crowd?’ And in line with this, ‘how are you, the author, going to help make this happen?’ It is therefore important to include any relevant qualifications, experience and contacts you have in your initial proposal.

The proposal
Assuming you’ve settled on a topic, are convinced there’s a market and confident that you’re the person to write the book on it, you should then put together a publishing proposal that clearly articulates these points.

In addition to this it is important to provide an overview of the book, along with a chapter outline demonstrating how you will be developing your ideas. This is important as it shows the publisher you have sufficient material to produce a substantial work on the topic, rather than simply a lengthy essay.

The publisher will want to see a sample of your writing to assess your style and approach. Do not write the book first then seek out a publisher or you may find yourself in the frustrating position of having done an awful lot of work only to discover what you’ve produced is not what the publisher is after. Usually a draft introduction will suffice, but if possible perhaps include one or two sample chapters.

Keep in mind though that a publisher receives a LOT of proposals and as such yours stands a much better chance of being considered if it is clear and concise.

Jo Paul
Commissioning Editor

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