Before submitting your work, it is very important to research the publisher and their areas of interest. There is absolutely no point sending your manuscript to a publisher who does not accept submissions in your genre. Allen & Unwin, for example, does not generally publish science fiction, short stories or poetry- however there are many publishers who do. Take the time to search for a publisher who is committed to publishing manuscripts such as yours.
All publishers should have details of their areas of specialisation on their website. If not, then have a look at their recently published books. Many publishers also include submission guidelines on their website (Allen & Unwin’s submission guidelines are here) which can be a goldmine of information for prospective authors.
Other good resources include the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook - the bestselling guide to markets in all areas of the media - and The Australian Writer’s Marketplace - a comprehensive directory of publishing houses and services in Australia. This book lists publisher’s contact details, as well as their areas of specialisation and tips and information on submitting your work. It’s a great resource, and is available from book shops and online at www.awmonline.com.au
Editing your work is the most crucial step to take before submitting your work to a publisher. It is always best to present your work in its most perfect and refined state. Proofread your work carefully, checking for errors in spelling and grammar. It is also a good idea to find an independent reader to look at your work, and to put your manuscript aside for later consideration before submitting it. See hints three and four for more details.
Once you have edited your manuscript yourself, ask an independent person to read your work and provide feedback. Does the story or argument flow well? Did it appeal to them? Did it keep them interested? Or was it confusing in places? What weaknesses in plot or argument did they spot? The more distant this person is from you the better, as it’s often hard to gain honest and unbiased feedback from family members or friends. It is difficult to gauge the appeal of your work from someone who is close to you, especially in the case of memoirs or fiction based on personal experiences (where your reader might already know the story, or even feature in it!). Non-fiction authors who are hoping to be published for a more general audience should show their work to someone outside their area of expertise. Try asking a colleague or showing your work to your writing group, or engaging the help of a professional editing service.
Sometimes, it’s hard to read your own work from a critical point of view. At Allen & Unwin, we recommend that authors set their manuscript aside for a few weeks or even months before submitting it. It is never a good idea to submit your work as soon as the ink has dried on the paper. Once you have finished writing, step away from the story, put your manuscript in your desk drawer and clear your head. When you return to edit it, you will be able to approach your work with a fresh perspective, and pick up flaws which were previously overlooked. You might even think of more ways to improve your work through this period of distance.
Most publishers have a preferred method of submission for unsolicited manuscripts. At Allen & Unwin, we ask that authors send a sample of their work (60 pages, or 2-3 chapters) with a cover letter and synopsis. See our submission guidelines here.
The best cover letters are brief (perhaps a page long) and professional. Foremost, publishers want to know who you are, and why you wrote this book. If you are a non-fiction author, what authority do you have, and what research or resources have you drawn upon? Also, why should we publish your work, and why might it appeal to readers? Perhaps you have identified a previously untapped market, or you are able to bring a new perspective to a popular idea. Perhaps you have a fresh and interesting voice or invaluable experience in a certain area. All authors should consider how their perspective is unique, and what makes their work stand out from other books of the same genre.
A good synopsis can be difficult to write, and should be tailored to the type of book you are submitting. For fiction submissions, it is important to try to find a balance between outlining the plot adequately, and not giving too many details away. A good synopsis is succinct, and reveals enough of the story to give the publisher an idea of its direction, but withholds enough juicy details to keep the publisher interested. There is no need to outline each plot point, or give a detailed description of each character. However, at the same time it is important to include a synopsis which is more than a short blurb. Show your synopsis to your proof-reader, and ask for their opinion.
A non fiction synopsis should be more detailed, and give an overview of the book’s central argument or aim. You might want to include a table of contents, and a comparison with other texts, currently on the market, which discuss similar subject matter. Use this comparison to outline how your manuscript is different, and what people can expect to learn from reading your work.
8. Don’t sweat the details
While cover letters and other requirements make submissions easier to read for publishers, there is no need to worry about small details such as the size of your font and margins, or whether to print your work single or double sided. While it’s good to be committed to the presentation of your work, publishers are not going to refuse to read your manuscript if the font is too large or the margin too small. Keep it simple and readable, and rather than focussing on presentation, take the time to carefully and critically edit your work. This is what publishers will be most concerned about!
Submitting your work to a publisher can be both daunting and exciting, and it is understandable that you will be longing for an answer. However, due to the large number of submissions received by publishers (Allen & Unwin receives up to 1000 a year) it can take a long time for your work to be considered completely. Once your work is received by our office, we send an acknowledgement card to let you know it is in safe hands, and will be read as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this can take up to 14 weeks, so it’s important to be patient and not fret about the status of your manuscript. Publishers should always send a formal response to your submission once it has been assessed, so you will definitely hear back as soon as a decision has been reached. And remember - no news is good news!
While it’s always disappointing to receive a rejection, try not to lose heart. Publishers receive many more submissions than they can possibly take on- Allen & Unwin receives up to 1000 a year- and so being rejected does not always mean that your manuscript is terrible. Having your work published takes a combination of skill, hard work and timing. Many authors receive a drawer full of rejection letters before their book finds a home. If you are truly committed to being published, then take note of the publisher’s feedback, and continue to develop your manuscript. Try having it professionally edited or assessed, or approaching a different publisher with your next submission. Persistence, and being open to constructive criticism, can often make all the difference in having your work published. Good luck!