Top tips from agents and publishers

Words by ACTWC Blogger in Residence, Bec Fleming


Image by Daniel Vigilante

So, by now you know I like to tell a story with my blog posts, but I’m going to keep this one a little more direct. Straight from my notebook, with no stories in between, here are some tips on submitting your manuscript, from the agents and publishers who presented at the Hardcopy Program Intro2Industry weekend:

Michael Bollen – Wakefield Press

  • For Wakefield Press, the submission should include a strong, clean, manuscript, a blurb and a cover letter which includes details about the author. More details on the submission guidelines for Wakefield Press can be found here.
  • Information about the author should include evidence of engagement with social media, any work that has already been published (such as a short story in a literary journal) which speaks to an emerging readership and any information about how the author might be able to assist in promoting the book through their own contacts. It is also nice to include information about what drew you to writing the story.
  • A blurb should be about 150-200 words which entices the reader. It should begin with concrete details. It shouldn’t give the whole story away and it should avoid prescribing an audience.
  • Know the publisher. Make yourself familiar with the work they publish and maybe even mention how much you like their books.
  • Michael said it was hard to know what books will ‘snowball’ but those that do are generally ones that connect with the audience in words and theme.
  • Publishers feel guilty about not getting through the slush pile.

Linda Tate – Tate Gallery, Sydney

  • An agent can be your ambassador, a ‘concierge for your career’. They have contacts in the publishing world and are often persuasive and persistent in their approach, helping a manuscript rise to the top of the slush pile.
  • An agent can handle the business side of writing, managing contracts and royalties, giving the writer more time for writing the next book.
  • A good agent frees your time to write, a really good agent will push you as far as you want to go.
  • Find a niche, and own it.
  • Social media is your virtual business card, remember it takes months to build an audience.
  • Don’t say you don’t have any writing experience in a cover letter.
  • Rejection feels personal, but it isn’t. If an agent says no, but gives you feedback you aren’t walking away empty handed.
  • Sometimes a large advance is not the most advantageous deal. A smaller advance that is more likely to earn out is sometimes preferable to support a long term writing career.
  • To learn more about the agent/author relationship check out this post by Valerie Parv, who has worked with Linda Tate for twenty years.

Sophie Hamley – Camerons Management

  • Agents find it frustrating when talented people send something in too early. Your first shot is your only shot, they don’t have time to read a manuscript twice.
  • Anyone in publishing is like a reader, they need to be drawn in quickly. “We’re all waiting for our heats to be faster. Look at your story as a reader, leave it for a while and see if your heart beats faster.”
  • If you can write a clear synopsis, your story is working fine.
  • Publishing follows the writer trends. Not the other way round.
  • Publishing is always a matter of timing. Right person, right place, right time.
  • Agents don’t really care where you live, choose the agent to suit the story. If the right agent is overseas then send the manuscript to that agent.
  • If you can’t identify a specific genre for your work then just write that it is ‘a work of fiction’ in the cover letter.
  • A great piece of writing will always work, even if it doesn’t conform to what a market might want.

I found the advice really useful, I hope you do too. For more lessons from the sessions check out Hardcopy participant George Dunford’s wrap-up here.


Bec Fleming


Bec Fleming is a Canberra based writer, historian and poet. She graduated with a PhD in history from the University of New England in 2010. She has spoken at the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and for the ABC program Now Hear This. Her poem ‘An untimely death’ was shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Thwaites poetry award. She has loved words for as long as she can remember and thinks it is a little bit magic when they line themselves up in just the right order.

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