Frequently Asked Questions
Is your book ready for a publisher?
If you have never had any feedback on your manuscript, your book is not ready. Please trust me on this. Even the most accomplished authors get editors to work on their writing. If you have never studied the craft of writing, the chances are that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Do you have all the elements of story present?
- A sympathetic, flawed character?
- A plot?
- A character arc?
- A setting?
- Three beats to your story?
If not, please do some writing courses or read some books and then go back to your book. My book Your Story: How to Write It so Others Will Want to Read It is a good start if you’re writing memoir or any kind of fiction (joannefedler/your-story.com) and I have even created a workbook to help guide you through all the technique.
Here is a list of great books on writing you should have read before you approach a publisher with what you think, is a publisher-ready book:
Urgent Books to Help You Learn the Craft
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Anchor Books, 1994
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Collins, 1976
- If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, Graywolf Press, 1987
- Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, Wingspan Press, 2005
- On Writing: A Memoir by Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000
- Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clarke,
- Little, Brown and Company, 2006
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, Riverhead
- Books, 2015
- The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia
- Cameron, Pan Books, 1999
- Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro,
- Grove Press, 2013
- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, Harper Perennial, 1989
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield, The Domino Project, 2011
- The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin, Portfolio Penguin, 2012
- Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg, Rider, 1991
Which country do you live in?
Every country has different conventions around the publishing industry. In some countries you have to have a literary agent (and they can be impossibly hard to get – I struggled for ten years to get one in the U.S. despite having sold more than half a million copies of my books internationally). Some countries, like Australia are hybrid – some publishers only accept manuscripts that come via agents, and some accept unsolicited manuscripts. Some, like Allen & Unwin have The Friday Pitch where you can submit the first chapter of your book to them and if they like it, they’ll ask to see the rest. But please, if your book is not ready, don’t submit yet. You get one chance to impress.
And if you can’t get a traditional publisher, think about self-publishing. It is a great way to get your writing out there without having your heart and self confidence annihilated by the grueling process of trying to get published. Make sure the book is Fan-Frigging-Tastic. Invest money in a manuscript assessor, an editor, a great cover and a well-established self-publishing group. If you’d like a list of self publishing houses in Australia, I have compiled one and am happy to share it with you. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to pass it on to you.
© Copyright of Joanne Fedler
I know how frustrating it can be to get past the gatekeepers of agents and processes that make it difficult for first-time authors. However, these gatekeepers are there for a reason.
Publishers and agents are inundated with submissions and unsolicited manuscripts. They have what’s called a ‘slush’ pile for these manuscripts, and they employ junior editors to read the first few lines of each manuscript looking for a gem. Most manuscripts are rejected. I get about 3 requests a week from people – often strangers – asking me to please introduce them to a publisher.
Imagine if I simply agreed to introduce writers I’ve never met and whose writing I have never read to publishers. The publishers I’ve worked with over the years, and have a great relationship with, would get the hell in with me.
So I cannot introduce a writer whose work I’ve never read to a publisher. And I only read the writing of the writers I mentor. And I only mentor writers who have been on writing retreats with me. I sometimes do introduce writers I’ve been mentoring and working with for a long time to a publisher – when I believe their manuscript is ready.
Okay, I admire the chutzpah (for those who don’t know what that is, it’s a Yiddish word for ‘ballsiness’ or ‘cheekiness’).
Just as it’s probably stretching the bounds of a relationship to ask a doctor friend to ‘just write a prescription’ or a lawyer friend to ‘just give some legal advice,’ it’s also putting me in an awkward spot to ask me to ‘just read and give feedback’ (never mind that I don’t have the time.)
Let me explain why. I don’t ‘just read’ anything. I’m a professional mentor and author. When I read with a view to giving feedback, I need to understand why the writer has written this particular piece, who it’s for (the intended audience) and what it’s for (a competition, a newsletter, a submission to a publisher?) Any feedback without this context is a little meaningless and unhelpful, don’t you think?
If I had the time to take on this sort of reading, I’d charge for it. But I don’t. Not unless I’m mentoring you. And to be mentored by me, you have to come on a writing retreat first.
My suggestion is to work out what kind of feedback you’re after. If it’s a structural edit, a professional manuscript assessor is the way to go (google them in your area). If it needs a copy or line edit, a professional editor is the way to go (google them in your area). You will have to pay someone to do this. Because it’s work, even if writing it was just fun for you.