Words by Charlotte Guest, Publishing Officer at UWA Publishing
Every week, we receive calls and emails asking a particular set of questions that revolve around one central issue: how does a first time writer get published?
Time constraints mean that we cannot always answer these questions as fully as we’d like, so to satisfy both interlocutors (the asker and the asked) I’d like to dedicate this post to answering the most commonly asked questions, as well as providing some tips to aid your submission before it even gets read.
I have a finished manuscript that I would like published; how do I start seeking publication?
Do your market research.
Each publisher has a list that expresses a certain set of interests; a list should present as a coherent collection. That is, publishers tend to have a niche or particular market they cater for. We, for example, love literary fiction and narrative non-fiction with a distinctive voice, style and interesting subject matter. We champion Australian poetry, and we love books that celebrate Western Australian environment, history, people, and culture. We do not publish children’s books, young adult or genre fiction. A well-written cover letter detailing how the manuscript would fit comfortably in our list shows that the writer has taken the time to look at what we do. This is the same advice given to contributors to journals and magazines. You will notice that submission guidelines often say, “Read before you write.” That’s why many journals prioritise writing by subscribers because it indicates that they are familiar with the type of material they publish.
What’s the first thing you look at when you receive a submission?
The cover email, not only because this is the first thing we open but because we can tell immediately if the writer has followed the submission guidelines on our website.
If we see an email that begins with “Dear UWA Press” we are immediately put off. This is a pet peeve. We became UWA Publishing back in 2009, and a quick Google search will reveal this. It may seem very minor, but such details are important when the publication process is so competitive. We receive approximately 500 submissions per year, and from those submissions we will take on 2-3 new authors. The rest of our yearly output is made up of commissioned works, writing projects, and the subsequent books of our existing authors.
We also don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts due to the high volume of submissions we receive. Instead, we welcome a book proposal. A book proposal gives us an overview of the project you have undertaken; it should include details of the subject matter, the style, what you wish to explore/experiment with/achieve in the book. The proposal should also include a short bio note (no more than 200 words) that includes any previous publications.
If submitting to our Scholarly series, a UWA Publishing imprint established in 2014, you must complete the form that can be downloaded from our submissions page here.
How long should I allow for a response?
We recommend allowing up to eight weeks to receive a response from us. We are a very small team with big workloads, so it can be quite a slow process. If, after eight weeks, you are still waiting, you are invited to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org enquiring after your submission. It is not that we don’t want to get back to you, or that we don’t care; it’s simply because we’re making our way through the pile.
I received a rejection letter without any feedback. What do I do now?
Unfortunately we are unable to provide feedback on individual submissions. Instead, we direct you to writers’ centres as the places to gain insightful feedback. Such centres run classes, workshops, mentorships, and residency programs in order to provide aspiring writers with guidance and feedback. Whilst writing has been, historically, quite a solitary profession, we recommend socialising your craft. Writers’ groups provide a safe environment in which to receive honest feedback. There is no point getting a relation or close friend to provide feedback, as they will often say what you wish to hear, which may not actually be that useful. Writers in Western Australia should visit the WritingWA website for a list of centres in across the state.
Another option is to pay for a manuscript appraisal service. This is where an editor reads your manuscript and provides detailed written feedback. A good service can be immensely helpful, however this can also be an expensive route and should only be taken by those who have completed their best work and desire a more formal assessment.
I am a poet working towards my first collection. Should I submit my poetry to journals for publication or should I save them to first appear in the collection?
You must publish individual poems before compiling your first collection. Sadly, gone are the days of a poet debuting on a publisher’s list and getting noticed. As a general rule, a poet must establish an audience before producing a full-length collection. Poetry is notoriously hard to sell, despite its cultural value. In order to secure reviews and publicity (a crucial part of the marketing and, in turn, the selling of a book) the poet must have a publication history. The bookselling world is extremely noisy and competitive, and the publisher must consider how well a book will travel.
How many poems constitute a collection?
We usually say that a collection must have a minimum of 80 pages, with either one poem per page or longer poems that run over multiple pages. This is because fewer than 80 pages makes for a very thin volume, even with bulky paper.
How long does it normally take to go from the acceptance of a manuscript to publication?
This varies depending on the book, but it can take six months to a year, sometimes even longer. There are a number of stages to go through before the book becomes a tangible object. There is the submission process, editing, proof reading, cover design, typesetting, and printing. A lot of back and occurs between the different parties involved to ensure that the finished product is the best it can be. Even after the stock arrives, there’s a lot of work that goes into marketing and publicising of both the book and author in order to get the word out to intended readers.
Don’t be demolished when you receive a rejection. It happens to everyone and is good for you, even when you get no feedback. It reinforces the idea that book publishing is a precarious pursuit, and not everyone can achieve it. Love your work of writing and try not to be fixated with an end result: many writers take decades to reach book publication. Try and remember the reader: why would a reader choose your book over, say, Harper Lee or George RR Martin? It’s a tough market out there. And if you don’t read and buy books yourself why do you think that others will read you? Be a good literary citizen and contribute to a fragile ecology of ideas and language.
If you have a question regarding submissions that wasn’t addressed in this post, comment below and we shall collect them for a subsequent FAQ.