Do your research

Extract from: The Writer's Guide by Irina Dunn

Researching your readers / audience market

Irrespective of what you have written, you will, if you are interested in sharing your work with others, be trying to find your ideal reader, your most responsive audience, your most appropriate market.

Your readership will, of course, depend on what you have written. You may already have determined your market or readership if, for example, you are writing a newsletter which is aimed at a particular group, such as the Society of Editors or the National Trust newsletter.

In other cases your readership may be more elusive. The better you research your market, the more likely you will have success in finding the right outlet for your material. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, ask yourself the following:

  • Who am I writing for?
  • Where are my readers likely to be found?
  • Which outlets, both publications and net addresses, would be suitable for my particular form of writing?
  • Do I want to be paid for my writing? If so, what is the best outlet for me? If not, what choices do I have?
  • Do I have a good enough publishing resume to approach a commercial publisher with my work?

Many different kinds of publications accept short items such as articles, essays, interviews, reviews, opinion pieces, short stories and other material for publication; there are specialist companies which help writers with self-publishing ventures; there are publishing companies large and small, multinational and independent, specialist and general, which publish non-fiction and fiction, educational material, children's books, trade publications, self-help books and anything else you can think of.

You can save time, money, effort (and rejection slips!) by sending your work to the magazines or publishers most likely to accept it. Do some market research to determine who these are.

Submitting book-length manuscripts

Many writers aspire to seeing their work, whether fiction or non-fiction, published as a book, but there is a lot more to it than just packing off your labour of love to a publisher. The competition is intense, and the more you understand about publishing trends as well as the selection and publishing processes, the better your chances.

Large commercial publishers receive hundreds and even thousands of unsolicited manuscripts each year. Some, such as HarperCollins, read only half of them and of those that are read, only about five end up on the shelves of a bookstore. In 1998, Penguin publisher Julie Gibbs noted that her company received an average of 70 unsolicited manuscripts per week - that is, some 3640 a year - of which only three of four were considered worthy of publication.

For this reason, consider having your work professionally assessed or edited before sending it to a publisher, funding body, or producer. An editor or assessor can critique your work, and suggest improvements where necessary; some even offer to comment on its commercial viability. Some publishers and funding bodies prefer to see manuscripts that have been assessed prior to submission and request that a reader's (sometimes also an agent's) report accompany the manuscript or script.

Publishers are most likely to take on a new writer if the work is written well, if the content is good, or if it is recommended by a literary agent or some other respected reader. Approach agents with the same proposal you would send to a publisher and ask them to read and assess it. Some agents charge a reading fee for this service, and not all welcome unsolicited manuscripts. Your local Writers' Centre can tell you which agents are willing to receive - and read - unsolicited manuscripts.

Commercial publishers will be more interested in your manuscript if you have a publishing record, whether in fiction or non-fiction. This is where your publication in periodicals, magazines, newspapers, and so on, becomes a valuable stepping stone to the publication of something more substantial. If you have won prizes or were recommended in literary competitions so much the better. Don't forget to include these on your publishing resume.

One sure way of getting your novel published is to win one of the big competitions for unpublished novels which guarantee publication of the winning entries. The competition is great, but why not give it a go? Someone's got to win! Lillian Ng is a gynaecologist who submitted her first work of fiction to the inaugural Angus & Robertson Bookworld Prize for Fiction in 1993. She was a runner-up and her manuscript Silver Sister was subsequently published. That launched her on her literary career. She has since published her second novel, Swallowing Clouds, and is now working on her third.

Finding the right publisher

Before you begin a book-length manuscript, research your market to find out what has already been published in the field. Study publishers' and booksellers' catalogues to see what individual publishers are currently producing. You could also visit a large bookshop and look at the relevant section to make a list of local publishers producing work similar to yours, or visit a large library to look at the current listings of Australian or New Zealand books in print.

Directories of Australian and New Zealand publishers will help you find the right publishing company for your particular manuscript. Certain publishers specialise in non-fiction general books, some are exclusively educational publishers, while others concentrate on fiction.

Just because a particular publisher has not published anything like your work in the past does not mean that it never will. For example, even though Penguin Books Australia had not published science fiction for years, writer Paul Collins approached the company with a proposal for a science fiction anthology and was offered a contract for three. Of course, if there is already a recent book published on your topic, you may have to think of a new angle or discard the idea for another.

Most publishers have guidelines for submission of manuscripts which can be obtained by telephoning the editorial section of the company or writing in with a request for a copy. It is important to follow these guidelines: manuscripts which ignore them could be rejected unread.

The best way of keeping in touch with current trends in book publishing is to read the arts and review pages of newspapers and literary magazines. By paying attention to who is publishing what, you will be able to target your manuscript to the most appropriate publisher.


Extract from: Write to Publish by Vin Maskell and Gina Perry

Studying the marketplace

All the experience you need of how a newspaper or magazine wants you to write is there on paper. It's not that mysterious. - Michelle Griffin, freelance writer

One of the most important skills of writing feature articles is knowing where to send your ideas and stories. Studying the marketplace, or doing your market research, improves your chances of getting into print. Just as your idea for a story must be specific, you should have a particular intended publication in mind - before you pick up a pen to start writing.

The editor's baby

Editors treat their publication as their children - and they know them intimately. Take the time to know a publication, almost as well as its editor, and you will greatly improve your chances of being published. Knowing a publication well, and demonstrating this to the editor, shows that you are thorough, cluey about tailoring your work to an audience and serious about getting published. It’s commonsense, courteous, concrete evidence that you are a professional writer. Essentially, you need to know which stories have been published recently, so that you don’t double up with your idea; and whether the publication considers stories from freelance writers (known in the trade as contributors). But these are only the basics.