The questions they answered were delivered in the same stark honesty. Agents and publishers get about 800-1000 novel submissions per year; of that amount they may only take on 4-6.
We gained an insight into the way an agent works and the business of the publishing industry. Sheila says an Agent has working knowledge of the industry. They know the publishers, they know the editors and what books they have on their lists. Agents have to not only sell to publishers, but sell to financiers and marketing reps, booksellers and readers so only accept a manuscript if they can see a commercial outcome for it. Sheila admits that she will reject or read on based on the first sentence of a manuscript.
As an agent she has every right to be discerning, agents work on commission so they have to wait until the book is accepted, published and sells, which could take years, before seeing any return.
Kate discussed briefly the damning parallel importation, copyright and fair dealing changes that are threatening authors and publishers. More information about that can be read about here https://writersvictoria.org.au/writing-life/news/speak-save-australian-literature
Both Kate and Sheila offered these helpful insights and tips for authors:
- Adhere to the publishers guidelines when submitting.
- Do not submit to an Agent and Publisher at the same time.
- If you submit to a publisher and get rejected you cannot then go to the Agent as they can’t resubmit for you as everything is recorded and receipted. Go to the Agent first.
- Read a lot. Read the sort of book you are writing about and submit to that publisher. Know your craft.
- Spell check. Edit as much as you can. Anything you can do to make publishers job easier.
- Establish a writer platform even before you submit a manuscript. Contribute to literary magazines, enter competitions have a published portfolio, blog and social media accounts.
- As an author you need to sell yourself with your synopsis and bio.
- Rejection may only be a seasonal thing. Chook lit, or rural romance, is currently a big market but also markets could change without knowing.
- “Agents are bonkers. Be ready”, says Kate.
- Always read the fine print of a contract. Not all agencies have authors best interest at heart. Check on copyright.
- Get outside eyes on your manuscript. Writers groups with a critical eye. Pay industry professionals. Manuscript assessments for writers are available.
- You need to be ready to hear feedback. This is a big scary process.
- Self-publishing has come of age. There is no stigma from the industry on self-publishing anymore. Self published books can be entered into major awards. It is a valid and alternate way. However all marketing and selling is on you and getting the book into retail stores is difficult.
- Ebooks have to sell over 400,000 to be considered for print by a publisher.
Although the Q & A offered up harsh truth bombs, Sheila did soften up enough to say, “Agents are on the Authors side”. Considering there are only 15 agents listed with the ALAA, it’s just getting one that is the hard work…. and luck!
The Australian Literary Agents Association can be found at https://austlitagentsassoc.com/
Writers Victoria’s website is www.writersvictoria.org.au