Tag Archives: Rejection

Writer, are you ready to publish?

“Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?”

FOR the first time, a Write, Regardless! article has a question in the title not an exclamation mark. If you’ve done the work on your manuscript, sent it off to publishers for a minimum of six months and heard nothing back, you don’t need a call to action, you need to give some serious thought about where to from here. Here are some of the major questions to ask yourself before leaping into independent publishing.

Can you meet your own expectations?

So your manuscript has been rejected by multiple publishers. As Julia Child said in Nora Ephron’s screenplay, Julie & Julia: “Boo-hoo…” (spoken with Julia Child-like hooting). Don’t let anyone tell you your hurt is invalid. Rejection sucks. When you’ve come out of your shell, it’s time to ask yourself if your writing journey is over, or if it’s only just beginning? If you envisaged your book would be published one day, it’s now up to you to see it done.

Can you be a publisher?

Although it creates books, publishing is not a particularly creative process, it’s a form of business. I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on publishing and come to terms with the industry’s two-pronged nature: production and distribution. One process does not stand separately from the other. It doesn’t need to be a book-trade behemoth, but if you want to publish your book, you’re going to need to start, and operate, an independent publishing business.

haters-nounCan you meet reader expectations?

Publishing is a business because millions of readers consume books. Standing on the brink of a publishing venture, ask yourself whether you can meet their needs. This means researching publishing genres and finding where your titles fit in, which requires the ability to be objective about your work. Publishing your own books will bring you face to face with hungry, experienced, critical, opinionated, readers across the world. Are you ready to meet their energy with confidence in your quality books, books and more books? Many of them will hate you for having the courage to self publish, are you ready for that?

Can you meet buyer expectations?

Books are a consumable commodity, sold in units. It sounds obvious, but people part with money to get them. Publishers, and all the operators in the book trade, from publishing platforms to book distributors and bookshops (online and bricks-and-mortar shops on the high street) all deservedly take a cut of the ever-changing unit price of books. Positioning yourself at one end of this competitive chain requires meeting the expectation of the buying public and booksellers. It means providing high-quality book elements: great covers, memorable titles, sensible use of word length and serialisation, and providing books in what publishers call ‘lines’ – that is, a range of titles on an annual basis. No publisher in the world publishes just one book.

Can you work the marketing machine?

I’m really going to cut the crap and ask if you’re prepared to be a pushy arsehole at times? Marketing your books will take persistence, guts, working the room, pressure, stress and being annoying. It will keep you awake at night and take time away from your writing and your family. There are millions of books out there. You are going to have to grab and hold peoples’ attention through an ongoing marketing campaign that, for as long as you want readers for your brainchildren, will never end. Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?

Can you take it up to booksellers?

The book trade is enormous, a place where the agenda is dominated by the need to make money. How will you react when a bookshop hasn’t paid you for those copies of your book a year after they’ve been sold? How will you respond when a bookseller calls for in-store publicity materials, and they want them yesterday or your book won’t be in the shop window? When your publishing platform is tardy in passing on your royalties, who do you talk to, and what do you say? Booksellers are businesspeople, some are jaded as all get out, and others are too enthusiastic for words. Are you ready?

Can you meet media expectations?

The media, as we knew it, is gone. Social media is where the bulk of communication is happening, with the average Facebook account holder operating as a free distributor for the mainstream (or ‘traditional’) media’s stories. In this frenetic, limitless arena, publishers are promoting and selling books in ways that evolve every week. For independent publishers, savvy use of the social media in not an option, it’s a necessity. If you choose to become a publisher, you need to be presentable, professional, and immune to a certain degree of negative feedback about what you’re doing. Lucky you’ve already built that social media platform, right? (Or are you still thinking it’s not necessary? LOL!).

Can you work the system?

Independent publishing requires the use of multiple online platforms to produce printed books and eBooks. Many of these do not differentiate between established book publishers and independent operators. The systems are often complicated and frustrating for beginners, but they are designed to publish and distribute quality books that would not look out of place on a high-street bookshop shelf. Are you ready for episodes of tearing your hair out and throwing things at the computer when it says no?

Are you up for joint-venture publishing?

“Readers are not easily fooled by bad product.”

For many writers, the answers to many of these questions is no. Lack of time and skills means a better option is to seek out a joint-venture publisher, one of the fastest-growing arms of the book trade. Many large and small publishing houses have joint-venture imprints, providing publishing and marketing services to writers, for a fee, often with a spirit of ‘sharing the risk’. As with all products and services, working with a joint-venture publisher means negotiating a sound contract with all parameters agreed before setting out. There is currently no standard of fees, but if you’re seeking to hand the entire process over to someone else, you’re looking at thousands of dollars.

Is a joint-venture all that?

Many joint-venture publishers provide individual services (proofreading, for example), while others seek to stream writers into buying their entire suite of services. If joint-venture publishing is more your thing, there’s plenty of choice out there, but be aware that independent publishers have exactly the same access to the global publishing industry as joint-venture publishers. While it can be a great relief to benefit from the support on the nitty-gritty of publishing processes, don’t be under the impression that a joint-venture publisher can deliver anything independent publishing can’t in terms of getting your book in front of readers.

Are you up for vanity publishing?

Many writers seek only to publish a book for friends and family, not a role in the international book trade. This process is called vanity publishing and has been around for decades, delivering quality books for happy customers. Don’t conflate vanity publishing and joint-venture publishing. Vanity publishers have garnered a questionable reputation for high fees, sometimes very high, so be cautious when negotiating the details of your contract. Never hand over money before agreeing on all the terms of the process, and certainly don’t pay the entire fee before seeing results – part payments are best when working with vanity publishers.



The publishing industry, from the largest publishing houses to the smallest independent presses, uses the same publishing platforms as self publishers, and it’s become harder to tell the difference when you see books on shop shelves. This increase in access only works for consumers when the highest standard of publishing is pursued – readers are not easily fooled by bad product. If you want to become an independent publisher, be ready for a journey that demands the highest quality work, attention to detail, and marketing energy. There are no more publishing secrets in the book trade – they’re all freely available to everyone who wants to produce a book and find readers, but they must be used wisely and well.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, you must submit!

“In this digital age, it’s never been easier to prepare your submissions and have have them all done and dusted in a very short time.”

IF you’ve ever really done the work on a manuscript in the manner outlined in Write, Regardless!, allowed it to absorb your imagination and your heart; lost sleep over it and swung from thinking it’s the worst thing ever written to moments of confidence that it says something, you’ll know when it’s time to give it a chance in the wider world. If you haven’t done the work, you’ll be full of doubt about your manuscript’s quality, tempted to ask everyone what they think, and so out of touch with your inner bullshit monitor that you won’t know how to sift the feedback. Here are some tips about finding if you’re ready to submit your work to publishers and literary agents.

Submitting season

In this digital age, it’s never been easier to prepare your submissions and have them all done and dusted in a very short time. After a standard three-month wait to see whether the marketplace, right now, is interested in your manuscript, if your work has not been picked-up you’ll have a choice: publish it regardless or shove it in a desk drawer and try to forget about it.

Publisher or agent?

There are plenty of pros and cons about whether writers need an agent. According to literary agent Alex Adsett, around 60 per cent of books get published in Australia without one. You don’t need a real estate agent to sell a house. It’s the same with selling intellectual property. Writers can research the various submitting opportunities and send our work in directly, or we can hand the process over to someone to do the work for us. The submission materials needed to approach an agent are the same as those needed to approach a publisher.

The agency pathway

Most literary agencies list the genres they will represent, so check their guidelines carefully before sending in your work. Writing programs also operate as agents by matching writers with publishers; and many writing competitions serve a similar purpose. Whenever your work is being represented by a third party between you and a publisher, it’s a literary agency-type process.

Be under no illusion, authors pay for agency support, usually at the ‘back end’ as a percentage of royalties. Literary agents are best treated like real estate agents: assertively and courteously, with everything in writing before the ‘For Sale’ sign goes up. Be cautious about what rights you’re signing away in the terms and conditions of writing competitions.

The shock and awe principle

I deal with the submission process by using a little military energy known as shock and awe, because it cuts through the crap. Writers can get stymied by business strategies, the main one publishers deploy being the ‘don’t send your manuscript out to more than one publisher/agent at a time’ advice. The ONLY person this principle benefits is the person looking at your great book submission. They have removed all competition by making you afraid to call the cavalry. When I submit a manuscript, I send it to all relevant publishers/agents at the same time, and I give the process three months maximum. This is how real estate has been sold forever, by creating that critical mass all property sellers desire. Intellectual property sellers have no reason to think or act differently. Literary agents certainly don’t act on this advice – they create bidding wars between publishers whenever they can.

Direct-to-publisher submissions

Right now, major publishers have open doors for unsolicited manuscripts, uploaded via their websites. Usually once-a-month, these opportunities have snappy names like Penguin’s Monthly Catch. They require writers to have a formatted manuscript, a synopsis and a writer’s biography; some idea of the target audience and similar titles on the market; a social media platform (don’t say I didn’t warn you about the need for one); some skill in public speaking and communicating, and a couple of contacts in the publishing/media industry (warned you about that one too).

Literary speed dating

It’s become increasingly common for book deals to be triggered by what’s known as a manuscript pitching session. I had my debut novel Tank Water picked up for publication after I paid to meet two fiction editors at a New England Writers’ Centre pitch event. I spent ten minutes with each, a chance to sell the ideas and themes of my book. It’s akin to speed dating – a bit hard on the nerves – but the great advice I got beforehand was to not spend the entire time banging on about my work, leaving space for each editor to ask me questions. Both wanted to see the manuscript afterwards, and one – Anna Solding of MidnightSun Publishing in Adelaide – eventually offered me a book contract.

Look out for such sessions at writer’s festivals, they’re a great way to meet editors you might not otherwise have the opportunity to get your work in front of.

“While there is still a publishing industry, writers who have done the work on our manuscripts should have a go and submit our books for consideration.”

Fab formatting

There is a basic manuscript style in the English language, which is generally a one-inch page margin, plain font, page numbering and double-spaced text. This is not publishers being picky, it’s a format that is easy on the eye for people who read a lot. There are international variations and your state or national writers’ resource centre will tell you what is standard for your part of the world. There are no excuses for writers who don’t adjust their manuscripts to a publisher’s specifications. Sent a single-spaced manuscript of 250,000 words when they wanted 80,000 maximum, double-spaced? Whoosh! There goes your book back into the slush pile! Make it legible, plain (no sample cover art by Uncle Brian), with a decent working title and give it to them in the format and file type they ask for.

Super synopsis

A synopsis is not a blurb on the back of a published book, taunting the reader with hidden details about the story, it must allow a publisher to appraise your plot at a glance. If you’ve done the work plotting your book, a synopsis will be very easy to write. If you cannot write one, chances are your manuscript is not ready to submit. Explain your exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement, and do it in the word-count they ask for.

Brilliant biog

Publishers are seeking background information about you as a writer, not necessarily where you went to school or your employment history, unless these relate to the manuscript you’re submitting. Write your biog in the third person, show them your stuff as a wordsmith, and stick to the word-count they ask for (are you seeing a pattern here about not pissing them off?).

Insider knowledge

Many submission opportunities ask writers to name a few existing books that are similar to ours. Don’t get on your high horse and claim you’ve written something so original there is nothing like it in the history of literature. The chances are there’s a few similar titles out there in the hundreds of writing genres. This is sometimes referred to as a commercial comparison, or a ‘mash up’ – ‘think Godzilla meets Bambi’ – and has become a publishing industry shortcut to understanding your manuscript quickly. You’ll be asked to nominate a genre and a format. Is it a long-form memoir? Is it a narrative non-fiction novella? Is it a short story collection? Be real and be honest.

Screen-savvy author

Agents and publishers have been known to request authors submit audition-style videos to see if we are media-friendly. Don’t panic! If you need to create a short audition video, you can film yourself on your mobile phone camera. Choose a quiet, well-lit but shaded location that prevents the sun directly hitting your face, hit the front-facing camera symbol and select video. Next, hold the camera up horizontally like you’re taking a selfie, pause, breathe, and introduce yourself before reading your writer’s biog in the first person while looking into the camera lens. This will make it look as though you’re addressing the viewer right in the eye, and give you a confident air. Email or message the clip to your desktop, then upload it with your book submission. Keep it simple and keep it short.

BE COOL It’s only a contract.

The fast response

Be prepared to have an agent or a publisher interested in your work very quickly. Like enthusiastic house hunters, they can act fast if they want to get your work off the market. This is not the moment to tell all your other prospects your work has been picked up. No real estate agent cancels further inspections on the strength of an enthusiastic potential buyer… no way! Some publishers/agents will ask for a few weeks to read and consider your work because they like the sound of it. If so, calmly tell them you have made other submissions, but say that you have not been offered any contracts. If they are genuinely interested, they’ll get reading and perhaps send you one. If you need help interpreting it, contact your writers’ centre or arts-law centre for advice.

Be cool about contracts

Good publishing contracts are not lengthy – they don’t need to be. If you’re offered a contract, it should never ask you to assign copyright of your work to another party, but it should require you to warrant you created the work you have submitted. You should be allowed to negotiate a timeframe to submit your final drafts, and you and the publisher need to agree on the date the book will be published. They can set a time limit (and perhaps a fee scale) on author changes to the manuscript ahead of publication. This is to ensure you’re a proactive, organised collaborator… if you’re a literary vacillator, you’ll pay for the privilege (remember when I warned you getting to grips with plotting would serve you even if you’re traditionally published?). The contract should stipulate an advance against royalties (which is getting extremely rare in publishing these days) and a royalty percentage of book sales for the author.

Silence is the new no

If you haven’t heard back from a publisher/agent after three months, they’re telling you no. It’s not courteous, it’s not commensurate with the effort you have put into submitting your work to them, but it’s the truth. They have rejected that manuscript and you’ll never know why. Accept this and move on. Here are some tips on dealing with literary rejection.

Having another go

If you’re keeping your eyes and ears open to publishing opportunities, you are sure to find a few more publishers/agents to submit your work to while you’re waiting for a bite from your first round. When I do, I always submit. If you have your submitting materials ready to go, it takes a few minutes and keeps another ball in the air in your juggling act. After two rounds (over six months) it’s likely you’ll know if you’ve had enough silence.



While there is still a publishing industry, writers who have done the work on our manuscripts should have a go and submit our books for consideration. Be efficient with your time by preparing your work and submitting to all publishers/agents you can find accepting work. Follow their submission guidelines to the letter. Mark a day in your diary three months from your critical mass of submitting. If you have not heard back from any of your submissions, it might be time to move on and publish your work, regardless.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

A thousand ways to say no


ANYONE who has ever done anything out of the ordinary, against the very will of societies and economies (like writing a book, crazy you!), invariably meets with the head-shaking, heartbreaking moment of dashed dreams which occurs in the wake of the average rejection.

In a sense, if you’ve put yourself in rejection’s path, you’ve already done more than most people. Trouble is, rejection rarely feels that way.

I have little time for those writers who try to mollify emerging creatives with cries of: ‘get used to it’ and ‘we’ve all been there’. To leave it at that is to ignore the genuine pain that rejection inflicts, and the possibility of finding ways through the hurt to a place of understanding.

So, for the rejected, here is my best advice, from one who stands with you.

J.K. Rowling had it good

The latest in a long line of success stories that gets trawled-out to give hope to the rejected is that of the author of the Harry Potter series, but don’t be fooled. Yes, Joanne Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was resoundingly rejected by multiple publishers, but she was signed with a literary agent at the time, and the rejection process came to an end after around twelve months. That is not an abject state of rejection. During her short rejection ‘purgatory’, Rowling had a sounding board, a guide, and a mentor in her agent, something most writers never encounter, so don’t feel too sorry for her.

Rejectors like to keep it interesting

These days, publishers and agents rarely engage in reasons why they reject your work. It’s likely you’ll never even receive a reply. If (and it’s a big if) you get feedback, don’t believe it immediately. “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell,” went the rejection of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, a book which went on to sell 25 million copies. “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling”; “You have no business being a writer and should give up”; “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough”, and “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years” all featured in rejections of some of the bestsellers in publishing history. Check out some more at this great site.

Publishers have rejection shame of their own

I once worked for one of the many publishing houses who rejected Dick King-Smith’s bestselling childrens’ book The Sheep-Pig, the story which was so successfully adapted for the screen as Babe. I can assure you the company still carried a certain amount of shame about its decision a decade later. Think of the hand-wringing and guilt-tripping amongst those publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling!

Be ready for rejection

There are only two ways to endure rejection. The first and perhaps the hardest is to be a megalomanic who has absolutely no shred of self-doubt. The other is to know the true value of your work; to have spent time and energy making your manuscript the best it can be within your skill level at this time of your life. When it gets rejected, you’ll be able to send it to another publisher straight away if you know it’s the best work you can do right now. If you don’t know this for sure, you’re possibly sending your work out too early.

Keep faith with your stories

The greatest damage rejection can wreak is if the writer gives up, leaving the characters they have worked on unread, unloved, and, in a way, unborn. Not every manuscript in history gets published, but every character needs to be loved by at least their creator. Even when all seems useless, revisit your own creation, laugh and cry at your characters’ highs and lows, keep them alive through your own faith. Think about self publishing if you’ve tried every avenue, like Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter did. Accept your own work. If you don’t, it’s possible no-one else ever will.

True criticism will fill you with power

If you ever get truly constructive feedback from an agent or a publisher, it will resonate with you on a very deep level and you’ll know immediately how to fix your manuscript. Nothing on earth will be able to hold you back from making the changes. If the feedback doesn’t move you on this level, question everything about it.

Keep some rejections to yourself

Loved ones, who always think what we write is Booker Prize material, believing mirrors that they are, need a break from our rejections sometimes. Don’t register every ‘no’ with blood-letting. Find other writers to share the pain with.

WRITE REGARDLESSSend it out again

I try my best to have a few balls in the air at one time. It provides a sense of potential, so that when a rejection lands, there is still hope on its way from some other source. For many writers, even just a tiny bit of hope is all it takes to keep going.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

An extract from Write, Regardless!