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FAQs on publishing and more.
Member only guide to the Australian book industry.
Need some answers? These are the most common questions we receive about publishing, copyright, your manuscript and earning a living as a creator.
The preparation of these FAQs has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its funding and advisory body.
I would like information on:
A book publisher’s fundamental role is to make a writer’s work available to the public. Publishers therefore:
The publisher is responsible for all costs in this traditional arrangement, but also retains control of all decisions about the way in which the book is produced and sold.
Please note the distinction between a traditional publisher’s role and the role of publishing service providers who assist author-funded publication, discussed in the Getting Published section (see tab above).
On average, it takes at least 12 months from the date of acquisition of the manuscript for a book to be published, which seems a long time for an excited author. Understanding what is happening while you wait to hold your finished book for the first time, can help to stem your impatience.
There are two major reasons for this protracted timeline:
Of course, some books take longer to produce than others. Black and white, text-only titles are much simpler to layout and design and can be printed economically in Australia, so the timeline from finished files to receipt of the books into the warehouse can be a few weeks only. A fully illustrated colour book, however, can take many weeks to design and then will be printed offshore for cost effectiveness, which can add another 3 months to the production timeline.
You can do your bit to keep the timetable moving along by ensuring that you undertake your author checks thoroughly and in accordance with the publisher’s deadlines.
A literary agent is a person with knowledge, skills and experience in the publishing industry, who represents you as an author, and acts as the go between with the publisher. Ideally, an agent will have:
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as the answer depends on several factors:
If you have experience in publishing, know which publishers suit your work best, and have direct access to those people, then you may manage well without an agent. If, however, you are a first-time or inexperienced author then it is going to be very difficult for you to secure a publisher without the help of an agent. Not only are the slush piles (manuscripts which have just been sent in by the author on spec) huge, but also most of the larger publishers will only consider manuscripts that they receive through an agent. They do this because they find it difficult to manage the sheer volume of unsolicited manuscripts that they would otherwise receive.
It’s not easy to find an agent, particularly as there are so many authors trying to get published that many agents are now closing their lists to new writers. Good research and informed referrals, however, can help you gain access and can also help you ensure that you are contacting literary agents with the right skills and experience for your work.
ALAA (the Australian Literary Agents Association), the peak national body for literary agents, is the place to begin your research. As only full-time agents qualify for membership however, the list is incomplete, and you will need to undertake further research. We recommend:
As you begin to build your list, it is important that you focus on the types of authors and genres each agent represents. It is also very important to take careful note of an agent’s submission requirements and then fulfil those to the letter. If they ask for 10 pages, then that is what you submit.
Referrals can be difficult to obtain, particularly for first-time authors, but there are steps you can take to try and secure one:
It is, however, critically important to exercise good judgment and behave respectfully. If you are at a social gathering, this is NOT the time to monopolise an agent with a 10-minute monologue about your work. It is also discourteous to ask another writer for a referral to their agent unless they know you and your work well and have already expressed interest in helping you. The publishing industry can be very generous with their time, but it is a tight-knit community, and it doesn’t take long for word to spread if you allow your enthusiasm to overcome your manners.
It is important that you start your relationship by signing an agreement with your agent that sets out:
It is, however, equally important that you understand the way in which this agreement works:
Authors Legal’s contract review service is also available for literary agent agreements and given the period of time over which aspects of this relationship can continue, it is advisable to submit your agency agreement for this assessment.
This is by no means intended as a comprehensive glossary of publishing terms, but rather a quick guide to help you navigate your first discussions with agents or publishers.
In standard text publishing, most titles are published in paperback in one of these formats:
Frontlist is the term used for all new publications. They remain frontlist for 3-6 months from first publication date. These are the riskiest titles as they are untested in the market.
Backlist refers to a title that has continued to sell beyond that 3–6-month period, providing regular, stable revenue for bookshops, publishers and authors.
Sale or Return
Nearly all print books that are sold to Australian bookshops are sold on a sale or return basis. This means that the retailer buys your book at a discount off the retail price, (on average 45% +) excluding GST and pays the publisher for that purchase. If the book doesn’t sell, however, they can return the stock to the publisher within an agreed period of time (which is often 12 months) and receive a full credit.
This is the industry term for manuscripts that are submitted to publishers directly from the author, without an agent and without any personal contact within that publisher. They are unsolicited manuscripts sent in on spec. Slush piles are large and because of time and resource constraints within the publisher, they are rarely a priority, so the chances of success for an author are very low.
Typical Word Counts:
Flash fiction is anything from 100 to 500 words
A short story ranges between 1,000 and 8,000 words
A novella between 20,000 and 50,000 words
A novel is typically between 75,000 and 90,000 words
Science Fiction and Fantasy novels are often longer, in the 90,000-to-110,000-word range
Narrative non-fiction, including memoir is similar to a novel at around 75,000+ words
Self-help titles and some business titles tend to be shorter, between 40,000 and 60,000 words
Major history and biography can be longer, up to 120,000 words
Picture books between 400 and 700, depending on the target age
Early readers, anywhere up to 3,500 words
Chapter books (8-10 years) vary from 5,000 to 10,000 words
Novels (10+ years), 25,000 words
YA, start at 40,000 words but can be up to 80,000 at the upper end of the age range
Whether you are a traditionally or self-published writer/illustrator, these days marketing can be an important part of a professional author’s role. Building an author brand and following is not only an asset when you are being considered for publication but will assist you in maximising your sales and exposure after your book is published.
Your author brand is your professional author persona – it is comprised of all of the things that make you unique as a writer or illustrator: the genre you write in, what you choose to write about, your writing/illustration style, your particular perspective on the themes you write about, your values and so on. The key to successful author branding is to be authentic and consistent in your messaging.
Publicity is how you can generate free word-of-mouth coverage for your book, and publicity activities usually take place on a short-term basis, both pre-publication and post-publication. Effective publicity campaigns are all about building strong relationships.
Publicity activities may include:
Unlike publicity, marketing campaigns cost money, and involve long-term strategies for your book and author brand.
Marketing activities may include:
The most important thing you need to know to create effective marketing and publicity strategies for your book is who your target market is: who are your core readers? While many writers and illustrators may feel that their book could be enjoyed by a wide range of readers, it is essential to narrow your scope and target a particular audience first, before going on to try and find new audiences for your work. The more specific you can be about your core readership, the more effectively you can build your marketing campaigns to appeal to them.
For example, if you’ve written a romance novel set in rural Australia, you may be more likely to generate sales promoting your book on a popular Australian blog about Rural Romance, than placing ads on general book websites. While you might reach a smaller audience on the blog, you are ensuring your book is discoverable by exactly the kinds of readers who will buy and enjoy your book rather than wasting time and money promoting your title to large swathes of people who never read romance.
If you are a traditionally published author, you can seek out information about the target market for your book from your publisher. If you are a self-published author you will be required to research this information for yourself. You should try to find out:
Are you a big reader of the kinds of books you write? (You should be!) Thinking about your own answers to these questions is an excellent place to start.
It is essential to think about your core readership ahead of the publication of your book, as just like in a publishing house this information should inform key decisions about your book including the cover and book design, the title, the blurb and the pricing.
Hear from Alex Adsett, literary agent at Alex Adsett Publishing Services:
“The first thing I’m absolutely looking for is an amazing manuscript, but this is closely followed by working out if the author is someone I am going to want to work with in the long term.
In a perfect world, I want an author who understands that publishing is business, – and although it is a business driven by a love of stories and big ideas, we do need to approach it professionally. It is a tough industry to get ahead in and writing a brilliant book is just the first step. You only get one shot to make a good first impression with a manuscript, so it is vital that you submit when it is as perfect as it can be.
A cover letter needs to be professional, and you need to have checked and followed the submission guidelines of everyone you are querying (yes, the guidelines are often arbitrary, but they are a test you need to pass to get to the next step). If you are going to break the rules, at least be aware of them, and make sure you are breaking them for a good reason.
I need authors who will listen to feedback and guidance, but also push back if it doesn’t feel right for them i.e.don’t ignore advice, but don’t follow it blindly either. Keep your agent in the loop of what is happening, and remember we are always here to help.
Authors who stand out for me are the ones who are connected within the industry. If I have met you at writing conferences, or book launches, read tweets about books you have loved, or seen you interact within a network of other authors, I know you are committed to building a vibrant and sustainable writing community for us all, and are probably going to be a lovely person to work with.
It’s also a long game. Don’t get frustrated at the first rejection (and definitely don’t rant about it on social media). Sometimes a good first no is the start of a great relationship with an agent, publisher or group of writers. The more you build connections within the writing community, the closer you’ll get to publication, and the more fun you’ll have while getting there.”
– Alex Adsett, literary agent at Alex Adsett Publishing Services
Hear from Ruby Ashby-Orr, Editor at Affirm Press:
“There are three main things I look for in an author. First, obviously, there’s the raw material: a great story and the ability to tell it well.
The second thing that makes a prospective author stand out is some interest in publishing as an industry and an awareness that our job as publishers is to use our knowledge to find the book’s audience. We all get into publishing because we love the art of writing, but it’s still a business. Authors who have a vision for how their book will sit in a bookshop (including suggesting similar titles that Australian readers have loved) and how it will connect with an audience always stand out.
Finally, I look for a collaborative attitude. I love working closely with authors, and really relish the back-and-forth you can have with an author who’s open and excited to have a team pulling together to get their book out there.
My top tip for working with an editor (or anyone in publishing for that matter) is to come at it with that attitude of collaboration. You’re all working together to get this book as strong as it can be so it can reach its audience, and your publishing team have the skills and experience to give it its best chance. Approaching the process with trust and curiosity will make a big difference.”
-Ruby Ashby-Orr, Editor at Affirm Press
Hear from Catherine Milne, Publisher at HarperCollins Publishers Australia
“What do I want from an author? The answer is possibly too long to be contained within a single paragraph, but let me try. Firstly, I want an author who reads widely in their genre, and is very clear what they’re writing and who their reader is – that clarity of understanding of your market, genre and readership is gold. Ideally, I want an author who has worked hard on their writing; maybe they’ve got one or two starter novels in their bottom drawer and are now confident with the rhythms of narrative, how to layer in story and build characters – they’ve found their voice and they’re committed to what they’re doing. But they’re also the kind of writer who is not precious, who is open to ideas and suggestions, and is happy to be edited – this is important, because publishing is such a collaborative industry. I also love it when an author has already worked out their ‘elevator pitch’ and comparisons – that’s so useful – as that also tells me they know where their book sits in the market. It’s also great when an author is comfortable with social media (although this is not absolutely necessary) and can talk confidently about their writing, and have built themselves a writerly community of support. And I want someone who loves what they write – they’re personally invested in it. They’re not writing because they think ‘this genre is so hot right now’ or ‘this genre will get me published’. The best writing comes from the heart. And the last thing? I want to be surprised. I can’t always tell you specifically what I’m looking for as a publisher, but I know it when I read it. I love more than anything that feeling when I open a manuscript and think, ‘ah, I haven’t seen anything like this before …’ – so I want an author who writes from a place of authentic enjoyment – write what pleases and delights you, and hopefully it will delight us too!”
-Catherine Milne, Publisher at HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Hear from Bella Arnott-Hoare, Publicity Manager at Penguin Random House Australia
“You’ve made it to the publicity stage! The bright lights, camera, action! Firstly, a hearty congrats. The journey to get here can take a while.
To help your publicist there are a few things you can do. Firstly, think about what’s interesting to the media. What are some things you might like to be asked, or that’d make a good story, and how would you answer?
What’s your connection to the work, and how will you talk about it? If it’s a memoir – it’s obvious. If it’s non-fiction, why was it a subject for you? If it’s fiction, the kernels of truth are what I find interesting. How can you draw on your experience to bring the characters to life for the audience? Practice your answers.
When your publicist is building your schedule, don’t be afraid to reach out to everyone you know. Let them know a book is coming; put it across your social media channels. Let your publicist know who you know. Build your own website.
And now, when you’ve made it to the chair, or the studio, remember to breathe, smile, drink water and read your itinerary. Thoroughly. In fact – read it a few times. Be visible on release – pop into bookshops to sign some copies if you can, but make sure to call them first!
Be prepared to get calls at the last moment. Be prepared for some early mornings or late nights for a few weeks or more. Remember why you’re doing this. And did I say breathe? Breathe!”
-Bella Arnott-Hoare, Publicity Manager at Penguin Random House Australia
Hear from Kate Adams, Manager at Collins Booksellers Thirroul
“If you want your book to be prominently displayed in store upon its release, make sure booksellers have access to an advance reading copy. Drop ARCs into your local bookstores and briefly introduce yourself. We love our local authors!
Once your book is out in the world, get on the road and meet booksellers far and wide! Be warm and tell us a little bit about your book—but make sure you schedule your meet-and-greet ahead of time. A positive experience with an author makes us much more inclined to recommend their book.
If you want your book to stand out from the crowd, don’t take it upon yourself to move it to a prime position in store. We’ll find it, get cranky, and put it back! Be happy to pose for a photo that can be shared on social media, and make sure you share it on your own.
Be willing to do events. Always share event details through your online channels, always arrive early, and please be gracious if the crowd is smaller than you hoped—even big-name authors can struggle to draw a crowd!
We know you just want your book to sell, but be mindful that independent bookstores may be miffed if they see you urging your followers to buy from major online retailers. If you want your book to be hand-sold by indie booksellers for years to come, encourage your readers to support their local bookstores, where possible. Support us, and we’ll support you.”
-Kate Adams, Manager at Collins Booksellers Thirroul
When you have been slaving over your manuscript for a long time, often years, it is impossible to retain the objectivity you need to be able to judge when your work is ready for publication. Your family and friends are not well-placed to make this decision either, as they know how hard you’ve worked so even if they did have reservations, they may not have the heart to be critical.
The best step that you can therefore take is to pay to have your work professionally read by an experienced assessor, who will read your manuscript and provide a report that specifies if they consider your work to be at a publishable standard. If it isn’t, but they believe it could be, they will set out what you need to do to increase your chances of success. A good assessor will also be honest, however, if they consider that your work will never meet publishable standard, either because of your topic, your treatment of that topic, or the standard of your writing. If this is their conclusion, of course it is initially devastating, but for many it is preferable to years of publisher rejections. It also gives you the opportunity to change direction on your topic, adjust to a future of writing for pleasure only, or seeking out writing courses that can help you develop your skills.
As is the case with all publishing services, there are many different businesses offering assessments and they are of a very mixed standard. Below are some links to services that some of our members have used in the past:
The ASA’s First Ten Pages Mentorship
The Institute of Professional Editors
Writers Victoria Manuscript Assessments
Writing NSW Manuscript Assessments
Manuscript Agency Manuscript Appraisal
The cost of an assessment varies according to the length of your work and the level of experience of the assessor, but a 70,000-word novel would typically cost between $650 and $850. If a provider is quoting you considerably less than this approach with caution as it takes time to read, review and report on a full-length manuscript.
For more intense and ongoing mentoring to bring your manuscript to a publishable standard, you might be interested in working one-on-one with one of our experienced mentors.
Because of the significant technological advancements in book production and printing over the last 10 years, there are now a plethora of choices available to you when you complete your manuscript. While choice can be good, for many of you, the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming and confusing. The first step in the process, is to understand the differences between the two major pathways to publication.
The role of the traditional publisher is outlined in the section What does a Publisher do? (see The Publishing Industry tab). In essence, you as the author, sign a contract with the publisher, licencing them your copyright so that they can produce your work in specified formats and markets. The publisher pays all costs, from the editing, design and print costs, through to the costs of selling, marketing and distributing the finished books. While many publishers will consult you on editorial and design issues, ultimately all publishing decisions remain theirs. In return, the publisher pays you a percentage of the revenue that they receive when the book goes on sale, which is usually an agreed percentage based on the retail price of your book.
Self-publishing is an all-encompassing term covering every type of publishing arrangement that doesn’t follow the traditional model. The common principle among these arrangements is that you, as the author, pay for the costs of publication, receiving a greater share of the revenue when a book sells. Depending on the way in which you choose to self-publish, you are likely to be responsible for all the marketing, selling and promotion of your book.
There are two broad types of self-publishing:
The first is a true DIY model, where you find an editor, designer and printer (if relevant) and create the book yourself. You then load your ebook onto all the major e-retailer sites and provide print copies to a distributor, who will then supply those print books to bricks and mortar stores in return for a percentage of the revenue. You will be responsible for generating sales, and all the marketing and promotion of your book.
The second option is where you use a company to produce your book for you, at your expense. These companies use a variety of different descriptors, such as custom publishing, hybrid publishing, partnership publishing or self-publishing services.
Some of these companies only produce finished books, but many offer additional services to take your book to market. Ethical companies are transparent about the services they offer and the fees that they charge, but unfortunately there are some companies that use exaggerated claims to entice authors to sign up. It pays to be cautious and thorough in your due diligence before you decide to engage with any of these businesses and to understand exactly which services you’ll be paying for.
The different options available to you are set out in our Paths to Publication chart:
Our table of Australian paths to publication was inspired by Jane Friedman’s Key Book Publishing Paths which summarises the pathways in the US, which you can look at here.
If you have tried every possible path to traditional publishing and failed to place your work, despite a positive, professional assessment, then you may wish to self-publish. You may also decide to self-publish if you work in a genre that supports self-publishing, such as Romance, Science Fiction and Crime. Carefully consider whether you have the time and resources needed to self-publish as you are effectively taking on all the responsibilities of a publisher.
It is important to remember that making the book is the (relatively) easy part. There are good publishing services companies and many excellent freelancers, who can help you produce a high-quality print and digital book that will be indistinguishable from a title published traditionally. The challenge lies in discoverability and accessing sales channels: how do people know about your book and where can they buy it?
Once you have self-published a particular manuscript, it is highly unlikely that a traditional publisher will ever re-publish it.
Although there are many reasons for this, the primary problem is that a book is only new when it is released for the first time. That’s when reviews are most likely and sales are at their strongest. If you self-publish your work, and your sales are low, a publisher will consider the work market-tested and won’t want to invest in a book that hasn’t performed. Publishers also want to be the exclusive supplier for a book, so that they can control the way in which it is produced and marketed. If there is a self-published version available, the positioning of the book, including cover and blurb, have already been established and it can be difficult for a publisher to re-position the title. Even though a book can be withdrawn from the market, it is likely that the eBook will be available on many different platforms and it is difficult and time consuming to ensure that a work has been removed from sale on every site, which undermines that publisher’s exclusivity and raises the potential for confusion in the market.
Of course there are exceptions to this, as a small number of self-published authors have been successfully re-published by a traditional publisher, but they are rare. This happens when sales indicate that interest is high, but the commercial potential has not yet been realised, or a current event has re-ignited interest in the subject matter of the self-published work, again resulting in unrealised commercial potential, or where a publisher has successfully published an author’s work and turns to their self-published backlist to see if there are any titles that could genuinely be given another chance off the back of strong new title sales.
This is why, at the outset, for each manuscript you must be certain about whether you want to self-publish or traditionally publish. If you are hoping for a publisher, try the traditional path first because, once you’ve self-published, your book will no longer be considered new and it is extremely unlikely that it will hold any appeal for any publisher, who will always have hundreds of fresh new manuscripts to consider.
Finding the right publisher for your work is a similar process to finding the right literary agent, but even more important because you only have one chance to impress a publisher and if you blow it you have eliminated one of your potential publishing partners.
By the time they type The End, after multiple drafts and hours of editing, many authors have spent so long writing their book that all they want is to see it published as quickly as possible. While this is understandable, rushing in too quickly often ends in tears. Sending a mass market fiction title to a literary publisher is a waste of time so make sure you research publishers carefully and decide which ones are the best fit for your work:
Draw up a shortlist of the publishers that you believe are most likely to be drawn to your writing and then focus on putting together a very strong submission.
There are many excellent resources available on the preparation of a good submission, a list of which are provided below, but there are some basic rules that cover them all:
1. Purpose: The purpose of a submission is not to provide a lengthy summation of your plot, but to engage the publisher’s interest in your work, and present a sound business case for publication:
While this is easier to achieve with non-fiction than fiction, it is just as important that you show you understand your market and how your novel can be presented to that audience to generate sales.
2. Attention to Detail. Unbelievable though it may seem, it is staggering how many authors submit their work with mistakes including poor grammar and spelling errors. It would be hard to think of an easier way for the publisher to reject your proposal, so be careful. Check your submission and read over your cover letter thoroughly. If you haven’t taken the time to get your submission up to standard, there is no way that a publisher is going to consider investing thousands of dollars in producing your book.
3. Submission Requirements. Every publisher will have a Submissions section on their website, where they will itemise exactly what they want to receive in a submission and when they want to receive it. Observe these instructions to the letter. It’s time consuming to have to prepare a different submission for each publisher, but that is precisely what you have to do if you are to have any chance of your work being considered. Just remember that the slush pile is large and the person in charge of vetting the submissions is looking for easy ways to reduce that pile. Submissions that fail to conform to the clearly specified requirements, are the first to be rejected, without anyone having read a word.
4. Personalisation. Wherever you can, try and personalise your submission to a specific imprint or person, depending on the size of the publisher. Every imprint will have its own flavour, reflecting the taste of the person acquiring the list, so if you can compare your work to books with which the publisher has had past success, you improve your chances of your work being read. A well-considered cover letter is another way in which you can help make your submission stand out from the crowd.
Here are some warnings which will sound harsh, but we have your best interests at heart! Resist the temptation to include any of the following, especially in the opening sentences of your letter – not only will they not help, but you also run the risk that your submission will be summarily dismissed:
The ASA runs a regular course on the best way to pitch your work to a publisher, both in writing and in person, entitled Pitch Perfect. It generally takes place a few weeks in advance of a Literary Speed Dating event and is designed to help writers to present their work effectively.
Jane Friedman is a very experienced publishing professional with a website and blog that contains some excellent resources for writers: How to write a book proposal
Reedsy is another publishing blog with helpful information on this subject: How to write a book proposal
Unfortunately, this is the hard part, as once you have submitted your manuscript, all you can do is wait. Since it is not uncommon for publishers to take months to respond to unsolicited manuscripts, this waiting period can seem endless. Many publishers will at least advise their turnaround time in their guidelines, so it is wise to always make a diary note of when you submitted to each publisher and when you might expect to have an answer, bearing in mind that some publishers will only contact you if they have further interest in your work.
Despite the fact that this waiting seems interminable, however, resist the urge to follow up with the publisher until their nominated time has elapsed. Early contact won’t speed up the process, but it can run the risk of being seen as an annoyance, which won’t help your chances of publication. If you still have heard nothing by the end of the period that the publisher gave as their response time, then a courteous phone call or email requesting a new assessment date is certainly acceptable.
Because of these long waiting times, you really have no choice but to submit your proposal to more than one publisher at a time. Publishers can be sensitive about multiple submissions, however, so it is best to limit the number of publishers to three or four at the most, at any one time. You don’t have to mention this in your cover letter, but if one of those publishers expresses interest in your work, the protocol changes. If the interested publisher asks you if you’ve submitted elsewhere of course you confirm this, but even if they don’t ask, it would be best to say that you have a submission in with other publishers. You should then follow up with those other publishers with a polite email saying that there is interest in your work, and you would be grateful if they could respond to your submission. Knowing that there is interest from one of their competitors will pique the interest of the other publishers and it is more than likely that your work will rise to the top of their slush piles.
Like any business partnership, a strong publishing relationship is based on:
If you are in the fortunate position of having several publishers interested in your work, it is important to assess:
If you are not in the fortunate position of having a choice, it is still important to do your homework and to be comfortable with the relationship. You are going to be working together for at least a couple of years and if alarm bells are ringing in the early stages of negotiations, it is likely that the situation is going to deteriorate, not improve, as the stress of deadlines kick in.
So, trust your instincts, as a badly published book that does not sell is not going to help you build your writing career.
The publisher is also looking for a good relationship with you as their author as they want the revenue from sales of a book to exceed the costs of production and distribution. Factors that they will be considering outside the actual manuscript will be:
It is important, however, that you don’t pretend to have certain skills or experience because you know that’s what the publisher wants to hear. You won’t be able to fake it forever and you’ll only sour your relationship when they realise that you don’t know your Instagram from your TikTok. So, own up to gaps if they exist, but demonstrate your willingness to learn and take direction.
Who gets to decide what?
There are many advantages in having a traditional publishing relationship, which include the fact that the financial risk is assumed by the publisher and the fact that they will generally have had many years’ experience in successfully producing, selling, and marketing authors’ work.
But be aware that the publisher will have total control over the publishing process. While you will be able to discuss the proposed changes in your work with your editor and have some input into the look and feel of your finished book, the degree to which the publisher will involve you, and more importantly, listen to you, varies significantly particularly if you are a first-time author. It isn’t easy to work out which battles are worth fighting, so you need to navigate this carefully to ensure that you don’t articulate every tiny quibble. It’s also important that you acknowledge that the publisher will know a great deal more about the art of producing a book than you do. But if there is an issue that seriously impacts on your vision for your book, then you should raise the issue calmly and give your reasons clearly as you are the author and it is your creative work.
The very first thing to do when considering self-publishing is to understand your motivations and goals for publication, as this should inform all of the decisions you make about your book.
If your motivation to publish is personal (for example you’d like to publish a family memoir to give to family and friends) your decisions on print run, design, editing and more will be different to someone whose motivation is commercial.
If your goals are commercial, right from the outset you should know whether there’s a market for your book and know your readership well: where do they shop for books? What kinds of cover designs are popular with readers of your genre? In which format do they read? The answers to these questions and more, should guide the decisions you make for publication.
Once you have determined your goals, your next task is to think about how to turn your manuscript into a finished book. You can do this in one of two ways:
Option A: The DIY route, where you source your own editor and designer to produce print ready and ebook files.
This option allows you to control the costs, quality and timeline of the publication, by using some of the many good freelance editors and designers who have the skills and experience to create a book that is of the same standard as a traditional publisher. Editors and designers both have professional associations, which are an excellent place to start searching for experienced help with your book.
Institute of Professional Editors
Australian Book Designers Association
Quality publishing is a skill and without any experience it can be difficult to know how to even brief an editor, designer and printer. This means that many authors tend not to take this route, finding it both daunting and time consuming.
Option B: Engage a publishing services business, which will produce the book on your behalf.
As self-publishing increases, so too do the businesses that service this area of publishing. Indeed, there are now so many providers offering such a broad spectrum of services that choosing the right business for you can be both complicated and risky. It’s always important to remember that unlike traditional publishers who only make money if a book sells, publishing services businesses make their money up-front from invoicing you as the author, for the services they have provided. They therefore have little to no vested interest in the levels of sales that your book generates.
While there are many variations, service providers fall into some broad categories:
As your financial risk rises, your scrutiny also needs to increase. Read on for some warning signs that can help you make a safer decision.
The key to choosing the right supplier for you, is to research carefully, read between the lines and take sensible steps to protect yourself. Cynicism is your friend. If an offer seems too good to be true, the chances are that it IS too good to be true. Ask questions if there are terms or conditions that are vague or difficult to understand and if you fail to get a satisfactory answer, RUN. The ASA encourages authors to:
If you are prepared to do your research and fund production, you can make a high-quality book that will be the same standard as a title published traditionally, but unfortunately, there are still two major hurdles to overcome:
Digital Channels to Market: In the digital world, access to market is relatively straightforward as there are a set number of standard file formats for ebooks and a fixed number of major online retailers. If you feel comfortable in the digital environment, you can load your ebooks onto those retail sites yourself and manage the process from there. If you don’t feel qualified to do this, there are a number of options where companies will format your files and make them available on all the major retail sites for a fee. These businesses include:
Print Channels to Market: Accessing bricks and mortar bookshops, however, is considerably more difficult. Some bookshops will stock self-published titles from local authors, but many have had negative experiences with unprofessional or disorganised authors and will no longer accept books directly from the author. If you happen to have a good relationship with your local bookshops, you could be one of the lucky ones, but you need to understand what is involved:
Even if you can access your local shops, the scale of your distribution will be tiny. To be able to access stores throughout Australia, you need to have a book distributor. These companies have a sales team (usually freelance reps on commission) and a warehouse and they handle the sales and invoicing into the bookshops, the receipt and storage of stock from the printer, delivery of the stock, and credit control. They charge somewhere around 70-75% of net revenue for these services. There are currently very few distributors prepared to represent individual authors, which is why the ASA has negotiated an arrangement with John Reed Books as a way for members to access print distribution. You can find out more about this service here, or a list of other distributors in the ASA Guide to the Australian Book Industry.
Discoverability: The other significant challenge for independent authors is how you build awareness of your book in the market. The answer is to prepare effective and realistic marketing and publicity campaigns, and to do that you must know your readership: what publications do they read? Where do they get their book news? Which book retailers do they use? Which influencers do they follow? The more you know about your readers, the more efficiently you can market your book to them.
It is important that you prepare your marketing and publicity plans ahead of the publication of your book. Do not wait until after your book is published to think about promoting it – the first three months of a book’s shelf life are critical for building sales momentum!
For more information about marketing and publicity see What do I need to know about marketing and promotion? (under The Publishing Industry tab), and find our DIY Marketing Starter Pack.
It is difficult for you to assess the fairness of the quotes that you receive without some benchmark costs, but these vary widely depending on the length of your manuscript, the standard of your manuscript, the level of skill and experience of the person/s working on your book and the result that you are seeking. If you want to achieve a high-quality book that is of the same standard as one produced by a traditional publisher, some indicative costs, assuming a text-only title of 75,000 words, would be:
NB. This cost does not include the cost of printing, sales, marketing, or distribution
Publishing services company rates will vary widely from $250 at the low end, up to the “gold” package levels of $10,000 and beyond, but often the more expensive packages simply include more print copies of your book, not a higher standard of editorial and design. In book production, you generally do get what you pay for and if a company is offering to produce your book for a few hundred dollars there will be no meaningful editing or design and the cover will be a template with your title dropped in. The result will be a poorly produced book with little market appeal.
Printing costs also vary significantly, depending on format, page extent, binding and whether or not it is black and white or colour. To give you a benchmark, if you printed 100 copies of your 70,000-word book as a trade paperback (the size of a standard hardback novel), with 192 pages and a full colour cover with matte lamination, it would cost you somewhere between $7.00 and $8.00 per book.
One of the major reasons given in support of self-publishing is greater return to the author compared with the traditional path, and on the surface of it that seems accurate. In a traditional publishing arrangement, the author gets a standard royalty of 10% of the retail price, whereas in self-publishing, the author is acting as publisher and therefore receives the publisher’s margin. The problem is that this assumption does not take into account the number of copies sold. Despite all the stories you read about self-published books that sell millions of copies, the reality is that self-published titles are estimated to have average lifetime sales of 250 copies, although it is difficult to confirm this with accurate data, as there is very little research into self-publishing in Australia. A huge challenge for self-published books is discoverability in the market.
If we therefore continue our example and you print your 100 copies, at a cost of $750, then you add your production costs of perhaps $3,500, you will have spent just under $4,250. If you sell all 100 copies at $15.00 per unit, you will recover $1,500 of the money you have spent. If you sell those copies at full retail, through your website for instance, you will receive revenue of about $3,000. You will need to sell more than 200 copies of your book to recover all your costs, depending on where you sell them. If you use a distributor taking 75% of the bookseller revenue, you will need to sell about 1,000 copies to cover your costs.
This is the reason that so many people cut costs on their production, by editing the book and designing the cover themselves. While this certainly saves money, it can make a cheap-looking and unattractive book that will be very much more difficult to sell.
Hence, we come full circle. Self-publishing works well when you either have an established audience for your book, or you have the time and skills to provide extensive sales and marketing support to build that community.
As the Australian Copyright Council states:
“Copyright is free and automatic and exists the moment you express your creation in material form (e.g.; draw a sketch on paper, paint a picture on canvas, record a video on a smartphone). There is no need to register copyright in Australia, get a signature from a lawyer or JP, or pay any fees to acquire copyright.
The Copyright Council is aware that there are websites that offer to “register” copyright in Australia upon the payment of registration fees. Such websites are based outside Australia and should be avoided as scams.”
For further details, check out the Council’s fact sheet, An Introduction to Copyright in Australia.
In Australia, copyright in literary and artistic works lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years after their death.
You need to be very careful about quoting from other people’s work, in terms of both acknowledging your source and obtaining permission to use the quote in the first place.
A good place to start is the Australian Copyright Council, as they are the experts in copyright and have some excellent resources available, including two fact sheets:
Once you have read these, you will have a much better idea of your responsibilities, but if in doubt ask for permission as it is much better to be safe than sorry. Remember that acknowledgement of the source of the quote is always essential, but it is not a replacement for permission.
Generally speaking, you obtain permission to use a quote from a copyrighted work, by approaching the publisher of that work. If you want to use a quote from a song lyric, you should check with APRA AMCOS as they may be able to confirm the publisher for you. If you want to quote from a book, then you need to approach the publisher and request permission. Most medium-large publishers will have information about permissions on their websites including online forms to complete, but the main points you will be asked to provide are:
If you are wanting the quote for a non-commercial reason, then you should also make this clear as depending on the circumstances, the publisher may then be willing to waive any fee.
Unfortunately tracking down the right person to grant some of these permissions is not always easy, so you do need to allow plenty of time as it can take months rather than days.
If you want to quote from a work that you know to be out of copyright (ie copyright has expired), you should still always acknowledge the source of the quote.
If you have genuinely made every possible attempt to locate the copyright owner to no avail, you then need to make an assessment as to whether you will take the risk and proceed with a disclaimer in place that expresses your willingness to obtain correct permission if the rightful owner comes forward. Your publisher could help you with this risk assessment based on their experience. The Australian Copyright Council could advise you on your legal risks.
Any website which unlawfully makes available free copies of published books undermines legitimate sales. If you discover that your ebook, in which you own copyright, has been made available for unlawful download from a piracy website, here are some steps you can take:
1. Contact your publisher to alert them to the site. Check if it has already issued a takedown notice on your behalf or intends to do so.
2. Satisfy yourself that neither you nor your publisher nor your distributor has authorised the site to make your ebook available to the public.
3. Contact the proprietor of the website to request immediate removal of your eBook from the site. Write to the “Copyright Officer” if there is one or otherwise to the contact person for the website. Click here for a sample take down notice.
4. Alert Google to the piracy site by completing a Legal Removal Request. If Google receives enough of these notices, it will demote the piracy site in search results.
Defamation is a communication from one person to at least one other that injures the reputation of an identifiable third person, in circumstances where the communicator has no legal defence. The law of defamation aims to balance the right of free speech with protecting an individual’s reputation against harm.
If you are writing a work that includes real people, defamation is an issue that you must consider, even if you have chosen to fictionalise the work or re-name the people involved. While you generally cannot defame dead people, and justification is a defence against defamation (provided you can prove the veracity of your work), it is still essential that you seek legal advice, as defamation is a complex area of law.
If you are publishing traditionally, your publisher will assess the content and if they have any queries they will commission a legal reading and then further assess the risks involved in proceeding to publication. If the lawyers recommend changes that must be made to the work and you fail to make those changes, this will likely lead to termination of your agreement.
If you are self-publishing, it is critical that you seek legal advice, as you will be solely responsible if someone featured in your book decides to take action against you. You should start with Arts Law, but you may also have to consider paying a lawyer in private practice for a full legal opinion, which can be expensive.
For further reading, Arts Law publishes an Information Sheet on Defamation Law.
Indigenous cultural material is owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and consultation and consent is required before you use, publish or adapt this material in your work.
If your writing or art will incorporate Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), you must have regard to industry protocols. We strongly encourage all writers and illustrators to read our resource: More Than Words; Writing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture and Copyright in Australia for guidance on ICIP best practice. This guidance is essential reading if you:
A sensitivity reader is a beta reader who will read your manuscript with a critical eye to spot stereotypes, offensive language, cultural inaccuracies, misrepresentation of marginal groups, bias or archaic or historically inaccurate assumptions. Sensitivity readers are increasingly being used to read fiction work where the writer is writing from a perspective with which they are not personally familiar (for example a white straight male writer writing from the perspective of a black queer female). Sensitivity readers are not intended to stifle freedom of expression but raise your awareness not only of any unconscious bias or mistakes, but of how your work will be received.
Your publisher might suggest your work be read by a sensitivity reader. Or, you might decide that you are writing outside your lived experience or professional expertise and need a sensitivity reader to review your work for authenticity and accuracy. Like an editor who points out cliches in your writing, a sensitivity reader ought to challenge you to bring nuance and complexity to your work.
To find a sensitivity reader, you can search in the ASA’s Guide to the Australian Book Industry 2023-24, which you receive for free when you renew your membership or join the ASA in 2022. Alternatively, speak to your publisher or contact the Institute of Professional Editors.
The reality is that most authors are unable to earn a living from their writing alone, which means that they build a portfolio career based around their writing.
Australian Business Number (ABN)
You need an Australian Business Number to register for GST.
Learn how to register for an ABN.
Goods and Services Tax (GST)
You will need to establish whether or not you have to register for GST. You can find out all the details at the Australian Tax office (ATO) website.
As a sole trader, you must also understand how and when you must supply tax invoices. Find all the information you need to know on the ATO website.
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is the unique identifier for books used globally. You will need an ISBN for each unique format of your book, e.g. paperback, hardcover, EPUB, MOBI, etc.
If you are traditionally published, your publisher will arrange for ISBNs for your work. If you are self-publishing, you can purchase ISBNs at the Thorpe-Bowker My Identifiers website.
Copyright Agency collects licence fees for the reuse of text and images and distributes these as copyright royalty payments to their creator members, including Australian writers, illustrators, publishers, visual artists and journalists. They manage the educational and government statutory licence schemes.
You must join Copyright Agency to be eligible for payment in the event your work is copied in schools and universities. Membership is free – sign up at the Copyright Agency website.
Public Lending Right (PLR) and Educational Lending Right (ELR) are part of a government-run scheme that compensates Australian authors, illustrators, and publishers for the loss of income through the free multiple use of their work in Australian public and educational lending libraries.
You must submit title claims within five years of the date of publication of your work. Find out more about PLR/ELR and register for these payments at the Office for the Arts website.
There are many potential sources of grants, but two of the most significant for writers and illustrators are those managed by the Australia Council for the Arts, and The Cultural Fund managed by the Copyright Agency.
For a listing of grants available for authors and illustrators in Australia see the ASA’s Book Industry Directory.
This is particularly relevant for children’s and adult non-fiction writers, both to generate income from speaking fees and to build a community for future book sales. For guidance on payment rates for public speaking and events see the ASA’s recommended rates of pay.
School and library appearances are an important source of income for children’s and YA authors, particularly around Book Week. You will need a Working with Children check in the State/Territory in which you work.
If you write children’s books and are interested in securing work as a speaker in schools, the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA) has published a guide for authors and illustrators visiting and presenting in schools. It covers the most important information you need to know, including English in the curriculum, school finances and what a school expects from an author.
There are several speaker agencies who represent authors to speak in schools and libraries. Each has their own criteria for authors they choose to represent. Most are state based working with schools within their state.
If you are interested in becoming part of the ‘celebrity’ speaking network, there are many speaker bureaus who manage this type of work mostly for corporate. Before joining their list they will want to see evidence of your success as a speaker in schools and at public events. It is always wise to undertake thorough research before making any commitments. Study the agency’s talent list and if you have a personal connection to one of the speakers, try and find out their opinion of the business. If you have a publisher, their publicity department will know some of the best agencies and may be able to assist with an introduction.
There are many writers’ festivals in Australia, and you can find a comprehensive listing of these in the ASA’s Book Industry Directory. While all festivals have a dedicated shop selling the most relevant titles from each attending author, the primary reason that authors aspire to attend these events is the exposure it gives them and their work to an audience with a passion for books and reading.
It’s difficult, however, to provide advice on how you can go about securing an invitation. A few festivals have a form on their website, such as the Melbourne Writer’s Festival which includes a short section on submissions, but overall authors are invited at the discretion of the festival Director who is selecting authors on the basis of, among other things:
While it is worth submitting to festivals, wherever that is possible, the best way of securing an invitation as a festival guest is to generate as much positive publicity for your book as possible, including being willing to speak to any group showing interest in your work and a willingness to pay fairly for it.
There are many literary prizes offered to Australian writers and illustrators, including pre-publication prizes for emerging authors and post-publication awards for published books. You can find a non-exhaustive listing of prizes in the ASA’s Book Industry Directory.
Freelance writing work is easier to secure if you are a non-fiction writer, but there are many literary journals who accept and publish poetry and short stories. A selection of Australian literary journals is listed in the ASA’s Book Industry Directory. We recommend you always ensure that you will be paid for your work.
If you have an established writing career, mentoring can be a very rewarding way of passing on your knowledge and earning additional income.
The ASA offers professional mentorships to all published and unpublished writers and illustrators with a work-in-progress, and many writers’ organisations offer mentoring schemes. If you’d like to apply to be an ASA mentor please enquire at [email protected].
The ASA, and other writers’ organisations offer an extensive range of workshops to aspiring and established writers, many of which are facilitated by authors.
You can start the process of becoming a workshop presenter by thinking carefully about the skills, experience and knowledge that you have which may benefit other writers. These could be related to your writing, e.g. how to conduct research if you are a non-fiction writer of history, but they could equally relate to other roles that have formed part of your career, e.g. business skills, organising your time appropriately, writing grant applications.
When you have identified an area/s where you believe you could make a worthwhile contribution, write a short precis of the way in which you would conduct a workshop. In many ways, it is similar to preparing a publisher submission for your book, so try and include the following:
Once you are happy with your document, prepare a cover letter and send this and your proposal to any organisation that matches your target group. Many of those organisations are seeking fresh faces to bring to their training programs, and a strong proposal should at least open the door to a conversation.
For guidance on payment rates, see the ASA’s recommended rates of pay.
Organisations and individuals offering residencies to authors and illustrators should ensure that applicants are provided with documentation that clearly details what the residency offers and the terms and conditions of the residency. Hosts should consider travel costs, per diems and fees for public engagements and inform the resident in advance of what the host organisation will cover and what the resident is expected to provide.
Ideally, residencies offering creative time should not require the resident to fulfil teaching or mentoring roles nor require them to engage in public events.
The residency should:
The recipient should: