How NOT TO Scare Away Publishers & Agents

Publishers and Agents are like deer. If approached quietly and with respect, they will stick around and may even let you ‘feed’ them. But move too suddenly or too fast and you are likely to send them fleeing.

I’ve been submitting to publishers and agents for longer than I care to remember – and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Since I’ve adopted this acquired wisdom, I’m happy to say that my number of acceptances seems to be increasing every year.

But where do you go for advice about author/publisher/agent etiquette? There are so many unwritten rules. Being a writer, I thought it was time someone wrote them down.

My writerly friends at KWD agreed, and they have generously chipped in and given me their tips as well. (Thanks everyone at KWD).



Never admit to having 80 manuscripts in your filing cabinets  (like I did). I’m not sure whether it makes publishers and agents think you’re a little unhinged or perhaps it’s the thought of taking on an author who has a complete slush pile of her own. (I never said they had to read them all, lol).

Now I’m going to admit something to you here (but don’t tell on me)…my pile is actually closer to 90 now. See I can’t stop writing…even if I try…characters keep bursting into my head and begging me to tell their story.

Of course many of these manuscripts aren’t publishable. I look on the earlier ones as my ‘training wheels’ – they are the ones I wrote when I was ‘learning to write’ – the ones I never sent out.  I’m still learning, but I had a lot more to learn back then.

So if you’re a high volume writer, it’s definitely best to keep some of your manuscripts a secret…at first.


The following are definitely out:

  • Getting drunk and whispering sentimentally to a publisher or agent that they remind you of your mother.
  • Following publishers/agents everywhere and offering to buy them drinks.
  • Following them to the bathroom and talking to them through the cubicle wall.
  • Following them full stop.
  • Pitching to them in a social environment – if a publisher has just consumed a large and sumptuous main, there’s nothing that will cause them reflux more than an author pitching their 200,000 word sci fi, thriller, mystery romance over dessert.

I never tell a publisher or agent what I am working on unless they ask. If they ask, that means want to know. It means they will listen to my pitch rather than smiling through gritted teeth as they try to disguise what they are really thinking (I wish this pesky author would leave me in peace).

Before the conference I always think about what piece of work I might want to pitch (if requested). Then I write out a 25 to 30 word spiel, which I memorise. This stops me rambling with nerves till the publishers/agent’s eyes glaze over and it soon becomes clear that they are sorry they asked.

  • NEVER abuse your friendship or relationship with another writer. If they want to introduce you to their agent or publisher, that’s their choice. But it’s really bad form to march up to a well-known author’s agent or publisher and ‘drop their name’; making out you are their ‘bestie’, and that by association, this makes your writing irresistible.

3.            THE ‘QUERY’

Advising a publisher/agent that they are missing the opportunity of a lifetime if they don’t take you/your manuscript on is enough to cause them reflux all over again.

Don’t think you can con an agent into believing that they requested your manuscript. Most of them keep very good records, and if you’re not on their list of ‘requests’, you have the potential to make them dislike you before they’ve even read a word of your query.

Telling a publisher or agent that your manuscript is a ‘fiction novel’ is a dead giveaway that you are a newbie. ALL novels are fiction…that’s what a novel is…a work of fiction.

Glitter and stickers on envelopes are also things that may induce nausea in publishers/agents.

4.            ONLINE BEHAVIOUR

Many agents now have blogs, chat forums and a presence on twitter. It’s fine to keep up with what they are doing and gratefully receive their tips BUT ‘interesting person’ is okay, ‘stalker’ is not. Harassing anyone won’t ‘endear’ you to them.


  • If the answer to your query is “No”, don’t write back and ask for specific feedback on your manuscript. Frustrating I know…as writers, we are desperate to know why we are being ‘rejected’ BUT if publishers/agents responded in depth to EVERY query, then they might never have got around to reading yours in the first place. Publishers/agents may give feedback if your manuscript nearly made it over the line.
  • NEVER tell them that your kids/grandkids, local school children/neighbour’s dog etc LOVE your manuscript. Publishers/agents make up their own minds and trying to influence them in this way, might invite the obvious response.

If your kids/grandkids, local school children/neighbour’s dog etc LOVE your manuscript, perhaps they should be the ones publishing it.

  • Telling publishers/agents that you have self-published already and everyone you know has bought a copy is something else that WON’T persuade them to take you/your masterpiece on.

Recently, my writerly friends and I were discussing this very topic and we realized that something we have to accept is that publishers/agents and authors work within different urgency scales.

Writers are URGENT PEOPLE; ‘desperate’ for an answer on will my book be published? When will it be published etc?

But publishers/agents would succumb to a nervous breakdowns if they felt this same level of urgency towards ALL their authors. They are involved in a business where what they do has to form part of a plan; where they have to prioritise.

The writers’ solution: A virtual waiting room where we meet to pass the time. We repaint walls, hide in cupboards, tear our hair out (virtually of course), and talk about how much patience you need to be a writer. We do what it takes to keep us motivated and put out of our mind the fact that we are waiting for someone else to make a decision that’s going to have such a huge impact on our lives.

You’re welcome to come and wait with us if you like:-)

I hope you found this post useful.

Thanks to all my writerly friends at  KWD for their contributions to this post, and for being such good company in ‘the waiting room’.


P.S. If you’re a publisher, agent or author with a tip we haven’t covered, please feel free to add it to the comments section of this post.

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – Networking for Writers

Pickachew bunny had his paws crossed that another rabbit would drop by one day;

I did warn you that the rabbits were going to hop into a blog post some time soon – and today’s the day.

It seemed appropriate to bring the bunnies into the conversation because we’re going to be talking about networking – and that’s something they’re very good at. They are the gentlest, most sociable animals I’ve ever known.

We started life with one bunny – a white fluffy boy called Pickachew – and when a stray brown girl bunny (Cosi) arrived on our doorstep, it was love at first sight.

We all fell in love with Cosi the stray bunny from the minute we saw her.

Up until then, Pickachew had been doing very well on his own – he wasn’t actually alone – we already had two cats, a dog and two goats – all of whom accepted Pickachew into the fold. But once Cosi arrived, Pickachew soon realized how wonderful it was to be amongst company of his own kind – and that’s the way it is with writers.

We work alone, but many of us love to meet with other writers to talk about what we do and the industry we work in.

That’s how we learn about so many things – not just about writing. We learn who is publishing what, we learn about what agents want (and don’t want). We learn how to deal with the dreaded ‘rejection’ and how it’s one step closer to being published. We learn that we are not alone – that what we do isn’t some bizarre type of brain cleansing ritual – it’s what people are doing all over the world – and it’s okay…even great…to be a writer.

On many occasions, networking has saved my sanity – and in the case of Letters to Leonardo, attending a SCBWI conference led to publication.

I am also a member of a couple of yahoogroups for writers and you can find these on the yahoogroups home page

(There are quite a few to choose from.)


There are many, but these are some of the ones I belong to that offer writing tips and resources for writers are:



  • #yalitchat
  • #litchat
  • #kidlitchat
  • #wordchat
  • #scribechat

I am also a member of my local writer’s centre and several writer’s groups, Jacketflap, the Australian Society of Authors, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and Linked In


Conferences are great for meeting publishers and agents, learning from other writers – and feeling like you belong.

I attend conferences whenever I can. I fund my attendance by:

  • Being a speaker
  • Being a volunteer
  • Interviewing international authors and writing pieces about them for magazines
  • Doing whatever I can to earn the money to go.


Seeing as it’s Australia Day today, I thought I’d prepare a special list for my Aussie Writer friends.


Both these newsletters have great reviews, publishing industry news and writing articles. I have found out all sorts of useful info here:

Pass It On –

Buzz Words –

Twitter list of Australian Children’s Authors

I hope you’ve found this useful. The bunnies have enjoyed ‘hopping in’.

I know there are probably stacks of groups and forums that I’ve missed. If you’re a member of one that you’d like to let other writers know about it, please leave the name and URL in the comments section of this post.


Next Tuesday, I’m starting the Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour. I’ll be visiting some great sites and collecting some very useful writing tips.

Here are the tour details:

2ND February 2010 Claire Saxby’s blog Writing Picture Books – Leaving room for the illustrator.
9th February 2010 Dee’s blog (that’s HERE:-)) Reviewing ‘There Was an Old Sailor’Reviewing vs Editing skills.
16th February 2010 Sandy Fussell’s Writers Need to be avid free range readers
23rd February 2010 Robyn Opie’s blogrobynopie.blogspot. How to make your story longer – adding layers.
2ND March 2010 Angela Sunde’s More about Point of View – head hopping.

Hope you can join me on tour.

Don’t miss next Tuesday’s Writing Tip. It’s all about writing picture books – and leaving room for the illustrator. And we’ll be celebrating the release of Claire Saxby’s gorgeous new picture book, “There was an Old Sailor” Hope you can join us then.

Happy writing.



Writing and publishers are like goat’s horns and fences. That’s what I realized today when I was trying to free one of my goats, who had managed to tangle her head in the fence – again.

Unfortunately for Blooma, her horns are shaped to catch on fences when she pulls her head back in.

Fear not, she was fine – just a bruised ego. I think I faired worse seeing as she kept head butting me while I was extricating her horns from the wire. And why did she have her head through the fence in the first place? Because of course, the grass is ‘always greener’ on the other side.

My two goats are very different. One is kind of like a picture book (the one who ‘frequently’ gets her head stuck in the fence). She is all naïve excitement – wanting to explore – to find out new things. Her name is Blooma and I rescued her from the abbatoirs.

The other one, Mollie, is dark and brooding – a YA novel. She came to us because her owners were tragically killed in a car accident.

She is my muse – the strong silent type, the one who watches while others take the risk – then ponders whether it’s worth doing herself.

At this moment, you are probably wondering what obscure connection I am going to draw between goat’s horns & fences, and writers & publishers. But the link is stronger than you think. My point to all this (finally) is that some publishers are a perfect fit for your writing, and some aren’t. Just like some goats – some horns are designed so a goat can put its head through a fence and pull it back without harm – or not fit through the fence in the first place. Other horns, like Blooma’s, slant back in such a way that they get caught on the top wire every time.

My dark brooding goat can't get these horns through the fence in the first place.

So goat’s horns and fences are like writing and publishers – sometimes the two just don’t go together.  That’s why, one publisher will love your book, and one won’t. That’s why it’s important not to be put off by rejections – and most importantly, to do your research up front.

Think about the sort of book you are writing. Who are you writing it for? What kind of story is it? Browse through your local bookshop, and on websites to find the company that publishes the sort of thing you write.

I guess the same goes for agents – but that’s a story for another day – might even see if I can bring the rabbits into that one – they love being the centre of attention – and being indoor bunnies, they never get their heads stuck in fences.

So what is this post really about – besides me venting about the goat horn bruises on my stomach? It’s about doing your research and not sending your work out at random. It’s about giving you and your manuscript the best chance of success.

Good luck.



I wasn’t going to blog again for 2009, but this one couldn’t wait till next year.

My fourth book comes out in 2010 and the more I write, the more I realise that not only am I lucky enough to do what I love, but I am also fortunate to have such creative, wonderful and generous spirited colleagues.

Writers are beautiful people. In spite of having their own deadlines to meet, their own anxieties waiting for responses, acceptances, publication etc, they are always prepared to put their pen or keyboard aside to help another writer – either tell their story, promote their story or inspire others.

Too many people to mention have supported me and Letters to Leonardo on their blogs and review sites this year – and for this I am very grateful.

But in the last two days, in the twilight of 2009 two writers I have never met have gone to extraordinary lengths on their blogs to help me tell my story.

Check out their posts at:

Steph Bowe’s blog:


John Rountree’s blog:

Love What You Write & Believe in Yourself… « MUSETRACKS

So thanks again to all my writing and publishing colleagues, my family and friends for your wonderful support this year.

Wishing you all health, happiness and success for 2010 and hoping that my stories will continue to entertain and inspire you.