Emerging Writers’ Festival: publishing trends and tips

In my last post I talked about Structure, inspired from a session I attended at the Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF). Now that the EWF is officially over, I thought I’d give you an exclusive. See, I attended sessions with authors, editors and publishers and I felt selfish keeping the things I learnt to myself. These included:

  • How do you give your spin on typical characters?
  • A new genre/category to emerge
  • Tips for Childrens and Young Adult writers
  • How to pitch right — from the horses’ mouths
  • How many manuscripts are picked out of the slush pile each year (actual figures)

So …


How do you give your spin on typical characters?

But your manuscript is unique, right? No, wait, I got it: “I’m not writing literary fiction; I don’t analyse literature for this type of stuff.”


Emily Maguire, author

Emily McGuire has these tips on well-crafted characters:

  • Rewrites are the stages where it all comes together — let the first draft pour out of you. Deal with the specifics once you have a story.
  • Get down heeeeaaps of detail about character. I love this thing she said: write character profiles. You may not use 90% of what you write, but the character will feel real, like a friend you know, and this will help to write characters completely different to you as well as giving every profiled character a spin.
  • Bring in different character viewpoints so readers get to know a character “unbiased”. Let the reader know how characters see things regarding an event (i.e. think The Slap).

A new genre/category to emerge

Yes, you heard right. Here’s the conundrum: Young Adult is marketed for children as young as eleven and as old as nineteen. Adult fiction is marketed for adults. One of the obvious differences is YA typically steers clear of the scary S-E-X topic. Another is adult fiction doesn’t deal with the parental/growing up issue as YA does.

This genre is intended to cater for readers who like to read YA, but want to read topics such as sex, careers, abortion, etc.

Where does this leave readers between the ages of 19 — early-20-ish?

This is where NEW ADULT comes into the mix.

When publishers contract a new manuscript, they need to decide how they’re going to market it. For teens or adults? When you have a protagonist who’s 19 — 20 and dealing with complex issues, whilst still growing up … well this causes issues.

Watching, *not* stalking!

Tips for Childrens and Young Adult writers

  • Understand what children/teens want
  • Spend time with children/teens
  • Watch (note not stalk; this is illegal) what children/teens go for in bookstores
  • Above all, write the story you want to write. This has to be the story no other writer can do but you.


How to pitch right — from the horses’ mouths

  • Figure out how the publisher would market your book and then DO that job when YOU pitch to them (or an agent).

I break this down as:

— Hunt other novels similar to yours. Use elements such as plot or themes.

— Read back cover blurbs. How are these books marketed?

— What attracted you to these books? What aspects work?

Text Publishing are among the leading independent publishers in Australia. I know from personal experience that they publish unique and stellar books, and début authors. Click here to read my suggested read. Apparently it’s because they have one of the best structural editors in the world in their publisher, Michael Heyward.

This is the advice they give about pitching:

  • Take the time to write a good synopsis. It’s good to show who your manuscript is for.
  • Further, tell them who your market is. I.e. seem aware, intelligent, informed.
  • P.S. They’re most interested in Crime, Literary, and edgy YA fiction.
  • They publish novels mostly between 60,000 — 90,000 words. Just a hint, guys.
  • They like new writers!

More tips (sorry, Novel Girl readers, I can’t remember which publisher said this. Maybe Penguin):

  • What captures attention? Power of writing. Specifically, originality of voice.
  • Think about why you’re writing this story. Does it have to be written? Does the execution not do the idea justice? Think, think, think.
  • What are your goals? If you want to win the top literary award for fiction, trade publishers like Penguin won’t be the best idea to get you there. Or, do you want a bestseller and commercial success? Think. Now, you’re getting somewhere.
  • A tip: not every publisher goes for the “this novel is Jaws meets Alien concept.” Perhaps you’re best reading back cover blurbs to see if this comparison is their ‘thing’. You do not want to annoy the people who may be interested in paying you money to publish your manuscript.
  • Good cover letters sell a novel. Bad cover letters give your competitors a head start. Like in sports, the person with the head start may not win, but you have a lot of catching up to do to win your audience back.

The “slush” pile

How many manuscripts are picked out of the slush pile each year?

This is good news! For those who have researched typical figures, this will surprise you.

Text Publishing are a medium publisher. Not the big guns but quite decent.

Okay, enough procrastinating. So how many manuscripts did they pick from the slush pile last year?

This many:  … or …

this many : 

 = Four/4/IV

I know. Now get off that tree or you’ll break your neck. And stop blowing those party poppers because you’ll blind someone with your erratic behaviour.

What great news to end this post!


Want to hear a personal experience directly from an editor? You can!

Sort of.

I have just begun a new job as a junior editor at publishers, Thomson Reuters. They may not publish what this readership is interested in (think legal, tax, accounting), but my job entails relationships with our authors, chatting with senior editors, writing, editing and much more. I’ll be spilling the things I learn on this exciting journey.

*** What’s that? You want to FOLLOW Novel Girl‘s blog to stay updated on writing, editing, publishing and book news? Click on any page (Home, About, etc) and enter your email address into the top-left corner. Thanks for your support! ***

What publishing advice have you received that you want to share?

18 thoughts on “Emerging Writers’ Festival: publishing trends and tips

    • Thank you as thank you. It’s wonderful to be working in the same area as my personal interests. Makes spending 9-5, 5 days a week in an office a wee bit better!

  1. Congrats on the new job, Rebecca!

    Great advice about pitching the genre. I’ve often wondered exactly what genre my semi-constructed novel would fall into. In the “now” of the story my protagonist is in her (yes, 1st person female protag by a male author, this raises eyebrows. I see it as a challenge) early to mid 20’s but there are many flashbacks to various stages of her childhood and adolescence. Now that you’ve mentioned it, New Adult sounds like a good fit. I only hope I can do the thing justice!



    • I’d love to read that story. Do your research and read plenty of related novels and you will be in a prime position to create a novel that’ll stand out! Good luck, Richard.

  2. Congrats on the new job! Hope it leaves you time to do your own writing, too.

    Thanks for the tips on publishing. Insider information is valuable!

    In the bit about goals, you wrote that trade publishers aren’t the best path to literary awards. Do you know how we can find out which publishers best suit which goals?

    • The best way to find this out is research books that have won top literary awards. Then see who publishes them. But don’t stop there. Stalk the publisher and see if the Literary genre is their focus. Do they publish lots of Literary fiction? Is this something they’re passionate about? Many imprints may focus on YA or crime & thriller, for example. Your job is to find Lit fic.

      Thanks for stopping by, Mary!

  3. Love the info on pitching. I just revised my novel *again* and am targeting July 1 as the start to my next round of queries. I like hearing how it can be done thru various sources so I can find my stride.

    • These days, there’s a need to be he marketing guru in your pitch. I think the overall message is you need to write your pitch like a salesman/woman would.

      Good luck. I want to hear if you’re successful. Even if you get a full-ms request!

    • Aw, it makes my day knowing you like the new look. I put a lot of myself into this blog to entertain my audience.

      I’m very, very pleased about the new job, too. :D

    • Thanks, Emma! I just grinned really stupidly when I read your comment.

      For my next novel I’ll be doing extensive character profiles. I only got to know my current characters well enough after a few drafts and much analysis. Can’t wait that long next time; it’s unproductive.

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