How do I approach video game publishers

There is a great variety of publishers in Australia producing all manner of books.

Publishers are responsible for all the processes associated with taking a book from a manuscript into bookstores. This includes editing, typesetting, design, printing, marketing, promotion and distribution. A 'signed' author usually receives a small advance payment from the publisher and then royalties from sales once the publisher earns back the advance.

Getting published by one of these traditional, commercial publishing houses is still a dream of many aspiring authors - but the competition is high and publishing contracts few and far between.

When planning to approach a publisher, there are a number of ways you can improve the likelihood that you will find one who is interested in your work...

Unsolicited manuscripts

Most publishers publish works from writers they already know or after being approached by literary agents. If you have an agent, they will approach publishers for you. If you don’t have an agent, don’t worry. Many Australian publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts; that is, manuscripts that have come directly from an unknown author. But be warned: very few books are picked up this way.

To give your manuscript the best possible chance it’s best to:

  • Make sure your manuscript is really ready.
  • Do careful research on publishers and find the right one for your project
  • Read and understand the publisher’s submission guidelines
  • Get your submission in order, including your cover letter, synopsis and sample material

Make sure your manuscript is really ready

Who would spend years slogging over a novel if they didn’t believe in its potential for publication? But it can be difficult to look at your writing objectively. The simple fact is that we are often too close to our work to see its flaws.

It’s vital that you send the absolute best version of your manuscript to a publisher. You only get one shot to grab their attention so it needs to be of the highest standard.

Publishers do not want to see first drafts. It's worth keeping in mind that many accomplished writers don't show their work to publishers until they've done more than 10 drafts. Publishers receive thousands of unsolicited manuscripts each year, with very few of these submissions being picked up for publication.

So it’s worth making sure your work has been redrafted, assessed, edited and proof-read before you even begin to think about sending it to publishers.

  • If you haven’t already, have someone look over your manuscript – a fellow writer, an editor, a friend who is well read, a writing teacher, or so on.
  • Consider joining a writing group that focuses on your genre of writing, as writers in your field will be able to offer the most constructive and informed criticism. Writing groups are a creative, inspiring and supportive environment in which to test and refine your work. Do show your work to friends and family, but take their praise with a grain of salt; loved ones may not always feel free to offer objective feedback.
  • You can have your work professionally appraised through a Writers Victoria manuscript assessment (this is sometimes called a 'structural edit').
  • You will also find many freelance editors are happy to conduct a reader’s report, letting you know the strengths and weaknesses of your writing. Have a look on the Editors Victoria website for a list of accredited freelance editors.

Do careful research and find the right publisher for your project

An excellent list of publishers for all forms of writing can be found in 'The Australian Writer’s Marketplace'.

If you are looking for a niche publisher, the Small Press Network (SPN) has a list of independent publishers, and links to their websites.

When reading a publisher’s website don’t just look at their submission guidelines: pay close attention to their list of current authors and published works, as this will give you the best indication of whether or not this is the right publisher for you. Many publishers do not consider certain genres – this is not because they don’t value them but because they don’t have the specialist resources available to cater to them.

Don’t limit your research to online. Go into bookshops and browse the shelves for books that are similar to yours. Open up a few of these books and take note of the publisher. You can also have a look at your own bookshelf – particularly your favourite writers – and take note of the publishers for these books. If you’re very organised you might want to build a database of publishers and the titles and genres they publish (and keep tabs on who you’ve submitted to so you don’t accidentally resubmit to the same publisher).

It’s also a good idea to attend talks and festivals where publishers and editors are presenting. This is good for both networking and research. Listening to representatives from publishing houses is a great way to get a sense of their publishing ethos.

It’s acceptable to approach an editor or publisher at an event to ask if you can pitch them your work, but don't be offended if they say 'no'. Make sure you keep it short – have a three second pitch ready – and only use the time to pique their interest before asking if you can submit the full work to them. Be friendly, polite and professional.

Read and understand the publisher’s submission guidelines

It is important to research whether the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts and in what form. Their websites will usually tell you whether they're open for submissions, what genres they're looking for, and how they want to receive them. It will change from publisher to publisher, so find out the guidelines and follow them!

Usually they will want to see an introductory letter, a CV, a synopsis and a few chapters of the book. Also, remember that your synopsis and covering letter must be some of your finest writing. Most publishers are businesses with a profit motive (sometimes balanced against literary goals); you will have to convince them that your work is not only fantastic, but that there is a market for it too.

Writers Victoria offers a Publisher Submission Appraisal service which comments on your letter to the publisher, your synopsis as well as the first two chapters. This service can provide you with professional advice before you submit your work to a publisher.

Get your submission in order

What's in your submission will depend on each publisher's guidelines (see above). There is a lot of information online and in books such as 'A Decent Proposal: How to Sell your Book to an Australian Publisher.' Do some research and make sure you draft your submission with the same care you show the rest of your writing.The cover letter and synopsis are the first things a publisher will see, and sometimes they will make the decision to read or not read a manuscript based on these two documents.

Cover letter

Your cover letter should be professional, concise, free of spelling and grammatical errors, and it should make it clear why the book is important and saleable. You will need to develop a one- or two-line pitch for your work and this should go near the beginning of your letter.

Synopsis

Make sure you check what length synopsis the publisher or agent is after (many will include this information in their submission guidelines). Your synopsis must be focussed, clear and enticing. It must include all key plot points (including the ending) – don't hold back on details in the hope that this will entice the publisher or agent to read on. Like the cover letter, your synopsis should be free of spelling and grammatical errors, and an example of your very best writing.

Sample Material

Publishers will always want to see a sample of the work you are pitching, although some publishers may want to see the entire piece – check their guidelines to be sure. Whatever you submit should be well-drafted, error-free and your finest writing. If you are asked to submit any three chapters, it’s always a good idea to ensure one of those is the first chapter.

Be patient

Publishers will let you know on their website how long it takes for them to respond (if at all). Refrain from calling before the given response date as many publishers will not look kindly on this.

If the specified timeframe has lapsed and you have not had a response, you may wish to make a polite phone call asking for an update (keep in mind, though, that some publishers do not respond to all submissions and will ask that you consider a non-response as a ‘no’ – you can find this information in their submission guidelines).

Most importantly, don’t lose heart if you are rejected. Keep submitting your work and always think about ways you can improve your writing, such a courses and mentorships. Stay motivated and connected to your writing community to share your highs and lows with fellow writers.

Publishers will let you know on their website how long it takes for them to respond (if at all). Refrain from calling before the given response date as many publishers will not look kindly on this.

If the specified timeframe has lapsed and you have not had a  response, you may wish to make a polite phone call asking for an update (keep in mind, though, that some publishers do not respond to all submissions and will ask that you consider a non-response as a ‘no’ – you can find this information in their submission guidelines). If you do make a call, you can ask for feedback but be aware that some publishers may have a blanket rule on not providing feedback while some are more than happy to give you one or two lines of constructive criticism.

Most importantly, don’t lose heart if you are rejected. Keep submitting your work and always think about ways you can improve your writing, such a courses and mentorships. Also, make sure to stay motivated and to share your highs and lows with fellow writers.