Monday 2 January 2017

Is My Novel Publishable?

by Iola Goulton

Happy New Year! I hope and pray 2017 is a productive writing and publishing year for all our readers.

And speaking of publishing ... I saw one too many articles on vanity publishing during December, by authors who'd been suckered into shelling out thousands of dollars (or pounds) to a "publisher" who failed to deliver. Although, let's face it: one article about this is still one too many. Anyway, here are the two most recent, in case you missed them:

So Australasian Christian Writers are dedicating Mondays in January to reminding our readers what vanity publishing is, and why it's a bad idea (I wanted to say "why it's almost always a bad idea" ... but I couldn't think of an exception. So let's stick with the premise that it is always a bad idea).

Regular readers of this blog may recognise the following post, as it initially appeared on 8 August 2016, and was titled "Is My Novel Publishable?"

Once upon a time, it was difficult to get a novel published, because there were too many authors competing for too few slots with publishing houses so only the best (or most saleable) books got published (in theory. There are always exceptions). 

Then some enterprising people discovered that some authors were actually willing to pay to be published ... and an industry was born. Vanity publishing. And it forever changed the face of publishing by changing the answer to the eternal question:

Is My Manuscript Publishable?

Easy answer: yes.

The advent of ebooks and print on demand (POD) technology means everything is publishable. But, to misquote 1 Corinthians, you might have the ability to self-publish, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s especially not a good idea to self-publish through some “service” aka a vanity press—apart from the quality issues, it’s not good Christian stewardship to spend thousands on something you could organise yourself for a fraction of the cost.

(If you have a burning desire to see no measurable return for an investment of thousands of dollars, then please comment below and I'll offer some suggestions.)

So is my manuscript publishable?

Hard answer: it depends.

On what?

It depends on who you want to publish your novel: a major US publisher, a smaller US publisher, or a local (e.g. Australian) publisher. And attracting that publisher will depend on your book scoring well in three areas:

  • Setting
  • Genre
  • Writing Craft

If you’ve written a novel set in Australia or New Zealand, it’s going to be a tough sell to an American publisher. Not impossible—Narelle Atkins and Kara Isaac have both done it—but not easy.

You’ll need a literary agent to have a shot at any of the big-name US CBA publishers like Bethany House or Thomas Nelson. (Lucy Thompson wrote a post about that here.) You don’t want just any agent—you want an agent with a track record of selling to the major CBA publishers. Michael Hyatt has a list of agents who represent Christian authors, and you can download it from this page.

In order to get signed by an agent, you’ll need to have credibility as a writer. One way to build credibility is to enter and final in major writing contests. (Lucy Thompson wrote a post about that as well, as did Carolyn Miller).

And you’ll probably need to attend a major US Christian writers’ conference such as the upcoming American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee, as major conferences give you the opportunity to meet agents and publishers in person.


Your novel will also have to have sales potential. Big sales potential.

Major US Publishers

That’s the problem with books set in Australia: major US CBA publishers prefer books set in the US, because that’s what they sell best. They will sometimes diversify and read a historical novel set in England or Scotland, but for the most part, they prefer their fiction to be set in the good old U S of A. Or, at the very least, with an American lead character. For example:

  • Close to You, Kara Isaac’s debut novel, capitalised on the US love for all things Lord of the Rings by having an American hero and a Kiwi Lord of the Rings tour guide heroine.
  • Mail Order Bride, Lucy Thompson’s debut historical romance, is set in Colorado and utilises the much-loved mail-order bride trope. There may even have been a cowboy.
  • The Elusive Miss Ellison, Carolyn Miller’s upcoming debut, is a Regency romance set in England.


Australian publishers love books by Australian authors with Australian characters and settings. They tend to accept submissions direct from authors (so no literary agent required), and it’s easier to get to meet them in person (the best opportunity for Christian writers is at the Omega Writers’ Conference in October). Personal connections help.

The downside is the Australian market is smaller, which means fewer potential buyers (a fact many Australian authors have lamented on). It also means our small publishers can’t publish every manuscript they see, much as they might like to.

Smaller US Publishers

There are a myriad of smaller Christian publishers, mostly in the US, who may be open to submissions.

If you want a free list of close to 100 publishers who publish Christian fiction, click here to sign up to my mailing list. This list does not constitute an endorsement, and I don’t recommend any specific publishers … although there are a few I recommend people steer clear of (like the publisher which offered me a publishing contract without actually seeing my manuscript. Or the publisher sued for deceptive practices).

Writing Craft

There is also the aspect of writing craft: is your manuscript good enough?

The bigger the publisher, the better your manuscript has to be, for two reasons.

First, there are so many authors fighting for an ever-decreasing number of publishing slots that anything less than excellent isn’t good enough to get the attention of a major publisher. Publishers get so many excellent submissions that they don’t have time for could-be-excellent submissions or almost-excellent submissions or submissions they can’t see a market for.

Second, the quality of editing varies widely between different publishers. I've recently read two books by the same author, but from different publishers. The book from the major publisher is professional, polished, and a pleasure to read. The book from the smaller publisher ... isn't. To the point it's hard to believe the same author wrote both books.

What is saleable?

The most saleable manuscripts are those which fit clearly into a popular genre. With novels aimed at the Christian market, this includes meeting the expectations of CBA readers, and being careful regarding ‘edgy’ content—topics so expansive I could write a book about them (wait. I am).

We’ve discussed some of these issues in previous blog posts here on Australasian Christian Writers:

The closer your manuscript aligns with a popular and established genre, the easier it’s going to be to sell to a publisher. But what if you don’t fit a popular genre (e.g. Christian Science Fiction, or New Adult)?

This is when you might consider self-publishing. 

But if you pursue self-publishing, pursue excellence as well. Don’t self-publish as a shortcut, to fulfil your publishing dream. Instead, write something good enough to win a major contest or to attract the attention of your ideal agent, be published by your dream publisher, and choose to self-publish because that’s what you believe God has set out as your path.

To go back to the original question. Yes, your novel is publishable. It’s not there yet in terms of the writing craft, but it is publishable. Your challenge is to work out how you want it to be published, and do the work necessary to achieve that.

Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
Facebook (Editing)


  1. I fell for vanity publishing for one of my books and I let them make an e-book of another one. I did publish both of these books myself but let the Vanity publisher make further copies of one of them. I then sell these books at my speaking engagements and off my webpage with 100% of sales going to help raise abandoned children in my seven Foster homes and educate them in my school. So what I have learned from this Page is quite valuable for my work. I have three other books that I haven't finished writing yet, so will take to heart what you have taught me for the future. My books are set in Australia or in China or both so I understand that also limits what I can do with them. I only write about what I am passionate about and also stories from my past family members. So all the way both of these books published by a vanity publisher but only the e-book for the second one is published by them. So from my understanding the second Book that I have published myself should not be counted as vanity publishing, only the e-book version. Is this correct? I have several people who do editing for me and then I have a printer in China who prints the books for me. I don't spend money on freight but carry books back from China to sell in Australia. So by your definitions this method of publishing should be okay? Thank you for your help

    1. still a couple of mistakes in this entry... sorry...I missed them each time I checked. The automatic corrector on my computer does that sometimes

    2. Linda, I'd definitely recommend self-publishing your next three books. It might be more work than going through a vanity press, but it's going to be a better product and will cost you less - which leaves you more profit per book, and more money for your foster homes.

      I'd also suggest you check your contract with the vanity publisher and see if you can stop them publishing your ebook, and republish it yourself. Again, that will mean more money for the children, as there is no publisher to take their cut.

      You're right in that the paperback version you've self-published isn't a vanity published book. But it might confuse people if the paperback and ebook have two different publishers. And it might give people the impression you support the vanity press, which I guess you don't.

      You might also want to look at using IngramSpark for printing, as they print in Melbourne. That might work out more cost-effective than printing in China and having to carry the books back to Australia.

      And don't worry about the mistakes ... automistake does that to everyone online. Especially with a name like mine!

      And God bless you for the work you're going. It's great to hear.


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