Monday 19 March 2018

Why You Might Want to Re-think Your Publishing Plans

Those of you who attended the 2017 Omega Writers Conference will remember Rachel Sweasey, fiction editor at Rhiza Press. We got chatting at the conference, and she offered to write a couple of posts for Australasian Christian Writers to share some tips on self-editing before you submit to a publisher. (I say offered. It's possible I twisted her arm. But only a little!) 

I've heard people say they don't need to edit their books before they submit them to a publisher, because the publisher will edit them anyway. That's only partly true. If a publisher offers you a contract to publish your book, they will edit it. But you improve your chances of getting that contract offer if you've done the groundwork first.

Today Rachel is going to briefly share her top tips for getting your manuscript ready for submission to a publisher ... and address an even more important question about our writing.

Welcome, Rachel!

By Rachel Sweasey

I have a somewhat bipolar relationship with my role at Rhiza Press. I’m so chuffed and proud to tell people I’m an editor in a publishing house. But then, too often, I wish I’d been a bit more vague when answering that ‘What do you do?’ question.

The trouble is that everyone seems to know someone who’s written something they want to get published, and for the most part, the writing is not publishable at all. 

The question I want to ask is “Why do to they want to be published?” Is it because that’s the only way they can imagine sharing their story? Or do they really believe they are the world’s next J.K.Rowling? I hate to sound negative, but they’re not. There is only one of each of us and J.K. is taken.

Unless you’re already an international bestselling author, then before submitting to a publisher your manuscript has to be refined to within a hairsbreadth of perfection. Take a look at the refining process for gold. There are at least 10 steps in the process from mining, through grinding, leaching, and filtering before even the fiery furnace stage, and on to the final product. Imagine going to a Jeweller and being shown a grubby lump of rock. “That there’s solid gold missus.” Yeah, right. We want to see the shiny blingy things.

Our writing must be refined to the same extent if we’re going to produce gold-star quality writing—and that’s what every publisher is looking for. Even if you intend to self-publish, the refining process is still important if you mean to sell your books, rather than use boxes of them as expensive patio furniture.

So what are some of the steps in refining your work?

A. Read widely
B. Work out why you’re writing what you’re writing
C. Do some writing training, and then practice
D. Apply all your training to your Manuscript
E. Befriend a Beta-Reader (or three)
F. Apply the Beta-Readers’ feedback
G. Engage a Professional Editor to complete a Manuscript Appraisal
H. Apply the advice of the Editor
I. Re-engage the Editor to complete a full edit
J. Enter a Competition
K. Find a Publishing House

… And then, hopefully, you’ll hear back from one... In time.

But taking all that advice aside, the biggest question I really want to ask writers at this stage in their journey is ‘Why do you write?’ Because maybe, just maybe publishing doesn’t have to be the end goal.

Being called to write, and being called to get that writing published are two very distinctive calls. For me? I’m called to sing. I’ve had a passion to sing all my life and I’ve been blessed with some gifting and lots of opportunity to minister. But has God called me to become a professional singer, cut DVD’s, and sell my voice on Spotify? Absolutely not, no way, at all, ever. But I’m called to sing, and I will sing will all my heart until my lungs collapse.

And it’s no different with writing. 

 If you have a talent or even a God-given gift to write then you absolutely must do that writing. You should dedicate your spare time (or all your time if God’s blessed you that much) to perfecting your writing, to listening for leading about what you should write, or who you should write to. There might be a platform by which others can be reached and blessed by your writing but that does not necessarily mean having a book published.

And if writing is your gift, you can and should still apply many of the same snippets of advice I’d give to writers who are intent on being published. Start with the basics of working on style, structure and grammar and share your work widely to gain feedback and make refinements.

And if you are doing what God has called you to do, the work your heart longs for and your hands ache to do, you will be blessed. But possibly not published ;)

Thank you, Rachel! That's great advice. Rachel will be back next Monday to expand on her list. Meanwhile, what do you think? Are we all called to be published? 

What other ways could we fulfill our calling to write and be published?

About Rachel Sweasey

Rachel Sweasey is an editor at Rhiza Connect, the newly branded imprint of Rhiza Press dedicated to inspirational adult fiction for the faith-based market. She also edits the inspirational texts for Book Whispers, a consultancy that offers appraisal, editing, typesetting, printing, design, and marketing services. Rhiza Press also has a Young Adult imprint, Rhiza Edge. Rachel graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature and Composition. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and 3 children, has known Christ as her saviour since the age of 14, and serves in worship ministry in Wynnum Baptist Church.


  1. Rachel, thank you so very much for your post. I'm pleased you've shared the question "Why do your write?" and provided your own example of being called to sing. Having been a judge now and read many self-published works I've come to realise that many stories, whether fictional or real, perhaps don't need to be published. Yes, they certainly need to be written and shared but maybe not via the various publishing routes.

    And thank you for the gold mining analogy and the accompanying 10 steps before submitting to a publisher. To use a pun, such wisdom is gold for the author, the experienced and the novice.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the post Ian :)

  2. Overall solid advice but, depending on the writer, hiring an editor to provide an appraisal and then a full edit? If the author intends to self-publish, definitely employ an editor. If the author intends to seek a publisher? Maybe not so much.

    1. I'm interested Terry to hear why you suggest the author might not need to have their work edited before seeking a publisher?

    2. As I said, depending on the writer, as one can learn from the experience of having a work edited. However, if a writer is able write a quality story (after going through the process of bet readers and maybe having someone proof it), with maybe some minor typos or grammar gaffs, etc., that that should not affect a publisher's decision to accept or reject a manuscript, since a reputable publisher is going to edit the manuscript anyway.
      For example, as Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books has repeatedly indicated, it's the story that counts, not font of the submission or editorial concerns, etc. I have worked with editors from Tor, in addition to having my own works published, and know/have spoken to small press publishers, and have sat on panels with editors from DAW, Tor and editors from other publishers, who indicated employing an editor is not necessary to be accepted.
      In addition, I worked several years for a small speculative fiction magazine/ezine (now closed) as a slush reader and editor. In my experience there, the story was most important, which included structure, pacing, quality dialogue and more. Stories rife with typos and grammar problems almost invariably had story quality issues as well.
      Maybe a writer who is very inexperienced at storytelling/writing needs to hire an editor to suggest major revisions to their work and then hire them again to clean up a manuscript prior to submission, but that is a very expensive venture, for a chance to be published. Let’s face it, the odds of a manuscript being accepted by any individual publisher are slim. There may be better ways for a writer to develop and learn the craft.
      How many authors published by Rhiza Press (through royalties on their novel) would earn back the hundreds of dollars (if not more) spent on a professional editor to do an appraisal and then a complete (comprehensive edit) prior to submission to Rhiza Press? (I am talking about novels for adults, mainly). And that is considering, of the many submissions I am confident Rhiza Press receives, the author’s manuscript is offered a contract.
      Again, if one is self-publishing, then hiring an editor is wise, as the author is in essence the publisher, who pays an editor to do their part in preparing a manuscript for publication.

    3. I suspect it depends on the publisher. I was looking at the website of a small Christian press yesterday (not Rhiza!). They recommended authors get their manuscripts edited before submission, and I think that's because they can't afford to provide a lot of editing support. While they do edit and proofread, I'd earn twice as much per hour flipping burgers as I would proofreading for that publisher.

    4. Advocating for a writer to pay out of their pocket for a manuscript appraisal and then a full edit, to improve the chances of being offered a contract by publishers that lack the resources to perform and/or pay for a proper in house or freelance edit? What else (other areas) might such publishers be lacking in? Cover art and design, marketing? What would the odds be of the author ever financially breaking even? Or coming close to breaking even? They might be 'published' but, realistically, would any readers ever find and have the opportunity to enjoy the author's work?

      Those publishers would be on the bottom of a list, if on a list at all--unless they have a solid niche audience, but even then...

      I am not trying to be difficult or negative. The article has a lot of solid content (as I see it). But paying for edits if a writer's goal is to be published by a publisher? The writer should think long and hard and explore other options to improve the work (beta readers, a crit group, etc.)

    5. Terry, I share your opinion on this one. I did not pay for editing before I signed a multi-book contract with a traditional publisher in 2013 (Harlequin). I paid to enter unpublished writing contests, paid to attend conferences, paid for professional writing memberships, paid for online courses, etc. I considered professional editing to be a benefit from traditional publishing. Fast forward to 2018 and the publoshing world is different. I now pay for professional editing to independently publish my books. If a traditional publisher didn’t offer professional editing, I would be weighing up the pros and cons of indie publishing rather than signing a traditional contract. The question I’d be asking would be what can a traditional publisher do for me that I can’t do myself by hiring freelancers to indie publish?

  3. Good thoughts Rachel and something to ponder. However I think the problem is, if someone decides to take a different route to publishing, such as writing in a format which doesn't create an income stream, then writing then becomes an expensive hobby if you pay an editor.

    1. Absolutely Susan. If you are writing purely for personal enjoyment, passion, or as a hobby then there is no need to spend out on professional editing. My suggestions to get a manuscript edited were for those who intend to either self publish or seek a traditional publisher. In those cases an editor will greatly improve the chances of the book selling well (because it reads well) or of a publisher taking it on (for the same reason!)

  4. Hi Rachel, Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. It’s great to hear your perspective. I agree - manuscripts need to be at a publishable standard prior to submission to an editor at a traditional publishing house. It’s the author’s responsibility to learn their craft and submit the best possible book.


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