Release the Writer Within

By professional writer Rhonda Whitton

Do you have a book in you? If so, what is the secret of getting published? Professional writer Rhonda Whitton offers practical advice to aspiring authors

It is the stuff dreams are made of. Spend your idle hours belting out a manuscript, someone publishes it and before you know it you are the author of a best seller. After that it's instant acclaim, fat royalty cheques and the writers' festival circuit. It all sounds so easy, agreeable and fun.

Now I'm afraid I have to dampen your enthusiasm here and warn you that getting published is a lot tougher than it seems. Don't believe me? Well, ponder these facts.

At any given time there are many thousands of unsolicited manuscripts doing the rounds of publishers. Of these, only a few will ever be accepted for publication. These are tough odds to compete against.

The reason is that it's not writers but executives, marketing people and accountants who run publishing houses. To put it bluntly, publishers are in the business of making money and will only publish a manuscript if they are convinced it will sell in sufficient numbers to at least exceed production costs.

How do you give yourself the edge over the thousands of other hopefuls?

So, just how do you give yourself the edge over the other hopefuls? The answer is simple. You need to understand the needs of the industry and consumers, and offer publishers what they want to publish - not necessarily what you want to write.

Publishers are looking for fresh, exciting book concepts that generate the 'wow' factor. They are quick to point out some of the reasons they reject manuscripts:

  • the submission is unprofessional and lacks vital information such as a succinct synopsis and well researched marketing information
  • the work appears amateurish and demonstrates poor understanding of language, grammar, spelling, punctuation, plot, dialogue and/or narrative
  • the manuscript is poorly researched
  • there is insufficient market interest to warrant publication
  • the publisher does not publish that particular type of work.

Here are some tips to help you on your journey towards publication.

Learn the craft of writing

There is a common misconception that writing is a skill we are born with and that writing a book is simply a matter of sitting at a computer and just doing it. The truth is that few of us have the instinctive writing ability to create stunning literary works without spending time studying the craft of writing.

Writers need to educate themselves in how to construct a credible plot, develop captivating characters, write believable dialogue and construct engaging prose. Writers also need to understand the principles of language, grammar and spelling, and be computer savvy.

Colleges and community organizations offer writing courses. The added benefit of doing such a course is that you are mixing with like-minded people. As well, there are hundreds of writing groups around the world that meet regularly to critique each other's work, offer encouragement and share information about writing generally.

Writing is a business

While publishers are always on the lookout for literary gems, the stark reality is that writing is only half the job of the writer. While writers need the skills to write with flair, structure and discipline, they also need exciting ideas, an understanding of the market potential for their work and the ability to deal with publishers in a business-like manner. A thick skin, bucketloads of perseverance and a handsome retirement package also help.

Popular genres

While bookshops abound with action thrillers, romances and crime novels, writing non-fiction is sometimes a faster route to publication. We live in an information hungry society where perennial non-fiction topics include lifestyle, cooking, gardening and, of course, sex.


Most of us have led interesting lives and would like to share our experiences with others. However, major publishers are generally not interested in publishing biographies unless the author is a celebrity, has led a truly remarkable life or has an inspirational story to tell about survival against overwhelming odds.

A publisher once told me he can quickly recognise a thinly veiled autobiography posing as 'fiction', and how he is turned off that manuscript immediately, so adopting this approach is not necessarily the answer.

Getting Help

A writer's job is to produce an engaging, strongly written manuscript and this requires drafting, editing, reviewing, revising and at least a couple more edits. At that point it is time to approach a manuscript appraiser. These professionals are the new kids on the publishing scene and offer honest advice about the quality of the manuscript, ways it might be improved and marketability.

Approaching a publisher

The next stage is the most important in your quest for publication. Most publishers do not initially want to receive your entire manuscript; rather they want a thoroughly researched and professional book proposal package that offers a concise overview of your manuscript and its market potential, plus three sample chapters.

Now for the good news. Preparing a book proposal is not difficult; you just need to know what publishers expect. Key information is contained within six or seven specific elements and your job is to present that information in a succinct and convincing format.

So there you have it — how you can improve your chances of getting a manuscript published. All you need are good writing skills, a captivating storyline or non-fiction concept and a decent proposal.


  • Learn the craft of writing
  • Know your readership before you begin to write
  • Research the market potential for your manuscript
  • Have your manuscript professionally appraised
  • Send your manuscript to publishers who specialise in that genre


  • Assume anyone can do it
  • Think being published is an easy path to fame and fortune
  • Write what you want to write — write what a publisher wants to publish
  • Write your life story - unless it is truly remarkable
  • Be unprofessional when dealing with a publisher