1. For general advice on being published, please read An Author’s Guide to Getting Published.
2. For advice on submitting poetry, please read An Author’s Guide too Making Poetry Submissions.
3. For further reading, An Author’s Pre-Publication Route Map offers advice on preparing for publication.
For manuscript assessment and editorial advice, you might also consider services like The Literary Consultancy.
If you are trying to develop your own writing, we recommend:
The Art of the Novel, edited by Nicholas Royle
Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, edited by Vanessa Gebbie
Creative Writing Courses
If you want to develop your writing and critical skills further, we also recommend the following MA courses:
Additionally, we recommend the writing courses run by Faber Academy.
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We wish you every success with all your writing.
Salt does not accept unsolicited submissions – and it is unlikely we shall reopen them in the future. What does this mean for your writing?
How can one be published by a third party if no one is prepared to allow writers to send new works for editorial consideration? How are books chosen? How do publishers find new writers?
All publishers will recognise these questions and they are frequently raised when writers and editors meet at events and conferences. It can feel deeply disheartening if a writer wants someone other than themselves to risk money in taking their book to market.
Of course, hundreds of thousands of books are published each year and every one of them has been discovered, selected, presented, robustly debated and eventually confirmed for publication. How does this happen?
This short overview will provide some answers from our editorial experience.
Commissioning is not a passive role inside a publishing company – editors do not find their next bestseller from the daily delivery of mail and email from authors. Commissioning editors are outward facing and active in finding new writers and new books. They will maintain a list of active contacts: agents, other writers, literary friends, booksellers, writing courses and writing workshops, literary development agencies, creative writing lecturers, among many other sources – and will consult about new talent that is emerging. They may see an online performance, or attend a reading, explore the latest cohorts from dozens of Creative Writing MAs, they will peruse the literary prizes, they may even judge them. All these extensive contacts will provide a fruitful source of recommendations and referrals that may be followed up.
An important relationship remains the role of literary agent – and in constructing a new bestselling title, agents may pitch new work and create auctions to establish the best price and terms for its publication. All of this will involve a further network of relationships between literary agents and editors, often in the context of a profoundly competitive commercial exchange. The agent in this way can construct the basis for how a title is construed by the book trade – how much money has been paid in advance to obtain the rights to publish can often be a clear marker of how much money the publisher is willing to commit to make it work with booksellers. Yet agents work well beyond the confines of merely constructing bidding wars, they often nurture talent and foster it over many decades and long careers. While a defined and important element of agenting is necessarily commercial, a great deal of work is done with writers and books that are not only financial propositions. The role of an agent may occasionally be adversarial, but often it is developmental and collaborative.
While fewer and fewer publishers are taking submissions – existing writers from any list are often good advocates for new talent. It is frequently the case that writers recommend other writers. Increasingly, such recommendations may be drawn from the Creative Writing industry as a subset of modern academic life – writers often supplement their income with teaching, or, indeed, obtain the whole of their income from administering creative writing courses. This has created a huge talent pool with editors, agents and other writing professionals being asked to give talks to students, attend performance showcases, and receive annual anthologies of new work. But beyond such structural collisions between academia and the book trade, the relationships of students to teachers, and teachers to publishers is one that cannot be ignored.
Word of mouth is another powerful factor in discovering talent. Whenever a new writer impresses another writer with their work, the book trade will not be far behind. The trade is small, as well as being a little incestuous, gossipy, sometimes ingratiating, sometimes aggrandising, often supportive (if perhaps a touch jealous) – a new writer with the right connections, in the right place at the right time, can attract considerable attention. Creating this set of circumstances can be a skill, and some writers possess this skill in abundance: knowing the right people to draw upon as they take their own writing more seriously and expect serious things for it. For any publisher, this word of mouth can be deeply seductive – especially if a writer, as well as being innately skilled and gifted at writing, is additionally extremely good at understanding people. Perhaps we all imagine, often rightly, that a writer who understands how their relationships can matter to a book will also understand how audiences may react and purchase their works now and in the future.
Finally, in this necessarily brief sketch, editors don’t merely look for the next new thing, their list is mostly defined by managing the relationships with their existing authors. Managing authors is critical to establishing long term value in a list. The list itself will comes to be valued by the writers it includes. Such curatorial judgement also includes letting some writers go – and this process of pruning and adding to a list is a feature of the list’s life, not merely a process of constant accretion, but also of shaping, directing, and focussing on those writers who add value in aesthetic and commercial terms. A list must cover its costs – but more than this, the editor will be judged by how much profit the list has currently secured for the company. It’s important to remember that lists can die if they are not managed robustly. It is also important to note that the popularity of genres and fashions within those genres may change rapidly – sometimes catastrophically.
What this clearly points to is that publishing is not the servant of art but is framed or contextualised by real book purchases over time. A judgement that can often be brutal for mid-list writers when times get tough. Publishing is not the whole world of creative writing, it attends to a tiny fraction of possible investments in a veritable sea of fascinating authors. There are more entrants each year, tens of thousands, all wanting what you want with a tiny range of opportunities to fulfil those ambitions.
This all goes to show that the best route into a publishing deal comes from relationships with those in the trade: other writers, literature audiences, agents and literary development organistations, workshops, arts funders, literary festivals, writers groups, universities and so on. Choosing whom to befriend and how to befriend them, how one will collaborate and not grate with other writers, providing others with opportunities as much as seeking them for yourself, is all part of the glorious hustle of getting the breaks. It can take years. It isn’t fair or just, it’s not there to serve you or your book, it is just there – an extraordinary network of professionals working across a very diverse range of sectors, colliding with each other and each with a set of hopes and expectations as rich as your own. If you are getting noticed, we'll find you – and so will your readers. Good luck.
Last updated 10th September 2023