From Adele Duffield

Some clarification might help you choose what’s best for you.

Whilst studying for my MA in Creative Writing, I recently had the experience of three guest lecturers talking on the strengths and merits of each of their services, and I thought it would be good to share my notes on the subject.

Using a Literary Agent

Georgina Capel Associates Ltd is a small agency representing 130-150 clients of various genres of fiction/non-fiction, TV, film and stage.

Agents are seen as the gatekeepers. The should be your best friend, business person, editor, lawyer, friend, therapist. You need to be able to talk to them.

In the early stage of the relationship they will help with the editorial process. Publishers are under pressure, so the agent is useful as editor – particularly debut work.

They know who’s who so will get your work to the best publisher. They know who’s doing what and who’s interested in what. Their finger is on the pulse. They are the dating site for your work.

Be prepared for a long process. Occasionally multiple publishers are interested and then the agent becomes an auctioneer to get you the best deal.

They are your broker, looking at the deals on the table and understand the nuts and bolts of the contract world, including add-ons like world rights (translation), T.V. adaptations etc. Your royalties need to be protected.

They navigate the whole process: delivery date, style of covers, marketing, publicity etc, right up to publication. You need to be think of your next publication and which direction you are taking over the next 12-18 months. Your job is to get working on the next project.

Your relationship with your agent requires honesty, trust – it should be long-standing, whereas the relationship with the publisher can be much shorter lived.

A question of cost. The standard agency commission is 15% of sales, however if an agent uses a co-agent (for instance if using markets in China/Korea/Japan) it can be 20% (10% each).

Hints and Tips

  • Use Writers & Artists Yearbook to find agents.
  • Check them out on the website – what they publish, how they work, names of specific agents, etc.
  • Initially send out to 5-10 agents – be selective.
  • Do exactly what they ask – if by email send by email, if paper send paper. They usually want a covering letter, synopsis and 3 chapters.
  • Take care with the covering letter. Think of it like applying for a job only not quite as formal. Don’t bother with fancy paper, bribery etc. Do bother with a clear font, double spacing, tell them about competition wins, academic skills gained in writing (i.e. BA, MA), how long you’ve been writing, pitch the book – why you wrote it, what inspires you and why you think their agency will work well with you.
  • Be ready with the whole manuscript – don’t send in if you’ve only written 3 chapters!
  • Agents’ busiest times are March/April (around the London Book Fair) and October.
  • If after 10-15 submissions you don’t get a positive response, you need to re-think your work.
  • Most agents are in London, but they will travel, you should travel and there is skype, email and phone so it’s not an issue.
  • If you get a positive response, take the time to meet them – remember, this is a long-term relationship and you need to like them, and to feel comfortable with them.
  • Keep your public profile as prominent as possible. Some agents scout competition entries, or read blogs etc.
  • You are protected if your agent goes bust, you then get paid royalties directly by the publisher for sales of your book.
  • If you want to terminate your contract with your agent, or vice-versa, the contract typically specifies a minimum of 3 months notice. Any books sold during the period of notice continue to earn the agent their commission, and you continue to receive your royalties from them as an “ex-client”.

Independent (“Indie”) Publishers

Jan Fortune, founder of Cinnamon Press and manager/editor of the poetry magazine Envoi, gave a talk on the merits of using indie publishers, with some interesting revelations on earnings.

The average sales-total of a novel across all genres is 200 books. This means endless published books don’t sell well at all. Moreover, considering the huge sales figures of bestsellers, that suggests there are millions of titles published. Thus competition for readership is huge.

The indie press average is much higher (she claims) than major agents/publishers.

There are very few publishers of poetry. Most poets start with magazines and it is a case of who-knows-who as well. Performance poetry gets you noticed if you can get into this field. In the poetry world she suggests reading The Rialto, Envoi, Iota and The Poetry Review so checking-out these publications can give you a good feel of what they look for and which, regarding competitions, you feel most akin to. If you’re in London, spend a day in The Poetry Library and surround yourself with magazines to learn what you need to do, what is popular and topical.

If you are writing prose fiction, take your time. You need several drafts before sending off. Leave it alone for a while, then revisit – editing can be a long process, but you need to be detached and take a reader’s view of your work.

First books are often shameful, and many writers wish they could withdraw them entirely.

All presses have a submission process. Follow this rigidly – Ms Fortune gave identical advice to the agent on this.

For indie presses, try looking at Mslexia, Inpress – good websites. Do some research on their ethos, their cover styles etc. Many indie publishers run workshops and go to book fairs. Track them down and talk to them wherever you can. Get a feel for them. Go to book signings and you’ll often find the indie publisher there as well. If not, speak to the author and get their take on their publisher.

Indie presses get bombarded with new work and they often cannot respond to it all. If you haven’t followed their submission guidelines, or sent in a children’s book when they don’t do children’s fiction, they will ignore you.

If you’re writing poetry, an anthology usually has approx. 50 poems but it’s not definitive. Pamphlets are cheaper to publish, if you have a theme or sequence, perhaps 15 to 20 poems, this is a good option. There are often pamphlet competitions. Check out Templar Poetry and smith|doorstop.

Indies vary, but if you check out Inpress, their site can be trusted (…it is an Arts Council Scheme). Do beware of vanity presses.

Once published, the author is usually offered 50-100 books at a big discount. Many authors do self-promote so having a stock of books helps you sell yourself as well using the indie. Creditable indies listed on Inpress will go through distribution chains serving independent publishers such as NBNi (now owned by Ingram Publisher Services LLC). All bookshops in the UK can order a book via this route if a customer requests it. There are lots of NBNi reps visiting bookshops to promote books.

When agreeing a contact with an indie ask about the details of the contract, book reps, marketing etc.

Give it time
Nielsen Book is the ISBN allocation agency for the UK. Here is its portal for submitting the metadata: the official catalogue details about your self-published book. Nielsen BookData need to have information on new books 9-12 months before they are published so they are in the system – this allows the bookshops to have the bibliographical details they need for ordering a stock of books.

If you are thinking of competitions, check out the following:

The Arts Council has literary agents in every region. Try to see who they are in your area and contact them.

Tell people you are a writer

If you are interested in fantasy fiction check out Patreon (it’s good for this genre) – this is where you can find people to sponsor you to produce works of art, specifically books. Your sponsors pay you an agreed fee every time you publish something. It’s all about getting patronage to make a living from your work – even if your work is royalty-free.

I had a meeting with the owner of Valley Press in Scarborough. Their window is currently open for new writing. They are one of the top ten publishers in the country for poetry. They will take most of this summer getting back to people who submit, and the owner said that out of 1,000 submissions they shortlist 20, and then go on from there.

His view was quite different from the agent’s. Valley Press do not expect you to produce a stream of work for them. The contract is purely for the title submitted. If, however, you submit again after they have once published you, you are automatically short-listed.


Sara Thomson self-published in 2016 following her MA in Creative Writing at Teesside University. She has however just gone on to set up her own indie press. Her informative presentation was on the pros and cons of self-publishing…


  • You have control
  • You make marketing choices
  • Speed
  • You keep all the rights
  • Niche publishing options
  • Higher royalties


  • You need to be self-driven (no external motivator)
  • Up-front budget requirements
  • Difficult to get into chain bookshops
  • Not eligible for some prizes and literary awards (e.g. The Man Booker Prize).

The Process

  • Write a good book then you need a proof editor, and line editor.
  • Cover design – think of the impact – the cover will sway the reader.
  • Think sales copy and key words. Copywriting is a skill – don’t be sleazy
  • Formatting. 2 options – self (need good IT skills and software) or outsource.

Scrivener is a good software package for creating books, and Vellum (now Graphite) is CAD (Computer-Aided-Design) software with book templates to use.

Publishing an E-book

Focus on Amazon’s KDP as they have 70% of the e-book market. In addition to the manuscript as a MS-Word document (which they convert), KDP want these details…

Basic Details
Title/Book name
Series, title, volume
Edition Number
Description (quick impact in a few words)
ISBN (not essential except for the book trade: the Universal Product Code for books).

Release Options
Verify publishing rights
Categories (you can choose up to 3)
Keywords (only a few)
Release options
Cover upload file
Verify Territories
(Do your homework on Amazon Kindle Books to select the right categories – i.e. don’t compete with Stephen King!)

Set pricing; KDP Select; EU VAT.
If you select £2.99–£9.99 you get 70%
If you price above that you get 35%.
KDP is exclusive to Amazon but uploads to Kindle are paid per page read.

Printing the book

  • Print On Demand (POD): No upfront cost, no minimum orders, no warehousing and inventory, no piles of books, no shipping costs, no pulping.
  • KDP: new limited options.
  • IngramSpark: They are the self-publisher’s portal to Lightning Source, the largest POD print distributor to the worldwide book trade, owners of the famous Expresso Book Machine.
  • Special Editions: offer retailer discounts.

After Publishing

Go to Author Central on Amazon. You can add a picture, a profile, have links to promotional sites such as Goodreads, add a “BUY” button – and you can even have a link to your own author website.


  • Editing: £300-500.
  • Cover design: £50-250.
  • Formatting: £40-200.
  • Marketing: Free – (?).


This requires a thought process…

  • Think of who your reader is – find your tribe.
  • Think of yourself as a Brand that needs marketing at every opportunity.
  • Think whether you want the title to grow organically or earn quickly.
  • Think: how do you want to market your work?
  • Decide what you want to do and what you like.
  • DO your research: what are people reading?
  • Build an email list from buyers, friends, followers etc. (this becomes a direct marketing tool for your next book).
  • Think about writing a series.
  • If you’ve written more than one book – how about offering the first book free if they buy the second book?
  • Think of permitting advertising space on your website.
  • Set up feedback sections – content marketing.

Useful links

Good books to read

So, there you have it. The choice is yours. I hope this information has given a little insight to the minefield of publishing a book, but it appears that whatever you choose, research is the key to success.

Adele Duffield
June 2018