Three Words of Advice: Research, Research, Research

Publishing veteran Scott Pack offers advice for authors planning to submit to agents and publishers. Don’t submit anything before you read this!


One of the top complaints from agents and publishers about the submissions they receive is lack of research: authors not doing some simple groundwork before submitting. Here are some things you can do to avoid being that person.

Trade press. Spend time getting to know the industry you are attempting to enter. If you are successful then you are effectively taking on a new job, a new career, even if only part-time, so do the same sort of research you would when going for a big job interview. Read The Bookseller magazine, the main UK trade publication, and over time you will learn who the up-and-coming agents, editors and publishers are, who represents or publishes whom, what books have sold for big advances. Understanding the mood of the industry, what appears to be working and what isn’t working, will prove helpful in your quest to become a published author yourself.

Agent and publisher websites. If an agent or publisher would welcome your submission then it will say as much on their website. If they are not going out of their way to tell you this then they probably don’t want to hear from you. Their website will also hopefully tell you about the authors they represent or publish, who their key staff are, etc. They don’t take too long to navigate and you can learn a lot from them.

Acknowledgements pages. When looking for ideas as to where to send your manuscript, the Thank Yous at the beginning or end of published books can be a good start. Most authors will thank their editors (sometimes tricky people to pin down online) and agents. An hour spent browsing through your own bookshelves and jotting down names will be an hour well spent.

Who represents the authors you admire? This is an extension of the previous point but is still worth making. If you consider Author X to be an influence on your work, why not try submitting to their agent? If the agent likes their work they might like yours too.

Hang out on Twitter. Lots of agents, publishing houses and editors are online these days and Twitter is a great way to, quite legitimately, hang out with them and find out what they have to say. Sure, they’ll spend lots of time plugging their books and cooing over cute photos of cats, but they will also offer insight into their work. Feel free to interact with them but don’t become a stalker. No one likes stalkers. Not even other stalkers. At my classes, when I ask for a show of hands from people who use Twitter, usually only about half of the attendees put their hands up. Now, there are lots of great reasons not to be on Twitter, and I would love to use it less myself, but it is undoubtedly a place where the people who might end up publishing your book are hanging out on a daily basis so if you are not there amongst them then you are probably at a disadvantage.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. This classic resource is well worth purchasing as it contains contact details for pretty much every agent and publishing imprint that matters as well as heaps of extra content and essays on all manner of issues relating to the book world. It is also a tax deductible expense, so that’s nice.

Workshops and festivals. Hardly a week goes by without some literary festival in Upper Throtting, or somewhere similar. Not only that, lots of them have workshops, opportunities to hear agents and publishing folk talk about the industry and other useful content over and above the usual authors droning on about their books. Better still, come to the Winchester Writers’ Festival where you can get hear from a range of agents, editors and publishing professionals and even book 1-2-1 meetings with some of them.

It is best to spend at least a few weeks doing this research, and I advise you to make a note of potential agents and publishers as you do so. You can then hone this down to a shortlist of perhaps 5 or 6, and they can form the first wave of your submissions.

For more useful advice on the submissions process, and many other aspects of publishing, you can sign up to Scott’s Friday course at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, A Writer’s Guide to the Publishing World (Booking Code FC02). Or if you can’t wait till then, you can always download his ebook, How to Perfect Your Submission.


Why You Should Flash Your Fiction

Claire Fuller is the author of three novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, and Bitter Orange, as well as a lot of flash fiction. She will be running a flash fiction workshop at the Winchester Writers’ Festival on Saturday 15th June from 10.30 to 11.30

You can find her online at
on Instagram: @writerclairefuller
and Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

So, you don’t think flash fiction is for you? You’re working on a novel, a (long) short story, or a memoir. For you, writing is about expansion, exploration, length. You might like to think again.

There are so many ways that flash fiction can be useful even if your word count is usually in the thousands. Here are a few:

Flash fiction to limber up

Would you go in for a marathon without having run some shorter distances first? Would you do a dance class without having done some stretching? Flash fiction is a brilliant warm up exercise. If you ever find when you sit down to work on a longer piece, the first 500 words you write are poor, then writing some flash before you start work can help get rid of those clunky first paragraphs and make you ready to jump in afresh.

Flash fiction for inspiration

Perhaps you’ve been staring at the blank page for a long time. You want to start something but you’re not sure about any of the ideas you have floating around, and putting any one of them down feels like you’re committing yourself. Or maybe your well is dry – there are no ideas. Write some flash fiction for inspiration which can easily turn into something longer, wider, bigger.

Flash fiction for writer’s block

You’re in the middle of your novel – that saggy bit where you don’t know what happens next. But you know your characters, you know what they want. Open a new document, lift a couple of characters out from your work-in-progress and stick them in a new place or give them a new difficulty. They’re on a plane with turbulence – how do they react? They find a wedding ring on the road outside their house – what do they do with it? Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you move forward – even if you don’t put the scene in your novel.

Flash fiction for knowing your characters

Following on from the idea above – what if you know the location and roughly what happens in your novel, but you don’t know your character well enough. Open a new document lift her or him out and write a piece of flash about the day they started their first job, the first funeral they went to, their first kiss – whether these are in the past or the future. Get to know her or him a little better.

Flash fiction for freedom

A novel can sometimes feel very limiting. For years you’re tied into this forward progression (especially if your work is not experimental and is relatively linear and traditional in structure). Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you break out of that straight-jacket for an hour or two. You are allowed to be crazy, experimental, weird. Write your flash backwards, without any e’s, in dialect, in a stream of consciousness. No one will know.

Flash fiction for achievement I

Writing a novel can take years. It takes stamina and tenacity. It might be a long time before you get the satisfaction of writing ‘the end’. Writing pieces of flash fiction in between will help you feel that you have completed a whole project, and perhaps give you enough of a cold, quick shower, to soak in the bath for another three years.

Flash fiction for achievement II

Writing a novel can take years. Years before you can get any proper feedback on your work. Write and finish and polish a few pieces of flash fiction until they shine and send them off to some competitions. You might win; you might not, but the hope, the some-of-my-writing-is-out-there feeling is great. And if you do get listed or win, it’s a great motivator to keep going.

Flash fiction for editing

For me this is probably the most important reason to write flash fiction. Unlike in a novel, in flash every word carries some weight. Every single one must be selected for being the right one in the right order. The musicality and rhythm of the sentences will help you be sure you have the right words, and this comes from editing. Reading and revising, and switching and swapping, and editing and reading aloud and rereading until you are sure that every word is the right word. This is editing. This is a skill you can learn and then apply to your novel.