So, who do publishers and industry pros go to when they need advice? The very same person who just gave us, here at Speakeasy, a crash course in publishing: Alex Adsett of Alex Adsett Publishing Services (AAPS). Alex has fifteen years experience in a variety of areas of the publishing industry, both in Australia and internationally. She has worked for such giants as Simon and Schuster and Penguin, and has also written an array of authoritative articles on various aspects of publishing.

AAPS offers consultancy services and contract advice to all areas of the publishing industry, and has recently taken on the role of literary agent. So whatever you want to know about the industry, chances are Alex has an answer for you.

We recently had a chat with Alex, and I, for one, came away with a whole brainload of invaluable information. So if you’re looking for an agent, if you’re looking for any kind of publishing advice, if you want some tips on submitting your work or writing a great pitch, then you can’t miss what Alex has to say.

And, if you’re extra keen, Alex will be appearing at the upcoming GenreCon.

Speakeasy: Can you please tell us a little about Alex Adsett Publishing Services and the varied range of work you do and services you offer?

Alex Adestt (AA): As part of AAPS, I wear a number of different hats. Primarily, I work as a consultant for authors or publishers offering commercial advice in relation to publishing contracts. For authors, this means reviewing their publishing contracts in comparison with standard industry practice to make sure nothing sneaky has crept into the fine print, and either helping the author negotiate with the publisher, or negotiating on their behalf.

I am also involved with the publishing industry on a number of levels, and love this interaction.

Most recently, my partner and I have expanded into more traditional literary agents. We try to keep a clear distinction between ‘consultancy’ clients and ‘agency’ clients, and an author should never be charged for one and then the other.

Speakeasy: As an agent, what type of writing/writers are you currently looking for? How do you go about developing your list?

AA: I have chosen to concentrate on genre authors and manuscripts only, so I’m staying with the kind of manuscripts I love and know well. This includes speculative fiction (SF, fantasy, horror), crime and mystery, and paranormal romance, for both YA and adult markets.

The list has so far found me. Word of mouth, twitter, recommendations and pitching sessions have all resulted in an avalanche of manuscripts.

Speakeasy: Aside from thoroughly polishing their work, what tips would you offer to writers who might be thinking about approaching an agent? What should authors be aware of when approaching or signing on with an agent?

AA: Firstly, think carefully about whether you need an agent. In Australia, not everyone does. Many publishers are taking unsolicited manuscripts, and if you have managed to get yourself the initial publishing offer, you have managed the hardest task on your own.

Secondly, never sign with an agent who tries to charge you upfront fees for anything. For example, an agent should not charge you a fee to read or edit your manuscript. If they do charge you money for a service (e.g., manuscript assessment), they should offer to refund this fee before accepting you as an agency client. An agent should believe in your work and work for commission (usually no more than 15%) when they sell your work.

Speakeasy: What does a submission need to do to draw you in? Conversely, what are the most common things that immediately turn you off a manuscript?

AA: A polite and professional cover letter helps, with no obvious spelling mistakes. Trying to be too clever or funny in the cover letter or synopsis puts me off. A great opening line, first paragraph and first chapter help in drawing me in.

Speakeasy: What tips would you offer to emerging writers in terms of pitching to agents/publishers? What are some of the common mistakes/weaknesses that you see in first-time pitches?

AA: Be yourself and tell your story. Common mistakes are telling me how much your family and friends loved the manuscript. This is not going to help sell it to me. Also, again, watch out for messy spelling mistakes.

Try to avoid clichés: too much exposition too quickly, having your character describe themselves by waking up and then looking in a mirror.

Speakeasy: Can you tell our readers a little about the risks and rewards of self-publishing compared to traditional publishing?

AA: Excellent question, but the answer could take days. Self-publishing is an avenue to pursue where you can retain the control and sometimes obtain a higher percentage of the sales receipts. However, it is an awful lot of hard work with no guarantee of sales at the end of it. I would always recommend trying traditional publishers first, because they have the expertise and deep pockets to get your manuscript to the widest readers possible. If you do self-publish, you need to consider hiring an editor (both a structural editor and a copy editor), cover designer and typesetter. Consider how you will get your print books into bookshops, and how you will get your ebook noticed in a sea of other self-published works. I’m not saying don’t do it, but go in with your eyes open.

(For more information on self-publishing see Alex’s blog.)

Speakeasy: Clearly, the publishing industry is still in an intense state of flux; can you offer some general thoughts about the state of Australian publishing? What are some of the major issues that still need to be addressed? Are there any people or organisations you see as being particularly innovative right now?

AA: Much of the traditional industry is still a bit nervous about the changes being forced upon them at the moment. Profits and jobs are down, and the biggest publishers seem too nervous to take a chance on any manuscript that is less than a ‘sure thing’.

Keeping the passion and expertise of bookshops involved in the solutions for the industry should be key. I would hate to see bookshops being forgotten in the publishers’ scramble to survive.

In particular, I would love to see the digital-only publishers working with print-on-demand technology to allow bookshops to support new authors. When bookshops are able to order print-on-demand titles at standard pricing and discounts, this gets them back in the game of getting quality books in the hands of the right readers.

Saying that, the market for Australian independent publishers is expanding with the rise of ebooks. Australia is incredibly fortunate to have a thriving indie publishing scene (check out the list over at SPUNC ), and the involvement of some wonderful people. Booki.sh and Readcloud are great ebook solutions for shops, the Small Publishing Network digital distribution network is helping small publishers sell their ebooks globally, and some of the bigger publishers are developing exciting new digital imprints. I think you should definitely keep an eye on Momentum and Harlequin Escape, and print-on-demand company Lightning Source.

Speakeasy: Following on from that, what shifting challenges are writers now facing due to the changes in the industry?

AA: Authors are facing lower advances (or no advances) and being asked to take on more of the marketing/publicity burden. Most publishers that are setting themselves up as digital only (be it offshoots of the big houses or start-ups) are offering higher royalties (40%-50%) for sales, but not all are. If an author is going to take a chance on a digital only publisher, they should be careful about signing away print rights at the same time.

Speakeasy: Is there anything else you might like to mention to our readers?

AA: It’s an exciting time to be a writer. Although the chances of making a living out of it are about the same as ever, there are so many more opportunities available to explore.


Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.

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