Help yourself get published in Australia


No writer wants to end up in a publisher’s slush pile.  Not that long ago, if you had sent an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher, that was where it would end up.

Unsolicited manuscript is a term used by those who are involved in the world of professional publishing to mean a manuscript that is sent to a publishing house without being requested (or otherwise fielded through a literary agent). Most large publishers do not allow unsolicited manuscripts.”

With digital publishing, this is rapidly changing. Many publishers, but still not all, are willing to accept an unsolicited manuscript, as long as the submission is the barest minimum. Never send the full manuscript without sending a query letter or synopsis first. Publishers like to get an idea of what your story is about before committing hours of their time reading thousands of words.

rainbow of books

Better still, before you do anything, make sure you do your homework: Check their submission guidelines, revise your manuscript, engage an experienced editor or even better, find an agent who is willing to take you on. Be prepared that an agent will expect you to revise as many times as they, in their professional opinion, deem necessary.

If your one page query letter manages to wet the publisher’s appetite, they will ask for more. When that happens, make sure you follow the publishers request/guidelines to the letter.

When it comes to publishers, it is practically impossible to step into the same river twice – once you’ve been rejected by a big publisher, your revised version of the same manuscript will not get a look in. Which means – Preparation is everything.  There are some basics that you need to answer for yourself before submitting to a publisher (or an agent). Not only will being clear about these things help you to write a better pitch, but if the publisher is interest, you may also be asked some of these questions when you see them:

  • Has this publisher published similar books to yours?

  • Have you read at least a couple of those?

  • Is your book unique enough but complimentary to be a good fit for that publisher/agent?

  • What is unique about your book?

  • What gave you the idea to write this book?

  • Which titles/authors would you see most closely resemble yours?

  • Which authors inspire you?

  • Why are you the best person to write this book (for non-fiction)?

  • What expertise do you have on this topic (for non-fiction)?

  • Have you been published before or won any writing awards?

  • How can you succinctly and simply describe your book (your ‘elevator pitch’)?

  • What is your tagline?

  • Who is your audience?

  • How might you assist with selling the book?

  • How would telling your pitch to 10 million people change what you say?

Only once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, it is time to start writing your pitch.

In the first instance, submit a one page summary with the following details:

  • Title

  • Author

  • Genre: Fiction, non-fiction or illustrated (use only one genre)

  • Category: For non-fiction – self-help, health, history, current affairs, biography; For fiction – romance, comedy, drama, horror, crime, science fiction, thriller)

  • 25 word tag-line or a sentence about your subject matter

  • 250-300 word synopsis: Describe your book/what happens, why should they read it. Include the primary theme, the questions it answers for the reader, and how the material will be helpful to your reading audience.

Some publishers will be happy with additional or lengthier proposal. Your research will identify what or how much. If you stick to “less is more”, at this early stage, you’ll be much safer than if you flood them with information.

The query email should be a brief one page introduction (no cheating with minuscule font, use 11-12) that informs the publisher about the subject of your book, provides information about you as an author, and describes your target audience.

In your email subject line include the title, genre and category. Lead with a hook – a quirky idea or a question that represents the them of your book. In the body of your email let the potential publisher know how you plan to get your author name out there. This is called a promotional plan and more and more publishers require it. Also, include the following

  • Mention your authority: what qualifies you to write this book?

  • Do you have a website or a blog?

  • Do you have a social network page eg. FaceBook, Twitter, youTube, Google+, Goodreads?

  • Do you have a network or a member group, such as a special club, who would be interested in this type of book?

  • Will or have you done presentations, readings, book signing, chats, contests or similar types of promotion on this topic/your book?

The language should be sophisticated, engaging and specific, using a few adjectives. It may connect to the tone of the book, but best not to write your pitch in the style of the book. Most importantly, stick strictly to the facts. Telling the publisher your work is wonderful, or that you think he or she will enjoy it, is actually telling them quite the opposite. Let the facts speak for themselves.

You’ve written a killer pitch and now the publisher wants more

Usually, as a follow-up to your pitch, they will ask for the first chapter. Only. It should be attached as a double-spaced word document (or PDF, if illustrated). If they ask for something else, follow their request to the letter.

Some publishers will ask for a table of contents, usually with a summary of each individual chapter of the book. If you’re using charts, illustrations, tables, etc., include their descriptions as well.

If the publishes asks for more than one chapter – it will never be more than three at this point – be sure to include the first and the last chapter and one of your best chapters, so that you provide the publisher with a solid understanding of your book.

If the publisher specifies that all submissions should be double spaced in Times or Times New Roman font, and sent as an RTF file, DO NOT send something that is single spaced, in a Gothic font, and saved as a PDF. This is not the time to be creative.

Some obvious basics that are often missed but are a must:

  • Include a title page with: Your name, pen name (if you’re using one), title of the book, word count, your phone number and email address. No more. No less.

  • Make sure you number all pages.

  • When naming your electronic file, include the title and your name. If they ask for a different format, follow that.

Keep in mind that a manuscript sent by email will be saved somewhere on the publisher’s server. It will most likely be referred to the publisher’s Reader and quite possibly to other staff within the company. Make it easy for the publisher to find your manuscript in a sea of others. Obscure file titles, with no identifying information on the Manuscript itself, will ensure it is lost and the publisher will not be able to read it or to respond to you.

Lastly, most publishers will list an average response time. Under no circumstance should you contact them earlier.

The three major Australian publishers accepting unsolicited submissions at the moment are:

Allen & Unwin, The Friday Pitch. This is a long-running program, by which authors can submit the first chapter of their manuscript, plus synopsis, each Friday.

Pan Macmillan, Manuscript Monday. If you submit the first chapter of your manuscript, plus synopsis, electronically between 10am and 4pm every Monday, you’ll have your work read within one month.

Penguin’s Monthly Catch. Submissions are restricted to the first week of every month.


A list of Australian professional agents, members of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association (ALAA)

Australian Publishers Association

Australian Writers’ Centre

Australian Writers’ Guild

Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) site

Literary Agent and Author Agreement at the Australian Society of Authors

Macquarie Dictionary online

Literary Festivals Australia

Pitch a Non-FIction Book to an Editor at WikiHow

Signing With a Literary Agent? Here’s What Should Be In Your Contract at The Write Life


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Screenwriters Read Screenplays

Or, maybe that should read, ‘Screenwriters, Read Screenplays.’  Either way, if you’re looking to improve your writing, read well-written screenplays.

Lucky for us, during the awards season, the studios offer copies of their awards contenders online in hopes of bolstering their chances at nominations.  One of the key traits of good writers is, they are avid readers, so there is no excuse not to read as many screenplays as you can get your hands on.


Original “The Godfather, Part  II” screenplay in the National Museum of the Cinema, Turin, Italy

For budding screenwriters, these scripts are practically free screenwriting classes.  To learn how the masters craft, study the structure, pacing and the language, and your writing is sure to improve.

As the awards draw close, the list will grow.  However, bear in mind that the scripts (in PDF format) will only be available for a limited time.  So consider creating yourself a library of screenplays and save them now.

Some of the screenplay contenders for the 88th Academy Awards, with online screenplays:

  • The Revenant – Screenplay byAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu & Mark L Smith, Based on the novel by Michael Punke




  • 99 Homes – Ramin Bahrani & Bahrani Azimi
  • I Smile Back – Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman, Based on the novel I Smile Back by Amy Koppelman


  • Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, & Josh Cooley, Original Story by Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)





  • Steve Jobs –  Aaron Sorkin, Based on the book by Zwalter Isaacson
  • Straight Outta Compton –  Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff


  • Carol –  Phyllis Nagy


Additional contenders:

  • Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
  • The Martian – Drew Goddard
  • Anomalisa –  Charlie Kaufman
  • Creed – Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
  • The Big Short – Adam McKay & Charles Randolph
  • The Danish Girl – Lucina Coxen
  • 45 Years – Andrew Haigh
  • Spotlight – Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer
  • The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
  • Joy – Annie Mumolo & David O. Russell
  • Love & Mercy – Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner
  • Sicario – Taylor Sheridan

Of course, please note that that these scripts are copyrighted material and are provided for educational purposes only.


Who’ll make the cut next [Oscars] February?‘ by category on IdieWire

how to get your doco film to a wide audience

You’ve just made a documentary that you are passionate about, and are ready to show it to the world.  Now what?

Getting a documentary film made by a newcomer noticed and accepted by a distributor is tricky business. Mainly because there is not much money to be had for documentaries – licence fees for documentaries are very low in proportion to budgets – but mostly because many broadcasters produce their own content or commission documentaries, so they very rarely buy them off the shelf.  When they do, they’re very picky.

If you are lucky and get a distributor, expect a fee of something around a flat rate of 30% (no deduction for expenses in that case), or 25% plus costs, and a 3 year exclusive term of representation.

Unless your doco has won awards or has proven to be controversial enough elsewhere to be in the same category as Micheal Moore‘s (eg. online sales through the roof), you stand little chance with traditional avenues.

However, the collapse of old models and the emergence of new media mean there are more opportunities than ever before.  And even better, the filmmakers now have the freedom to make their own rules for distribution of their works!

So, before you get discouraged about the chances of selling your masterpiece to a major broadcaster, consider that you can also manage the distribution process yourself (or with a bit of help) by:

  • Selling the film as VOD online – pay to view download (this is how “The Secret” did it in the beginning);
  • Selling the DVD via your website, eBay, Amazon, FaceBook etc.
  • Showcasing it at relevant film festivals;
  • Pitching at international markets such as MIP TV, MIPCOM, BBC Showcase etc;
  • Travelling around with the doco, showing it at various art-house theatres;

All of these options do require quite a bit of effort and creative cross-marketing on the Social Media platforms, but the pay-offs can be amazing.


Whichever approach you consider, remember that an independent, non commissioned documentary that is looking to make a reasonable return should either have a highly saleable subject matter, or serious likelihood of major awards.

At the very least, your Executive Summary (my template at Scribd) of the proposal will need to include:

  • Title.
  • Exact duration.
  • A short, 25 word log line.
  • A one paragraph – no more than 250 word – synopsis of the concept.
  • Short bios of key creatives i.e. Producer, Director, Writer (good idea to include their short CVs).
  • Full contact details of the distributor, including postal address.

ALSO in your letter/email:

  • Which documentary slot you are submitting an idea for.
  • Year of production. (NB: Many broadcasters do not consider programs more than couple of years old.)
  • Details of any festivals or broadcast screenings and award nominations/wins.
  • Links to additional online content, including trailers.

Other points to consider:

  • Keep your proposal brief, concise and clear. This is more important than something pretty, glossy or bound. Your focus is your work and its benefit.
  • Focus on the purpose of the project. What is it trying to say? Why did you make this documentary? Why is it important?
  • Convince through facts, rather than emotion, the obvious connection between your work and the potential audience.
  • Your interpretation of audience must apply to a demographic and not just to a television audience and ratings.

Describe the Project

  • A Synopsis, or a 250 word summary,  includes the story or issue, why it is of interest and most importantly, what will be the impact of the documentary?
  • You may want to provide a five hundred word outline as well.  The Project Outline indicates a problem and presents a solution. Where does the story take us from to?
  • Are there any other pending broadcast arrangements and if so with who?
  • A good submission is a reflection of a well-planned project , including a plan to reach a wider audience ie. merchandising.

Why Now?

  • Highlight the need. Whom does this issue or film affect? Include where the research comes from: facts, figures and references (this may be written or anecdotal).
  • Outline the value of your documentary to your target audience.

Who are You?

  • One page of information about yourself and your company or organisation including what you do more broadly (including other projects or previous work), key personnel, company members, a history of your organisation or your own work, your philosophy or mission statement, evidence that you are connected to a community of interest.
  • Outline the ability of your team to carry out the project. Are there issues of access? If so, highlight how you have been able to gain this access.

Copyright Clearances

Bear in mind that no festival, broadcaster, theatre or distributor will consider a documentary film if all literary, visual (as in photographic), audio and video material used does not have cleared copyright.

Assignments of rights should be in writing and signed by both parties – the assignor and assignee – and should be for the rights to exploit the material in every imaginable manner, including in ways that have not yet been invented at the time of the assignment.

Movie Popcorn

Selling to Broadcast Stations

If you’re still determined to submit your brand spanking new documentary to a major broadcaster for consideration, first ask yourself, “Is my doco of a high standard?”  That includes all elements: story, visual, audio, editing.

Most channels are inundated with submissions, so before submitting a program it is a very good idea that you first familiarise yourself with their current content and if available, take the time to view the showreel on their web page.

In general, all broadcasters evaluate programs according to the following criteria:

  • Their schedule requirements;
  • Their broadcaster Charter;
  • Whether the program suits one of the schedule’s established time slots. (NB: Good programs can also be rejected if there is no free suitable time slot);
  • The quality of the production;
  • The program’s relevance to country’s viewers;
  • The program’s appeal to a particular demographic;
  • That program adheres to their Editorial Policy guidelines;
  • Whether the program is innovative in its style or content.

What channels will pay for a broadcast hour documentary varies from channel to channel, as well as from country to country.  USA pays much more per hour than Australia, however the exact figure is based on a broad array of commercial and programming considerations, as outlined above.

According to WestDoc 2013 (West Coast Documentary and Reality Conference) Co Founder Richard Propper (also CEO and Director, International Licensing and Acquisitions at Solid Entertainment, a sales agency specializing in documentary films) , “Today, we see around $8,000 for an hour in Germany.  We used to see $20,000.  France, about $7,500 and it used to be $15,000.  The UK – as high as $80,000, now $25,000.  Generally, all the digital, free follow along rights go with the license fee.  Pay VOD (view on demand) is still retained by the producer.”


20 Tips for Strategizing Festivals & Distribution Today

Best Selling Documentary DVDs on

DataBase of Film Festivals

Distribution Strategies for a Changing World by Peter Broderick

Documentary production in Australia, 2010: A collection of key data by Screen Australia

Get My Program on SBS

How to Sell a Documentary to a Network by Steve Brachmann, Demand Media

International Documentary Buyers’ Guide 2013-14

List of International Film Festivals by continent

Marketing Resources at Screen Australia

OzDox – The Australian Documentary Forum

Screen Australia’s Top 10 Australian documentary and light entertainment series titles on video 2010-2012

Supplying a program to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Top Grossing Australian Writers 2013

What Will TV Channels Pay for Your Doco? on


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