What is the Australian writing scene like today? Is there a bright future ahead of it? Or is its future shrouded in eternal darkness?


‘There has never been a better time to become involved in the writing industry in Australia.’

Those were the words that were once said to me by a lecturer at university back in 2011. Now, the comment made by this particular educational professional was very broad and did not take into account many existing factors. The comment did not make any reference to what genres or styles are at present most acceptably chosen by publishers. The comment also did not make any reference to the self-publishing industry.

Writing in general is also not the most economically powerful field in this country either. Less than five known Australian authors are involved in writing alone. All of the others have additional jobs, the likes of teaching and editing because they are unable to earn as much wealth from texts alone as they can from undertaking additional occupations.

Fact: In the past year, more books by self-published authors were sold in Australia than books published by professional publishing organisations. This statistic alone makes clear that there is considerable strain on publishers from self-published authors who are generating popular texts that the general public wish to read.

You can almost imagine that all those publishers who rejected manuscripts which have gone on to be self-published are shaking their heads in frustration in regards to all of the money they could have made from such writers.

Book establishments in Australia are drying up faster than our water catchments, but is that any reason to rationalise why the publishing industry has become so incredibly difficult to enter into? With the sudden expansion of e-readers and other like devices, you would imagine that publishing industries would be more willing to accept writers because of sites the likes of Amazon and Google that are making a fortune selling texts online. If people were having difficulty attempting to procure hard copies of texts, the simple and easy way to acquire these texts online should be having the opposite reaction than what it apparently is in Australia.

Moreover, the comment stipulated at the beginning of this post also did not take into account the factor that writers who have never been published find it incredibly difficult to have their first manuscript accepted. Publishers in general are unwilling to take risks on writers they do not know. Very few publishers accept work from unsolicited writers, many wishing for a literary agent to submit the work on the behalf of the individual writer. Literary agents have a significant amount of pull in the industry, and their general appreciation of one’s work holds significant merit in the industry.

Of course, just because you submit a manuscript to a literary agent does not instantly mean that your chances of being published automatically change for the better. Initially, one must enquire as to whether or not the literary agency wishes to receive their manuscript. If yes, in most cases they will only wish to receive a small portion. Then, upon reading what they received, if they like the piece they will then ask for the full manuscript, and if they like that, then and only then will the agency begin going through the process of looking for suitable publishers. Of course, it is then up to the publisher as to whether or not your text is successfully published – quite a fair few ‘ifs.’

On top of this, if you wish to acquire the help of a literary agent, it is best to consult them before you send your manuscripts to publishers. If you send your work to all of the publishing houses you can find, then consult a literary agent after you have been rejected by every publishing organisation available to you, then the literary agents will have no luck in helping you. Solicited work or not, publishing houses will not accept work they have previously rejected.

Today, Text Publishing, Sleepers and Puffin are three of only a few publishers willing to accept unsolicited work.

On top of this, there are only a few variants of work that publishers are often willing to consider. I was told back in 2010 that Sci-Fi and Fantasy are two of the greatest genres that one can write about because they can be broadcast to a large amount of people globally. That may be a fact, but most Australian publishers are interested only in contemporary fiction. In layman’s terms (I initially didn’t know what ‘contemporary fiction’ was), fiction that is set in the current time, basically 2013 to around 1960, bare maximum.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is very rarely looked upon with excitement by Australian publishers, and only a limited few literary agents are willing to accept such genres.

Additionally, short stories are also negatively viewed by the industry. In university, I was told how short stories are always going to be popular because unlike a novel that can take up to and over a week to complete, a short story can be read on a plane or a train ride, or even whilst waiting for a class, and can be completed in that short time frame which makes them very edible for readers wishing to digest some entertainment.

Apparently, neither the universities nor the publishing houses are in communication with one another, else lecturers and tutors would be explaining to their students something completely different than what they are currently telling them.

Unfortunately for me, it seems that I am one of those writers that decided to commit to the two styles of writing that are most unaccepted in Australia – short stories and science fiction. Even poetry is looked down upon like poison.

‘Very hard times in the (writing) industry full stop, but for short stories it’s a very dark time’ – those are the words used by a literary agent I contacted not a week ago when enquiring about a certain project of mine.

According to Text Publishing, and I am assuming this is the same for a majority of publishing houses in Australia, in the past they have had considerable trouble attempting to market short story collections and anthologies of poetry to the general public.

What I find most unappreciative in the publishing sector is that these rules on genres and styles only apply to unpublished writers. As soon as you have successfully had a text published, no longer do these rules regulate what you can have published. One example is the well known Australian author Andy Griffiths, who in 2010 had another short story collection published by Pan McMillan. Funnily enough though, Pan was expressly telling people on their sites and in their articles that they were no longer accepting short story collections. What they should be saying is this; we will not accept short story collections from anyone, unless you are a published writer and a known quantity in the industry. This double standard is unfathomably annoying and downright appalling for those of us wishing to become a part of the industry.

This would no doubt explain why self-publishing has become increasingly more popular over the last ten years. Now, I have nothing against self-publishing. In fact, everyday I think I am one step closer to just giving up on big publishing houses altogether and going at it on my own like a majority of other authors have.

However, I always enjoyed the idea of being picked up by a major publisher because of the advantageous benefits that would come from their publishing houses; they have access to PR professionals and marketers to help sell your text to a wide portion of the general public; the name of the publisher holds considerable merit; additionally, I always believed that one could garner more attention with a published text, or at least acquire more attention faster than if one were to go down the self-published track.

On top of this there are the editors who can professionally proof your work and make sure there are fewer errors. There are errors in every single book, but one might imagine there are fewer in a text published by a major publishing house. I myself may have in the past worked as an editor, yet even I do not have complete faith that I could find every spelling and grammatical error in my piece.

I guess at the end of the day it comes down to what one feels is most beneficial – if you self publish then you are in full control. You do indeed become published, but not in the stereotypical; sense of the word. Also, you are in control of your own promotions and need to put in your own money to have your manuscript published online. If you manage to attract the attention of a major publishing house on the other hand, you do not need to supply a dime, and all of the hard work is done on your behalf. However, at the end of the day, any literary agent will take between 20-30% of your profit when your text is signed to a publisher. The question remains – is being signed to a major publishing house so important that you will pass up the opportunity to self publish? Is being published by a major publisher really all that it is cracked up to be when self-published authors can be just as successful, if not even more so in some circumstances?

What are your opinions?

If you happen to live in Australia, do you agree with what I have written? What are your experiences with major publishing houses and literary agents?

If you happen to live outside Australia, what are your thoughts on the publishing industry in your countries? What are your experiences? Can you compare the publishing industry to Australia’s, or is it entirely different?

12 comments on “What is the Australian writing scene like today? Is there a bright future ahead of it? Or is its future shrouded in eternal darkness?

  1. very good post. i find myself on the same boat as you are. but i think i’m not giving in just yet to self publishing. i have nothing against it but again is with you on the marketing aspect of the book. it’s hard work getting work out there and it’s crazy how crap can be accepted by publishers from published authors and give the newbies the time in hell. hmm… do you want me to see your short stories? of course i’m no critic but it might be nice to have support from another who also writes.

    • Appreciate the comment PM! I’m glad I’m not the only one who has suffered the injustice of the publishing industry. I totally agree with you about how known authors can have books that are often terrible published just because they are known quantities.
      Also, thank you for your offer PM; it’s very sweet of you. Honestly, I haven’t even shown my collection to those closest to me! I guess I’m a bit like Jane Austen in that way – the male version of her though. I will take your offer into consideration. Thank you again! If you want I’d be willing to read anything of yours as well. I might have mentioned I have a history with editing, although I never said I was any good at it! Thank you again PM – your comment has helped brighten up my day. Have a great day!

      • it’s cool. i find i feel the same way sometimes about sharing or not sharing. but i guess sometimes you just have to go for it, you know? all writers think they are good writers until another soul explores our work and rips us apart. 😆 i guess we just have to be patient and keep going. some books took seven years to complete or even a decade. if i live that long sans my worsening health conditions then maybe you’ll just get the chance to publish my work. 😉

      • I’m sorry PM. Perhaps out of sheer ignorance or maybe from forgetting previous information supplied in posts of yours, but I didn’t realise until I read your last comment that you were gravely ill. However this comment may find you, I hope you get well soon – a writer of your caliber deserves to be published. Take care young lady, and the best of luck to you in health and in your future endeavors.

  2. I’ve tried to go down the traditional publishing route, but all the agents I’ve contacted have replied with rejections. I don’t think the fact that I’m from a non-English country helped my case either, or the fact that my novel was incredibly unusual. It felt like there was some sort of prejudice against me.

    But I wanted people to read my book, and waiting around for an acceptance letter wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere, so I decided to self-publish, and so far everything’s been going well. Do I wish for a traditional published to “discover” me? Sure, but then again, who doesn’t? At least if I’m self-published, any publisher/agent I contact in the future will know that I have some experience. 🙂

    • Appreciate the comment as always Zen. Your confident story about taking the plunge with self-publishing is very interesting and quite inspiring. What I find most interesting is why someone might use the excuse that you are not from a country where English is primary language. I have not read your novel Zen (I feel a little bad for that), but anyone who reads your blog can tell that you write English as perfectly as anyone who has spoken it all their lives – perhaps better in many cases.

  3. This is super interesting! I wanted to avoid self-publishing when I had a book because I wanted the benefits of having the publishing house’s connections to stores and whatnot. But I also feel like if I had a great book and got a few rejections, I could self-publish and feel great about it. There are so many benefits to both, it seems. For me maybe it was also an ego thing of wanting to be able to say “This is my book with a fancy Penguin logo!” or whatever the publisher would be. But alas, I never even got to the point where I was pitching it to them..only agents..and they all rejected it 🙂

    • I totally agree with that ego point of yours about how you can hold in your hand a text published by a major publishing monopoly and feel very confident about it. I’m sorry Jen that you were rejected by those agents – judging by the way you write on your blog I find it difficult to fathom how anyone could have the heinous ability to reject your work. But, then there’s every chance that someday in the near future all of those literary agents and publishers and whatnot will all be shaking their heads with tears falling across their cheeks upon the realization they could have made a fortune from your work when you’re rich and prosperous.
      Well, that’s what I want to have happen to me at least. Might as well share the dream around to all of those other writers out there. Cheers!

      • haha I agree! That is a great visualization, and it HAS happened! Also, the book I was writing was more non-fiction story-type stuff, so I decided to start with short stories, and those got lots of rejections as well. I am much better with non-fiction that is more my blog style and not storytelling with characters and things, apparently..but it would be fun to self-publish one someday and see how it goes!

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