Getting Published: Fiction

Are You Ready to Submit?

Is your book finished? A publisher will not be interested in a half-finished book, no matter how good the first few chapters are. A prospective publisher or agent needs to know that you have the commitment to complete the book before they take it on.

Don’t underestimate the importance of proofreading your manuscript. Have you checked countless times for spelling and punctuation mistakes? Have you left your manuscript in a cupboard for a month and gone back to it with a fresh eye? Have you asked somebody to proofread it for you?

Publishers are inundated with thousands of manuscripts a year and can afford to be picky. They are very unlikely to accept a manuscript which needs a huge amount of time (and therefore money) spent on it when there are talented writers who will go the extra mile to make sure that their work is as good as it possibly can be.  If you would like feedback on your work, you may wish to send it to a literary consultancy or manuscript appraisal service.

Submitting Your Manuscript

In most cases, novelists will need to find a literary agent. Not only will a literary agent seek to find you a publisher and broker a deal for your work, he or she will also represent your interests over the long-term. Finding an agent you trust and believe you can build a relationship with is essential.

Full-length collections of short fiction (particularly debut collections) are arguably the most difficult to get published. It is slightly easier to publish a collection of short stories if you’ve already had a novel published, particularly if that novel has sold well.

Finding an agent you trust and believe you can build a relationship with is essential

Very few publishers accept unsolicited submissions of fiction, though some still do. It’s worth remembering that those that do will be receiving a huge number of submissions. You therefore need to think about how to make your submission stand out from the crowd.

It’s acceptable to send a short sample of your work along with a covering letter and SAE to a number of publishers or agents simultaneously. You should receive a response within three months but if you haven’t heard anything back after five or six months then send a polite reminder.

When a publisher or agent has registered interest in your work and asked to look at your complete manuscript, you should then not send your writing anywhere else until you’ve had a response. Etiquette is important in publishing and editors can be quite sensitive.

Unless you are very fortunate, you will have to deal with long silences. Initial enthusiasm and friendliness from a publisher or agent who has shown interest in your work is commonly followed by a prolonged period without communication. Try not to interpret this silence as negative. It takes a long time to read and properly consider a full manuscript and it’s likely that the editor or agent will also need to discuss the work with colleagues. They also have other manuscripts to read and will be thinking about how to commission a balanced list of books.


Developing Your Work

Learn More About Your Craft

Writing can be a lonely prospect, and unfortunately there will be a lot of alone time devoted to getting your manuscript finished and edited. However, there are a number of ways you can get involved with the writing community and learn more about your craft. Join a local writing group to meet like-minded people and get crucial feedback on your writing. You could also attend a workshop or part-time creative writing course at a local university. We also offer some great advice on the craft of writing through our writing blogs and Agony Aunt, Miss Write. All of this experience is invaluable and will help improve your writing.

 Join a local writing group to meet like-minded people and get crucial feedback on your writing

Build a Portfolio of Publications in Magazines and Journals

Getting your work published in magazines or journals can help to show that you are serious about writing and have begun to get some recognition. Always do your research before submitting a story to a magazine. Some smaller publications may not reach a wide readership and you need to consider whether it’s worth submitting if that then precludes you from having your story published elsewhere. At the opposite end of the scale, the larger magazines with a bigger readership will take a long time to reply to you and the outcome is unlikely to be positive. Bear in mind that while your story is under consideration, you won't be able to submit it elsewhere. Also, look out for opportunities to have short stories published in anthologies. These are rare but are an excellent way of showcasing your writing.

Submit Your Work to Prizes or Award Schemes

Submitting your work to a prize or award scheme (such as the New Writers Awards) is another way of contributing to your portfolio and can sometimes offer sizeable financial rewards to the winners. Always approach prizes cautiously. Consider if they are worth the entrance fee. Are they prestigious? You need to be happy with where your work may end up.

Read all about how Catherine Simpson felt when she won the New Writers Awards here.

Key Organisations

The Writers and Artists Yearbook

Society of Authors

Writers' Services

NAWE: The Writer’s Compass


Edinburgh City of Literature

Publishing Scotland

Creative Scotland



New Writers Award winner, Catherine Simpson, tells us what she learned while getting her debut novel published.