Writers’ First Steps (FAQs)

I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I don’t know where to start, can you help?

The NT Writers’ Centre runs regular workshops aimed at those who are just starting out in their writing. An entry-level workshop will help you understand the process, provide you with writing exercises to help develop your ideas and give you the basic tools you need to start writing.

Jumping straight into your first novel without developing your writing is not recommended. Take the time to develop and practice your style with short stories and workshops before you take the leap.

Check out our homepage for all upcoming workshops, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then give us a ring on 08 8941 2651 and we’ll be able to guide you further.


I’ve written a book, what’s the next step?

Congratulations! You are one of the <10% that start writing a book and actually finish. This is the point where most people get excited and make some common mistakes that end up leaving them disappointed.

  • Yes – you need some form of editing. No – you can’t self-edit. At the very least you need a willing friend to proofread your work. (see ‘do I need an editor?’ below).
  • There is no rush. The literary world is not going anywhere. Slow down, make sure you have a quality product. Rushing to submit before your manuscript is 100% may result in burning bridges with publishers before you get a chance to show them how great your idea is! 
  • Think about giving advance copies to beta readers who read in your genre, get some feedback and tweak if required. Try to avoid solely using friends and family, they have a vested interest in keeping you sweet, try joining or even setting up a local writing group.

Once the manuscript is 100% ready for release, you have your next major decision – self-publish your book or send it to publishers.


Should I self-publish my book or try for a traditional publisher?

This is a simple question with a complicated answer and it depends on a number of factors. The first question you need to ask yourself is – what do you want out of your book?

Traditional Publishing

By this we mean sending your manuscript off to publishers who accept open submissions (read the guidelines on their website first – publishers know exactly what they want, when they want it and how they want it). This may require you to post it to them, or submit using an online system or just provide a sample chapter attached to an email, it very much depends on the publisher. 

The big Australian publishers are: Allen & Unwin, Penguin, Hachette, Pan McMillan & Harper Collins. They all have websites and accept certain manuscripts into their slush piles at specific times of year. There are also a number of legitimate smaller publishers, however, be aware of scams – you shouldn’t be paying a publisher any money upfront. 

If they like your work you will hear back from them within a month or two and from there they will guide you through the full process including providing an in-house editor, front-cover design, marketing strategy, timeline for release etc. 

Sounds great right? The downside is that getting traditionally published can be very very difficult, and even in the best case scenario – with you immediately getting picked up – it will take at least 12 months before you will see your book on a shelf. You will also only get around 10% of RRP in royalties for print books and roughly 25% for digital sales.


With the internet came the great publishing house of Amazon, king of the online sales and the great opportunity equaliser for all authors.

The truth is self-publishing is very easy to do (if you’re computer literate), gets your book out there immediately and allows you to opt for royalties of up to 70% without costing you a penny.

The downside? If you want to sell any books you have to work really really hard.

You do all the advertising, all the marketing, the book cover design, social media, author profile work, negotiations, requests for review… basically everything. 

Even then, the marketplace is flooded with similar self-publishers and the chances are you won’t sell more than a few copies.

It is worth noting that self-publishing does not always have to be digital, you can pay for physical copies of your book to be printed and then attempt to sell your book locally, at independent bookstores or through your network. This is recommended if you have written something that has a strong connection to place or you have a large contact list.


Beware of exploitative “publishers”

(This section is kindly contributed by Jane McCredie, CEO Writing NSW)

If you google “getting published”, you’ll likely see a whole lot of ads that appear to be from publishing houses seeking submissions from aspiring writers. But how do you distinguish the reputable publishing houses, or providers of publishing services, from the more unscrupulous operators who set out to take advantage of writers, often charging large fees and giving little in return?

The first and most important rule is to make sure you get proper independent advice before you sign a contract, particularly if the publisher is asking you to make a financial contribution. Arts Law or the Australian Society of Authors will provide contract advice for a modest fee.

Other things you can do to protect yourself include:

  • Check to see if the publisher has a variety of books for sale in your local bookshop or at an online retailer like Booktopia. If they don’t, chances are they won’t help to get your book into the hands of readers either.
  • Google the name of the publisher + “customer reviews”. A large number of negative reviews is a huge warning sign. Be aware that you will always see some positive reviews as businesses may post these themselves.
  • Don’t click on Google or social media ads from “publishers” saying they are accepting submissions or looking for new authors. Reputable publishers don’t pay to advertise for submissions online as they already receive more than they can cope with.
  • Be very cautious if you receive an enthusiastic response within a few days of submitting your manuscript. Although that can occasionally happen with a reputable agent or publisher, it is extremely rare to receive a positive response so quickly. In most cases, this will be a standard reply from somebody who hasn’t even read your manuscript and is simply seeking to charge you for publishing it.


Do I need an editor?

The simple answer is yes.

There are three types of editing: structural, copy and proof. Structural looks at your overall story arc, character development, all the ‘big picture’, copy deals with grammar, spelling and consistency. Proof is just a final check for errors.

If you don’t know what you need then we would advise a manuscript assessment (similar to/same as a structural edit). This is where an editor reads your work and makes recommendations on the overall content and style. You will likely then need a subsequent proof or copy edit after making the changes suggested.

Editing a book is a lot of work, if you have a very nice friend who knows their spelling and grammar, then ask away, but otherwise it will cost at least $1000 for a professional editor (potentially a lot more). 

You do get what you pay for and we recommend at the very least getting a manuscript assessment. You want to have a good relationship with your editor so before committing to a fee then ask them to edit a small section of your work so you can see if you’re a good fit.

The Institute of Professional Editors (IPED) has a search tool on their website to help you find the right editor for you.


Do I need an agent?

Getting an agent can be even more difficult than getting a publisher. Once they pick you up, they pick you up for life, so they choose very carefully who they want to work with. The question isn’t really whether or not you need an agent, it is more like how can I get one?

Look at your favourite authors in your genre. They almost always credit their agent if they have one. Go to their company website and read their submission guidelines. 

In reality though, you are more likely to get picked up by a publisher first.


Will the NT Writers’ Centre publish my work?

While the writers’ centre occasionally wins grants to invite NT authors to collaborate on an anthology, we do not publish individual manuscripts.

We do, however, provide a service where we sell completed books on behalf of some of our members on the www.ntwriters.com.au website. Contact executive@ntwriters.com.au for more details or fill out the online form here.


Can I get my booked printed myself?

If you’re going down the self-publishing route then you may wish to get a certain number of copies physically printed. In order to do this you will have to approach a printing company such as Colemans or Zip Print in Darwin. 

Some online companies such as Ingram Sparks offer ‘print on demand’ services where the customer pays the printing cost on purchase, while others will charge you a set fee for an agreed upon number of copies (usually around $10 per book with a minimum order of 500).

Whatever method you choose, you will need to have your manuscript formatted correctly including: the main body, front cover, back cover and spine. The text can be done relatively easily within Microsoft Word – there are a number of online guides to help you with font/margin/bleed. 

Be aware that book covers are usually formatted separately using a graphic design tool such as InDesign. If you’re struggling then engaging a graphic designer for this part is recommended and usually provides good value for money.

The final document will then need to be converted to PDF and emailed/uploaded or put on a memory stick and brought to the printers.


How do I build my profile as an author?

One of the best ways to build your author profile is to enter (and win) as many short story or poetry competitions as you can. You can find these in our newsletter or on the competitions page of our website. They run all year round and are usually free/cheap to enter. Some publishers even run competitions with publication as a prize!

With regards to the online environment your ‘author platform’ is a full workshop on its own. The basics are setting up a mailing list, website and social media pages. This is your bread and butter as a digital self-published author, but can be challenging if computers are not your cup of tea. 

Networking and word-of-mouth plays a big part in building your profile, especially if your book deals with a topic that is relevant to or about local people/history. Getting your book into local haunts can result in quick physical sales, but don’t assume they want your book on their shelves or expect them not to take a cut! Try joining a writing group to figure out the local zeitgeist, Darwin groups are listed on our website here.

Libraries are unlikely to stock your book as they tend to go through national publishers, although it doesn’t hurt to ask! The same goes for chain bookshops and big business. You do have more of a chance with independent bookstores, but remember they have limited space and small profit margins. 


Are there any grants available in the NT to support my project?

There are a number of Australia-wide and NT-specific grants, residencies and fellowships available. Most are open to Australian citizens and permanent residency holders only. They are extremely competitive and require you to write a strong proposal supported with significant evidence of your suitability for funding, including past success (see how do I build my profile above).

Australia Council – http://www.ntwriters.com.au/p>

Varuna – http://www.ntwriters.com.au/a> 

Arts NT – http://www.ntwriters.com.au/a> 

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