Libby Harkness - Writer, Biographer, Ghostwriter, Memoir Writer



Helpful Guide

Thinking it through before you make contact.

If Libby takes your story on, it is because she believes it has an excellent chance of being selected for publication by a known publisher. In the last few years, more than 90 per cent of all synopsises and/or manuscripts she has submitted to publishers have resulted in commercially published books, including several best sellers.

Because Libby gets hundreds of enquiries a year she has prepared a helpful guide of things to think about before you make contact with her.

Do you want commercial publication for your book? If the answer is yes consider the following:

a) What do you hope to achieve by telling your story?

Sometimes people just want to share their stories in the hope that it might help others. But it could be for a range of other reasons such as justice, validation, catharsis or to make money.

b) Who will buy your book?

Have you researched what other books are out there that might be similar to the story you have to tell? If so, what makes your story unique?

c) Have you thought how you might market your book?

Authors get some initial marketing and publicity from a publisher on the launch of a book but on-going sales rely on how you keep promoting it.

Could your story have legal ramifications?

Publishers are very risk averse – no one likes to be sued. Australia has very tight defamation laws. There are reasons that you can’t always write something even if it’s true (or that you say is true). If your story involves family court matters there can be many legal restrictions on what you can say. Anything involving murder, domestic violence, sexual assault or family disputes have to be dealt with very carefully. Legal ramifications are taken into account when a publisher is considering a manuscript for publication.

Will your book sell?

Australia and New Zealand are very small markets and the majority of book buyers of memoirs are older women. Only a small percentage of published books ‘earn out’ their advance royalty payment (i.e. sell enough to pay back the publisher any money advanced to the author on signing a publishing contract). In Australia, sales of 5,000 copies are considered to be good and 7,000 copies is considered a ‘bestseller’ (numbers are much higher in the US and UK markets).

Even then, financial returns are limited unless you have a real best seller – say more than 50,000 copies – which is pretty rare in Australia. Or manage to crack the international market.

In 2017 more than 62,000 new titles were published in Australia; only four titles sold over 100,000 copies and at the other end of the scale 61,800 titles sold less than 5,000 copies. Best-seller lists – both fiction and non-fiction – are still largely made from international titles.

An author usually gets ten per cent of the recommended retail price (RRP). The big sales are through large retailers but they sell books at a discounted price. For example if the RRP is $34.95, it may actually start out selling for a lot less than that in big stores – with prices dropping more with time. If a royalty advance has been paid (usually small anyway) against future royalties, it will have to be repaid and any other associated costs (e.g. the writer’s fees) will also need to be taken into account before it becomes profitable.

Once your book is published can you simply sit back and wait for the royalty cheques?

No. Marketing by publishers is very limited. You will be required to put in a lot of on-going effort after the initial publicity spurt if you want your book to sell. The aim is to keep up demand so booksellers keep ordering in your book and print runs are repeated. This takes effort and exposure.

Often it helps to seek out a marketing professional for this stage. They can help keep the book front of mind so people keep buying it. If you don’t work on promotion, eventually, and perhaps sooner than you would like, the book will go out of print. As a rule of thumb you should aim to sell more than 20,000 copies in order to make any money after paying costs.

What genre does your story fit into?

Go to a bookshop and look for books that may have a similar storyline to yours e.g. drug rehabilitation, cancer recovery, domestic violence, catastrophic accident, ex-prisoner story, child abduction, murder, etc. Most Australian publishers are unlikely to take on another story that is similar to yours if has been published in the last five years – unless you are already well-known or the topic is currently hot or has an unusual twist.


Libby has relationships with publishers developed over many years and a proven work history of rare calibre. When she chooses a story she thinks will find a publisher, she is usually right. So when she sends a manuscript to publishers it is almost always considered. However, of the hundreds of enquiries she receives annually, many through this website, she can only take on a limited number of books a year.

In addition, she is often booked at least a year in advance and there is a booking fee if you want to lock in a future start date.

Want to find a publisher yourself?

Publishers get hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts a year; they go into a slush pile, and unfortunately, if you are unknown the chance of them reading yours any time soon is slim. Find out whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts first. You might also consider getting a literary agent, which is not always easy if you are a previously unpublished author but chances are better if you already have a well-written story. Agents can take up to 20 per cent of anything the book earns for you.

There are many helpful guides online. The Australian Publishers Association prints an annual members’ directory which has contact details for each publisher and whether or not they accept unsolicited manuscripts and if so, how to submit them. You can also find literary agents online.


You may choose to self-publish the finished manuscript and there are several specialist publishers who will do this for you – but make sure they are reputable and you know what you are getting. Libby has contacts in this area.

Before proceeding, the manuscript will need a professional edit and Libby can recommend the best free-lance book editors available. The publishers will usually help with cover design, arrange format and photo layout; they can also assist with proof reading. If you want your book sold through traditional bookshops you will have to get a distributor and they will take a percentage of the sales price. There are e-book options or you may sell the book yourself on-line via a dedicated website. If you want to use the book to promote your business or yourself as a motivational or after dinner speaker the cost of self-publishing may be tax deductable.

What Libby does not do:

Libby does not do blogs, fiction writing, script-writing, speech writing, thesis conversion, press releases, investigative journalism or technical, business and science books.





  © Copyright 2013 Libby Harkness - Writer for Hire. All Rights Reserved. Sydney Australia.