Making sure your manuscript stands out in the slush pile

How often do you wish you could corner a publisher and ask them exactly what they want? What are they looking for? How do they know when they’ve found it?

Well, never fear, for I’ve done it for you.

I asked Laura Sieveking, Publisher, Children’s Books at Scholastic Australia, for her tips for making sure your manuscript rises to the top of the dreaded submissions slush pile.

What is the first thing you look for when you open a manuscript?

Laura Sieveking: “The first thing I usually look at is a synopsis or a pitch. Sometimes I read a pitch that makes my heart beat faster, and then I instantly know that I want to see more.

“I'm looking for something fresh and unique but still relevant that will resonate with our readers. I love something that is a bit surprising or intriguing. That's what makes me flick to the manuscript straight away.”

What makes you read beyond the first page?

LS: “The first page is all about the voice, for me. I want to instantly know the tone of the book. I want to hear the character's voice (if they are narrating). I want to see authenticity and believability, especially if it is the voice of a child.

“But I'm also looking at the writer's style. It should be obvious to me if they are aiming for quirky or funny or poignant or delightful.”

What will stop you reading beyond the first paragraph? 

LS: “There's nothing more disappointing than receiving a strong concept only to see that the writing is lacking. If the writing is didactic and bland, I tend not to read far. If the narrator is meant to be a 10-year-old girl, but sounds like a 47-year-old man, then I probably won't read on.

“In children's publishing, it's also extremely important to be able to write appropriately for your readership. If someone is pitching me a junior novel but the prose is far older, then it just becomes hard work for me as a publisher.

“Read widely across the age groups and know what is appropriate language and tone for each age group. It's very off-putting when there is a disconnect between the idea and the execution.”

Increase your chances of success

Students in our Write Your Novel program have access to regular sessions with published authors and industry insiders. Write Your Novel is an advanced creative writing program. It assumes a solid knowledge of fiction techniques, workshopping experience and at least 20,000 words written. Many of our students have completed courses such as Creative Writing Stage 1, Writing Workout and Novel Writing Essentials and are now serious about publishing a novel or book-length memoir.


Author bio

Author Allison Tait smilingAllison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al’s next middle-grade novel will be out in July 2023. Find out more about her at

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