Nottingham’s independent bookshop | 14a Long Row, Nottingham NG1 2DH | 0115 8373097

Five Leaves has been publishing books since 1995. We have published more than 200 titles, about 150 of those are still in print. These days, most of our energies go into our bookshop.

Our publishing website says we are not seeking material. Five Leaves is a commissioning press, which means we think of an idea then find a writer or editor to write the book. The publishing side is run by two people, on a very part-time basis, and we simply don’t have the time to read or advise writers about their manuscripts, even within our areas of expertise.

If you are looking for a publisher, good places to start are the annual Writers and Artists Yearbook and the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook, available in most bookshops and in bigger libraries. These have an associated website, Writers and Artists, which contains lots of free advice and information. If you are interested in commercial publication, a good guide to the industry is From Pitch to Publication* by Carole Blake – this is old but still relevant.

When it comes to submissions, the big publishers will want agented submissions, smaller ones not (as a rule of thumb). Some big publishers and agencies have submission windows. Never send your manuscript to anyone unless you know they are accepting submissions, and ensure you send exactly what the agent or publisher asks for. Check their websites, contact them and ask if it’s not clear.

The writing magazine Mslexia is aimed particularly at women writers but includes information for all writers. They publish the Indie Press Guide which lists hundreds of small and independent presses together with their submission policies. The guide excludes publishers that don’t look at submissions, so we are not in it!

If you are a poet, it’s unlikely anyone will publish your book unless you have a track record of publishing with recognised literature magazines. The book How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published* by Helena Nelson is the most useful book on this subject, and also the funniest.

You should only approach publishers who accept submissions, and only in their submission windows, otherwise you waste your own and their time.

We often get asked about children’s publishing. There are a number of specialist children’s bookshops, including Wonderland in Retford and Neverland in Newark, which carry a wider selection of children’s books than we can. Browsing our shelves and theirs will tell you who is publishing in your area of interest.

It takes a lot of time to write a book. We would encourage you to spend a lot of time learning how the industry that you want to join works, too. Whatever your interest, if you don’t read widely in your field you are unlikely to find a publisher or to have an understanding of the literature. Buy and borrow books whenever you can, not least to support other writers so they support you in turn.

* The books mentioned are on our shelves – together with other books on writing – or are available from libraries.


At the time of writing, one of our bestselling books is self-published – a book on the engineers who built the Great Central Railway. In our local interest section we have other self-published non-fiction about our area. This field is ideal for self-publishing as people do want the information and it might not be economic for a commercial publisher to carry the title. We rarely carry self-published material elsewhere in the shop.

Writing the book is only half the job. If you are thinking of self-publishing a novel or poetry, say, you also need to think about self-distributing, self-promotion, self-cover design, self-editing and self-proofreading. These are skilled jobs, and if a book is not up to commercial standards the reader will notice and pass by. Bookshops will usually not stock self-published material, and libraries are less likely to carry the books or reviewers to review them.

Bookshops tend to buy from wholesalers or have systems in place within the trade. In our case we normally order books in singles – unless we are promoting them – re-ordering for supply the next day from trade distributors. If we stocked all the self-published novels we have been offered we would have to drop all the published novels we stock, due to lack of room…

So by all means self-publish, but spend some time thinking about how you’re going to reach your audience and how to ensure your book is produced to professional standards. And then think about how you are going to sell the book before you print any copies. Think about the economics of what you are doing. Think about trade discounts, think about postage, and think about how you are going to get the book printed.

Vanity publishing

Publishers should pay you – advances or royalties – not the other way round. Be very careful about paying “subsidy” publishers. Booksellers know who the vanity publishers are and are reluctant to stock their books. The same applies to reviewers and library suppliers. Equally, if you are offered royalties way in excess of industry standards, start worrying.

Preditors and Editors (currently being redesigned, but there’s a link to their Facebook page) highlights publishers it believes are vanity publishers.

There’s support out there

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, Nottingham Writers Studio, Writing East Midlands, Writing West Midlands… Look for similar organisations in your area and join their mailing lists.

The Society of Authors and the Writers Guild of Great Britain are two organisations for those who write professionally, the former primarily for authors of books, the latter primarily for writers in theatre and broadcast media.

States of Independence in Leicester is a free day-long festival involving most of the region’s small publishers. States also features industry talks.

If you want to use a qualified editor or proofreader you should look for a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (but note their suggested hourly rate).

Jericho Writers is a paid-for ‘club’ which provides expert support at all stages of book writing and production. We don’t have personal experience of their services but reviews are generally good.

And when you are published

If we stock your book it’s great if you can give our webshop as the buying link (that is why the railway book is one of our bestsellers!). If you prefer a national buying link, it’s also great if you list Hive or Bookshop.org The latter has an affiliate scheme for writers, publishers and reviewers. If you like bookshops, decent working conditions for staff and businesses that pay their taxes, please don’t give the richest spaceman on the planet your support.

What we can’t do…

… is the work for you. Please don’t ask us to read your manuscript and to make comments on it. We simply don’t have the time. There are groups like The Literary Consultancy (TLC) who will do that for a price, and sometimes the funded agencies mentioned earlier have “free reads” and mentorship schemes. Please don’t turn up in a bookshop for the first time and ask the bookseller to advise you on your work – unfortunately that happens a lot. We’re more likely to find time to help our regular customers, and if you don’t buy, borrow or browse books you won’t be much of a writer!

What we can do…

In normal times most bookshops host book launches and events. Bookshops like to support their local writing community. We love to hear from local writers about their forthcoming books, whether academic or creative (books can be both, of course…), in case we can do something with them. This can range from a book launch to arranging with an academic publisher for special terms to make an expensive academic-library book affordable to our customers. The more notice we get, the better – in normal times our events programme is planned at least three months ahead. We are less likely to support self-published writers in this way though, and we can’t put on all the events we are asked to host!

Bearing in mind all you’ve read above, if you’d like to talk to us about your book, please email us and we’ll pass your message to the appropriate member of our team.