How do you get a publisher to look at your manuscript? You do what everyone trying to sell any great idea or product does, of course: you pitch it.
Pitching your manuscript to a publisher or agent essentially means that you’re telling them why your book is so great. And that they’ll miss out if they don’t take you on. But how do you do it? These tips for pitching your book to publishers can help you land you the book deal you’ve been dreaming of.
Finish your manuscript.
Publishers and agents aren’t interested in your idea for a book; they’re interested in the actual book. This does not mean you send the full manuscript in your pitch—it just means you’re better prepared both to craft the pitch and to respond if you get some interest. If you have your manuscript as close to perfect as possible by the time you pitch it, you can send it to the publisher or agent as soon as they ask for it while the pitch is still fresh in their mind.
Finishing means doing more than one draft—probably several. Ideally, you will have had some objective beta readers, outside Mom and Dad. During the writing process, your story may go in a different direction, or you may want to restructure everything. When everything is where you want it to be, that’s the time to write your pitch, because you will be clearer on your audience, focus, and the story’s core.
Write your pitch.
When you write your pitch to publishers, be sure to include these five things:
- A hook that will pique the publisher’s interest.
- A very short summary of the story, including the protagonist, the setting, and any plot twists. If your book is nonfiction—a self-help book or a business book, for example—explain the core problem you’re addressing and the solutions you propose.
- The working title and length of the book.
- The genre, target audience, and some recent, well-known books similar to yours. A good way to find those similar books, which are usually called comp or comparison titles, is to find one in your niche, type it into the search bar on a site like Amazon and see what comes up under “People also bought …”.
- A bit about yourself, including other books you’ve written, and why you’re the best person to write this particular book at this time. Especially for a nonfiction book, this will give the publisher an idea of why you’re qualified to write about the topic.
Look at blurbs and back covers of successful books for guidelines.
To help you perfect your pitch, find inspiration in the blurbs and back covers of books in your genre or niche that have sold well. How did they hook the reader? That’s usually how they hooked the publisher too.
Keep it concise.
Once you’ve written your draft pitch, read it aloud, timing yourself. A good pitch is about two minutes long. This is an important step whether you plan to deliver your pitch in writing or verbally. Since the average in-person pitching session is about five minutes, keeping your pitch short and concise leaves enough time for the publisher to ask questions.
Practise delivering your pitch.
One of the best ways to deliver your pitch with confidence is to be prepared. So, practise your pitch. Pay attention to your tone and the speed and clarity with which you speak. Also practise in front of the mirror so that you can work on your facial expressions and gestures. Recording yourself allows you to play back your pitch and more objectively pick up on speed, along with filler words like “um,” and other verbal patterns that might be distracting. While it’s good to have your pitch memorized, you want to strive for a balance between sounding over-rehearsed and under-prepared.
Research the publishers you’d like to pitch to.
Your pitch won’t go anywhere unless you deliver it to the right person. Pitching a manuscript directly to a publisher at one of the traditional publishing houses is very difficult if you don’t have a working relationship with them already. For a traditional publishing deal, you’ll be better off pitching your book to a literary agent first.
If you want to pitch to a publisher directly, you may have more luck approaching a hybrid or indie publisher like Ingenium Books. To ensure that you choose reputable publishers, databases of publisher’s associations like the Independent Book Publishers Association are very useful.
Create a shortlist of publishers you think may be right for your book, based on what types of books they publish.
Follow publisher submission instructions!
Remember to research and follow each publisher’s submission instructions. Not following a publisher’s process or guidelines is likely to land your manuscript in the junk pile. The number of submissions we receive at Ingenium Books where it’s obvious the author has either not read our submission guidelines or not bothered to follow them is astounding. This makes it look like you either don’t care, don’t understand the importance behind instructions like these, or you have trouble absorbing written information. Not the way to put your best foot forward.
Be very careful you’re not sending or submitting a pitch that contains typos. Take care when you’re sending emails so that you don’t accidentally cc every other publisher or agent you’re submitting your pitch to. This makes you and your pitch appear sloppy, which may send the message that either you’re lazy or you can’t self-edit. Again, probably not the impression you’re hoping to leave.
Deliver your pitch.
There are several ways to approach a publisher or agent and deliver your pitch. You may want to give the publisher a call first, or check their website and find out their preferences.
- Pitch via email. Give it a short but interesting subject line to make it stand out. Before you send the email, however, proofread it. Then proofread it again.
- Pitch remotely. Some publishers may prefer a virtual meeting with you rather than an email. Before the session, choose a quiet location with good lighting and minimal noise and other distractions. Test the audio, video, and internet connection to minimize the risk of glitches. Dress neatly and professionally. During the session, be friendly and enthusiastic. When you speak, look at the camera rather than at the face on the screen: this way, it will look like you’re making eye contact.
- Pitch in person. One of the best places to pitch in person is at writer’s conferences. These conferences often allow you to sign up for a pitching session. When you deliver your pitch, maintain eye contact, keep it friendly and enthusiastic, and don’t invade the publisher’s personal space. Also, don’t rely on so-called Dutch courage to calm your nerves beforehand. No publisher wants to deal with boozy breath or coke-fiend hyperactivity.
Hang in there.
In the highly competitive world of publishing, it’s very likely that your first pitch won’t be successful. Don’t let this discourage you. Sign up for more pitching sessions and use them as practice. Keep refining your pitch and soon you just might win over the right publisher for your book.