In her book plot Perfect, Paula Munier says that publishers want books that are the same, but different. They want to capitalize on a current trend (same), but also want to deliver something unique (different). That’s why after the success of Twilight, so many book covers, including re-releases of old classics such as Pride and Prejudice, had Twilight-ish covers.
But even more than same and different, they want something they know will sell. For the most part, this is a guessing game; however, the success of many indie authors has made some publishers take notice. Books like The Shack and 50 Shades of Gray were originally self-published books that did well and were bought by a publisher. In other cases, publishers didn’t buy the first book by an indie author, but they contracted for future books.
Publishers are struggling financially and are less likely to risk their money on unknown authors. But if you have a quality book, show them you know how to market yourself and your book, and have a large audience, publishers will notice. This is true for publishers that have ebook-only programs, as well as getting in print. So if you haven’t started building your platform.
Many of the big publishing companies now have ebook-only imprints, such as Hachette’s Forever Yours or Berkley’s Intermix. In fact, according to my agent, Dawn Dowdle, owner of Blue Ridge Literary Agency, LLC, many publishers automatically do digital-only publishing for books under 70,000 words.
Not all publishers offer advances, and for those that do, the amount can vary from $200 to $4,000, according to Dowdle, who has represented many digital authors. However, with a good publisher, an established platform, and effective marketing plan, eauthors can do well.
One of the advantages of writing nonfiction is that you don’t necessarily have to have the book completed to pitch it. However, you do have to have it plotted and a few sample chapters that you put together into a book proposal. The book proposal is 20 to 30 pages, or however long it takes you to deliver the following information:
I’ve always thought writing a book proposal was similar to writing a report in school. This includes special rules for formatting. Use the rules below, unless the agent/publisher has provided you with different instructions.
Before sending your proposal, proofread, proofread, proofread. And then ask someone else to proofread it for you.
A query letter is similar to an introduction to a resume. In many cases, the agent or publisher will ask for a query only, and if they like it, they’ll ask for the proposal. Other times, you’ll send both.
The query outlines what the book is about, why it’s needed, and why you’re the best person to write it. It should be interesting and/or compelling. If you’ve been referred or have met with the agent/publisher before, lead with that. If not, start with a great hook. In the Work-At-Home Success Bible (first book), I opened with, “I didn’t leave my traditional job because I didn’t like the work. I left because I didn’t like the uniform.” For a later book, my former agent had referred me to a new agent, and I led with that.
Follow up your opening with data about the book, the market, and what’s available for review. Keep the query short and sweet. Your goal is to provide enough compelling information that the agent/publisher asks to read the proposal.
Pitching and selling fiction is much different than nonfiction. First, your book needs to be done, as in written, revised, and edited. Some writers erroneously think they can submit a book with typos and grammar errors because publishers have editors to fix them. Unfortunately, a book loaded with errors tells an editor you can’t write.
Second, you need a synopsis that tells your book’s entire story in one to five pages. It sounds easy, but it’s much harder than you think to condense your book into 250 to 1000 words while maintaining the voice of the book.
Writing the Synopsis
A synopsis tells the entire story, introducing the characters, highlighting crucial points, and revealing the end. Even in a mystery, you say whodunnit. With that said, you can’t explain everything in your book in a synopsis and keep it to a few pages. You need to focus on the main aspects of the story. Here are some tips to writing a synopsis of your fiction novel:
Now you have a nonfiction proposal or synopsis and a query letter. The next step is to start sending them out. One of the biggest complaints made by editors is that authors don’t research. Not all agents and publishers accept all books. Even within a single literary agency or publishing company, different editors take on different topics and genres. Submitting your book to an agent or editor that doesn’t handle your topic is a waste of everyone’s time.
You can find publishers and agents in a variety of ways, including the Writer’s Market, online writer resources, and by attending writer’s conferences. Submission guidelines are listed online, and in the case of multiple agents and editors, you’ll get a list of what each person represents or accepts. If you find an agent or publisher in a book (i.e., Writer’s Market), go online as well. Agents and editors change. You’ll find the most up-todate information on the agent’s or publisher’s website.
Once you’ve found the right agent or editor, you need to send your submission, which leads to the second pet peeve of agents and editors: writers who don’t follow instructions. It seems like a no brainer that you should do what agents and publishers ask you to do, and yet many writers don’t. The first rule of submitting your pitch is to read the submission guidelines thoroughly and do what they say. There is no standard for what publishers want. For nonfiction, most want a query and proposal with sample chapters. But some may want one chapter, and others might want two chapters. Some might want only a query and will request your proposal if interested.
In fiction, the submission process is just as varied. Some want a query with a short blurb (shorter than a synopsis). Others will want a query, synopsis, and first three chapters. Editors may seem rigid and strict with the rules, but they get too many submissions a day to waste time on a writer who doesn’t follow the instructions or fails to contact the right editor.
The Long Wait
If you saw the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean, you may remember when Elizabeth attempts to hold the pirates to a code, to which she is told the code is more like guidelines, not a rule. That’s exactly what the response time from editors is like. The submission guidelines may say 4, 6 or 12 weeks, but the reality could be much longer. Or it could be shorter. I’ve had responses… usually ‘nos’… the same day. The point is, you need to be prepared to wait, and the longer the wait goes beyond the time frame given by the publisher, the harder it is. Even now, with the one book sitting for two years with one editor, I’ve got a novella with an epublisher that said it would respond in 4 to 8 weeks, but this week makes thirteen weeks.
So what’s a writer to do? The best thing to do is to distract yourself with more writing. The second thing you can do is nudge the editor. Don’t be demanding or terse. A nudge is a reminder. When following up:
I’ve had it happen twice that following a nudge, the editor replied with she hadn’t received the manuscript or it had been lost. In that case, resend the materials. Once the nudge is sent, it’s time to wait again.
Depending on the length of the wait, you may decide to withdraw the manuscript. Or, if it doesn’t break the submission rules, you can submit it to another publisher. It’s generally expected that if you do a simultaneous submission, you let the publishers know about it. Another option is to get an agent and let him take care of submissions. A good agent will edit and provide feedback to improve your submission, knows what publishers are the best fit for your work, and will assist you in negotiating the best deal. You can get an agent the same way you get a publisher; follow the guidelines on the agents’ site to send a pitch.