How To Pitch Your Book To ePublishers (A Guide For Writers)

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.

How To Pitch A Nonfiction Book

image for non fiction books

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:

  • Title page: Think advertising when choosing a title. In other words, solve the readers’ problem, focus on benefits, or make a promise. The title should also make it clear what the book is about. How to Win Friends and Influence People tells what’s in the book, what the reader will learn, and how it will benefit them.
  • Contents: This is the contents of your proposal, not the book.
  • Overview of the book: The overview section is crucial to getting the rest of your proposal read. In one to two pages, you need to answer why read this book and why are you the author of it. You need to hook the agent or editor immediately. Stats, quotes, trends, and news can all help hook the reader as well as provide proof for the need for the book. Use references, if applicable, including footnotes to where you obtained your data.
  • About the Author: This is where you let the agent or publisher know why you’re the best person to pen this book. Include information that shows off your professional or educational credibility, such as certifications, degrees, awards, and special recognition. If you have writing credits, list them. Although you want to toot your horn, don’t gloat or use hype.
  • Format and Delivery: This is where you let the agent or publisher know your vision for the finished product. It includes number of pages, back matter (i.e., glossary), and graphics such as drawings, charts, and photos. Provide an estimated date for delivery (when you can have the book completed), and if there are possible future works related to the topic, include those as well.
  • Competition: As an expert in your field, you should be aware of all the current works related to your topic. In the completion section you list a few of these books, what they cover, and how your book offers something different.
  • Market: Publishers want to know there is a big enough group of readers who’ll want to read your book. The market section is where you define your market. What are the demographics of the ideal reader for your book? Include documentation to support the market need for the book. For example, when I pitched Digital Writer Success, I included statistics on the number of people publishing blogs, data on the number of companies paying for freelance content, and information about the growth of epublishing.
  • Promotion and Marketing: When I obtained an agent for my first book, the marketing section was the one we worked on the most before sending it out. Why? Because book publishers need to know there are people who want to buy the book and what you’re going to do to sell it. Your publisher will likely offer marketing support, but it’s not going to do all the work. In fact, unless you’re John Grisham or another rock star writer, you should expect to be completely in charge of your book’s marketing. In this section, outline all the methods you intend to use to market your book. Include information about your platform (blog, social media, etc.), publicity, speaking, review seeking, and anything else you can think of to help you sell your book. If you plan to hire a publicist, indicate that as well.
  • Chapter Outline: List all the chapters of your book.
  • Chapter Summaries: Summarize what the reader will gain in each chapter. Don’t simply state what’s in the chapter (i.e., this chapter is about selling a book to an agent or publisher), but instead focus on the benefit the reader will get from the chapter (i.e., the reader will know how to write a selling book proposal).
  • Sample Chapters: Some agents and publishers want one sample chapter, while others want two or three. My recommendation is to have two ready, and if the agent/publisher only wants one, remove the second chapter. This should be the first or an early chapter in the book. The chapter should be completely finished; don’t send a draft.

How To Format Your Proposal

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.

  • Start each section 1/3 down the page with the section header (i.e. Overview).
  • Use 8 1/2 by 11 paper.
  • Set your margins to 1 inch all around.
  • Use 12 pt Time or New Times Roman.
  • Double space.
  • Include your last name with the title of the book in the header on every page.
  • Include page numbers on the top right-hand side of the page.

Before sending your proposal, proofread, proofread, proofread. And then ask someone else to proofread it for you.

Query Letter

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.

How To Pitch Fiction to an Agent/Editor

image for fiction books

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:

  • Write the synopsis using the same tone and style of the book. If it’s a dark, scary monster story, your synopsis needs to convey that. If the story is light-hearted and funny, your synopsis should be, too.
  • Grab the editor’s attention right off the bat. Don’t get bogged down in the setup.
  • Include character descriptions as part of telling the story. Give their motivations, conflict, and goals.
  • Stick to the key plot points. Most stories have subplots, but at this point, just share the main thrust of the story.
  • Focus on the main conflict and how it’s resolved.
  • Because it’s a summary of the story, it should have a beginning, middle, and end. Don’t leave the editor hanging. It won’t entice him/her to contact you for more information.
  • Use strong, active verbs. You have to say a lot in few words, so choose them carefully.
  • Write in the present tense.
  • Polish and edit until it’s tight and compelling.
How To Submit Your Pitch To ePublishers

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:

  • Provide the name of the manuscript.
  • The date you sent it.
  • Your name and contact information.

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.