How to pitch to a traditional publisher?
The path from writing a book to seeing it make the shelf in bookstores can be a complex and lengthy one. The publishing industry can be a little intimidating for a first-time author. This post will lay out the publishing process that one can adhere to while pitching to a traditional publisher.
When selecting a publisher, it is important to understand and know your own needs first.
There are several options when it comes to publishing, let’s first try to understand that. When it comes to publishing there are other options available apart from traditional publishing.
The first one is partnered publishing – most of the process of partnered publishing remains the same as traditional publishing. The only difference is that the author invests into the project in some sense and partially de-risks the project in a way. This happens mostly in the case of published authors who are confident of the success of their work. They pitch in; reducing the publisher’s investment/work on some parts to bargain for a better royalty / quicker turnaround time.
The next is self-publishing, self-publishing is exactly what it sounds like; a self-published author is their own publisher and is responsible for securing and financing their own editing, design, marketing, and production. Since the author is investing and since it is her/his work, the author gets maximum returns.
Getting published by a traditional publisher is the ‘dream’ for most writers. There are always pros and cons involved. A traditional publisher pays you for the right to publish your work and takes all the risks – from editing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, binding, and designing the cover art, to running promotions, advertising, selling online and offline, warehousing, shipping, billing, and paying author royalties. But there are some disadvantages to it. In terms of editing and marketing, traditional publishers have full control. Some first-time authors may be surprised if their editor changes their book’s direction, but the publisher does “own” the book, after all. And while some publishers may ask for input for your cover, their word is final. However, with all good things, there is a catch: your book needs to be really, really good. The screening of manuscripts is done on high standards and landing a publishing deal is difficult.
Before understanding the traditional book publishing process, it is imperative to:
- Determine the genre/category of your book
First, are you writing a fictional book or a nonfiction one?
For fictional books, your writing quality matters above all else if you want to be traditionally published. Read in your genre, practice and refine your writing skills, and prepare your manuscript. It is important to finish writing your entire manuscript and perfect it as much as you can before approaching agents or publishers.
For nonfiction books, in addition to the quality of your writing, the marketability of your idea and the potential audience for it matters as well. So, if your audience is niche, it’s better to choose the role of an author-entrepreneur and pick supported self-publishing. Traditional houses need a sure shot marketability scope. Determining your genre is also important because it helps you to understand your target market, and how to choose your potential literary agents, and publishing houses.
- Decide whether you need a literary agent
If you’re a first-time author, getting a literary agent is ideal. This is because most publishers won’t even accept manuscripts without an agent. That is why getting a good agent can be almost as difficult as landing a publishing deal. A good literary agent will help the author get a fair deal with a publishing house and undertake due diligence to avoid any kind of unfair contract terms.
However, there are many benefits of getting an agent which is what makes an agent’s commission worthwhile. Here are some of them:
- They know the industry and the publishers who would be interested in publishing your book
- They offer editorial advice to help you improve your manuscript
- They coach you on improving your proposal
- They run the auction
- They negotiate the final contract
- They supervise the publication process
- They handle the entire business side of publishing so you can focus on the creative side
There are cons to having literary agents such as:
- Finding the right literary agent can be quite a task for debut authors.
- Agents pick up books which can command a large advance, thus neglecting new authors.
- In most cases, agents work with only 4-6 publishing houses on a regular basis, which in a way restricts the chances of the book getting through with a smaller publishing house, which possibly pays lesser advance amounts, but may be more open to new authors.
Note: If you’re writing to a very niche market, or have a smaller book in comparison to others, you can always pick supported self-publishing.
Finally, it’s time to outline the steps involved in getting your book published by a traditional publisher.
Steps to get your book published by a traditional publisher
- Make a list of potential literary agents
If you have decided to take the literary agent route, your next step is to find one the right one for you. This makes it enjoyable for both you and the agent, and the right agent can give you a lot of insight into the publishing industry. The best way to find an agent who would likely accept you as his/her client is by researching agents based on your genre as that’s where their specialty lies. There is a chance that you will need to contact dozens of agents before you are given a positive response. However, while the process is on, it is a good idea to refine your manuscript and other relevant documents even more.
To know more about the list of literary agencies you can write to, click here
- Prepare the relevant documents
Next, you need to prepare the necessary documents required often by both agents as well as publishers:
a. Query letter
A query letter is a time-honored tool for authors who seek publication. It’s a sales pitch given to agents or publishers that attempts to persuade them to request a full manuscript or a book proposal from you. It’s your first impression and must be intriguing and professional. It’s a one page letter (or email) that gives a brief description of you and your work. It should include:
- An elevator pitch: one page summary of your book’s premise
- Your book’s summary that briefly explains the plot
- The target audience and why they would buy your book
- Information about you and your background
Your book proposal should be written to convince a publisher to offer you a contract and pay you to write the book. Since it is to be thought of as your book’s business plan, it is quite detailed and can range anywhere from 10 – 25 pages. It should be as succinct as possible and yet should contain crucial information such as:
- Market analysis
- Competitive analysis
- List of additional books you plan to write (if any)
- Elevator Pitch
- Chapter summaries (fiction)
- Chapter themes (non-fiction)
- Table of contents
- Promotions plan
- Mission statement
- Description of resources necessary to complete the book
- Tentative timelines
It is not necessary to have all these sections and your agent can help you refine your book proposal before sending it to publishers.
c. Synopsis and sample chapters
A synopsis is a brief summary of your book (not more than 1-2 pages) and is a quick way for an agent to know if he/she wants to accept your book. A synopsis should reveal the ending.
Most agents also require to see a sample of your manuscript – up to 3 chapters or 10,000 words. For fictional books, usually, the first 3 chapters are preferred to be reviewed. However, for nonfiction books, any 3 chapters are acceptable.
Finally, as you continue refining your book, it becomes one of the final documents sent to publishers in order to get a contract from them and it’s the manuscript that further gets refined with the publisher’s help before getting sent for final printing.
- Submit your materials
It’s now time to submit your documents (usually starting with a query letter) to agents or publishers. After this, you may either:
- Not get any response at all, which is usually a rejection, in which case you may want to look into modifying your query letter
- Be requested to send a synopsis or partial manuscript
- Be requested to send the full manuscript.
It’s important to not feel too dejected if you’re not receiving any positive responses. If you have worked hard on the book, don’t give up easily. There are always other options you can look at!
Hope this article has been useful to you and good luck with getting your book published!