Becoming a published author is a journey, and as you near the end of writing your book, you need to start thinking seriously about how you will progress on that journey to getting published.
At the outset, writing the book might have seemed like the most difficult part of the process, but often it’s actually the production, publishing, and marketing stages where the challenge begins for authors. The saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ is certainly true when it comes to publishing, with many authors being unsure of what they should do once their book is written, and how to write a pitch to sell their manuscript to a publisher.
How to sell a manuscript
The dream for many authors is to have their manuscript picked up by a well-know, traditional publisher – signing a contract with a major publisher such as Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, or one of the university presses is certainly most authors’ goal. But, how do you ‘sell’ your idea or manuscript to a publisher or agent?
In truth, obtaining that elusive deal can be easier said than done. Many of the large publishers won’t accept direct pitches from authors, so if you’re aiming for one of them, you may need to pitch to an agent first. If the agent takes on your manuscript, then they will pitch it to the publishers on your behalf.
What are agents and publishers looking for?
The first critical thing to do is research the submission guidelines set out by each individual agent and publisher, as they all have different requirements. Agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions, so they have very limited time to consider manuscripts. If you don’t follow their precise submission instructions, your manuscript will very likely not even be looked at.
Pitching your book to an agent or publisher in writing is the most common way to approach this. A book pitch is a short outline that captures what your book is about, who the target reader is and why they will be interested in reading it. Some book pitches also cover how you plan to market your book. Pitching your manuscript may be done by email, letter, or online submission. You might also be able to pitch to a publisher or agent during an online meeting, or in person at a meeting, conference or festival. Often, writers’ festivals organise pitch-to-a-publisher events as part of their program.
How do you pitch an agent or publisher?
Fiction and non-fiction books usually require different approaches. When pitching fiction, publishers and agents are generally looking for a finished manuscript. Submit the most polished, well-edited and carefully proofread draft, not your first draft! After you’ve finished writing and revising your manuscript yourself:
- Get some beta readers to give you honest feedback, not just mum and dad
- Listen to your readers and consider their feedback – now is not the time to be sensitive!
- Revise your manuscript and redraft areas that need work
- If possible, work with a professional editor and proofreader to polish your manuscript
- Submit your manuscript with a cover letter that includes a concise but comprehensive book pitch
When pitching non-fiction, agents and publishers often look for an outline and one or two sample chapters, rather than a completed manuscript. You will also need to submit a cover letter with a concise but comprehensive pitch.
What should be included in a book pitch?
Knowing how to write a pitch that successfully sells your manuscript will help you immensely on the journey to becoming a published author. A book pitch should include:
- An overview of the manuscript, including a synopsis, the proposed title, actual or intended word count, genre and the unique selling point. For non-fiction books, a clear chapter breakdown is useful
- Your intended reader and market – who will be reading your book? Why is it an important book for now? What similar books are on the market, and how does your book differ?
- Information about you – why are you qualified to write this book? What platform do you have to promote or market your book (e.g., do you have a solid social media following or a well-loved blog)?
Should you pitch to everyone?
It can be tempting to throw the net wide and pitch to everyone, but this only wastes yours, and everyone else’s, valuable time. Remember, the people you are pitching to have to read your submission and this takes time – don’t waste it by sending your work of fantasy to an agent who works primarily with romance novels. Do your research! Look for agents and publishers who have published similar books and genres and achieved success; this will help you narrow down the field.
Research your submissions
Most agents and publishers will list on their website if they are open for submissions and what they are looking for. Some will accept unsolicited pitches, some will only accept unsolicited pitches at specific times, others will reject all unsolicited manuscripts. Go to as many writers’ festivals and conferences as you can; build a network and learn about the industry. Since the pandemic began, many events are now hybrid online and in-person, so location isn’t a barrier to attending.
Is it just about your manuscript?
While agents and publishers want to represent and publish great books, it is also about you as a writer. Publishing is a business like any other, and the goal is to make money. They’ll want to know how marketable you are as a potential author. They might want to know:
- Whether you’ve published before and, if so, if you’ve won any awards or received recognition
- Whether this is a one-off book, or do you have plans for other book ideas
- Whether you’re prepared to market yourself and the book
- Whether you’re serious about making writing part of your business and life, or if this is just a side hobby
- Why you’re well positioned to tell this story, what makes you unique, and whether you already have an established audience
It can be useful to start building up an online presence prior to pitching. This helps with marketing both your book, and yourself as a credible author.
Common reasons for rejection
As mentioned earlier, one of the common reasons you may not even receive a reply is that you haven’t done your research. Ask yourself: why would a time-poor agent or publisher reply to you explaining why they haven’t accepted your manuscript, if you haven’t even taken the time to research their submission guidelines?
Other common reasons for rejection include:
- Typos in the cover letter and manuscript. Nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ more than typos!
- Copying and pasting material, and not personalising messages to each recipient
- CC-ing multiple agents in one generic email (especially if you don’t blind CC them!)
- Not researching exactly who to send the email or letter to, and using ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ instead of using a name
- Using the wrong name of the agent or publisher when submitting
Nothing suggests laziness and lack of attention to detail than these common errors. If you can’t take the time to get these initial points of contact right, why should they expect that your book would be of a more precise quality?
Pitching is the time to shine, and knowing how to write a pitch well is critical. It’s your audition for your manuscript, and the summary of your hard work. Writers dream about signing a publishing contract and sharing their story with the world, so don’t let easy-to-fix, common mistakes stand in the way of achieving your dream.
A word of encouragement
Whether you’re pitching to an agent or directly to the publisher, waiting for responses and receiving rejections are part of the process, as well. It is best to have a thick skin and not take a rejection too personally.
A rejection from an agent or publisher doesn’t mean your manuscript doesn’t have merit or reader appeal. It might just not be what the publisher is looking for at that time. Don’t let a rejection letter take away your dream of being a published author; explore all your options, rewrite and redraft, and keep on going.
One final word of advice - traditional publishing is also not the only option. Many authors have achieved great success by self-publishing, or by getting professional assistance with manuscript preparation prior to pitching it to an agent or publisher.
Professional advice and services for getting published
Here at Dettori Publishing, we work with authors, publishers and other industry specialists to produce professional books, offering a range of services for traditional publishing companies as well as those wanting to self-publish.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you prepare your manuscript and more information about how to write a pitch, or about whether self-publishing may be the right path for you and your book, contact us today - we’re here to help.