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7. Pitching Your Book

(Seventh in a series)

Once you’ve found several potential publishers for your book, it’s time to “pitch” it to them. By “pitch,” I mean submit it to see if any of them are interested in publishing it. But how?

I have found that with my own books, this process involved three ingredients: a query letter (or e-mail), a proposal package, and a completed manuscript. But before you send any of those things to any publisher, study the publisher’s preferred method of approaching them. Some want you to begin with a query. Others want a full proposal package. (Do they want it to be within the body of an e-mail, or are they willing to accept it as an attachment to the e-mail?) A few want to see the whole manuscript right away. Do whatever the publisher wants and how they want you to do it!

For this post, I’m going to assume the publisher you approach wants to proceed through all three steps so you’ll know what you should include for each item.

Query Letter

In the first paragraph of your query letter/e-mail, you want to snag the editor’s attention by giving a little “teaser” about the topic of your book. You might even use a quotation from something in the book. Then, in the next paragraph, say (in so many words), “That’s what I address in the book I’ve written titled [insert your working title].” Include the approximate number of words and pages in your manuscript.

In your third paragraph, state why you are qualified to write on the subject of your book. Cite relevant experience and published credits, whether articles or books, along with the links to any that are available online, and your blog address, if you have one.

Thank the editor in advance for considering your query, state your willingness to send a full proposal package or completed manuscript, and close. Keep the whole query to no more than one page.

Proposal Package

If the publisher is interested in your book based on what you’ve described in your query letter, he or she may ask you to send a full proposal package (or even the whole manuscript). Now it’s really serious, so don’t stint in your efforts to make it shine. Study what the publisher tells you to include, and then deliver it! Typically, the expected elements will be the following.

  1. A one-page “sell sheet,” including your tag line (a one-sentence summary of your book), back-cover copy to entice readers further, and a brief statement about who you are

  2. A more detailed biographical sketch outlining your writing experience, educational background, achievements, and publishing history, in short, an argument as to why you’re qualified to write your book

  3. A description of the book, including details about its length (number of words, manuscript pages, chapters, etc.), purpose, and target audience

  4. A chapter outline, an annotated summary of each chapter

  5. A market analysis, showing your understanding of the audience and your ability to reach it

  6. A competitive analysis, showing what similar books are on the market, how yours is different, and how it will fill a gap or meet a need

  7. Three sample chapters. These might be the first three, or you might include the first chapter, a middle chapter, and a third from near the end of the book.

The publisher you submit to might ask for more (e.g., a marketing plan). Whatever they request, supply it!

If your proposal package does it’s job, the editor will then ask to see the completed manuscript. Submit it in precisely the way they ask for it. Most will want it sent as an attachment to an e-mail with a specifically worded subject line. (Adhere to that requirement religiously!) Others still want it sent in hard copy via snail mail. Don’t argue; print and mail it!

I found two books of great help to me in putting together my queries, proposals, and manuscripts: Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman and Deborah Adams and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats by Dian Dincin Buchman and Seli Groves. They might help you, too.

Your assignment: Even if you’re not quite ready to approach a publisher, practice putting together a query letter and a proposal package. When you finish your manuscript, you can tweak it to make it fit your chosen publishers’ specific guidelines and expectations.

Next time, we’ll discuss the marketing of your book.

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