How do I pitch a book idea to a publisher?
I help people plan, write, and publish books. But whenever someone asks, “Can you help me write a book?” my answer is, “Yes, but who will buy it?” Before you write a book, you need to have an audience of people who love you and who will be waiting to buy it. Finding your audience is the first step in building what the publishing world calls a “platform.” Having a consistent way to keep in touch with that audience, and having them chomping at the bit for the next thing you have to offer them, is the heart of your platform. Today, most publisher’s don’t even want to talk to new authors that don’t already have a following. Let’s assume you’re doing everything you can to build your audience and you have a platform. What then? You have to either get an agent or submit your ideas directly to publishers. Both processes have two parts:
- A book proposal – see below.
- A query letter – you send this first, but you should have the proposal written first. The query letter is the formal way to ask an agent or editor if they would like to review your proposal. You always send a query letter to an agent. Many knitting, crochet, and craft publishers accept proposals without receiving a query letter first, and they have submission guidelines on their website that will tell you how they want you to submit your proposal. Most of these niche publishers don’t require that you have an agent represent you.
Here are a few publisher websites you can check out:
So what is in a book proposal? Each publisher will probably have information on this in their submission guidelines, but the general overview is pretty consistent. Overview:
This is your elevator pitch, expanded to a couple of paragraphs at most. How quickly can you describe your book (or project)? Can you sell it to an editor or a reader? Will they know exactly what they are getting from reading this brief section? Endorsements (optional):
Do you know any superstars in your genre who would be willing to write an endorsement or blurb for you? You know those little paragraphs that writers give each other, where they gush over each other’s books on the back cover or on their websites? Those are called “blurbs.” Format and Delivery:
What’s your project (a book, an e-book, a video, an online class, etc.) and when do you think you can get it done? Will you release it all at once or in sections (as we did for the Dreaming of Shetland project, which took over a year to release in its entirety). Chapter Summaries:
What will go in each chapter? I like to write a few sentences and then have a bulleted list. This is essentially the Table of Contents and Headings I talked about above. Project Overviews:
If you’ve ever submitted a design to a magazine, you know what this is. A sketch, a description, yarn and needle size suggestions, and a generous swatch. Category and Competition:
Are there any other books similar to yours? If so, how and why is yours different or better? If not, you’d best take a closer look, especially if you’re planning to submit to publishers. They want to put your book in a category and feel confident that it will be successful, so you will not want to say, “There’s nothing else like it out there.” Even if you’re self publishing patterns, stories, books, or making a class, you want to fit it into the world of what is out there already, so you do need to make a list of other books or projects that are similar in one way or another, that would be considered the same genre or category as yours. Marketing and Promotion:
What ideas do you have for marketing and promoting your book? What opportunities are open to you? You don’t need to do a complete marketing plan now, but start putting ideas together. If you are pitching to a publisher, they love this kind of stuff. And if you’re self publishing, you need it even more. Marketing and promotion can be as much work as creating the book/project itself, so don’t slight yourself here. (We won’t go into depth about this topic in this course, but just be aware that this is a BIG project in and of itself.) About the Author:
Your bio, with a focus on why you are the right person to be the author of this book or the creator of this project. Again, you’ll need this to pitch to a publisher, but you will also use this on your website, about the author page in a book, and other places in your promotion and marketing. Sample Chapter(s):
Include the introduction, a pattern, and (optionally) one more chapter for a knitting book. This helps you establish the style and voice of the book. If you’re selling/pitching, it shows that you can write.
The above can be in a different order if that makes sense for you, but these items should all be included in a complete proposal.
I strongly encourage creating a document that is, in essence, a book proposal for any large project you are working on, even if you plan to self publish. This exercise will help you get a handle on what your project IS and how you want it to come together. As you work on this you will find your project morphing and changing. This is NORMAL! Very rarely does a project come out of your head fully formed. Most of the time you have a rough idea and you have to explore the terrain to decide how to best map out the information for your readers. Writing is like map making in that way. There are two parts of the process: Exploration where you learn the terrain and come to understand it, and explanation where you create the map that will help other people enjoy the land you’ve explored without getting lost or experiencing all the troubles that you got into.
- The Art of the Book Proposal by Eric Maisel << GET THIS ONE!
- How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
- Book Proposals That Sell by W. Terry Whalin