Pitching Your Book without an Agent

Nov 3, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, we blogged about whether you need a literary agent to get a book deal. Let’s say you decide you want to pitch publishers directly. Here are a few tips to guide your approach:

1. Do your homework. Your chance of getting picked up by a publisher is much greater if you do some research to identify the best possible match for your book. How do you do that?

  • Look at other books in your subject category and note from the copyright page who the publisher was.
  • Even better, look at the acknowledgments for a mention of the specific editor behind a book, so you can send your pitch directly to that person.
  • Talk to other writers on your subject about who their publisher is.
  • Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace, the New York-based website used by the book industry to track book deals. It will tell you which editors acquired which books in which category.
  • Access Writers Market, which exists in both website and book format, for detailed listings of U.S. publishers and their submission requirements and contact information.

2. Once you’ve made a shortlist of possible publishers, take a close look at the books listed on their website. What kind of books are they publishing, and is your book truly similar to them? For example, if you’ve written an edgy, rollicking memoir, make sure the publisher has a track record publishing books in that vein; a publisher with a more conservative, serious bent is less likely to be a fit for you.

3. Carefully read the submission guidelines. These guidelines are usually posted on the Contact page of their websites. They express whether the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts (that’s yours), and if so, what they are looking for and how they want to receive your material. You may need to include your bio, information on the market for the book, comparative titles, marketing information, and so on. Send the publisher exactly what they request.

 The key is to think of any supplementary material that you send as sales material; you need to show that there is no other book like this on the market, that you are the perfect person to write it, and that you will do much to help sell and market it in partnership with a publisher.

 4. Write a one-page query letter, copied into the body of your email. The job of this letter is to attract the editor’s attention. We’ll explain in detail in a future post how to write an effective non-fiction query letter. For now, check out this Writers Digest post.

 5. Send your pitch to a specific person, even if the submission guidelines say otherwise. If you send it to a generic email address (“the editors”), it may sit in an intern’s slush pile for several months. This is where gathering editors’ names from book acknowledgments, your own writing contacts, or Publishers Marketplace can be helpful.

 6. Send and hang tight! It can take several weeks to receive a response. In the meantime approach the other publishers on your list. It’s not the case anymore that publishers expect you to pitch them exclusively. Multiple submissions are not just acceptable, they’re expected.

 If you want help shaping your own query letter or publisher pitch, get in touch.