Three Keys to a Successful Non-Fiction Book Pitch

Apr 23, 2014

Stephen King says in his memoir, On Writing: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out.” He meant that you should think about your reader when you’re revising your manuscript. 

The same precept applies to shaping a book pitch. Once you have work that you’d like to share publicly, it’s time to set aside your own feelings about it and try to think like a sales person. You need to nail your pitch. If you want to land a book deal, you need to articulate your book concept in a way that will sell it to potential agents and publishers. And if you’re publishing in non-traditional ways, you need to sell your book to potential funders and readers.

On May 24, Page Two is presenting a Tyee Master Class called “Build Your Winning Publishing Plan: Develop Your Book Concept and Hone Your Pitch.” If you’re in the Vancouver area, please consider joining us. In the meantime, here are three essentials of a successful non-fiction book pitch.

1. Only pitch your work when you have a polished proposal to send.

Agents and publishers don’t like to receive pitches more than once. If it wasn’t right for them the first time, it’s unlikely they will change their mind after you revise it. So you have one shot at pitching them your book. The only real exception to this rule occurs when an agent or publisher mentions specific changes she’d like you to make to the proposal, and tells you that she’d like to see it again if you do incorporate those changes.

When your proposal is as strong as you can possibly make it, you’re ready to submit it.

 There are a lot of resources on how to write a strong non-fiction proposal, including this Page Two blog post. You might also read How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen.

2.     Personalize your pitch.

Form letter queries are uninspiring. The best pitches are personalized for the recipient. You might start your query letter to an agent or publisher with information about a referral (e.g. Your client Johanna Cahill read my manuscript and suggested I get in touch with you). Or you might mention authors or books the recipient has previously worked with (e.g. I thought you would be interested in this proposal because you published Craft Beer Revolution and frequently publish chef memoirs).

A personalized pitch shows that you’ve done your homework and implies that you take your work seriously. It’s also more likely to catch the reader’s attention by showing that you do share common interests, and that your pitch is relevant to her.

 3.     Demonstrate a clear market.

Your pitch should express who is going to buy your book and why. What is the gap in the market that your book is filling? No book is published in a vacuum. Where does yours fit against all of the others available in this category? One of the first questions we ask ourselves when evaluating a submission is, “Who is the audience?” This point matters just as much for self-publishers as it does for writers wanting to work with a publisher.

 Our Tyee Master Class will explore all of this in much more detail. It will be relevant for non-fiction writers who:

  • want to figure out their next steps
  • have been submitting their work to agents and publishers and not receiving a positive response. We’ll help you figure out what you can do differently.
  • need more information about how the publishing industry works
  • aren’t sure if their book idea has commercial potential

We hope to see you there!