Writing a book is an achievement in itself. Whether you’re weaving a sci-fi narrative through time and space or describing flora and fauna in your slice-of-life novel , producing a finished book is an accomplishment to be proud of.
However, actually publishing a book is a hurdle that many authors fail to clear. You need to find a reputable agent if you want to publish through an editing house and should be prepared to receive dozens — if not hundreds — of “no, thank you” responses.
Streamline the process by learning how to pitch your book to agents. Having a plan before you start emailing publishing houses is key if you want to turn your manuscript into a physical book. Practicing your pitch may even add value to your upcoming novel, as it shows that you understand your position in the wider book market and are clued into the entire publishing process.
A great book proposal is the cornerstone of a successful pitch. A well-crafted proposal shows that you’ve done your research, are aware of the conventions involved in publishing, and are worth paying attention to. At a minimum, a book proposal should include key details like:
- Title Page: A simple front page that includes the book title and your name. It can also include your contact details just in case the agent has misplaced them.
- Overview: A book overview functions like an abstract in academic work. Ideally, it should “hook” the reader and show off your syntactic style while outlining key details like the genre, audience, and general plot of your book. You’ll score bonus points here by convincing agents that your book fits in the current market by referencing your contemporary literary inspirations.
- Table of Contents: This makes your proposal as convenient as possible for agents. They don’t want to have to dig through every page just to find a sample chapter or marketing plan.
- Sample Chapter: Choose a stand-alone chapter that represents your style and conveys the “big ideas” of your book. Ideally, your reader should be able to understand what’s going on in the chapter without reading any additional information.
- Competitive Analysis: Make a short list of similar titles and note down your target audience. Avoid statements like “This novel is inspired by Virginia Woolf”. Instead, focus on concrete contemporary examples and explain the similarities and differences therein.
Revise and refine your book proposal before sending it to publishers. You won’t get away with sloppy grammar and confusing chapter summaries in your proposal. Make sure your proposal is just as polished as your actual book, lest you end up in the “rejection” pile before agents have even read your sample chapter.
Crafting a Perfect Pitch
If your proposal is well put together and piques the interest of an agent, you may be invited to pitch your book to agents. While a pitch can be a written email or letter, many pitches will have you sitting face-to-face with an agent in your area.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you finally get a chance to have a conversation with a real agent. Start with simple steps to calm your nerves and put your best self forward. Take some deep breaths and try to smile as much as possible. Even if the agent doesn’t take your book on board, smiling can improve your health by lowering your stress, improving your relationships, and strengthening your immune system.
If the anxiety of pitching is disturbing your day-to-day life, take proactive steps to eliminate your stressors. Practice your pitch in front of family and trusted friends, and workshop a few potential questions that an agent might have for you. Regularly practicing your elevator-style pitch will give you a jumping-off point when discussing your book and can be a real lifesaver when you’re under pressure.
Choosing Between Agents
In an ideal world, agents will queue up at your door and vie for the privilege of representing you to publishers. In reality, you may only receive a few offers from agents that can legitimately represent you in the book world.
Choosing between agents can be tough. When looking for an agent, consider factors like:
- Which other authors they represent;
- The cost associated with the agent;
- Reputation and accreditations (are they a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, for example).
Be aware that some agents simply cannot fulfill your needs or may misrepresent their position in the publishing world. Always opt for credible agents and try to develop a sixth sense for agents that are looking to scam you. Do not pay agents upfront as reputable agents get paid by commission following the sale of your book.
Once you’ve settled on an agent, firm up your position with them by building a healthy professional relationship. A good professional relationship will ensure that you are at the forefront of their mind during negotiations and can mitigate future conflict. Start by setting some clear boundaries with your agent and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve — even if it takes some time for your book to get published.
A good agent can help you finalize your book and will represent you during negotiations with publishing houses. Start your search by writing a well-edited book proposal before you reach out to prospective agents. This will help agents understand your potential position in the market and streamline the pitching process. Once you’ve secured an agent, work hard to build a professional relationship that supports your progress and maximizes your chances of getting published.