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How to Pitch an Idea to a Publisher

Asking “Is This Any Good?” No Longer Works

by Kashika K

The finalisation of your novel and the onset of its publication process takes you to publishing houses to find the best representative for the story. Here, a lot rides on how you present your work to the publisher and on your ability to convince them why they should invest in you and your work.

What is a Book Pitch? It is a short piece of writing that explains your novel’s ideas and what it is about, along with why a publisher/agent should publish it. There are some publishers that require you to pitch through a Query Letter, while others might schedule a meeting with you. These pitches are quite short, not more than 500 words that include all the required details of your story. In person, around 60-90 seconds are enough.

Here are a few things that can help you navigate through this:

  • Distinction between Fiction and Non-Fiction

Pitches are quite different depending on whatever genre your book lies in.

For Fiction books, the plot is of utmost importance. Lead with the main character(s), the plot, conflicts and resolutions. These are to be the driving forces in your novel and hence should be perfectly explained to the publishers for them to like it enough to sell it out.

For Non-Fiction books, the book’s main concerns and why it is relevant today should be a focus of your pitch. Your own credentials as an expert on the topic are also important, so you can slip those into your pitch as well.

  • Drafting Your Pitch

The most important thing to do is plan. You need to keep your pitch as concise yet comprehensive as possible. No one wants to know each and every minute detail, neither can you recall that in a reasonable time, so bring into sharp focus your broad ideas, narrow down to how the story addresses and utilises these ideas, and finish strong with why you think it is a fine piece of work.

People sometimes like to compare and contrast their work with other similar storylines, and this can give your publisher a small idea into how the book could be received.

  • Find Relevant Publishers

Rather than reaching out to every single publisher there is in hopes of getting a single response, narrow down your options. It sounds a little suspicious, but it will save you the heartbreak when you do not hear a response from a lot of these houses.

Find out novels that are similar to your book, or in its genre, and reach out to the publishers involved. You are most likely to hear a response when they are familiar and experienced in the kind of story you have, and it also allows you to save time and resources on other less-favourable candidates.

  • What Sets You Apart

While reaching out to publishers, keep in mind that these are professionals that encounter manuscripts by the thousands daily. To remember one novel out of these then, is a miracle. How you will place your story on the spot of this miracle is your challenge.

There is nothing wrong with following a general trend in your genre, but you should have something solid that hooks the publisher onto your story. Maybe a character arc that is unpredictable, or a plot with questionable politics, just something they would not have expected.

  • Query Letter

Query Letters are generally sent to publishers/agents accompanied with some parts of your manuscript. This is your opportunity to pitch and make the person reading interested to pick up the chapters you have sent and give them a chance.

Query Letters generally involve a synopsis of your novel. Keep this concise and filter down how much you need to tell and what you need to reveal in order to catch the attention.

You have full control over your query letter, as opposed to a physical meeting where you might stumble over your words, or stray off of the necessary path. Make sure to leave an impact.

  • Avoid Critique/Praise

When we talk about selling our novel, it is largely dependent on putting it under the best spotlight to shine on its own. This does not mean that you should go on and mention how incredible your story is at great lengths to someone who does not feel particularly interested in your qualities of introspection.

Let your work speak for itself. In your query letter/ pitch, do not mention how much your cousin loves the book, or how you “just know how much everyone would love it”. Also absolutely avoid selling yourself short. Do not be wavering and hesitant about your writing; it should be something you are absolutely proud of.

Do not be over or under confident about your story and its place in the world.

  • Bio Note

Bio Note is a small paragraph that is a part of your query letter/pitch at the very end, which gives a small glimpse into you as a writer and your professional history.

Here you mention your work history, your accolades as a writer (if any), what your research for the book was like, etc. In the case of non-fiction especially, it is important to mention how you are a suitable candidate for the novel, and what has led to you writing it. You can also mention what you are doing at present.

Avoid attaching any personal details, or something like how many years the book took to finish, how much money has gone into perfecting it, who all from your circle love it. These are not at all necessary.

Bio notes generally provide just another small peek into how passionate you are about your craft to your publisher/agent. Most agents and publishing houses are backing your book but also you as a writer, and they wish to get with someone who genuinely is interested in what they do and wishes to make the most out of it.

The most important thing as always is to have a novel that you can confidently tell any person walking down the street about, unabashedly. To get to this stage is obviously not a smooth sail, but it is so much more fulfilling when you finally get there. Do not hesitate to give your work the voice it demands. At the end of the day, you are the best advocate for your story as well as yourself.

Research and reach out, best of luck!


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