Help with Pitching a Book.
November 16, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Something I've been involved in for several years has been getting a lot of publicity lately. And I've just been told that it is about to get some national publicity within the week.

I've been working on the format for a non-fiction book on this subject for some time because I think it could be the formational guide for this growing genre. But I have no idea how to pitch the idea. Some experts say a checked and finished book proposal must be prepared and submitted to small presses, or agents or publishers. To not make it as polished as possible is risk the rookie slush pile. Others say a polished book proposal is much better since it's faster for the writer and the recipient. But because this topic has been getting so much publicity lately, and because the national exposure might prompt a wave of competitive ideas, I feel I need to send out a mass email to capture their attention first, even if the majority reject the query.

Does anybody with experience in the book publishing or marketing have a compromise between pitching a fully formed book proposal with sample chapters and a media plan, and an email saying "this is what I'm thinking about, and are your interested in working with me?" For me, the issue isn't who to pitch to over a long period of time. Instead, I know who I have to pitch to, but how should I pitch them in a short period of time? And how are the small presses, agents and publishers I pitch likely to respond? Is slow and steady best?
posted by CollectiveMind to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: The first reference to a "finished book proposal" should be "finished book" instead.
posted by CollectiveMind at 4:37 PM on November 16, 2008

Fast is good. I know of a case in which an author, in the midst of national publicity, took over a year to polish an ensuing book proposal. The book proposal, unfortunately, outlived the publicity.

If I were you, I'd start with a slick but short query letter, to let 'em know you are out there writing a book. Then see if that leads to an invitation to write the longer proposal. You could also go ahead and write the book itself; it's cool to have a finished manuscript, and more satisfying than just having composed a sales document.
posted by Kirklander at 4:50 PM on November 16, 2008

Pitch agents. Send an email introducing yourself, giving a brief outline of your idea (and why they would be the perfect fit for it), and offering to send a full proposal if they're interested. You should have both things ready -- an "elevator pitch" version of your idea, and a book proposal version.
posted by mothershock at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some experts say a checked and finished book must be prepared and submitted to small presses, or agents or publishers.

I thought that in the world of professional book publishing, writing a book "on spec" was frowned upon and is considered an act of the hopelessly amateur.

I've been under the impression that proposals are the way to go.
posted by jayder at 9:15 PM on November 16, 2008

Don't know what the subject is, but I wrote a business book that was just published by a major press. They gave my co-author and I a contract based on a popular press article that one of us wrote, plus a table of contents - no finished book, no sample chapters, or anything else. The subject was hot, however, and this helped us. I'd go with a slick letter with an anecdote or two, and take it from there.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:37 PM on November 16, 2008

My personal knowledge of publishing is outdated and sketchy and primarily by anecdote. But I do know that pitching a book by itself can take years. You're looking at days here.

I'd spend a day making a list of quickie publishers who have taken advantage of fads and celebrities and other topical topics in the past, and work your network to find out who makes deals for them. You want to be on their desk by FedEx or fax while this is in the headlines -- not when it's last week's headlines.

Unfortunately, this is generally something that only established authors and freelancers with agents can accomplish.

My inclination is that you may have better success by taking everything you know about the topic now and slam it into an e-book, which you can sell on your own site via Amazon or whatnot, goosing traffic with Google keywords while it's in vogue. A note there that a longer treatment is in the works might get someone to come to you instead of the other way around.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't overthink this. Write your pitch like a letter. List the topic points, outline the arc of the book, give your credentials, proof it, send it. Should take a day at most. Collecting the names and contact information of the people to send it to should take longer.

Don't send a mass email unless you have the tools and the know-how to make each message convincingly look like it was sent just to that person. Generic catch-all email writing is not the way to do this: you have to have a unique salutation using the person's name, a unique mention of their company or employer, and a unique mention of how you found them and why you think they're a good target for your pitch. And each message must not obviously have been sent using BCC.

Your best bet is to mail a printed version of the same proposal no more than a day later then follow-up seven to 10 days later with a phone call.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:34 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work at a major trade publisher of fiction and non-fiction.

Get an agent. Major publishers will not look at your work without an agent.

Get an agent by writing a pitch letter and a really great proposal. Non-fiction is almost always bought by the proposal (so the editor can influence the direction the work takes, if necessary/desired). Fiction is almost always bought by the finished've got to know how it ends!

Hope that helps!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:27 AM on November 17, 2008

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