A few weeks ago, Madison Woods came to us with a 25-word story pitch to be prodded and yanked as part of our Pitch Slapped series. She’s planning on sending her book out to a publisher soon, and even as she sent her blurb to the sacrificial altar, she asked us…
“Do you think that what publishers and editors look for in a pitch is the same as what readers judge by when they are deciding if they’d want to read a book? Will the same qualities make a reader want to read as make a publisher ask for pages?”
The short answer is yes. Or rather, “almost.” Well, it’s “kinda.” Here’s the longer chirp on the matter…
The Book as an Investment
(aka, How a Financial Term Managed to Creep Its Way Into Your Writing World)
The writer invests time, work, and imagination in writing a book and readers invest their money and time when they select a book from the shelf. But before the book appears on the shelves, there’s another player–the publisher (and sometimes an agent). In getting an agent to represent a book or a publisher to pick it up, the author asks them to buy into the book. In fact, everything, from the author’s work to the publisher’s interest to the readers getting their hands on the novel, can be boiled down to one word: Investment.
When pitching a book, in essence, what you’re saying is, “This is why you should invest in this book.”
When you pitch a novel to anyone, you are, in a sense, trying to convince someone that your book is worth their time, energy and money–a worthwhile investment, in other words. You may try to pull the reader in by presenting a clever plot, an original story premise, or by grabbing attention with a distinctive style and flair. You will appeal to the publisher with these as well, but also by making sure the book you’re pitching fits into the publisher’s market. Depending on the kind of investment your book is, you might find yourself needing to put in a lot of query letters and collect a lot of rejection slips.
The graph below is a non-comprehensive snapshot of the book world. To make a gross generalization, there are three types of book: 1) those written by people who’ve already made it in the industry and who have the advantage of a guaranteed and quantifiable fanbase (low risk), 2) those authors who are writing in popular genres or stories that will likely sell (medium risk), and 3) those trying to break into the industry and set their own trend (high risk).
Most, if not all, of the writers reading this article will fall into the second and third categories. You may be seeking to set a trend with the next Great American Novel or maybe you’re already in love with a genre and writing a mystery or steampunk novel. But in both cases, your work is not a guaranteed sell–even if the book you are submitting is genuinely original and well-written!
In fact, trend-setting books tend to collect as many–if not more–rejections than books in other categories. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, for example, was rejected from twelve houses, and, as the story goes, was only picked up because the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman read the first chapter and wanted more. Frank Herber’s Dune was rejected nearly twenty times before being picked up by Chilton Books–a house known for its auto repair manuals.You can see a list of famous authors and the number and types of rejections they collected before making it big.
Readers versus Publishers
When seeking to hook a publisher’s interest, you will face similar challenges to the ones you face when you market your book to readers and reviewers. Why will your book sell? is a sister question to why should I buy/borrow/read your book? with only a few, minor deviations. For example, you don’t want to play coy; you will probably want to give the publisher the full story summary, not just the hook, as you would with a reader.
In writing to a publisher, you may also want to spend a bit of extra time discussing where your book fits in, genre-wise, or mention your current fanbase if you have one from publishing independently (it worked for Amanda Hocking). You may also want to explain why you’re interested in the publishing house you’re applying to specifically, and why your book is a good fit for them.
And of course (and as always), before you even start writing your query to the publishing house, make sure you’ve read all of the submission/query instructions. Most publishers tell you what they want you to tell them.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.