Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Publisher's Perspective on Pitching Projects

A Q & A with Managing Editor Martha Cook, Pt. II

Managing Editor Martha Cook often works with unrepresented first-time authors who are experts in their field. She also evaluates the project proposals that Trafalgar Square Books receives.

Trafalgar Square is very proud of its many talented authors. Those who have joined the Trafalgar Square list over the years include: Jane Savoie, Linda Tellington-Jones, William Steinkraus, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, Mary Wanless, Clinton Anderson, Charles de Kunffy, Conrad Schumacher, Sylvia Loch, Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling, Geoff Teall, Dr. James Warson, Betsy Steiner, Kyra Kyrklund, Alois Podhajsky, Paul Belasik, to name but a few.

In the first part of Ms. Cook's interview, she discussed the importance of a non-fiction author's platform. Here, she comments on how to get the publisher's attention with your pitch:

Q: How much should a writer know about a publisher before pitching a project?

A: I’m often taken aback by how some writers sending us submissions seem completely unfamiliar with us. At the very least, before you submit anything, visit the publisher’s website and familiarize yourself with the books published. Also, visit a bricks and mortar bookstore to look at the publisher’s books and take note of the design, photos, art, and price.

There is no excuse for a submitting writer to ask me if we put color photos in our books – yet this happens all the time. Questions like these only tell me that the writer didn’t bother to do the most basic research for the proposal. They certainly don’t encourage me to take a chance on offering the writer a contract.

A final note about pitching: You should know what books the publisher publishes that may be in direct competition with yours. Be ready to field a question like, “We have a book by XXXX on the same topic. How is your book different?”

Q: Do publishers generally look for projects similar to books they already publish? Or is it better to avoid pitching a project that is in direct competition with something already in a publisher’s list?

A: Again, be familiar with the publisher’s list. Be prepared to say, “I know you recently published XXXX, but my book is different because it approaches the topic from another perspective,” or “…because it explores the subject further.” I definitely notice during a phone call or in a submission letter if a writer is on the ball enough to be up to speed on what we’ve recently published.

One of the big slip-ups I see more than I should is a writer who makes a laundry list of competitive titles, noting all the things wrong with the books (many published by us!) and explaining why his or hers is better. The first thing that pops into my mind is, “This author didn’t do the homework.”

We are niche publishers so we don’t expect to receive proposals that are wildly different – they all have to have something to do with horses – but your chances of getting a further look are much improved if you have something unique to say, without disparaging the books to which we have already committed.

Q: What are the hallmarks of a “perfect” proposal?

A: A great proposal includes the following:

1.) A well-crafted introductory letter that demonstrates writing proficiency, shows a solid command of the subject, states why the topic proposed is a necessary addition to what’s already published on the subject, and offers a short overview of the writer’s experience and qualifications.

2.) A thorough outline that shows the writer has given careful thought to the book’s organization from start to finish.

3.) Two or three polished sample chapters. (Don’t say, “I’m sending you a couple of rough chapters.” Put your best writing forward! This is your chance to convince the publisher your work is worth publishing.)

4.) A bio or CV.

5.) A concise market view. List books you see as direct competition, state who you think is the customer for the book, mention connections you have that may help promote and sell the book and what you can do to aid in sales or promotion, include suggestions for outlets that will sell the book, etc. Nothing in this section needs to be explored in great detail, but it is essential to demonstrate that you have done some thinking about how the book will be sold.

These elements are the best way I know of for an unpublished author to get the attention of a publisher, and to convince a publisher to take a chance on him or her.

Q: What are some common mistakes you see writers make that ruin an otherwise interesting pitch?

A: Sloppy, shoddy work that doesn’t deliver as promised is an instant turn-off. As mentioned above, don’t send anything but your very best writing and well-organized, relevant, high-quality supporting materials.

Always inquire before you send an entire manuscript and never send original photos or art without first asking the publisher.

A couple personal peeves: Don’t start off by telling me you have a bestseller. Also, beware of telling me that your idea is so unique that it has no competition. If you say nothing like it has ever before been published, you’d better be sure because from my position, I probably know if it’s true or not.


Ann Charles said...

Ami and Ms. Cook,

Me again. Just want to thank you (again) for this explanation on what you like to see in a non-fiction book proposal. This is excellent and very helpful.

Ann Charles

Ami Hendrickson said...

Hi, Ann,
Glad to be of help. Good luck on your project!