Pitching to Traditional Publishers

As literary agents we get queries from both down the street and half way around the world. The web has helped our industry enormously¬†but it has also made us easy to find. And agents – traditionally¬†- like to remain just under the surface and most don’t want a high public profile. The internet changed all that. It means that once agents start posting sales of projects to publishers and develop a track record, it opens our doors to many (many!) more queries from authors seeking representation. Overall that’s a good thing, I believe, as it has, at least for me, allowed many more projects, more ideas, and potential books landed on my desk. The volume has definitely increased since the pre-www days. That track record has also allowed our agency to find many more editors, publishers and sub-agents (for translation purposes) than ever before. It has opened up more markets for our clients. It has granted our agency access to many more publishers offices in the major publishing centers.

But what happens if you don’t have representation? How can you get a “traditional” publisher to look at your work if you don’t have a track record? Agents have access because we have shown we have the projects editors want for their publishing lists. We have shown we have experience in the pitching, the negotiating, and a familiarization with contracts that makes the process a professional one. Agency reputations have been built making sales one at a time. In a way isn’t that the same for your work? It makes sense that demonstrating you have writing experience – or as I call it developed a track record of “yes” to your work from newspapers, magazines, contests, periodicals and most importantly previously published books. Obviously this is only one part of your ‘package” – you need a salable book idea, a good pitch, a greater proposal, and an even better level of the actual book content. And, yes, the writing has to be your very best. So a traditional publisher wants to see what you have done, who has published you, what people have said – before they actually completely consider what you have to sell. It makes sense develop a platform of work before you even think about pitching your newest, latest, and greatest. Ask us how to build your platform at Brilliant Idea Books.

I’ll conclude with a brief story: When I first started out as an agent some 15 years ago, I took my new shiny projects to New York. I had been to the city enough and eagerly booked appointments with editors and publishers up and down Manhattan. While allowing plenty of time between appointments, I soon found I had much more time than I thought. I was in and out of the skyscrapers within minutes. After a pleasant introduction to an editor or publisher, it became clear what these people wanted to hear and see is not what I had but what I had sold. They were looking for a track record of sales, a track record of “yes”. I had very few and with that I was quickly ushered out into the bustle of the street. I learned a key lesson for agents the hard way and on each subsequent trip the discussion of past sales was the start of each progressively longer and successful meeting.

There’s a lesson here for writers – develop your base, your inventory, your platform – before pitching your next new thing. RM

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