Recommendations for Marketing Your Book to a Publisher or Agent
Recommendations for Marketing Your Book
I sincerely believe that, for a Christian writer, God should “run” the publishing process Nonetheless, I understand that people want and need direction in getting started. The following recommendations are for royalty-based publishing, not self-publishing (which is another animal altogether.)
I know personally how important it is to have someone “steer” you in the right direction so you don’t make stupid (amateurish) mistakes that would hurt your chances at looking professional when you are submitting. Almost without exception, every genre of writing I do (poetry, nonfiction, and various genres of fiction) was a field I “broke into” because somebody with experience told me what to do (or in most cases, actually submitted my work, with or without my knowledge, to whomever eventually published it first!)
So here are the steps I believe are absolutely necessary in marketing something. I will use examples regarding marketing a children’s book, but this would apply to any genre, whether it be fiction or non fiction, in the book market.
First of all, if you’ve not published a book before, don’t even think of trying to market anything until you have finished writing it if it’s fiction; or have at least three chapters and a very complete synopsis for a non-fiction work. There are two reasons for this. One is that you can’t find a market for something that no one (including you) knows how it looks and “feels.” The second reason is that you will write and revise (if you’re smart and don’t want to ruin your chances) before trying to market, and one of the truths of the writing process is that a work can take on a life of its own and change its focus or direction during the writing. In other words, the finished product may turn out to be different than what you’ve envisioned.
(Parenthetical note: if you don’t have the self discipline to write and complete your manuscript, don’t think you would ever survive the rigors of marketing it. Manuscript format, at this stage, isn’t as important as finishing the work.)
Second step: after you’ve completed your work, go to a large bookstore and spend at least two or three hours (possibly even several trips) looking at the “type” of book you’ve written. The reason for this: all publishers have a certain type of book or “feel” that is characteristic of them. You, as a new author, are most unlikely to get them to take a book manuscript that is unlike the “formula” that’s been making them money lately.
(That’s why you should go to a bookstore, not a library. You need to know what publishers are selling today, not in the past.)
3. Make a list of all the publishers who are publishing books that are “like” what you have written. If anyone has published something almost identical to what you’ve published, reconsider your own project. Are you flirting with a copyright infringement? You want a publisher who has published something with the same feel, not the same material/treatment.
4. With that list of publishers, do one of three things: go to a public library’s reference section and look at; or buy; or get the online electronic version – of the current Writer’s Market, a book available in those three ways.
5. Look up each publisher. Note what they say about manuscript submission: whether they take unsolicited manuscripts, if you have to have an agent, what format they want things in, should you just query first or send the entire manuscript, etc. Follow their instructions to the letter.
6. If the publisher you’re looking for doesn’t appear in Writer’s Market, try to find them online and look for their manuscript submission policy.
7. If you cannot find them in either place, ask the bookstore for ordering information (phone number, for instance) and call them. Don’t waste their time telling them about you book. Make it short and to the point: “What is your manuscript submission policy? Do you have author guidelines?” Then do what they say.
8. Educate yourself about manuscript preparation for the particular genre you’re writing (a picture book is different from a non-fiction adult book, for instance.) Sources: Writer’s Market, Christian Writer’s Market Guide, or other more specific books in the bookstore or library.
9. Educate yourself on how to write an effective cover letter and query letter. Know the difference. Only send what the individual publisher wants. Remember that you only have one chance to make a first impression.
10. Do not send (or suggest) illustrations for a children’s book. Publishers have told me repeatedly that they work from a “stable” of established artists, and they do not want to see your cousin’s artwork, even if they love your manuscript.
11. Agent Rachelle Gardner has wonderful, step by step instructions for writing proposals and other materials to market your book if you are seeking representation from an agent. Here’s an example.
- Never, never correspond by mail to anyone in the publishing industry without sending a SASE.
- Learn what SASE and other common publishing acronyms mean.
- Learn what simultaneous submission means and don’t do it unless the publisher specifically says it’s okay.
- Make any correspondence to a publisher short, snappy, professional and perhaps memorable without making a fool of yourself.
- Know the essentiality of strong openings or “leads” in both letters and manuscripts. An editor I know told me that if something did not “grab” her in the first two paragraphs, she passed on it.