Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ten Tips for Approaching Publishers

I spent a wonderful evening in Hawick, down in the Scottish borders, talking to a group of writers on my favourite subject: how to get published. It was a beautiful drive through one of the best of the Scottish summer evenings, golden and scented. I wasn't terribly well, car sickness, so afraid I might have bolted through my talk and hoped that the writers got as much out of the evening as I did. Here's the gist of what I said to them - if you're writing you might find these tips useful. I've taken my own selling technique and adapted it a little for use by a writer - in your case you'd be approaching either a publisher or an agent.

1 Don’t send the work out until it’s absolutely ready. Don’t make excuses for it. If it’s not ready, go back and make it ready.

2 Write a KEYNOTE. Make it a good one! Practice. Look at some famous books and write some keynotes. You’re not going to give this to the publisher (though an agent can) but it’s going to discipline you into thinking like a publisher. A keynote is one reasonably short line, which says basically what the book is about. It must be

One line

3 MARKET ANALYSIS: what kind of book am I selling? What’s the genre? What’s selling at the moment? Realistically, is this book pressing the right buttons? If not, how can I spin it?

Literary fiction – avoid!
Women’s fiction
Science fantasy

4 BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE. Again, not to be used undigested. Practice. Keep it short, accurate, informative.

Who is the author
What’s their background
How old are they
What’s unique about them
Take their ‘bad’ points and turn them into good points

5 DESCRIPTION. Make it enticing, leave the reader wanting more. Don’t tell the whole plot… Hint like mad. Even if it’s a complete tragedy and irredeemably dark, try to think like a publisher – make it sound uplifting, life-enhancing, riveting, exciting. Try to give them a sense of what it feels like to read it. Include

What genre
Where it’s set
When it’s set

6 PROPOSAL – integrate the keynote, and use points 3, 4 and 5 to create an intelligent, honest pitch to bring the whole thing together. Obviously, no spelling mistakes. This is your chance to show how well you write.

A great letter, or email approach - succinct, accurate, alluring - should describe the book and the author in one paragraph maximum.
Include either a one page winning synopsis for fiction OR a detailed outline for non fiction.
A short sample of the work shows the author can write and whets the publisher’s appetite.

7 DON’T give the publisher reasons in the proposal to turn the book down. Let them do their job themselves. Turn your negatives into positives. Don’t be self-deprecating – publishers have no sense of humour. They’re wanting winners.

It’s my first book – great, no track record for the bookshops to check up on!
I’ve already written loads of books you’ve never heard of – but this is my breakthrough novel!
It’s old-fashioned – yes, readers are old-fashioned too!
It’s not 'experimental' - it’s amibitious and cutting edge!

8 DO give the publisher reasons to take the book on, this time by doing their job for them. Be positive and give them their pitch to take to the publishing meeting.

Marketable author – very young – very old - very famous - very talented – fascinating background.
Great story – page turner - moving - unforgettable - colourful.

9 CALL TO ACTION: invite the publisher to act – if they’ve asked to see something they are more likely to read it.

10 FOLLOW UP by doing exactly what the publisher asks you to do. Don’t send the whole book if they ask for 3 chapters.