How To Pitch Your Nonfiction Book To The Right Publishers In 4 Easy Steps

19 Apr 2019


You’ve put your heart and soul into your book, and it is a great achievement to celebrate! But now that you have it completed, what do you do with it? Your book is written and edited to perfection…now what?

Most likely, you will want to get it published and have it become successful, whether to help you establish yourself as an expert, teach others, entertain, or build your business or brand.

Now you need a publisher!

But, how do you go about contacting a publisher who will publish your book? How do you find the right publisher for your type of book? How do you submit it to them? What can you expect?

While you can certainly just look up the address of the big publishing houses and fire your book off to them, you’ll have a greater chance of successfully getting published if you take some time to follow these four easy steps and pitch to the right publishers.

Step 1: Identify the right type of publishers for your book

Over the years, the book publishing industry has changed a lot. With the start of many smaller, specialized publishers, e-publishing, and POD (print-on-demand) publishing, there are many options to getting your book published.

  • Most people have heard of the mainstream/traditional publishing houses (also known as trade publishers). Those are the ones that put major books in the bookstores, and many authors think of them when they want to market their book. Getting a book published by the likes of Penguin, Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, or Macmillan Publishers (or one of these houses’ numerous imprints) can certainly raise an author’s marketability, possibly get them higher advances and sales, and increase their credibility. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to using a major publishing house:

PROS: These large publishing houses produce a wide range of genres in both nonfiction and fiction so you’re sure to find one that will publish the type of book you’re marketing. They also have big budgets so there is a higher chance for larger book runs, substantial advances, increased marketing budgets, and help marketing your book. If you’re writing a book to position yourself as an expert or to build you or your company’s brand, this option gives you the leverage to do that.

CONS: Even though these types of publishers publish more books than smaller presses, there is more competition to get noticed and accepted by a publisher. And there is no guarantee your book will sell or that you’ll get help marketing your book. In fact, you will likely be expected to do most of the marketing yourself unless you’re already an established author. You’ll also find it harder to receive personalized attention and service, due to the volume of authors they work with each year.

While most authors dream of publishing with the “big boys,” there are other options to getting your book published and out to the marketplace.

  • Small or independent publishers – While it might sound prestigious to publish with the larger companies, smaller or “indie” publishers are more prevalent, which gives you a greater chance of getting published. Not only can they give you the same outcome – a professionally published book – but they can also provide you with a long-lasting partnership and more individual attention.

PROS: These publishing companies are smaller, publishing fewer titles than the larger publishers, so there is not as much competition for the editor’s time and attention. This means personalized attention will be paid to your project and editorial focus on some of the finer details of your book. Plus, there is not as much pressure to sell copies quickly.

CONS: Being smaller, these companies purchase fewer books and have smaller marketing budgets. You might, depending on your book, get very little in the way of marketing support and be expected to do the marketing yourself. They also offer smaller advances than the larger publishing houses and might offer smaller or shorter print runs.

  • Academic publishers – Many of the larger and more prestigious colleges and universities have their own publishing arm. Examples of these are Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Princeton University Press. While the major trade publishers publish books for the general public, academic publishers produce scholarly and research books for students (academic, professional, and school titles).

PROS: Due to the nature of the topics these publishers handle, you will find less competition to get your book sold. If your book falls along these academic lines, publishing in this field can increase your credibility greatly and enhance your career, if that is your focus. As many also rely on peer reviews for publishing, you can be assured your work will get a thorough review by experts in your focus area.  

CONS: Many academic and scholarly books require some form of peer review or editorial panel to qualify a book for publication. This means your work has to go through several people before reaching the acceptance process, rather than a single editor. Not all peer reviews are equal, and selection standards for publishing can vary greatly between publishers and within varying fields of study. Also, these types of publishers don’t produce as many books, especially as many universities continue with budget cuts.

  • Self-publishing and print-on-demand (POD) publishers – Not that long ago in publishing, it was hard to gain any sort of credibility for an author who self-published their own book. It was known as “vanity publishing” because an author actually paid what could be a large fee to a “vanity press” to publish their book, rather than being paid by a publisher to produce it. However, with the increase in popularity of e-books, digital marketing, and easier print services, it’s become more common for authors to self-publish their books, helping them gain a platform for their work without losing credibility.

PROS: By self-publishing a book, you can have complete control of the writing, editing, layout, publishing, and marketing of your work. As technology has gotten better, much of what is done to prepare your book, such as layout, typesetting, and cover design, is done online instead of manually. This helps cut the costs of printing. Books can even be produced as they are ordered so you don’t have to have a large costly print run or store the books before they are sold. Plus, you get to keep 100 percent of your profits when you sell your books versus the average 10 percent you receive from a publisher.

CONS: While costs have come down from what they used to be, there are still costs associated with getting your book set up and printed when you self-publish. You can hire a company that will do all the layout and design services, but you will still be in charge of the whole project. You’ll also have to handle your marketing, finding creative ways to promote your book among the huge volume of them already being marketed. And, if you don’t go with a POD publisher, you will have to stock and keep track of your book inventory, as well as create a good system for sales, bookkeeping, and tax purposes.

Step 2: Find the right publishers for your book

Now that you have an understanding of the types of publishers out there, you can narrow your search by category and begin to identify which one is right for you. The first step is to discover exactly who the traditional publishers or self-publishing companies are in your category.

Certainly, you can head over to Google and do a quick search for publishing houses. But, by far, your best research tool out there to find traditional trade book publishers is the Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest. While it is subscription-based with a cost, the fee is nominal and well worth the money with either a monthly, six-month, or annual subscription. A Writer’s Market hardcopy or Kindle download can also be purchased from Amazon, and they also offer directories in specific book genres.

The Writer’s Market provides a full directory of trade book and magazine publishers, and their list is updated in real time. It includes all the necessary information including contact information, names of editors, type of publisher, types of books they publish, and how they want to receive submissions. It is a wealth of information that will save you time in the process with its search features.

Other directories that have book publisher listings include Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 28th edition; Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019; and The Writer (online).

Another great way to find the right information on where to submit your book is by looking at published books that are similar to yours. Check the copyright or imprint page for the name and address of the publisher, then turn to the dedication or acknowledgment pages, as they often mention the names of the editors and agents who worked with the author.

You can also look at the author’s website or the publisher’s website to gather more contact information.  

If you choose to self-publish, there are many great companies out there to work with. Check out your options at Writer’s Digest’s Directory of Self-Publishing Companies, MoneyPantry’s Top 10 Self Publishing Companies to Publish Your First Book, or PublisherGlobal’s Self Publishers.

Step 3: How to submit your book to the right publishers

How you submit your manuscript will depend on how you want to publish your book and will vary from publisher to publisher and company to company.

To self-publish, contact the self-publishing companies you’ve identified you might want to work with. Review their websites to learn what their process is for publishing books and what they can do for you. Research what they charge and what services and terms they offer. Call the company and interview them so you make sure to get the right fit for you and your book.

For traditional trade publishing, some publishers will not accept unsolicited requests except through an initial query letter. Some publishers will only accept a proposal or manuscript through a literary agent. Others will request a book proposal be sent.

It is very important to follow their guidelines. Publishers and editors are busy people and get hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts. You do not want to waste their time or be ignored simply for not following their guidelines. Never be the exception to the publishers’ rules!

When you research various publishers within the directories, they will list out all the information on the format for submission, what to include, who and where to send it to. Following each publishers’ guidelines carefully will set you well above the competition in getting the editor’s attention.

Always make your submission concise, memorable, relevant, and respectful. Create your hook, describe your book’s genre, the key problem it addresses, how your book will solve this problem, and what makes your book different from the competition.

And, while it might seem counterproductive, if you already have a finished manuscript, you will still need to write a query letter and, in most cases, a book proposal to submit. It would be a very rare case to send in a finished manuscript with your first contact with a publisher. Editors have limited time and will not have the luxury of sitting down and reading your book in full. They just want the guts of what your book is about and what it has to offer.

How to craft your best query letter

A query letter introduces you and your book idea to a potential editor. Its sole purpose is to grab the editor’s attention with just enough information to make them say, “Yes! Send more!”

Your letter should get the editor excited about your idea while also being professional, intriguing, and concise. It is a chance for the editor to evaluate your book idea without having to spend a lot of time reading the whole manuscript, and discover right away if your book is a good fit for them.

It is best to keep this “sales pitch” to only one page of 400 words or less. The letter should contain three sections: the hook that draws the editor in, a short synopsis of your book, and your author’s biography. As you are pitching a nonfiction book, you can also include brief information regarding the target audience, if you have space in the letter.

Always follow the proper format for your query letter, and always send it directly to the appropriate editor by name and title. Most publishing houses will have numerous editors that handle various genres of books. If you aren’t sure which editor handles your specific genre, simply call the publisher and ask. This will ensure your query gets into the hands of the person who can say, “YES!”

How to craft your best book proposal

Why would you need to create a book proposal if you’ve already written the full book?

When self-publishing your book, you will certainly need your full manuscript completed to move on in the publishing process. However, if you are looking to publish your book with a traditional publisher, the standard process is to only submit a book proposal. These publishers won’t review the full manuscript but will potentially purchase your book based on a synopsis and sample chapters.

Even if a publisher only wants a query letter on initial contact, it is still a smart idea to draft a book proposal so it is ready to send off as soon as an editor asks to see more.

Why should they, the publisher, buy and publish your book? What makes your idea a good and salable book? Your book proposal is your convincing argument to get them to invest in your manuscript and pay you for it.

The length of a book proposal can vary greatly depending on the complexity of your book. Most proposals run from 15 to as many as 50 double-spaced pages with sample material and are written using a standard and expected format. You should always include a cover letter introducing your book and yourself as the author. The proposal should also include a synopsis of the book, the table of contents or outline, information about the competition, similar published books, marketing and promotion information, an author’s biography, and sample chapters.

A solid book proposal will cover exactly what the book is about, why you are the ideal person to write the book, who will buy it, and how you will address your topic.

You can get more information on writing a nonfiction book proposal at How To Write The Perfect Nonfiction Book Proposal. Or check out SampleTemplates and for sample book proposal templates. 

Step 4: Tracking your submission and the pros and cons of simultaneous submissions

When you start to submit your book to publishers or agents you don’t want to forget who you sent it to and when. It’s never good to hound an editor or follow up too soon. Within the directory of publishers, you’ll find that most will list what their response time is on submissions.

Creating a simple spreadsheet will help you keep track of all the submissions you make. By including the publishing company, editor’s name, address and phone number, when you sent your query letter or proposal, and the expected response time, you can easily see which editors responded back, what their response was, and who you still need to follow up with for an answer.

If you’re submitting to just one book publisher or agent at a time, then tracking will be a simple process. But what about simultaneous submissions, sending your book to more than one publishing house at a time?

Some book publishers and agents are open to this process; others are not. This information should also be found within the publishing directories. Always follow their rules and guidelines. Whether or not you choose to submit to only one editor at a time or many is up to you, but be open and upfront with them. While you don’t have to tell them who else you’re submitting to, if you are making simultaneous submissions, let each editor you are doing so. Also, let them know if or when your book has been accepted by another editor. 

A word about literary agents

So, do you really need a literary agent or can you get your book published with a publisher all on your own? Isn’t it easier to cut out the middleman?

This really depends on where you pitch your book.

Many publishers, especially the smaller presses, will accept unsolicited submissions and evaluate your idea based on a good query letter and/or book proposal. Others, like the bigger publishing houses, only accept submissions through a reputable agent.

While hiring an agent adds one more step in the process of getting your book into the hands of your readers, and requires you to pay a commission, there are many advantages.

A good agent knows the publishing process and has inside knowledge of publishing houses, editors, and what they are buying. They also lend credibility to your work as they have vetted your idea before approaching busy and overwhelmed editors. They act as the go-between for you and the publishing house, helping with contract negotiations and potential larger advances. They can also help you improve your book proposal even before you approach a publisher.

A good agent can definitely be an asset as they have the knowledge and contacts to get you noticed.

Now’s the time!

While it may seem like a long and daunting task to get your nonfiction book into the hands of your audience, it is a very worthy cause to see your book in print! Odds are you will have to pitch to many publishing companies and their editors before you will find one to say, “YES!” However, if you follow the steps outlined above, you will find the process should give you faster and easier results.  

Shelly Spencer 
Shelly Spencer has been a professional writer for the past 25 years with a specialized focus on grant and RFP proposal writing. She has written for small start-up and mid-sized businesses as well as numerous non-profit organizations and also worked at a daily newspaper editing and proofreading display advertisements and real estate articles. Shelly has experience in writing for a variety of industries in all types of copy, including articles, blog posts, e-books, websites, proposals, brochures, press releases, newsletters, and more. Choosing not to go the traditional route, Shelly gained her skills through hands-on experience and by studying direct mail, B2B, and SEO copywriting through various American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) programs. She is an AWAI verified direct response copywriter having completed their Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting and the Master's Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. She has also completed the Secrets to Writing High Performance B2B Copy by Steve Slaunwhite and Dan Kennedy's Writing for Info Marketers, both through AWAI, and The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program by Great Escape Publishing. Shelly is a member of the Professional Writer’s Association (PWA) and the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association (ITWPA).

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