The British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens once said that ‘Everybody has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’. While that might be true for some people, many journalists will have an idea for a book that is worth sharing with the world.
The road to getting a novel published can be a tricky one, especially knowing where to start. Fortunately, in a recent JournoResources event, Kirsty Reade, commissioning editor at Vertebrate Publishing, covered what the publishing process is like and the different elements of writing that a journalist might want to consider.
An idea worth writing about
Before you start putting together a book proposal or thinking of where to pitch, you need to make sure that the idea you have is strong enough. Why do you want to write a book? If it’s just for personal reasons then maybe you want to look at the self-publishing route.
You should also consider why the book is needed. Will it improve the life of the reader? Or perhaps tell them something they had never heard before? As you would before you pitch an article, you need to think about what the reader is going to get out of it.
And thirdly, is it unique? If there are already other similar books out there then it probably won’t get published. At the same time, it can’t be too niche. There needs to be some universal themes that would appeal to anyone that reads the book.
The commercial proposition for getting a book published is key. Publishers want to know that they will be able to sell your book. If your idea has already had good traction on social media or as an article in a magazine or on a website, this should indicate that it would perform strongly. Make sure you do your market research. What themes or topics are popular at the moment? If it fits into that but with a different angle or story to tell then it could be a viable proposition.
A strong book proposal
Once you’re set on your idea and have perhaps started writing it already, then the next step is the book proposal. Different publishers have different guidelines which can be found listed on their website. You may want to follow this list as a guide:
- Overview of the book – why the book is needed, why it’s good fit for the publisher etc
- Audience and market – who is your audience and will it appeal to them? Be as specific as possible
- Key selling points – including the benefit for the readers and the publisher
- Marketing opportunities – potential conferences, key outlets or contacts, reading or book festivals.
- Comparable books – popular books that are similar to yours, but different enough, too
- Author information – tell the publisher about yourself and why you are the right person to write this book. Perhaps you are an expert in the field or have a good social media following. Plus, show them how hard you are willing to work to sell it and promote it.
The book proposal should be tailored to each publisher, based on what they specialise in. Some of them will require sample material to be sent over, whereas others will want to receive the whole book.
Making the pitch perfect
Once your book proposal is done, you are ready to start pitching to publishers. What you want to consider here is whether to pitch to smaller or bigger publishers. The advantage of a smaller publisher is that they are more likely to have the time to get behind your book, whereas bigger publishers will be juggling the demands of so many other authors. Kirsty also highlighted that you are likely to get more of a say throughout the process with a smaller publisher. However, sales might be higher when you go through a larger publisher.
Make sure your proposal fits with the publishers requirements and the genres of books that they would normally publish. It’s good to also check that they are taking submissions at that time. You should also keep in mind that some publishers won’t take any pitches without an agent. This is usually the case with the bigger publishing companies and those that specialise in fiction. Having an agent can be useful as they will help you to navigate the process, but if royalties are important to you or you know exactly where to pitch, then you probably won’t need one.
The time of year that you decide to pitch is also important. December is usually a busy period for most publishers while August may not be an ideal time for pitches with many staff members on leave. Make sure that you read the submission guidelines carefully and keep the email short and concise. If you’re struggling with knowing where to pitch then you can search through literary agencies.
The process begins
When the publisher receives a book proposal then they will be looking at answering three questions:
- Does it match the market they want to publish into?
- Does it fit with the types/genres of book they publish?
- What is the quality of the pitch?
Therefore, you need to make sure that your theme is really clear and you know the subject area well. The publisher will also be considering the cost of it, the length and whether it needs permissions.
If the commissioning editor is interested in your book proposal then it will be looked at in a commissioning meeting. Here they will take a more detailed look into the cost, how it would be sold, how it fits with other books and how things would work with the publisher promoting it. This part of the process can take one or two months before finally reaching a decision.
Once the publishing company accepts the book proposal then the writing process begins. Having a clear outline will help you further down the line to work out the structure of the book. You may also want to give yourself enough time and talk with the publisher about regular check-ins. The frequency of your meetings might vary depending on your need for reassurance and guidance. You will then work towards the goal of submitting your first draft. This will then go through editing and rewriting until it’s ready to publish.
If you are a journalist that has just written a book then you could feature in our Journalist as Author series. Check out the latest one here. Or if you’re still gathering sources and interviewees for your potential best-seller then you can use the Journalist Enquiry Service to do so.