We sat down with Revell Books editorial director Andrea Doering to get you the inside scoop on pitching a book proposal at a writers’ conference. Andrea has been on the receiving end of countless pitches over the course of her career at Revell, and she shared with us what makes a proposal — and an author — stand out from the rest. We’ve boiled down her wisdom to three key takeaways that you can study, share with others, or even repeat to yourself mantra-style as you walk into your next writers’ conference, proposal in hand and a smile on your face.
Show the editor that you’ve done your research. She wants to know that you’ve studied the business of writing as well as the art. One of the best ways to communicate this is with a well-researched, organized book proposal.
Maybe in the past you’ve been told to bring a one-sheet — a shiny professional printout with one sheet’s worth of information on the book you’re pitching — to writers’ conferences and to meetings with agents and editors. Andrea advises against simply passing out a one-sheet to go along with your pitch. Instead, she recommends that all authors bring a full proposal. In addition to providing useful information on your project, a thorough, well-written proposal tells the editor that you are serious about publishing, and capable of putting in the work necessary to make it happen. If you’re a first-time fiction author, you’ll need to have a completed manuscript, as well.
So what is an editor looking for in a proposal? Andrea emphasizes the importance of knowing your market. Make sure you clearly identify the audience, the reader benefits, and some comparable titles. And give it a good hook! Andrea still remembers, years later, some of the hooks that won her over.
Bring your full, likeable self to your pitch meeting. As much as our world has changed in this Internet age, Andrea affirms that traditional publishing has remained a face-to-face, person-to-person operation based on human connection. Editors are people, too! So be a person, not a robot. It’s good to be prepared, but don’t be programmed. Your true self, your personality, and even your quirks will distinguish you from the pack and help the editor remember you.
Don’t try to be the kind of author you think the editor is looking for, either. You don’t need to be the next Brené Brown or J.K. Rowling. Be the first you. The world already has Brené Brown and J.K. Rowling, and probably too many imitators. You have valuable skills and experiences from your real life — your day job — that no one else has and that others can learn from; and a unique voice that the world needs to hear.
Pro tip: leave the chocolates and the mugs behind. You’ll only make your editor uncomfortable if you try to give her a gift. All she wants is you — the real you — and your proposal.
Be receptive to the editor’s suggestions, especially if she asks you to fix something in your proposal. According to Andrea, there are very few deal breakers in a pitch meeting, but a closed mind is one of them. Nothing is more discouraging to an editor than an author who can’t accept criticism, because it means that in the future they won’t be willing to collaborate to make their book the best it can be.
In fact, she recommends setting a posture that invites the editor into “helping mode.” Ask questions, ask for advice, heck, Andrea even suggests bringing in your half-finished proposal and asking for the editor’s feedback. You may not get a book deal, but you will gain an ally and some helpful, personalized insight from a publishing insider. Be open to other outcomes. Even if you don’t end up selling your book to an editor, something else can come of it.
Be open to new ideas and new directions. Andrea told us, "Half of the time, the book you pitch is not the book we want you to write. Fifty percent of the time we find the book we want in a throwaway line in the proposal or an aside in our conversation." Fifty percent! That’s a lot. This is why it’s so important to bring your full, true self to the pitch meeting. An editor with a sharp eye may identify a detail in conversation — something about your life that you’d never think twice about — that could lead to your next book.
Okay, all together now: Be prepared, be yourself, and be open. The two most important components of your pitch meeting are your book proposal and you. As long as your book proposal is well thought-out and you act like a person and not a robot or a caricature of a person, you’ll do well. Remember, this meeting is your cover letter. Use it to highlight what you really want the editor to walk away with. Now go knock their socks off!
To learn more from Andrea and other publishing professionals, check out our Editor Training Bundle here.