Textcetera: Pitching to publishers

As the Acquisitions and Development Editor for Fernwood Publishing, Fazeela Jiwa is part of a team that reviews approximately 600 book pitches per year. Of those, Fernwood and its literary imprint, Roseway, publish around 30 titles. While these statistics are daunting, there are some ways you can ensure your submission stands out from the crowd. Below are some of Fazeela’s top tips for pitching your manuscript to publishers.

Do your research

Publishers include submission guidelines and contact pages on their websites for a reason. Read through these resources thoroughly before drafting your pitch. “For me,” says Fazeela, “following submission guidelines is one of the most important things for authors trying to stand out from others in the slush pile—because it shows that you know the publisher’s preferences and respect the editors’ time.”

When writing your query letter, don’t presume someone’s title or pronouns if that information is not readily available. As Fazeela notes, nothing’s more frustrating than receiving a lazy and outdated “Dear Sirs” pitch because a writer hasn’t done their research to address the proper person.

Don’t reuse the same pitch for different publishers

While simultaneous submissions are common these days, it’s important to take the time to individualize your pitches to the required specifications of each publisher. As Fazeela notes, while “it may seem annoying or time-consuming to have to reformat or repackage your book idea to suit what different publishers ask for, it’s because publishers all have different priorities and considerations.”

You may choose to emphasize different aspects of your manuscript in response to a publisher’s preferences and priorities. For example, “if I were submitting a proposal to a publisher with explicitly radical politics like Fernwood,” Fazeela says, “then I would play up that angle of my submission. If I were approaching a publisher known for their experimentation with literary genres, I’d emphasize that. The crucial underlying message here is to know the publisher you’re submitting to—read their website, check out their books, look at their socials. You can find out a lot about what they’re looking for in terms of tone, form, or content.”

Know the market for your manuscript

Publishers don’t expect your manuscript to appeal equally to all demographics, so it’s not necessary to pitch the project that way. “It’s important to be specific and honest about the book’s limitations,” Fazeela points out. With that said, don’t expect your publisher to know who your book’s target audience is if you don’t. When developing your query letter, Fazeela advises that you should “discuss as many specifics about your book as you can muster in short form and use all the keywords you imagine your book can relay. You don’t need to be super formal, but you should be provocative and interesting.”

If you’re having trouble boiling your book down into a simple synopsis, “you can try doing a reverse outline, where you write a summary of each paragraph and put them in order to see if there is any repetition or if something is missing or if the order needs to be changed. In doing this work, your themes will surface.” One of Fazeela’s colleagues also recommends that writers ask themselves “what is the one central question your book is trying to answer? And what is the answer?”

Don’t pester publishers

Once your manuscript has been submitted, you’ll need to have some patience. It won’t help your chances of getting published if you appear to be a high maintenance author right off the bat. As Fazeela notes, Fernwood and Roseway receive an average of 40 – 50 submissions each month, and it takes time to give each query thoughtful consideration.

If a publisher lists an average review time on their website of, say, six months, don’t follow up on your submission until that date has passed. If no timeline is given, Fazeela suggests waiting a minimum of “two or three months.” And all the better if you have a concrete update to the project when you check in, such as a prominent author who is willing to blurb the book or an offer from another publisher, both of which may spur faster evaluation of your manuscript and, perhaps, a competing offer.

If you choose to submit simultaneously, be sure to explicitly state in your query letter that you are sharing your manuscript with more than one publisher. “It does make a difference in our timeline if we love the submission,” Fazeela says.

Are your questions about querying still unquenched?

WFNS also maintains a list of Atlantic Publishers & Periodicals on our website that can help you find potential publishers.

textcetera is a blog series exploring the writer’s life beyond craft. “Pitching to publishers” was written by K.R. Byggdin.

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that participants in any given workshop have similar levels of creative writing and / or publication experience. This ensures that each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their career stage. The “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions used by WFNS.

  • New writers: those with less than two years’ creative writing experience and/or no short-form publications (e.g., short stories, personal essays, or poems in literary magazines, journals, anthologies, or chapbooks).
  • Emerging writers: those with more than two years’ creative writing experience and/or numerous short-form publications.
  • Early-career authors: those with 1 or 2 book-length publications or the equivalent in book-length and short-form publications.
  • Established authors: those with 3 or 4 book-length publications.
  • Professional authors: those with 5 or more book-length publications.

Please keep in mind that each form of creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and writing for children and young adults) provides you with a unique set of experiences and skills, so you might consider yourself an ‘established author’ in one form but a ‘new writer’ in another.

For “intensive” and “masterclass” creative writing workshops, which provide more opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback, the recommended experience level should be followed closely.

For all other workshops, the recommended experience level is just that—a recommendation—and we encourage potential participants to follow their own judgment when registering.

If you’re uncertain of your experience level with regard to any particular workshop, please feel free to contact us at communications@writers.ns.ca