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 As Fazeela notes, nothing’s more frustrating than receiving a lazy and outdated “Dear Sirs” pitch because a writer hasn’t done their research to address the proper person.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?
- In December, 2020, Fazeela Jiwa participated in an online panel, viewable for free on YouTube: Tricks of the pitch: Tips for bringing your radical book into the world
- For fiction writers: The Elements of a Good Fiction Pitch (new members-only resource)
- For nonfiction writers: Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal and The Nonfiction Query /Pitch Letter (public resources)
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 Keanan Byggdin.