a contract over a book in a desk

3 Things to Avoid If You Want to Publish a Book

Did you write a book? Do you have an excellent idea for a book and need an advance check? The traditional publishing route has many advantages over self-publishing: there is a greater chance of getting your book distributed in retail stores; there is a higher potential for media coverage; your product is professionally marketed; you feel confident and credible because you were signed with a big publishing company. Whether you are a fiction writer with a polished manuscript or a nonfiction writer with a superb proposal, if you want your book to be picked up by a publishing company you will have to pitch your idea to a literary agent. The book pitch is called a query and it is essentially a business proposal. In this business proposal, you have one objective: explain how your book will be a marketable product. If you want to land a great publishing package with a well-known agency, your query must be perfect. Many talented writers will never get past the querying stage because they make these three mistakes. 

  1. Bad Format

You should think of your query as a business document. It should not include pictures, links, or attachments – text only! You should provide everything the agent needs to know at a glance. Do not redirect the agent to your personal website or blog. Your query should be in the neighborhood of three hundred words from the polite greeting, to the polite farewell – that means, get to the point! Also importantly, do not deviate from your business pitch. Your query should not contain any spelling or grammar errors. This is your chance to showcase your skills and submitting a query with errors in it will quickly ruin your credibility as a writer. Be polite and don’t ask for free advice. 

  1. Including Non-Essential Information

This is not an opportunity to talk about yourself. You should only discuss your own qualifications as a writer if they are relevant to the project. You should also remember that you are only pitching one book only. Do not mention other books in this series or your other writing endeavors. Be sure to include other important information like word count and genre. Do not just assume the agent can tell what genre the book is based on the first five pages. Go so far as to explain where this genre will be shelved in a retail store. Do not include any questions in your query – rhetorical or otherwise. You should discuss the book in a way which is compelling. Begin with an attention-grabbing hook that would make someone want to read your book. 

  1. Not Researching Your Agent

There are thousands of agents out there. Be sure to do your research and find the right fit for you and your project. Tailor your pitch to include exactly what they are asking for. Every agent has a website, and every website provides these specific details. In your query, explain why this specific agent is a good fit for this specific book. Consider comparing your book to a similar book this agent has sold. There is a misconception that says debut writers will have a more difficult time getting a book deal than established writers. The truth is that agents love debut writers because everyone wants to discover the next big bestseller. 

Finding an agent to represent your book is one of the most difficult steps of the publishing process. Once you have a literary agent, the agent will arrange everything: the cover design, selling the book to retail stores, the movie deal – everything. Literary agents read hundreds of proposals a day and a careless mistake could easily be an automatic disqualification. If you avoid these critical mistakes in your query, you will automatically increase your chances of being noticed. 

Jacqui Donaldson is an American writer. Her work has been published in The Vehicle, Loud Coffee Press, Across the Margin and others. Connect with Jacqui on Instagram and Twitter @Jacquiverse.

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