How to pitch, publish and push your writing career

Everyone dreams of being an author. The pandemic has inspired many to start on these long-dormant passion projects. Or maybe just toy around with the idea but not, you know, take any tangible action in getting the proverbial pen to paper.

First, the good news: “If you want to write a book related to your career, this is a clear sign that you are ready to acknowledge your growth and achievement in life,” said J. L. Stermer, a literary agent who teaches “How to Get Published” at Gotham Writers Workshop, and is also president of Next Level Lit. “It means you have overcome challenges and found solutions that you are ready to share to help others on similar journeys. Your book establishes you as an expert in your field and can magnetize you to find new clients.”
It takes a lot of toil, but penning your own tome can help you get on panels, invited to podcasts and land speaking engagements.

Ahead, expert tips to go from a blank Google Doc to signing the title page.

Ace the pitch

Think of it as a business proposal for your book, said Stermer.

“This document highlights the information a publisher wants to know about your project before offering you a book deal,” she said. “Explain who you are, what your book is about, why you are the best person to write it and why you think this book needs to be on the market right now,” she said.

You should also think about comparative titles and how your book will add to the conversation.

Keep all of this info succinct. “Only highlight your most important achievements,” advised Kelly Lydick, an author at Pure Carbon Publishing, a book publishing veteran with 17 years in the industry. If you have national awards or features, lead with those, she said.

The best pitches reveal how your book will address a problem. “Identify your audience, highlight a specific problem they are experiencing and offer your solution,” said Stermer.

Cultivate your platform

While you’re drumming up your pitch, invest in growing your audience. “The best way to get the attention of a publisher is to have a platform,” said Stermer. “Do you publish articles related to your book topic? Are you on social media where people are seeking your advice? Are you on podcasts talking about your category?”

In short, “build a platform that causes agents to come to you,” said Jonathan Bailor, CEO of SANE Solution, who self-published a book that went on to become a New York Times bestseller. “Those agents then get you a publisher. Think of it as a musical artist. Until you are successful ‘on your own,’ a major label won’t be willing to invest in magnifying your success.”

If you don’t want to go the self-publishing route, you will need a literary agent. “Most publishers do not accept unsolicited pitches from authors,” said Stermer. “If you prefer to work with an independent publisher, do research to see who accepts submissions [without agents],” Stermer recommended this great resource for indie publishers and checking out this list of business book publishers.

While self-publishing has become more popular recently, it’s not for everyone. Lydick said it can be a viable option for an author with an existing platform who wants to maintain IP rights, but can be a heavy financial burden to shoulder.

Putting pen to paper can be the hardest part of any project.
Putting pen to paper can be the hardest part of any project.
Alamy Stock Photo

Get writing

We hate to break it to you, but if you want to be a published author, you’ve got to carve out time to write. Every. Single. Day. With that in mind, here are some best practices.

Make a schedule. “Be realistic about what time of the day you are most focused and get it on your calendar, starting with smaller increments of time at first, then adding as you get into the groove,” offered Stermer, who suggests setting a timer, so you are not watching the clock.

Write regularly. “Letting too much time elapse in between writing sessions can slow your flow. If you can sit down to write each day, you’ll begin to see your word count build and that is proof that you are doing it,” said Stermer.

Once you’ve accomplished a solid chunk of writing, put it away for a bit. “Powering through cover-to-cover may work for some, but most people need perspective” said Lydick.

Find your writing community. “Those who are a part of writer’s groups tend to thrive. Fellow authors will be working through similar challenges. They will understand the importance of celebrating small wins along the way,” said Stermer. “They will read your work and give you helpful feedback. Writing a book is a solo endeavor so having a place to feel supported goes a long way.”

Gotham Writers’ free events or Zoom courses, or e-mailing a few writerly friends, may be a good place to start.

Work with a great editor. “Editors will always see the manuscript from a more objective viewpoint, which helps to ensure the manuscript flows well, is readable, and stays on track with your subject and organization,” said Lydick. “It’s imperative to hire an editor, either to help with development and organization of the book at the earlier stages, or with copy editing before the manuscript is sent off to a publisher or agent.”

A note about fiction books

Want to land a fiction book deal? It’s a balancing act, said Stermer.

“Stay true to your creativity by writing stories that really excite you because that kind of passion will grab a reader and not let go. Publishers are always looking for an original voice, a peek into a secret world, a twisty plot that keeps people guessing,” said Stermer. “Authors should also know what is selling in their genre. Publishing is a money-making business and editors would rather not stray too far from what sells, so if you can offer a story that is in the same vein as what is currently on best seller lists, but with a fresh twist, the chances of getting a book deal go up.”

Lastly, Stermer urges aspiring writers not to give up. “Keep honing and stay open to constructive criticism. Sometimes a book doesn’t sell because the time was not right. Just put it aside and start working on the next idea.”

And take comfort in this: “Book sales have been up the last two years,” said Lydick (although they have recently dipped). “The pandemic reminded us not just that connection between people is a key cornerstone to life, but that even when people are apart, they can be connected through books.”