What Does It Take

What does it take to get a publisher to say yes to a book idea? There are many different possible answers to this question. If you are searching for a single “right” answer then you will  be frustrated. Like many aspects of the publishing world, it’s a balance between techniques and art. I’ve got some of these answers in Book Proposals That Sell. I’ll be the first to admit there is always more to learn in this area.

Last week I learned about an hour-long telephone interview with Susan Harrow, one of publishing’s top consultants and Arielle Ford. While this link has a lengthy sales page. I’m recommending you download the free MP3 file and the several page handout document. I listened to this hour long conversation this weekend and I learned a number of publishing idea.

When you listen to it, pick up on what they say about the five seconds you have to capture an editor’s attention. Now five seconds might seem incredible and cruel—almost like you don’t have any chance. From meeting with writers for years and reviewing their manuscripts, I can tell in about that time if it’s something that interests me or not.

Remember editors have volumes of material headed in their direction from individuals and literary agents. While I try hard to give the writer the benefit of the doubt and read more, each of us have limited time. When the meetings are in person, I can usually tell in a few minutes whether the project captures my attention or not. What does this mean for you when you are pitching? It means you have to hone that first page of your proposal (as well as the rest of it) plus in person you have to have “presence” (another aspect on this interview). The editor is actually looking for a reason to say “no” or reject the project. After all, you only want to carefully read the projects which pass this rejection hurdle. I can think of several manuscripts which came in last week—49,000 word length (no—too short since I only want manuscripts between 80,000 and 100,000) or fantasy or young adult or biblical fiction—reject). See how it works? Certainly these writers were pitching—and I admire and appreciate the effort to do that pitch. But they were pitching to the wrong place and the wrong publisher. 

It’s only a small picture of what it takes to get a “yes” to your pitch. Download this resource and add it to your knowledge about book publishing.

3 Responses to “What Does It Take”

  1. Mary J. Yerkes Says:


    I am curious about your statement, “…in person you have to have “presence”” What do you mean by “presence?” Take us through your thought process in determining whether a writer has “presence.”


  2. Gina Holmes Says:

    Thanks Terry. Another great resource and excellent advice.

  3. Terry Whalin Says:

    Mary, If you listen to the interview you will understand the term “presence.” As an author from the company, you will be dealing with the publisher often and on all sorts of levels–and representing that publisher (book signings and conventions with your book). The way you come across is going to be key to that editor or that publishing executive. Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

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