You just wrote and sold your book! Congratulations.
Now it’s time to switch gears and think about how you’re going to get your forthcoming book in front of your intended audience. One of the best ways to do this is to pitch directly to editors of magazines and newspapers.
Many writers shy away from self-promotion because it feels complicated. We’re writers, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being marketers. Unfortunately, most presses, especially small presses, no longer have big marketing and publicity teams, and unless your book is a top pick, it’s not going to get the attention it deserves. This means you need to put on your marketing hat and step outside your comfort zone.
Luckily, writing a four-paragraph pitch letter is a cakewalk once you know the formula.
I wrote a stellar pitch letter for my book Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir that resulted in nine companion pieces, 10 reviews, five excerpts, six written interviews, three high-traffic newsletters, and numerous podcasts and radio shows, including NPR. Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Do your research.
Before pitching, find out which publications have content similar to your book and see how it is presented. This means figuring out if you are going to be pitching an excerpt, a companion piece, an interview, a review, or even offering them a book giveaway. Pick one or two options that fit the publication. Don’t see any excerpts? Chances are they aren’t going to publish one of yours. If a publication doesn’t review books, stick with pitching a companion piece around your book’s topic, and include the angle you plan to write about.
Step 2: Make a genuine connection.
Follow the editor on social media, ideally long before you begin pitching. See if they recently changed jobs or received a promotion. Start your pitch letter by congratulating them. Like everybody else, editors enjoy being acknowledged for their work, and it’s helpful when forming a hopefully long-term professional relationship. If there is an essay or article they’ve just published that resonates with you, mention that, too. Keep it brief and be authentic.
Step 3: Dive right in.
Hook the editor from the first line of your pitch and get to the meat of your story immediately. This is your opportunity to give the editor a sense of both your voice and your book. Most editors’ inboxes are a dumpster fire, and some get up to 100 pitches a day. You have about 10 seconds to wow them.
Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir is about how I spent five months on pregnancy-related bedrest due to unusually large fibroids. The first lines for my pitch are:
At four months pregnant I was walking around New York City with my new husband, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my lower belly. An emergency sonogram showed that I had fibroids growing in my uterus, right alongside the baby. One of them was pressing directly on my cervix, causing early effacement. The prognosis: Go to bed, and don’t get up—at least not until the baby starts to crown. I spent the next five months on strict bed rest.
I immediately catch the editor’s attention by creating a sense of danger and setting the stakes high. Will I be rushed to the hospital? Will my baby survive? What will the final outcome be?
This paragraph should be no more than three lines and tailored as needed to the focus of each publication.
Step 4: Craft your synopsis.
This is your elevator pitch and can be pulled directly from the press release your publisher has created or your book’s jacket copy. Don’t forget to include the name of your press and the pub date. Again, this should be about three to four lines.
My forthcoming book, Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir (March 1, 2022; University of Nebraska Press) is a humorous story about a free-spirited, commitment-phobic Brooklyn girl who, after a whirlwind romance, finds herself living in a rickety farmhouse, pregnant, and faced with five months of doctor-prescribed bed rest because of unusually large fibroids. As the farmhouse collapses around her and her marriage does the same, she confronts her grief for her father while fighting for the survival of her unborn baby. In her precarious condition, will she stay or will she run away from it all?
Step 5: Write a standout bio.
This is where you get to brag about all your accomplishments. Don’t be shy. Include three to four publications where your work has been featured and any other relevant accolades such as awards, previously published books, or appearances. Keep this to four lines max and add hyperlinks for ease, including one for your website.
Step 6: Close your pitch letter.
Clearly state the purpose of the pitch and how you hope to collaborate. If possible, offer to send an advanced reader copy of your book.
If you think Knocked Down is a good fit for [insert name of publication], I’d be happy to send you an ARC for review and perhaps we can set up an interview. I’d also be happy to provide an excerpt for publication.
Sign off by stating that you hope to have an opportunity to work together or that you are open to collaborative ideas. You would be surprised how often editors suggest other options you may not have thought about.
Step 7: Write a show-stopping subject line.
This is the last step because it’s important to craft and hone your pitch letter first, so you know exactly what type of content you are offering. Include the title of your book along with key information relevant to the publication. If you are a local author pitching a local publication, include that in your subject line. If the editor has been referred to you by a mutual, include “referred by.”
Step 8: Compile your editor “pitch list.”
You can often find editor email addresses on mastheads or in Twitter bios. Reach out to the editors you already have a relationship with first. Next, approach editors whom you’ve connected with on social media. Finally, cold pitch.
Bonus tip: When pitching your book to bookstores and libraries, you can use the bones of your editor pitch letter and tweak as needed.
Remember, no one cares about your book more than you do. By researching publications and honing your pitch letter, you are giving both you and your book the opportunity to find a larger audience.