“Pitch What’s True” and “Get Your Soul in the Game”...What I Know from 10,000 Book Proposals

Updated: Oct 15




This article is part of a series that adapts and excerpts my entire book, Pitch What’s True: A Publisher’s Tools for Navigating Your Best Path to a Published Nonfiction Book* (Everything Goes Media, 2019). Find an index to the series here.


"Skin in the game is robust, soul in the game is antifragile."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder


10,000

In the twenty-seven years I’ve been publishing books, while running my own publishing companies and publishing consultancy, that’s how many queries [1], pitches [2], proposals, manuscripts, and submissions I estimate I’ve heard, read, skimmed, reviewed, or evaluated. Ten thousand pitches do not equal the 10,000 hours to mastery of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory [3] (from Outliers: The Story of Success), but I’m going to say it’s close.

The material that follows in this series was created and refined over the last twenty-something years. It has been presented in workshops to thousands of writers and authors-to-be.

But it’s not simply the accumulated knowledge of an expert. The Book, The Author, and Sales & Marketing checklists contained in this book [I will link to these as soon as they are posted!] are the actual assessment tools that my editorial team and I have used in-house when evaluating possible projects.

Nor is this book simply a peek inside the mind of a publisher.

My contribution is just the savvy and solid foundation from which you will be launching your nonfiction book project. Through the workbook component of Pitch What’s True, you will be bringing forth the real value of your nonfiction content and creating a winning proposal to put in front of publishers. You will be consciously considering the best of you and your book, what you truly have to offer, what the world actually needs, and real ways for your book to reap economic and additional benefits for yourself and others. In doing the work within — sincerely, creatively, and thoughtfully — you will emerge with a well-crafted, well-considered proposition. The right publisher will want to be your partner in bringing your book to the world. [4]

Start on the Road to Publishing with Proper Smarts . . .

Over the last several years, I’ve seen umpteen lines in print about how authors and writers in our digital age are making less money than ever. Reporters quoting writers declare it, “barely a sustenance-level living!” One high-profile author and spokesperson even pronounced writers “endangered.” Others have, in all somber seriousness, noted that writing what others need, want, and/or are willing to pay for is one way writers may be able to make a living at their craft.

If you’re writing high-quality, useful, provocative, inspiring, educational, fill-in-your-own-estimable-adjective nonfiction that meets needs or wants, then don’t entangle yourself in those worries and debates. You have something to offer the marketplace and something to contribute to the world. This book exists to put you on the path to be remunerated for that.

Consider: people are still hungry for knowledge and entertainment, and most people are too Google-brained to communicate effectively through the written word. You know what I’m talking about. Maybe the world is becoming less dependent on the written word. That’s a big maybe. Nonetheless, it is certain that good writing, which never came easily to most people, is becoming harder than ever, even for those whom it used to be easy. If you can write well, that’s sufficiently rare and that alone makes it valuable.

Beyond financial reward, I hope this book expands your picture of what publishing your book and becoming an author can be and what that can mean for your life. Writing a book good enough for a publisher to agree to invest their limited time, money, and energy on can open up a world of new possibilities for you…both if you let that happen (i.e., no self-sabotage) and if you help make that happen.

In publishing dozens of authors and in assisting an even greater number of consulting clients, I have seen countless times over the last two decades how an author can accrue a whole package of personal benefits when he or she approaches the entire publishing process seriously, realistically, and holistically. Start smart. Do it right from the beginning — before you get the contract [5] — and keep going on that route once you do. My Savvy Author Checklist focusing on The Book, The Author, and Sales & Marketing, followed by the Proposal Summary, Cheat Sheet for Finding the Right Publisher for Your Nonfiction Book, and Master Checklist of the Benefits of Being an Author are short (enough) and simple (in their way), but well-honed and full of hard-earned knowledge. Please use these tools, my experience, and my insights to make your publishing journey as easy, delightful, and fruitful as possible.

To that end, I’ve added exercises to this material [6] to make it a workbook, to force your hand a little further and increase the odds that you’ll dig deep, cover your bases, and do the best job possible on your nonfiction book proposal.

. . . Then Add Flair

Following the advice in this document is no guarantee that you will find an ideal publisher for your book and secure the publishing contract and experiences of your dreams. But I do guarantee that the information that follows will give you a very strong start for navigating in the world of traditional publishing [7] to the best of your ability. Let’s face it. Not only has publishing always been a bit of a private club, seemingly mysterious and closed to outsiders — and even elitist and labyrinthine — it lately has been in perpetual disruption mode to boot.

Once you grasp the material spelled out in this workbook and how it applies to your project, proceed with confidence in preparing your queries and proposals. Feel free to then add your personal style to the mix. Approach it methodically. Persevere, revise, and polish as you go. It’s your best shot.

If you do not find the right publisher for you in a reasonable amount of time (as determined by you), you will have a solid grounding in the business and a perspective from which you can evaluate your remaining options (for example, self-publishing [8] or hybrid publishing [9]) and move on.

At a minimum, add flair. Soul is better.



[1] By queries I mean both inquiries in general as well as that keystone of the publishing process, the query letter — a one-page missive (two pages only if you simply can’t help it) to an agent or publisher outlining your book project and inquiring after the reader’s potential interest in it.

[2] Pitch here is even more generic; it’s any and all manner of proposal lobbed at someone in publishing with decision-making clout.

[3] The theory has since been debunked anyway.

[4] I hope that upon finishing this series of articles, many of you will realize that in light of today’s publishing landscape and its opportunities you or you working with a hybrid publisher may be the best publisher for your work.

[5] Really, this should be: before you write a word. Getting the publishing process off on the right foot means getting the writing started with the end result in mind.

[6] Much of this book’s contents began as a handout that accompanied a “How to Pitch Yourself As (and Really Be) a Savvy Nonfiction Author” program I gave for years. It later appeared as the ebook 10,000 Pitches: Savvy Nonfiction Book Proposals: A Publisher Shares Her Checklists, How-To’s, and Fundamental Notions for Approaching Publishers with Your Ideas.

[7] Traditional publishing refers to the type of book publishing traditionally practiced by the established book publishing industry. Publishers offer authors contracts in which they essentially buy or borrow the publishing rights from the author. The publisher then manages the publishing process and accepts responsibility for all publishing costs, paying authors a share of sales revenues as royalties.

[8] Self-publishing is book publishing overseen and financed by the author without the involvement of an established publishing company.

[9] Hybrid publishing refers to all mash-ups of self-publishing and traditional publishing, and it is increasingly becoming the norm for many small and independent publishers. The IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) has published a list of quality and ethics guidelines for hybrid publishers that I highly recommend anyone pursuing a hybrid route understand thoroughly and take to heart before entering into such a business arrangement.

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