Pitching a Book? Three Considerations

I was lucky -- my publisher sought me out through a recommendation to discuss writing my first book. However, it got a really tough after that -- I still had to convince the publishing board to take a risk on my idea. I was rejected twice before I finally got it right, and the result, The Improvisation Edge: Secrets to Building Trust and Radical Collaboration at Work was an Amazon #1 bestseller in category.

People ask me how I came up with my book ideas, or how I convinced the publisher to work with me. Both require that you ask yourself a lot of tough questions. Those critical questions are applied to any new product, workshop or book that I'm thinking about creating.

Many of us, in business and community life, have considered writing a book. There are so many choices now between self-publishing and commercial publishing, it can be daunting to figure out how to "get your book out there." The rigor publishers apply to assessing book submissions is intense, and I think it's good for us as authors. We have to look at our work critically, and try to see it from a business standpoint. So what do publishers need to know? You can find some submission guidelines on publishing websites or email the organizations for guidelines. Here are a few high-level ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Who would want to read your book? This is your target market. Just as with news and websites, books are being targeted to more and more specific audiences. You need to know your target reader inside and out! Why would this appeal to them? What would induce them to pick it up off a shelf, or order it online? And here's the kicker -- what need are you fulfilling for them? Are you solving a problem? Are your answering a question? Clearly articulate what your book does for the target audience.
  • Who's your competition? This is where you really need to be honest with yourself. And believe me, there's always another book a lot like yours out there -- the key is to differentiate. For example, my next book is on presentation skills. That's a crowded topic in the book world. I had to position my book very specifically to make it stand out. We chose to go against all the presentation books that tell you to follow their rules to improve. My book's title is Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes and Win Them Over. The idea is that a quirky, but authentic you is a far better presenter than a perfect, polished fake. That differentiation worked, and the publishing board again decided to take a plunge with me -- the book comes out in May 2014. Here's a quick video on how the idea for my new book developed.
  • How will you market the book? Those romantic movies of the introverted, brilliant writer who never interacts with people are the exception, not the norm. A few, blockbuster writers get to live that life. All the rest of us have to prove that we have networks, blogs, extensive email lists, friends, family and colleagues that will buy our book. It's important to show the publisher your ideas for promoting the book. For example, I throw launch day parties for my books and draw in a lot of people by donating all the proceeds to charity. I also engage my community early on. We do a survey for the title and cover of each book -- I wish I could take credit for the rubber chicken cover of my upcoming book, but I can't. My community chose that cover. That helps people get excited to buy the book even before it's printed.
  • And think about it -- this rigor is not just for approaching publishers. It's for examining your work with a clear eye and making it better, no matter how you produce the book. Now get out there and good luck!

    - Karen Hough, CEO of ImprovEdge, Amazon bestselling author, winner of the Stevie International Award for Most Innovative Business of the Year in 2012. Look for her upcoming book "Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes and Win Them Over."