25 Tips on How to Impress a Book Publisher

Today’s post is by Cheryl Tardif, publisher at Imajin Books—a newer, innovative hybrid publishing company based in Canada. She is also known as Cheryl Kaye Tardif, an award-winning, international best-selling author and my publisher (of Innocent Little Crimes) to boot!

Thank you, Susanne. I am thrilled to be a guest on your blog. Today I’ll be posting with my “publisher hat” on, and I’ll share with your readers 25 tips that will help you impress publishers and distinguish you and your work from the slush piles. 

      1. Understand that publishers are very busy people. We are juggling multiple authors and manuscripts, as well as promotions, events, and marketing. We have little time to spare, especially when swamped with hundreds of manuscripts, many of them sent when a publisher is closed for submissions. Showing a publisher that you understand they are busy and submitting during their open submissions time shows you respect their time.
      2. Learn everything you can about the publishing company. Learn about the publisher, their authors, and the works they’ve published to ensure that you’d be a good fit. Connect with them on social networks. Share their posts and tweets. Buy some of their titles, especially in the genre in which you write.
      3. Read and follow their submission guidelines. Most publishers post their guidelines on their websites. Read them carefully, and pay special attention to whether or not they have a specific time frame for submissions. Follow their guidelines! Give them exactly what they want. Be prepared to answer questions, especially regarding past sales.
      4. Hook the publisher in the first sentence of your query. Just like a well-written book, your query should hook them in the first sentence. Read your first sentence, and ask yourself: “Would this make me want to know more if I were a publisher?” Ensure that you follow the Four Firsts for your manuscript.Don’t know what I’m talking about? Learn about the Four Firsts here.
      5. Let your personality shine as a positive person. Don’t be afraid to show publishers who you are. Just be sure it’s someone publishers will like. Be humble, appreciative, and a team player. Don’t act like you know it all. You don’t.
      6. Be open to learning. With the ever-changing landscape of publishing, successful authors must always be open to change—and to experimenting when new things come along. Show a willingness to learn and to evolve with the industry.
      7. Be everywhere online! Recognize the importance of a website, blog, and social networks, and use them frequently. Even if you’re not yet published, you should have a website, a blog, and Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to your writing. Publishers will look for these.
      8. Have an impressive platform in the SAME genre as the one you’re pitching. If you’ve been writing nonfiction and have a huge following there but are pitching a work of fiction, understand that the audience isn’t the same—unless there is a common theme. Example: Nonfiction books on dealing with autistic children have a specific audience of people looking for help with dealing with autistic children. A novel featuring an autistic child as the main character would then appeal to this audience.
      9. Don’t rave about how awesome your book is and how it’s going to sell thousands of copies in the first week. Be humble and stick to the facts.
      10. Show you understand your audience and that you know who your target audience is. Don’t pitch a book with a ten-year-old main character as a novel for adults. And don’t pitch an unpublished book as “for anyone, any age.” There are few titles that fit that description, but this is established by sales and time.
      11. Don’t send the book until the publisher asks for it. Unless the publisher’s guidelines tell you to send it with the query, wait for them to ask for it.
      12. Ensure your book is as error free as possible. Run a spell-check and grammar-check before sending it. And have at least one other person edit the entire work, preferably someone with actual editing skills who understands CMOS rules.
      13. Know what CMOS is and understand the rules. Have a hard-cover edition on hand or sign up for the online edition. Show your knowledge of CMOS style rules in your manuscript. CMOS is the writer’s Bible.
      14. Do not e-mail the publisher to ask if he/she has read your book yet. If the guidelines do not stress a time limit, ask for one when the publisher requests your manuscript.
      15. Impress them with your publishing credits. If you have published other works in the same genre or type (fiction or nonfiction) as the book you want to submit, let the publisher know, and point them to your Amazon profile page.
      16. Make sure you have an Amazon profile page if you have published works available on Amazon. If you have no profile page, you’ll look like someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.
      17. If you have won a prestigious award, mention it briefly. Ensure you know the difference between a “prestigious” award and one that means very little.
      18. If you have published other works in the same genre, briefly summarize what you have done to promote them. Impress publishers with your marketing abilities and creativity.
      19. Reviews are vital! Make sure you have a substantial amount of reviews on your published works, especially those in the same genre as the book your are hoping to submit. Don’t query a publisher or agent until you have 10+ reviews on the majority of your works, and an average rating of 3.5 or above stars.
      20. Don’t pitch a publisher your manuscript while also pitching your services as a book cover designer, editor, marketing coach, formatter, etc. Query separately. Be professional.
      21. Be editable. Your book isn’t perfect. Even if you’ve had it edited by someone else, the publisher will need to know that you’re open to being edited.
      22. Don’t ask if you can supply the cover, cover description, or images for the cover. Publishers have their own creative designers.
      23. Understand you have competition. Know who your competitors are and who has written works comparable to yours. Watch how they promote their works on social networks. Learn from those who are selling.
      24. Make the publisher curious enough to want to ask you questions. Don’t tell them everything in your first e-mail.What you want is for the publisher to engage in conversation with you. You want to give them everything they ask for and hint at anything outside of that. For example, if a publisher doesn’t ask for sales data in their guidelines, you could mention you made a best-sellers list for two weeks in a row. Let them ask for more information. When they do, give them everything you can, including where the best-sellers list was published, what ranking you got, and total sales to date for that title.
      25. Express gratitude. Be thankful for the publisher’s time and for any feedback or advice they give you. They don’t have to give you any feedback­—or their time.

Cheryl Tardif headshotCheryl Tardif is the publisher at Imajin Books, a hybrid publishing company based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is also known as Cheryl Kaye Tardif, an award-winning, international bestselling author represented by Trident Media Group in New York. She is best known for Children of the Fog, Submerged, and Whale Song. Booklist raves: “Tardif, already a big hit in Canada . . . a name to reckon with south of the border.” Check out Cheryl’s website and Imajin Books website, and connect with her on Twitter (Cheryl and Imajin Books) and Facebook (Cheryl and Imajin Books).

Headshot Photo credit: Jessy Marie, Ai Love Photography

Feature Photo Credit: bubbo.etsy.com via Compfight cc

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  1. Thanks for such a informative post. It’s so important to know what to look for. The only problem that I noticed is there are 2 #1’s and it only goes up to 24. I would be interested to know what to put in the query if I have no publishing credits yet. I actually have been published in an anthology, but it isn’t on Amazon, it’s on Smashwords. It is a holiday anthology from last year and I have a very short story in it. There are no reviews for individual stories at all. I am thinking of uploading it to Amazon, (I have all rights), but I haven’t yet. Do you work with unpublished authors?

    1. If you have no publishing credits, you’d put exactly that. However, you DO have at least one publishing credit–your anthology. It was published and distributed to the public via Smashwords.

      We work with unpublished authors every year. We do, however, look for certain things in our authors. (Hint: Re-read this article. 😉

  2. Thank you for the very helpful tips. I am in the process of trying to find an agent for my first novel. Would you suggest that it is better to approach publishers directly if I still am hoping to traditionally publish as opposed to self-publishing? Thanks again.

    1. Some publishers welcome authors to contact them, and the best way to connect directly with an acquisitions editor for a publishing house is at a conference. Many publishers, though, require an agent’s representation, so you would need to do your research and see what a particular publishing house requires. Usually it will be stated on their website. Personally, all my traditionally published novels (nine) were all contracted by me via meeting editors at conferences. This is the case with most authors I know–it’s the best way to get a contract.

  3. Thank you for the comments. 🙂

    Rebecca, we have worked with debut novelists in the past and might do so again. Every year we consider what we’re looking for in an author, and for 2015 we’ll be looking for authors who already have at least 1 published work, whether it’s self-published or published by another company. As with all publishers, you will want to check submission guidelines for the companies you are interested in. But in general, it is to your advantage to have something published.

    Andrea, I would definitely suggest you approach publishers directly. Agents rarely represent a writer who hasn’t published something. So you have a better chance with your first book if you pitch it to publishers. Just be sure to do your “homework.” Read their submission guidelines, follow them, and make sure they publish what you write. At Imajin Books, agents are not mandatory to get published with us. In fact, most of our authors are unagented, even the ones with multiple titles published. 🙂

  4. Thanks very much for sharing this information … the best advice comes from someone “in the know”! As I found out when approaching a publisher with my first book idea, it’s vitally important to give them what they want and how they want it. Check the Writer’s Market books and the publisher’s website for writing and/or submission guidelines and read some of the publisher’s other titles. Your title should complement – not compete with – what they have already published.

    It also helps to define your intended audience and explain why they would read your book. Is this a growing group of people? If so, all the better! I was initially surprised at being asked to also identify potentially competing titles (and prices) to my own proposed work, but doing so makes sense. Don’t expect an overnight answer from your desired publisher – be patient. And don’t just sit idly while you’re waiting for that reply. Start or continue writing your book now. Although the publisher hasn’t said “yes” yet, they haven’t said “no” either!

  5. I’m glad you mentioned something about online presence. I’ve recently found out the benefits of being active online. Most searching is done there nowadays. I’m still trying to find a publisher. I’ll make sure they are active online as well.

  6. Thank you so much for the tips that you have shared with us. I have been meeting a lot of publishers but am unable to impress them to publish it but it’s not happening. Will try these tips and let you know on if something helped or not.

  7. Thank you for the very helpful tips. They have the expertise and industry connections necessary to navigate the competitive world of publishing and ensure that your book reaches its intended audience.

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