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How to Get a Publisher: Should I Pitch Them Directly or Get a Literary Agent?

98% of the time, my answer to the question of how to get a publisher used to be “Get a literary agent first.” Literary agents bring so much to the table—from their ability to garner several offers at a time, to their understanding of which acquisitions editor might be a perfect match for your book to their ability to negotiate a book deal.

dream therapy ptsdIn fact, I would still say, if you think you can interest a literary agent, that is still generally my recommendation if you want to traditionally publish. And, most of the time, to get a literary agent and get a publisher—in particular, a large trade publisher—one ingredient you need is a significant author platform (or online and/or offline following).  However, the smaller and mid-size presses may not require quite as huge a platform—and could be a good fit for your book. The issue is that since smaller and mid-size publishers are giving smaller advances than they used to—small enough that it may not be efficient use of an agent’s time to try to sell a book that they know will likely go to a smaller or mid-size publisher—you’ll need to approach these publishers yourself (or work with a book coach who has connections to smaller and mid-sized publishers).

Here are some reasons to directly query smaller and mid-sized #book publishers: Click To Tweet

1. The publisher specializes in your audience and has very specific ways to help you reach that audience, whether through speaking gigs, a targeted mailing list, publications or other avenues.

2. You want to do some targeted marketing and promotion for your book but you’re not interested in doing the type of campaign that would be expected by a larger publisher.

3. Your book appeals to a smaller, niche market, such as an academic market or a specific niche such as people with a specific medical condition.

4. You don’t have a big enough reach to interest a larger publisher and you don’t want to do lots of up-front work growing your following before sending out queries.

5. The smaller publisher shares your vision for your book, while an agent or larger publisher wants you to go for the largest audience possible, requiring adjustments to the book concept that don’t resonate with you. This may be especially true if the book is already written and you feel ready to publish.

Here are a few examples of client books recently published by smaller, niche publishers:

book cover ocd
Leslie Shapiro is a Harvard Medical School CME Leadership and Publishing course graduate and her book, Understanding OCD came out this March.

Understanding OCD by Leslie Shapiro: A specific niche, a book that can appeal to both practictioners and patients; an author who defintely did not want to do things like national TV but was certainly willing to do modest publicity like interviews for print media and speaking at conferences. Published by Praeger / ABC-CLIO. When I first queried the Acquisitions Editor, Debbie Carvalko, Debbie immediately e-mailed back, “I’m looking for a book on OCD and have saved a slot for 2015 or 2016,” and she encouraged us to send the proposal right away.

Dream Therapy for PTSD by Bruce Dow, MD received some interest—and feedback—from literary agents, but all agreed that to appeal to a larger publisher, the author would need to add chapters to deal with additional types of trauma that the author had not dealt with, such as working with children. This was not a fit at all for the author and his interests. The book was written and very engaging. He wanted an avenue to get it out there. The acquisitions editor at Praeger/ ABC-CLIO, again Debbie Praeger, loved the extensive case studies and felt no need to broaden the examples (which were soldiers, policemen, policewomen and a few civilians) for their audience.

And authors who recently signed with smaller publishers:

Vicki Tidwell Palmer recently signed with Central Recovery Press, a publisher I have recently gotten to know. Hers is a niche audience and CRP  is uniquely positioned to help Vicki reach her target audience in the addiction treatment and recovery community, including behavioral healthcare professionals, as well as friends and families of people experiencing the type of addiction addressed in her book. Given their special focus, CRP will also be an asset in bringing Vicki’s book to the library market, having invested focused resources in reaching librarians with a special interest in her topic.

As Eliza Tutellier of CRP says, “The advantages of going with a smaller press, especially for a first-time author, can be numerous. Your book is more likely to chosen as a lead title during its season, securing more of the press’ promotional resources and sheer human attention. Marketing will be more focused on your target readership, reaching niche channels and communities some of the bigger presses may not even know about. Finally, you’ll be dealing with a smaller, potentially more agile team: sales and marketing staff are likely to sit one desk over from your editors rather than in a different part of the building, so decisions on promotional opportunities, book design, and even editorial consideration can be made more quickly and efficiently.”

real fit kitchenTara Mardigan and Kate Weiler signed with Fair Winds Press after being contacted by the publisher and realizing it was a good fit in terms of vision and specific niche market. Their book, Real Fit Kitchen: Fuel Your Body, Improve Energy, and Increase Strength with Every Meal comes out September 1, 2015 and is currently available for preorder on Amazon.

Other mid-sized presses, independent presses and University publishers (another niche!) that clients have recently signed with or published with include Yale University Press, Johns Hopkins Unversity Press, New World Library, New Harbinger and AMACOM (the publishing arm of the American Management Association).

Do your research and you can come up with a list of your own. Make sure the publishers accept queries and proposals without an agent (most do) and check their guidelines to include exactly what they ask for.

Note: This writer cares about typos. If you find one, click here to be part of the EditMob – it’s anonymous.

 

 

 

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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