6 professional tips for authors meeting publishers

It’s not all that often that would-be authors get to meet publishers to pitch their work, but it happens.

Mostly, literary agents will take charge of sending your work out to publishers. Assuming there’s interest in your work, publishers will come back with offers and then, when you do meet publishers face-to-face, they are pitching to you much more than you to them.

But that’s not the only way it can happen. A client of ours was, in 2011, in New York having had three meetings with major New York based publishers. He had a UK deal from a wonderful London-based publisher. Also, one in Germany. In the US, though, publishers wanted to meet him before committing to an offer.

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They wanted that meeting not because of any real reservations they had about the manuscript. If they hadn’t liked the material, they wouldn’t have asked for the meeting. They just wanted to see the author himself. See if he could present himself well to the media. See if his vision for the book was the same as theirs. See also if they liked him. After all, your working relationship with a publisher will certainly last a year and perhaps considerably more, so you might as well like the person you’re to be working with.

So if something like this happens to you, it’s as well to be prepared.

The rules to follow are:

  1. Be nice. That’s the first commandment of publishing. The book deal you’re involved in is unlikely to involve vast sums of money, either for you or your literary agent or your publisher. So be nice. It makes a difference.
  2. Be professional. Know the things you ought to know. What’s the word count of your manuscript? If it isn’t yet complete, when will you be able to deliver it? Who are the major authors in your genre? What competing titles are scheduled for release soon? Have these things at your fingertips.
  3. Scrub up. Contrary to widespread belief, publishers aren’t just chasing books by the young and beautiful. They want good books and they don’t much care who writes them. All the same, comb your hair, dress half-decently, just take a little smidge of care.
  4. Ask questions. It’s fine to ask questions of your potential publisher. When would they schedule release? What format would they release it in? And at what price? When does the e-book come out and at what price? How would they think about marketing it? What kind of cover design do they have in mind? (They won’t have a cover design planned, but they’ll be able to tell you – ideally show you – the approximate kind of cover they’ll be considering.) What success have they had with similar books in this area? It’s fine to ask about numbers. How many hardbacks, how many paperbacks, how many ebooks? You learn a lot from these questions, and you make it clear that you are a professional and will work professionally with your team.
  5. Take guidance from your literary agent. Your agent will already know these publishers and quite likely the exact people sitting round the table from you. If your agent steers you in or away from a particular direction, then take that guidance. That’s true anyway, but it’s extra true if you’re in a geographical market not your own: a US author pitching to a London publisher, a UK author pitching to a New York publisher. In the first instance, you will almost certainly have a UK literary agent sitting beside you, a US agent next to you in the second case. Those people are there to help you. Accept their help with gratitude.
  6. Don’t forget digital. Take a one page sheet setting out what you’ve done already (in terms of blog, website, etc.) and explaining what further things you intend to do. Those things won’t swing a deal all on their own, but they do make a difference, and ask what their own plans are.

And remember, you can go into those meetings with good heart. You’ve been invited because someone loves your manuscript and just needs a little help to make it all the way to a formal offer. You haven’t quite closed the deal yet, but you’re inches away.

Now go and close it. Good luck.

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