10 Tips for Pitching Your Writing

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Literary agents and publishers reject more manuscripts today than ever before—well more than 90%.

Though they want your submissions—they really do—and are sincerely hoping they’ll discover the next successful writer, the sheer volume of submissions causes many to not even respond unless their answer is Yes.

Check the Submission Guidelines of many agents and publishers and you’ll find they tell you this upfront—some variation of “If you don’t hear from us in due time, assume we’re not interested.”

That sounds as lazy and inconsiderate to me as it does to you. How hard is it in this day of single-keystroke technology to at least let a writer know, “Sorry, we’re passing”?

I tell you all this not to discourage you but to give you a realistic picture of what you face in the marketplace.

And I have advice on how to separate yourself from much of the competition to give yourself the best chance at landing a contract.

Make a great first impression by nailing your presentation. Your query letter or proposal must look like you know what you’re doing. Avoid amateur mistakes and put your best foot forward by applying these techniques:

10 Ways to Enhance Your Queries and Proposals

1. You’ve heard the advertising slogan Just do it. Learn to Just say it. Write as if talking to a  friend or writing a letter. Good writing is not filled with adjectives and adverbs. It consists of powerful nouns and verbs. Read what sells. You’ll usually find it simple and straightforward.

2. Avoid a colored or tinted screen background as your stationery, even if you did that when we all used real paper and snail mail. Editors universally see this as the sign of a rookie. The emphasis should be on your idea, content, and writing—not a fancy look. Black type on a white background is what they’re looking for.

3. Avoid boldfacing or ALL CAPS anywhere in a letter, proposal, or manuscript, and never use more than one font (typeface). Make sure that font is a serif type (not sans serif as this blog is). That means 12 pt. Times New Roman or something very similar.

4. Your manuscript should be aligned Left not Justified—which would make the copy on the right look like a published book. Justified Right causes awkward spacing between words to make it work, and you’re submitting a manuscript to be considered and hopefully edited, not a book ready for the printer yet.

5. While your letter can and should be single spaced, a manuscript, even transmitted electronically, must be double-spaced (not single- or triple-spaced, or even some variation just because it’s your computer program’s default choice). Also, delete extra spaces between sentences. Though you may have been taught to use two, one is what you want, because that’s how sentences appear in print.

6. Set the space between paragraphs to zero, not another default. There should be one doublespace, just like the space between lines.

7. Publishers are looking for positivity, even if your subject is difficult. Title your work Winning Over Depression, not Don’t Let Depression Defeat You.

8.The word by rarely appears on the cover of a book unless it is self-published, and even then it is the sign of an amateur. Your byline should consist of only your name.

9. Another amateur error is misspelling Acknowledgments (as Acknowledgements, a British variation) or Foreword (as Forward or Foreward or Forword). Foreword means “before the text” and has nothing to do with direction.

10. If the publisher asks for a hard copy (rare these days), your manuscript should not be bound, stapled, clipped, or in a three-ring binder. Send the pages stacked, each numbered and bearing your name.

What are you planning to submit next? Tell me in the Comments below.

  • marissa

    I am planning to submit my fantasy novel after I edit it. Once my manuscript is polished, how do I know if my query is ready to be submitted? Should I ask an online writing group for a query critique?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Sure, Marissa. That sounds like a good idea. And if you can find someone qualified to barter with, see if they’ll critique the novel too.

      • marissa

        How many beta readers do you recommend? So far I have only had one person, who is an aspiring writer like me, critique the first chapter of my book.

        • Honors Hammer

          Hi Marissa. I’m an aspiring (unpublished) author myself and I love the fantasy genre (as you can probably tell from my avatar). I’m also working on a manuscript myself. Maybe we could trade critiques of our first chapters. You can email me at HonorsHammer at gmail.

          • marissa

            Definitely

  • Mary Derksen

    Thanks for all the good tips, Jerry. Not a book yet, but I have an article in Our Canada magazine, July, Canada’s l50th commemorative issue. Check it out on Google: Our Canada – Mary Derksen

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Brava, Mary! That’s one of the top markets!

  • A retired American diplomat who spent ten of his 25-years abroad in Islamic countries, I write about Islam. My writings are not complimentary to Islam. I have three books on amazon, and am preparing to finish another this summer.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Have you tried pitching these to traditional publishers, Jim, so you can be paid to be published rather than having to be your own publisher?

      • I have tried, and I’ve given up.

        My writing is Politically Incorrect and controversial as regards Islam which I know very well, too well which has fired Islamists up. They have threatened me because of what I write and say about Islam publically.

        Islamists have bought into publishing houses through front organizations and put surrogates on their boards, the result being that the kind of writing I submit gets shot down in flames.

        Regards,
        Jim

  • Sharon Lawlor

    Submitting final draft of “Why Mary? From a Mother’s Heart, a Fresh Perspective” (non-fiction, evangelism) to Westbow as soon as the cover photo is ready. How do I get Zondervan or Thomas Nelson to notice it?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      By not sending it where you would have to pay to be printed rather than potentially getting paid to be published. You can always do the former if you strike out with the latter, Sharon, but it doesn’t work in reverse order.

  • Glenda

    I will be submitting a proposal for a memoir to an agent, God-willing, by the end of June. Thank you for these timely tips, Jerry. Hiring an editor didn’t spare me from the plethora of mistakes you just mentioned. On to the ferocious self-editing and the (God-willing) Taylor Writer’s Conference! (One of a “double-feature” a God-send, still. Praying for you and yours.)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      All the best with that, Glenda. Keep us posted.

  • Robin Melay Pizzo

    An agent I follow on Twitter has been requesting Essay Collections as apart of his manuscript wish list for several months. This peaked my interest because I have been working on one entitled “Bras and Other Crosses Women Must Bear” for over ten years, here and there. Its a tongue in cheek ode to the frustrations that women and mothers face in everyday life, think Nora Ephron, “I Hate My Neck.” Each year I complete and read a different essay at my college’s Women’s Month Read In. Basically for two reasons, one, it forces a deadline and two, I get great reader feedback for revisions.
    Today, he sent out another request for essay collections. Wanting a push to complete this labor of love, I asked the agent would he be willing to review a proposal on the essay collection manuscript, that is 50% complete and his response was “Definitely”. Ahhhhh, now to research writing the proposals.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That great news, Robin! Keep us posted, and be careful of using “peaked” when you mean “piqued.”

      • Robin Melay Pizzo

        I apologize, working on a hundred page Education grant for 3 days has my brain exhausted!

  • Aria J. Wolfe

    I have been submitting several short stories (to build my portfolio) to genre magazines (2 acceptances so far), so no query or proposal necessary. However, I find it interesting that most magazines are looking for a cover letter and/or a bio with the SS which means something else writers need to think carefully about when submitting. Tons of work! But receiving a ‘yes’ is a wonderful validation. Submitting a query for my young adult MS comes next. How many short stories need to be accepted to build a decent ‘resume’ before I start querying an agent?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Agree providing a social security number must be carefully considered, Aria. I would never do it. Getting a Tax I.D. number is free and easy and makes a usable substitute.

      I would say one more acceptance would be plenty to establish you as the real deal, provided these aren’t “acceptances” disguising opportunities for you to be published if you pay an entry fee or promise to buy copies, etc.

      • Aria J. Wolfe

        Good points, Jerry. Thank you! I haven’t submitted to any magazine that has a ‘reading fee’ or a requirement to purchase something. The real deal is what I’m after.

        Love your guild by the way. I’ve actually found work through it.

  • Robin Melay Pizzo

    Ok, I am providing two responses for accountability purposes. I am also submitting an application packet for a writer’s workshop. To be selected writers must supply two essays, one on liberties that need to be added to the Constitution or greater enforced and the second essay on writers who have influenced me the most. The latter is much easier, but as a previous American History teacher, I’m sure I’ll be fine with the first one too. This packet must include a sample of the manuscript you are most interested in developing and receiving feedback, with a resume and publication bio. Its alot but its worth it because acceptance includes travel, room, meals, and workshop participation one weekend in LA. Deadline is June 24th. Eeeek better get to work.

    Finally, I completed a poetry collection: Disparities-The Child Poverty Crisis. I have submitted it to several contests and will be submitting it to OmniDawn Publications this week also. Due by June 30th. Ok hold me accountable. Now that I’ve written it aloud.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Public accountability is a good idea, Robin! Good luck! And if you use “Its alot…” in your application, it should be “It’s a lot…” :)

  • Robert Murphy

    I was on my “final” draft and found some sections that were weak so I’m doing another draft. I have several opportunities to submit short works and am writing occasional product reviews, but don’t like taking time away from my novel. I hope to find an agent and submit around December.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Robert! Keep us posted.

  • Kelly Eathorne

    What would your advice be to someone who has dyslexia and lack of education. Would you say go for it? even if they have poor grammar but fantastic ideas for amazing stories. Is there a way for them to conquer this? Its easy to speak an amazing story but the downfall with these challenges is having the confidence to do it and sort your bad grammar . And yes, this person is me. I hope this makes sense.

    • Rebecca Wilkinson

      Kelly, I notice that no one has commented on this. As an educator, I want to say to you, “Don’t ever give up!” Yes, you can get there although there will be lots of hard work in the process. Start where you are, take every opportunity for learning more, and never stop asking questions. (The fact that you are reading this blog and posting your questions shows that you are already on this path.) Also, your comment does not show lack of education or exceptionally poor grammar skills. We all have plenty to learn.

      Some more ideas you may want to consider: (1) Most communities have reading specialists who might be able to help you work with your dyslexia. Have you ever read The Gift of Dyslexia? I found it fascinating and encouraging. (2) Take a grammar course to refresh what you know. The Great Courses offer several and you can often get them through the library or on Amazon Marketplace to save money. (3) Join a writers group in your area. You will learn from them. More importantly, you will meet people. Someone in the group might be the perfect contact for you. You might find an editor or mentor who will work with you. (4) Attend a conference. Same reasons as #3.

      Do it. Put the words down. God works through our messy attempts to embrace the beautiful things (stories and language) that He has given us. Like a parent enjoying a young child’s art, He cherishes every smudged, misshapen picture-of-a-poodle-that-could-also-be-a-butterfly. Let His hand guide yours, and enjoy the journey.

      • Kelly Eathorne

        Thank you Rebecca for replying to my comment. I will take on board all the advice you hAve given me and move forward with it. Take care and all the best. Kelly :-)

        • Rebecca Wilkinson

          Thanks for letting me know you saw the message. =) Happy Monday!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      It makes sense, Kelly, and I won’t pretend that it wouldn’t be a challenge. You’d probably have to make use of a friend to help you edit and proofread, because while an agent or a publisher would be just as sympathetic to you as I would, they would want to see as clean the manuscript as possible.

      • Kelly Eathorne

        Thank you for your reply. I’ll take my time with it all and get my novel finished with the help that I need.

  • Sheri Boles

    Hi Jerry. I wrote sort of a “self help” book about substitute teaching. How long to manuscripts need to be for publishers to accept it? When I finally finished it was only about 50 pages.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That depends on your market, Sheri. If you’ve covered the subject and believe it’s helpful, you need to find the best place to market it to educators. It might make a perfect handbook.

      • Sheri Boles

        I’m not really sure about my market. It started out as something funny I was going to put on FB, but it kept getting longer and longer. I tried to make it funny and I called it a “survival guide” to substitute teaching. Some close people have read it and enjoyed it. Would publishers accept a 50 page humorous book? I’m kind of at a stand still with what to do with it. I don’t want to just put it away in a drawer.

  • Natalie

    I am finishing up my book Calling all Zombies, which is a spiritual warfare fiction with human, angel, and demon characters. I present those who are dead in sin as a zombie in the spiritual realm since they have a dead soul. I am going to submit a mini proposal for the Oregon Christian Writers Conference by July 14 for the August conference. I deal with issues of fatherless homes, suicide and self harm. I hope to add a question and answer section in the back for discussion. Would I need to have that section done? Their submission guidelines said to mention in my letter if the manuscript is complete and if not, how far along I am. I’m about 90% done and will be done by the conference. But when I look at other guidelines online they say I’d be shooting myself in the foot to admit I’m not quite done. I asked OCW about that and they have yet to give me an answer. Do I admit that I am almost done or just work like mad to make sure I’m done by August 15?

    • KEM

      Always timely with your shared knowledge. I have decided to set my goals high when it comes to my writing career. What helps me to consider it as a marathon rather than a sprint

      • Natalie

        KEM for the life of me, I can’t figure out what you are saying.

  • Susan Jones

    These are great tips, thanks.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Susan!

  • Jeff Adams

    Instead of thinking your dreams won’t come true, imagine if they did. Too many people quit—one day too soon. “Encouraging Words” is a collection of 52 true stories, each with a Paul Harvey “Rest of the Story” twist.

    I meet with a senior acquisitions editor in less than 19 hours. I’ve contributed to 14 books, five of which were published by that house.

  • Jeff Adams

    Our Father will not love us less and he cannot love us more. But we almost always love our neighbors as ourselves—poorly. We believe the greatest lie ever told—we’re not worthy. We need to believe that our Father loves us lavishly—with no strings attached.

    Based on Luke 15, “Lavish Love: Our Father’s Passion” will be offered on Friday to another editor from another of the top five Christian publishing companies.

    Jerry, apart from what I’ve learned from you and others, I couldn’t expect these editors and others to consider publishing my books.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks for your kind comments, Jeff. Keep us posted.

  • Hi Jerry,
    I am finishing up that Life After High School gen X-er book I stared while in the guild. I am thinking of joining again and/or paying for a manuscript review. It has become quite a saga on my blog since September. I really think it could help many people to read all the life lessons that were shared from my interviews. Thanks for encouraging me.

  • Warren Brooks

    I’ve been receiving your blogs for some months now and each is filled with such sound advice. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I would suggest that you do more for budding writers than you realise!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks so much, Warren. I appreciate your kind comments.

  • Frances Wilson

    I am more than three quarter of the way into A Peek In My Window a nonfiction book on transparency and vulnerability. Often when we share Christ, we seem removed, removed from reality. While we need not reveal all, sharing how God has seen us through various hurts, can pique readers interest, as they see that we can relate.
    I am hoping to copy spiders, in my new website where I will attract readers, and get them hooked in seeking and finding out more about God’s love and care.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I like the come-alongside approach, Frances. What do you mean by “copy spiders”?

      • Frances Wilson

        Thanks for your response, Jerry. Spiders always get what they set out to get: something into their web. Maybe it’s the stickiness that holds the captives. I want my website to effective to the point where readers will want to enter, see, and get something.

  • Nate Stevens

    Good morning, Jerry. I’m submitting my latest book, Deck Time in the Storm, to several agents. “As you experience the swaying deck of your frightening storm, grab your deck pillow and snuggle up so close to Jesus that you hear and feel His heartbeat. There in His intimate
    closeness, rest in His love and rely on His sovereign control. Trust Him with your personal storm.”
    All seem to love the non-fiction work, but without the assurance of a large audience, it has been challenging. Yet another published book would help expand my audience. So, am working through that catch 22. Any suggestions for “hungry” agents would be appreciated as I don’t want to self publish.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good luck with that, Nate. There are a lot of Inspirational market agents listed in The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017: http://amzn.to/2ngJRHB

  • Kristi Lynch Welborn

    I am writing a book on my life of trial and error along with addiction and mental illness.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Keep us posted on how that goes, Kristi.

  • Deb Richmond

    Jerry, this is the advice I needed to see at the moment. If I can stop adding finishing touches, I’m ready to query a book called “The Wandering Place.” It describes the struggles and opportunities of caring for aging parents in the midst of Alzheimer’s. After watching my in-laws travel this road, and observing how each adult child approached the situation differently, I’ve written a story that involves humor and the obvious heartbreak of watching loved ones lose their way, and the struggles of getting older along with them.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s great, Deb. I can tell you that you might find little resistance in the traditional book market – if your book is limited to those caring for aging Alzheimer’s sufferers. I know that’s a fairly decent sized market, but publishers want books that reach as many of the masses as possible. Is there a way to recast the book so that it’s for anyone caring for aging parents suffering from any kind of a malady? Just a thought.

  • Jane E Osborn

    I’m working on a novel, but need more writing credits. So I have written a short article about a grazing school I just attended put on by the local extension office, and am researching publications to submit it to.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Jane! Keep us posted.

  • Gloria Hargrove

    Your posts are so helpful to me. I have finished a second book of a series and am wading through the process to find a publisher. After self-publishing one without marketing avenues, I need the skills of an agent. Thanks for your valuable insights.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Gloria. An agent might not help you market any more than a self-publisher would, so what you really need is a traditional publisher. Keep us posted.

  • Sam Hall

    Jerry, you’ve got a servant’s heart; or maybe you just hate to see aspiring Christian writers shoot themselves in the foot. At any rate, I almost always find your postings wise, pertinent, and succinct.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      There may be a little truth to both your speculations, Sam. I hope so. I appreciate your kind comments. Keep us posted on how the sequel goes.

  • Carol Hensel

    Thank you Jerry for spot on advice. After reading your suggestions on editing & how to submit a query/proposal, I have been able to clean up and tighten my manuscript. However, my editor has allowed me to have my name & ‘by’ on the top of each ms page? I will take it out & see what she says. Thank you again for your ministry.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Carol. It’s good to know we’ve been of some help. How your name appears on each manuscript page doesn’t really matter. It’s how it appears on the title page and the cover of your book. All the best with it.

      • Carol Hensel

        Ah, okay. I’m clear now on the ‘by’. Thank you again. I have learned so much. God bless you!

  • I appreciated your blog. I met you at a writer’s conference in May. I write for people taking that next step in life, at where ever they are. I have submitted my manuscript, To Live Again, which identifies steps needed to create a new beginning after a major loss.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks for your kind comment, Marlene. I do wonder who you have confuse me with, however. I have not been to any writers conferences this year.

      All the best with your book. Keep us posted.

      • I apologize – it was Wiliam Jensen I met at a May conference

  • patrick brunson

    Thanks for reminding me if you want your book published you have to contact agents and publishers. I got lazy. For my cartoon blog I am contacting Christian papers to follow my cartoons. I make it a point to give out one business card a day and email someone about my blog and future book. I stain my business cards with a real coffee cup stain (writers drink coffee). Oooo, I inferred I am a writer.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good to hear from you, Patrick. I’m trying to decide whether your first sentence is tongue-in-cheek or you really just hoped the book would magically be published. :) I love the stained business card idea. However, you did not infer you were a writer. You implied it. The speaker implies, the hearer infers.

  • Marjorie Cutting

    I am preparing to send my synopsis of my graphic novel: “Into the Heart of God” along with samples of my graphic pages. I am still trying to find the best method to attach the graphic pages as they are too large for regular email. People have suggested drop box and instagram. Any suggestions welcome

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Cutting is a great name for a self-editor, Marjorie.

      Look into WeTransfer.

  • Tisha Martin

    A book proposal for the manuscript To Rise Up is getting ready to land in an agent’s inbox. Incidentally, this agent has graciously accepted two rewrites of the first chapter. Praying it’s where the agent wants it this time!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Tisha! Keep us posted.

  • John Tucker

    I’m rewriting a non-fiction book I wrote back in 2008 but never published. I have an agent who is directing me and making suggestions. Your tips are familiar, and some are new to me.
    Every time I try to change the default font from Cambria to Times New Roman, it goes back to Cambria.
    I’ll take out the “by” under my book title. The title: “Fourteen Deadly Threats” /A Godly Man’s Journey, could be changed to “Overcoming Fourteen Deathtraps” /A Godly Man’s Journey. (I’m not using quotes in my title.)
    Finally, some of my chapter titles have more than one threat or deathtrap because some of these threats have other words closely related: #1 Pride and Arrogance; #2 Fear, Neglect, and Laziness. Will this be distracting to my readers?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      John, I’ve had that trouble with the font reverting to Cambria as well. I wonder if it’s a glitch in the new Word program. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix. You could even type your entire chapter in Cambria and once you’re happy with it, do a Ctrl-A to block it all and then change the font to Times New Roman.

      I would drop the adjective ‘Godly’ from your subtitle. I know you didn’t intend it, but it comes off self-congratulatory. If you felt it needed a deity reference, you might go with ‘God-fearing.’

      Is it accurate to imply a person ‘overcomes’ deathtraps? Perhaps ‘Escaping’ or ‘Avoiding’ would be more precise?

      I don’t think your chapter titles would necessarily be distracting, though where the meanings are close to similar, I would pick the best. For instance, Arrogance certainly implies Pride, so I’d just go with Arrogance.

      • John Tucker

        These are very helpful suggestions to improve my manuscript. Thank you for your insights!

  • Kathy Storrie

    After 7 years of working off and on my Christian/Romance/Supernatural/Y.A. Fiction, I submitted my MS, 3-4 days ago, via email to a Christian self-publisher who has an A+ with BBB. The Christian owner/publisher who does have high Christian standards, got back with me soon & said her Senior Editor was already intrigued with my book’s story line and that it was encouraging, but I can’t afford the $10,606. package.

    She agreed it was pricey, and suggested I could divide my one book of 179,000 words into a 2 or 3 book series. But, I got to thinking, wouldn’t that mean I will be having to pay 2 – 3 times more for the 2 – 3 different book covers, back covers, inside book designs,ISBN, copyrights, marketing basics, Virtual book tours, and access to a personal assistant? It seems to me, the printing of less words per book would be the only reason do a series.

    I will ask the publisher if I have to buy everything in the package to have a deal, but I wanted Jerry’s opinion on what I should expect. I already did a free self-published deal in 2010 and it was not a good experience.

    My story line is fast moving, full of cliffhangers, and my beta readers loved the protagonist. I may be looking for an agent.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Curious, Kathy, as to why you want to pay to be printed rather than to get paid to be published? Have you exhausted your efforts to land a traditional book deal or an agent?

      • Kathy Storrie

        Jerry, you are right! My efforts to land a traditional book deal or an agent got side-tracked by me, but it started yesterday with me looking over Michael Hyatt’s free list of Christian agents. Thanks for the reminder! Smile.

  • I am beginning to submit my Christian fantasy novel “Beyond the Journey” to publishers. I am trusting God to guide me through the process and am believing that my book will be published. This is my first novel. Thank you Jerry for the sound encouragement I have received from your materials.

    Blessings,

    Tom

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Tom. And let us know.

  • Veronica Rodela

    Hi Jerry, I have a book I almost finished with. It’s very short and I believing impacting. I am clueless about copyright. I am clueless about publishers. I am doing my research and I wanted to start out as ebook first. I have other books I am working on. My focus is getting my first book out. I need some feed back about copyright.

  • Lawrence Hebb

    Jerry
    I’ve started planning and researching a WW1 based love story. It’s based on two real people and I’m thoroughly enjoying even the research.
    Getting the story into print with a traditional publisher is my goal for next year (and if it doesn’t happen then, I’ll ‘move the goalposts’ and go for the year after)
    Thank you so much for the information here.