The Circuitous Route from Pitch to Publish

I once took a non-credit, continuing education class at the New School called From Pitch to Publish. It was about developing and pitching personal essays and narrative journalism pieces to print publications, but I feel the simplicity of the name hints at the vision many of us have of the book publishing process, too:

1. Develop idea.

2. Write proposal.

3. Pitch agents.

4. Get agent.

5. Pitch publishers.

6. Get publisher.

7. … or don’t. The End.

In reality, the journey can be far more circuitous.

Awhile back, I shared this story on a pair of authors who got their book published… eventually. As I work on my own book, I’m also finding that the process is not as straightforward as I once expected. Instead of simply facing the possibility of publishing or not publishing my book, I find my book… changing.

Just to recap, I started writing a book — a prescriptive memoir about being a sex writer who doesn’t love sex — last summer. I wrote several chapters and pulled together a book proposal, workshopping it with my writing partner all the while, and had a polished package all ready to go by the end of November.

At this point, I started querying agents. Several passed. Several never responded. But several replied immediately, asking for copies of the full proposal. I was way excited.

Then the rejections started rolling in. They were positive and constructive, but rejections nevertheless. I filed their comments for later use, sent out a second wave of queries, and waited.

Then, at the beginning of February, I heard from one of the agents I had initially queried. She loved my voice, but felt she was too much of a prude to represent my book. She passed my proposal on to one of her colleagues, who eventually signed me on as a client.

However, my agent didn’t immediately start sending my proposal around to publishers. Instead, she worked with me to strengthen my proposal even further. I expanded the book overview. I completely changed my competitive analysis. I really dug into the promotional plan. I added in an additional chapter and an appendix, and we went over several chapter drafts together.

Then she started sending it around. A lot of publishers seemed excited. Many of them requested the full proposal. I daydreamed about the bottle of sparkling rosé I’d chug when I eventually signed a book deal. The book launch parties I’d have. The readings I’d coordinate.

Then — you guessed it — the rejections started rolling in (again). Publishers loved me. They loved my voice. They wanted to work with me. They just didn’t think this book was the one.

At this point, I began mourning my book.

After all, if I had a story to tell, this was it. This was all I had going for me. This was what I was passionate about. If publishers didn’t think it would sell, what good was it? Maybe I didn’t have a book in me after all.

But you guys. That line of thinking was totally lame. And what I’m learning now is that it’s not as simple as throwing an idea out there and seeing if it will sink or swim.

Earlier this week, I had a phone chat with my agent. Instead of throwing our hands up and walking away, we started going through the constructive criticism we had received from publishers and brainstorming ways in which we could transform the present book into something that would work. Something that would work without compromising the integrity of the subject matter and the message I was trying to impart. By the time we hung up, I was eager to get to work rewriting my book overview and chapter outline, and moving ever forward.

So it seems I’m not sunk after all. Instead, I’m just at a different stage of the pitch to publish process. Perhaps it’s a process you’d enjoy taking a closer look at?

I feel we so often read about the book deals, but fail to understand what it really took to get there. And so, when we find ourselves floundering with our own books, we wonder if we don’t have what it takes… if we don’t have what this other person had.

But how many of us just gave up too soon?

What are you most curious about when it comes to the book publishing process?


  1. “I feel we so often read about the (insert coveted success), but fail to understand what it really took to get there. And so, when we find ourselves floundering with our own ______, we wonder if we don’t have what it takes… if we don’t have what this other person had.

    But how many of us just gave up too soon?”

    Steph, I think lots of us do simply give up. I’m a beginning writer that has yet to establish herself in any commonly perceived significant way, and I about threw in the towel two months ago. Perseverance is a HUGE part of the process. And being able to recognize that there is no magical ingredient someone else has, or any real linear algorhithm to satisfaction as a creator, is CRUCIAL. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Go, Steph! Thanks for opening up about this process. I hope it all works out for the best. Kudos to you for staying open-minded and positive.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. I think many of us give up too soon. I have several books in various stages of progression. I know not all of them will pan out. I’d love to see them all come to fruition, but that’s just not realistic. I really like what Steven Pressfield says in Do The Work! “How bad do you want it?” We’ve got to be totally committed or Resistance will step in and sabotage us.

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