Writing a book - a lesson in pitching

blogging

Mar 2013

I was recently approached by some smaller technical publisher with the idea of writing a book on some things I also write here. As I like writing, and I have been exploring web ideas for publishing some time ago, I was very intrigued to look more into this. An idea for the draft outline for the book came from the publisher, and it looked like the default outline of most computer books: Starting with ‘hello world’, discuss some testing, and round up with some practical use cases.

I asked myself: Why would I choose the publisher who approached me, and why would I not try with one of the well known publishers for dynamic programming languages and/or web programming? After all, if I invest time in research and a manuscript draft, I might even aim at getting access to great editors, distribution channels and well tested tools for publishing. Or, I reflected, why does it make sense to choose a publisher at all, and not go for self-publishing.

So, with some different ways for publishing in the back of my mind, I started to research material for a draft book proposal and a sample chapter. It felt a bit like programming, you explore ideas, develop slowly a structure and try to get the basic names and concepts right. And, as often happens with programming too, it is easy to quickly get lost in unnecessary details. So, although I quickly made progress with the draft, I stopped asking myself the important question: Whom am I pitching this book proposal to?

After all, there are a number of different publishers out there, that have a different focus. It is like there a publishers that are specialized in gardening, cooking or sports. So far so good, but if you now pitch as a golf player to a publisher for gardening, chances are high that your pitch will fail, although both probably know a lot about lawns.

As I think that feedback for learning is very important, I pitched my draft proposal to a publisher some days ago. This was my first contact with a publisher from the perspective of an author. And, the pitch failed. However, this is a good lesson to learn. It is a lesson on pitching yourself, instead of pitching ideas from others: Book projects happen in the context of larger book themes at publishers. It is the understanding of these themes, that make you as a reader choose to buy a book from a certain publisher. And, it is the intuition of publishers to choose authors that fit their ideas and themes. So, although I am probably going to post-pone my book project for a while (since it is a huge investment in time and effort), I am going to look closer now at the books that I read, and why a publisher might publish them. After all, books can help us to share what can be discovered, or like Martin Heidegger said: “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are.”

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