The 4 Things Most Writers Don't Know

What Publishers Actually Want From Your Book: The 4 Things Most Writers Don’t Know

Some say ignorance is bliss—you don’t know what you don’t know.

The same could be said for writing and publishing a book: there are a lot of things most writers don’t know, but this doesn’t stop them from writing. Thankfully. Because the truth can be a big downer.

But if you’ve ever had ambitions to write a book then you’re in good company. Some estimates tell us that over 80% of people say they want to do just that. That’s a lot of people… and a lot of books.

The fact is, most people don’t. If you’ve actually written a book, then congratulations. You’re in the minority of less than 1% of those who actually go through with completing their manuscript.

This, however, doesn’t mean you have an easy path to the publisher’s desk. With over 2 million books published worldwide each year, the competition to be noticed by a publisher grows day by day. The slush pile has not gone away: it is as big as it has ever been.

To get the attention of a publisher, a writer must do more than just write a great book. The publishing world is littered with great stories that never sold a copy.

Yet there are a lucky few writers who break through and succeed in getting published and living from the proceeds of their endeavours. However, most writers don’t. Here are some interesting facts:

  • 95% of writers do not earn enough from their writing make a living
  • The top 15 fiction writers have sewn up over 90% of the fiction market
  • 66% of writers (USA) are self-employed

If only 1 in 20 writers earn a living from the pen (and most of those are journalists), what can other writers do to join these lucky few?

The answer is to stop thinking like a writer.

What? Why? Because if 19 out of 20 writers are unable to buy food or put a roof over their heads with their writing, then the answer must be to think differently. And it is.

The answer, in fact, is to get inside the mind of a publisher, and to do that you need to think like a publisher.

Or more precisely, you need to understand what publishers want. If you think like a writer, then you probably think a publisher wants a fantastic story with unforgettable characters, an absorbing plot with multiple twists and turns, humour, thrills, emotional engagement, and page-turning appeal.

Wrong. Well, not completely wrong. These things are obviously important, but they’re not going to get your manuscript out of the slush pile and onto the publisher’s desk, no matter how great it is.

Writers who understand how publishers think and what publishers want stand a greater chance of getting their manuscript published. Because what a publisher wants to know is this: WHO is going to read your book and HOW you’re going to sell it?

Writers need to learn how to do that. Not only do they need to know how to write a good story, they need to learn what 99% of other writers simply don’t know – the 4 vital elements of getting a book published:

1. Perfect your product
2. Perfect your market
3. Perfect your selling platform
4. Perfect your pitch

Perfecting these 4 elements is what will get a publisher’s attention. That is, perfecting what you can bring to the table.

Perfect Your Product

Never send an unedited manuscript to a publisher.

First impressions count. You wouldn’t go to a job interview dressed in a T-shirt and bathers; you’d wear a suit. The same applies to your manuscript.

Every time you send it to a publisher, it’s in effect going to an interview. So dress it up. Edit it. Proofread it. Make sure it’s as perfect as it can be.

A manuscript that is well written, has a strong voice, is typo-free and is a joy to read greatly enhances its appeal over manuscripts that are poorly written, have numerous spelling mistakes and are simply hard work to get through.

Perfect Your Market

Identifying your readership is essential for all non-fiction books and vital for all fiction books. However, this is probably the area most neglected by writers. Writers by nature are meticulous about their written words, but ignorant or even disdainful of how to sell them.

Yet this is the nature of the times. Writers who adapt quickly and embrace the marketing of their book are the ones who will ultimately triumph. Writers stuck in the past will die off like the dinosaurs.

Perfect Your Selling Platform

Most writers think their manuscript or idea is their most attractive asset. It isn’t. It’s their selling platform.

Publishers are more interested in how you are going to go to work for them and sell your book than they are in what your book is actually about.

To get a publisher to sit up and listen, the most important thing you can do is show them that you have an avid readership eagerly waiting to read your next book.

At a minimum, you will need:

  • An author website to promote your books and blogs
  • An email database of interested subscribers
  • A social media profile (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, GoodReads)

Remember, it’s all about your author profile.

Perfect Your Pitch

Your pitch is where you show a publisher how professional you are as a writer and how much you’ve already accomplished to research your target market and create a selling platform to promote to.

There are 5 ‘must-haves’ in your publisher pitch:

  1. Synopsis (incl. Table of Contents for non-fiction)
  2. About the Author
  3. Target market and competing titles
  4. Marketing & Promotion
  5. Manuscript details and sample chapters


These 4 elements are what publishers want from your book. Get these right and you vastly improve your chances of receiving a book contract instead of a standard rejection slip.


Need help with your publisher pitch? Click here…


*This article first appeared on and is re-published with permission.

‘Remember, success like writing is a habit’

Dr. Scott Zarcinas
Director, DoctorZed Publishing

Please join my Business of Writing School Facebook Group for more writing tips and tools.

Do You Love FREE eBooks? Join The Readers Club and Start Reading!