Mr. PantsLast month we talked about printing galleys (or Advanced Reader Copies) of your book — and why that’s a crucial step in your overall book-promotion strategy.

But there’s another reason why you might want to consider printing copies of your book before its official launch: getting a book deal!

That’s right, BookBaby’s very own Scott McCormick and RH Lazzell created a picture book about a cat named Mr. Pants, printed a few copies, took it to a writers conference, showed it to some literary agents, and got a deal with Dial Books (an imprint of Penguin).

Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as that, but I’ll let Scott tell the story:

 Being a picture book, we decided that the best way to get industry folks excited about the book was to print up a few copies. After all, it’s one thing to write a query letter and email someone a manuscript or even a PDF. But if you can show someone a finished book that’s totally retail-ready, that they can flip through and experience as an actual book… that’s just a much more visceral way to experience what the final product might be. To us, if we could get our book into someone’s hands, it would just be a slam-dunk.

One problem we faced when we started doing our research into agents is that most agents want to be contacted via email only. First by emailing a query and then, if they request it, a manuscript or PDF. A few still allow you to send a query letter through the USPS but most don’t. We wound up sending out a few copies in the mail–giving each agent a month’s exclusive on the book but ultimately got no takers.

So the printed books didn’t really help us on that front.

The first time I saw the value of printing books was when I attended the SCBWI conference. I brought a few copies of the book with me and started showing it to other authors and illustrators. Everyone’s eyes lit up. Not just because they liked our book but also because I was the only one walking around this conference with a printed book. People kept saying that it was the best dummy book they’d ever seen, which I thought was funny because it wasn’t a dummy at all but a retail-ready book. People I would casually meet would come up to me later so I could show their friends my book.

I wound up meeting my agent at this show. Not, actually, thanks to the books (I didn’t want to impose by shoving a book into his hands), but he brought our printed book with him when he pitched Mr. Pants to the very first editor. The minute he pulled the book out of his briefcase, the editor said, “What is that? I want it!” It was an immediate hit with her.

Now, again, a lot of that has to do with the content of the book, but being able to show her an actual book just cut right through all the clutter. She could instantly see what this book was all about. She didn’t have to look at a manuscript or a PDF and use her imagination. She just got it right away. And we wound up signing a deal with that very same publisher.

This was a year and a half ago. At the time I was the only one at that conference with printed books. I don’t know how many conference attendees are bringing printed books with them today, but my experience shows that it has a wow factor that is hard to beat.

Every type of book may not benefit from this strategy equally. Clearly, more visual books are going to benefit from being printed more than, say, a novel. But even with a novel, if you bring a professionally designed and printed book to a conference and start showing it to people, it’s going to make an impression.

One word of caution: If you decide that printing copies of your book is the right strategy for you then you absolutely have to make sure your design is awesome. Not good. Not “hey that looks cool.” Your cover has to blow someone’s mind the minute you show it to them. It has to scream “Bestseller.” This means: Don’t design it yourself. Hire a professional. Because if your book looks amateurish it’s going to give the wrong impression.

Second word of caution: While it’s good to have your book with you at one of these shows, it’s not considered polite to shove your book into an agent or editor’s hands. Have it ready if they ask for it — which does happen.

Side note: At that show I attended, even though I only showed my book to fellow authors and illustrators that wound up being incredibly valuable for me. I got tons of awesome feedback from these folks. And not just “Hey this looks great” but constructive feedback and suggestions. The Mr. Pants series wound up evolving quite a bit from when I was first shopping it to the time we got a signed deal. But one of the most important changes I made to the series was to enhance the Mom character and change her from being an offscreen figure to one of the four main characters. And that was a direct result of getting feedback from another writer at that show. And a direct result of that person being able to flip through my physical book.

Hope this helps.

The first book in the Mr. Pants series, Mr. Pants: It’s Go Time!, comes out in fall 2014; the second book is scheduled to come out in winter 2015. To keep up on all the Mr. Pants activity before the book is launched, check out Scott’s blog HERE.

To print bookstore-quality copies of YOUR book in any quantity you like, check out BookBaby’s book printing service. Your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. 

Printed Book Design 101

Chris Robley

About Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 570 posts in this blog.

is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard’s Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of “Short Works Poetry.”

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