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Get the pitch right and get published

Hi there, my name is Vivien. I’m a student at Goldsmiths right now, and I’ve been following Guts Publishing ever since I heard Julianne and Jillian Halket speak about Blade in the Shadow at a GLITS event at Goldsmiths. Someone very close to me has OCD, so I joined the event to hear some advice on how to help people living with this mental health disorder. Ever since listening to their honest and heart-warming conversation, I’ve been hooked on Guts.

I joined Guts Publishing because I believe in publishing ballsy books about life. As a publishing assistant, I’ve had the pleasure to read and review over a hundred manuscript submissions touching on rare and important stories. Now, I’d like to share with you what your submissions have taught me about pitching your story the right way.

One thing that really stood out to me was when Julianne told me: ‘Submitting your work is like going on a date.’

This analogy is gold!

Think speed dating – you introduce yourself, present your work and now the other person responds. Submitting your work is a personal business. Being a publisher is also a personal business - at Guts, we do what we do because we love literature and we believe in telling stories that matter.

Just like dating – not everyone fits together and that’s totally okay. How many times do you have to go on a date to find the right partner? Quite a few times.

Don’t ever get discouraged - pitching is its own art form, so there will be a learning curve. Resilience gets rewarded – learn how to pitch, get your work out there, go on lots of publishing dates and then successfully publish your work. Let’s do this!

Keep these three steps in mind when submitting to Guts (or any publisher), and you’ll be one step closer to successfully publishing your work:

Tip 1: Introduction E-Mail/Cover Letter

First and foremost - Keep it short! Guts is a small independent publisher, and we receive hundreds of submissions each year. This is a lot of submissions to go through, so the first few lines of your pitch are the most important to keep the publisher reading! In my experience at Guts, great submissions are the ones that got straight to the point.

Write your introduction e-mail and cover letter. Put them aside. Read through them again and then take all the extra stuff out that you don’t need.

Think about the e-mails you’d like to get. Do you want to get long unclear messages that you need to reread five times to understand? Or do you prefer precise writing that is easy and fun to read? There is a real person on the other end reading your words, so respect their time and keep it professional while sharing who you are.

Remember: the introduction e-mail and the cover letter should be around 300 words.

Tip 2: Synopsis

The story is the heartbeat of your work and one of the most important parts of a submission. Pitch your plot clearly and in an engaging manner. Make sure the reader knows what your book is about and which themes it addresses.

By the courtesy of Jillian Halket, here is an amazing example of a cover letter and blurb that made it to publication:

Dear Julianne,

I hope you are well.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email. I really appreciate it.

LUNA is a memoir that focuses on a young Scottish woman struggling to navigate life as her obsessive compulsive disorder worsens and her mind is plagued by violent intrusive thoughts.

The book explores themes of mental illness and recovery and I'd like to think it finishes in a place that is honest - a contentment living in a bright kind of darkness with illness as part of a new normal. If anything in writing the book I realised how many of the same anxieties and fears we all share and how even the most strange or violent thought I've had is a thought that someone else has experienced and can understand.

Though the book has descriptions of the OCD thoughts themselves (which are violent in nature and often focused on bodily harm) I think there is a running thread throughout of just how darkly absurd life can be. The second half of the book which is based in recovery is full of a lot of light.

LUNA explores recovery as we follow a young woman as she navigates mental illness, addiction, university, sexual assault, motor tics and her relationship with her family. Through access to treatment she forges her identity not in spite of her disorder but in the acceptance of it and all its messiness. (It's weird writing this bit and talking about myself in third person, haha.)

The full manuscript is approximately 77,535 words long. I've attached a proposal and writing sample if you are interested.

I'm a twenty-seven year old disabled woman from Scotland. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my email. It's no problem if my book isn't your thing - just thought I'd take my chance.

Take care.

Yours sincerely,

Jillian Halket

Her text is 313 words which goes to show that 300 words is an excellent limit! How incredible is it to know that Blade in the Shadow was originally called Luna? From those 77,535 words, around 40,000 were published which brings me to my next point…

Tip 3: Manuscript

Writing is subjective. Even the 'best' writers will never satisfy every reader. So, writing can always be improved, and editing is part of the publishing process (think about Jillian’s title and word count!). So, let go of the inner-critic and overwhelming stress! If your introduction to the publisher is great and your story (the synopsis) is unique, you will get your foot in the door with the right publisher for your story.

Final tip: Please remember to follow and respect the submission guidelines on the publisher's website. If you’re submitting children’s literature to a horror story publisher, your story will simply not get picked up – not because your story isn’t great but because the author, story and publisher need to fit together to make a great publication happen.

Always know that we are real people at the other end. We are here to cheer you on and encourage you! Let’s get your book published. Together.

If you’d like to send your work to Guts Publishing, we’d love to hear from you. Here’s our submissions page:

P.S. Guts Publishing are thinking about giving a 'pitching workshop' (including tips on writing blurbs, pitching and marketing yourself as a writer). Is this something you’re interested in? Let us know on Instagram, Twitter or via email (guts.submissions [at] We’re always excited to hear from you!

* * *

Vivien Celina (she/her) is a publishing assistant at Guts Publishing. She is a fiction and scriptwriter. Follow her on Instagram if you’d like to stay in touch: @viviencelinae.

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