Book Proposal Questions, Part I

Ricë recently posted some helpful information here at CreateMixedMedia on the publishing process and her own experience (she has a lot of experience). She thought it might be helpful if I answered some common questions people are always asking her about book proposals, since I am the acquisitions editor for North Light Books. I’ll answer her questions in two posts, this one and another one next week. So here are some of the basics to get us started.

What is a proposal, anyway? What’s the purpose?

In simplest terms (my favorite!), a proposal is an idea for a book that you request an editor consider for publication. For me, that means a book. The purpose is to be able to organize your thoughts and put them together in a cohesive presentation that explains what this book you envision would include.

Does an editor ask for one? Or should you send your proposal unsolicited? What’s the process?

Sometimes an editor requests a proposal, but most of the time, an editor is used to getting unsolicited proposals. I welcome anyone to send me one anytime.

The process can vary person to person, but I prefer getting proposals via email. I don’t mind if a person emails me and just asks if I’d be interested in seeing a full proposal on a particular idea before they send in an actual proposal. But if they send a full proposal right off the bat, that’s OK, too.

What is the format?

The easiest format is a standard outline. Remember having to do those in school? “I.” followed by “A.” then “1.”, “a.” and so on? Try to organize your thoughts into how the information might be organized in the actual book. Think of a table of contents. If I get your outline and don’t think it’s detailed enough, I may request more info, but a basic outline is a great place to start.

The other important element is to include visuals! These are visual books, so I need to know what the projects/art that would be in the book would look like. Visuals can be included as jpgs or your entire proposal can come as a pdf. Either way is fine with me.

After someone sends you a proposal, what happens next?

I look over the proposal and if I think it looks like something that is a good fit for North Light, I will let the person know and I’ll request additional information. I try to answer every query—whether I think the idea is a good fit or not, but sometimes it takes me a bit to get back to people. If I decide to go ahead and work with you on the proposal, I start working on my own version of the proposal that I will need to present at a meeting to get approved for actual publication.

Next week, I’ll answer questions about what mistakes people often make, what the most important parts are and what you can do to really make a good impression.


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