Book Proposal Questions, Part II

Last week I answered some questions Ricë gave me about the acquisitions process, including how to get started with submitting a book proposal. This week, I’m going to finish answering her questions and hopefully complete a full view for you of how I approach the process of acquiring books. Out of all this, what's the most important part? What are you, as an editor, looking for? Can I answer with three “most important parts?” There are three things I consider when looking at any book proposal: quality of work, appropriateness for our audience, ability to justify an entire book.
  • Quality of work—At North Light, we publish books for visual people, so our books must be visually attractive. The in-house design of a book plays a big part in this, but even the best designer cannot make poor art or projects look good. The quality and the aesthetic of a person’s work has to be something that I feel will appeal to our readers. Ideally, it will not only look great, but it also won’t look like everyone else’s work and will be something I haven’t seen before. Often times, I’ll also need to see a range of projects or pieces from someone to feel comfortable that they are capable of consistently pulling off a quality look throughout the scope of projects they’re proposing for a book.
  • Appropriateness for our audience—Sometimes someone can have beautiful artwork or meticulously crafted projects, however, and unfortunately they just might not be quite right for whom we know to be our reader. In order for a book to sell well and North Light and the author to make a profit, a lot of people are going to need to buy any particular book. Oftentimes, someone will have a great idea, and even one that a few hundred people would buy a book on. But for a book to be successful, we need to sell thousands of copies. So this means a concept cannot be too small of a niche.
  • Ability to justify an entire book—A 128- or 144-page book may not always look like a big book (compared to a 700-page novel), but it takes a lot of content and art to fill one of our books. Many ideas that people have might work really well for a long, feature magazine article, but they’d be challenging to use for an entire book. Also, some artists are very prolific and could easily produce 50 to 75 pieces of art that would go a long way in filling a book, however there’s not always enough variety to make it a good value for the reader. Our readers need to learn stuff. If they are spending over $20 on a book, they’re going to want to learn how to do more than just a few things—even though those few things look great. There simply needs to be a decent amount of varied content to justify the production and expense of a book.
What's the biggest mistake/faux pas/thing not to do that you see most often? Too many people submit book ideas without doing two things: one is research, the other is an outline (which can go a long way to help you answer the question for yourself—do I have enough quality content to fill a book?)
  • Do some research—Go to the bookstore, look at your favorite books. See who the publisher is that publishes the books you love. See what has already been done. Look online to see how popular a topic you’re thinking about is. Is it something that will resonate with a large number of people? Too many people assume that their idea hasn’t been published before or is unique when that isn’t the case.
  • Create an outline—If you don’t remember how to do this, think back to grade school or Google “topic outline.” An outline is a huge help for me to be able to see what you are envisioning your book being about, how it might be arranged (I will often make suggestions for reordering things, but I love having a place to start), and what all will actually be in it. Don’t be too concerned at the initial stage with this being something that’s set in stone. Its primary purpose is to let an editor know you have given your idea some thought and will let her know what you’re thinking about. And let me just say, an outline isn’t mandatory, but I will definitely give you bonus points for having prepared one.
In wrapping up, let me just say, I would hope that no one would ever hesitate to share any idea with me. Yes, I have my fussy particulars and given that I receive a lot of queries and on any given day have more email to go through than I’d like, I am actually happy to hear from anyone with any idea. Just understand that having taken into consideration ahead of time, the things I’ve mentioned here, you will stand apart much more sparkly and shiny from the crowd.
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