We often receive casual phone calls or e-mails from prospective authors who pitch a a brief synopsis of a book or video idea and want to know if we want to publish it. Our answer is almost always We'll be happy to look at it. Will you submit a proposal?
(Side note: There are occasionally ideas that we can tell you right off the bat will not be accepted for proposal stage, so it's a good idea to e-mail the editor first for an initial query. But if you prefer to submit your full proposal first, feel free to do so.)
Project proposals are a requirement for potential acceptance of your book or video idea. The information in your proposal helps us determine how effective and marketable your idea will be, in addition to critical factors like production expense and probable list price. When we can't project these factors, we can't commit to a publishing project.
Sadly, as many as half of the authors who approach us with a project idea either refuse or never get around to submitting a proposal. This means some potentially great projects may never be published.
What Goes Into a Proposal?
Both book and video proposals require 3 components for full submission;
1. A project outline or Table of Contents
2. Your most recent professional resume
3. A completed Author Questionnaire (more on this in a moment)
For books, a sample chapter or related writing sample will also be required. A related writing sample can be a published article or paper on your topic. But the best possible submission is an actual planned chapter of your book.
For anyone who is interested, I've uploaded copies of the Book and DVD Author Questionnaires for review and proposal use.
The Importance of the Author Questionnaire
Of all the documents you submit in your proposal, the Author Questionnaire is the piece that can make or break your proposal. In filling out this questionnaire, you have to actually plot out the specifics of your proposal in a way you may have never considered before. Some of the questions you may feel you are unable to answer, such as numbers of photos or tables involved, or how many pages your manuscript will be. But the questions are all critical to the evaluation, so it's important to answer them as best you can.
Also, when it comes to estimating production components, it's best to estimate on the high side of photo and page counts if you don't have relative certainty at this point in your project. Your approved book or video budget is based on the estimates provided in these Questionnaires. If you estimate conservatively, then your final project comes in at 25% or more content than you originally projected, we may have to return your project to you to pare it down. This could cause you a lot of pain if you're driving for a publishing deadline to have your book or video in place for an important conference or training event.
The other consequence of an oversized project is the possible loss of the project altogether. If the content comes in way outside of the production budget, and paring it down is not feasible, the approved budget for the publishing agreement will be breached. At that point, we must resubmit the budget for another review and approval on production cost and list price.
If the secondary review shows that we can only publish if we increase the list price to a level that buyers will not accept, we may have to cancel publication, and believe me, nobody here wants to see that happen!.
How to Prevent Underestimation?
Plan your project chapter by chapter (or video segment by segment) as best you can, particularly your photo and artwork needs. You may not be able to give an exact count, but give the best estimate you can. And finally, estimate high in your questionnaire, and aim low when you're actually writing and developing your project. In the case of photos and figures---where many authors run aground by oversubmission---they are always important, but more is not necessarily better.
And of course, if you have questions about these issues while preparing your proposal, make sure to contact your sponsoring editor for feedback on how to best handle your project estimations. We're more than happy to help walk you through.
Those are the basics of proposal submission. What other questions do you have about the Questionnaires or this process?