publishing a book

In Part 1 of this series I wrote about how to get started on getting published - I covered the beginning steps, getting an agent and researching a publisher and narrowing down that big idea! Today a bit more gritty info – how to build that author platform, write that proposal and some publisher’s submission guidelines to get you started. In part 3 of this series I will be discussing what comes next – negotiating the contract and writing the book.

How to build your author platform

First up what is an author platform and why do you need one?

Publishing books these days has more competition than ever before (internet, ebooks, self publishers etc), so publishing houses, when signing up a new author, need to know that the book you’ve brought to them will sell, they need to know that you already have a fan base and that you are able to self promote your work – this is your platform.

You need a web presence – when a literary agent or potential publisher begins to research you, they’ll google your name to get an indication about your credibility as a knowledgeable person in your field. To get this online presence you’ll need a website linking to articles, publications and projects you have worked on.

You should start a blog and write about your creative process, your projects and share insights about your work. Write guest posts for other blogs and join a social networking group such as twitter or facebook so you can stay in touch with like minded creative folks. Consider making videos and making them available on youtube, teach online e-courses and publish a free e-newsletter.

Your platform doesn’t only live in the virtual world though, teach classes, host events, speak at conferences and at local events, or write for print magazines. You don’t have to do all of these things – begin with what feels right for you … if you have any other ideas please share them in the comments. 

Writers digest has a very thorough article about building your writer’s platform.

How to write a craft book proposal

So you have an idea you have yourself a bit of a platform and you have written a couple of query letters, now you are ready to write that proposal.

Many publishers have their submission guidelines available on their website and the format of these all tend to be a little different … but the basics remain the same. A proposal is a synopsis of the proposed book — yes, but also it is an introduction to you — so you really need to sell yourself at the same time. Here is what you should include in your proposal — but make sure to read each publishers submission guidelines as they all vary slightly.

A few things to remember when writing a proposal: they are long and detailed (20-30 pages on average), writing one will help you hone your idea but make sure not to ramble – be succinct and clear and organised, make sure to get a friend to edit it for you before submitting it.

  • Book title and book ‘hook’. You need to sell the book right from the first sentence — what is the hook that will make your book different and unique. Storey publishing give some examples of what a good ‘hook’ is on their submission guidelines.
  • Introduction to who you are: What makes you special, unique, interesting. Why are you qualified to write this book? What is your platform (see above). What are your main selling points, discuss your website, your previous projects and writing.
  • Introduction to your book idea: Give some background details about how you came to write this book or why you want to write this book — why it’s important and necessary and why others will think so too. This is where you discuss the scope and central themes of your book, the process of creating your book and the primary audience for your book.
  • A project and chapter outline of the book: More details about each chapter of the book — yes details, project examples and sample chapters.
  • Book promotion. How will you be able to help promote the book? (will you go on book tours, blog tours, promote it through your blog etc…). This is a very important part of the proposal, don’t gloss over this – ultimately the publisher wants to know that they will be able to sell your book. You need to show that you are able to self-promote your book and your work and that you are involved in your community.
  • Competing titles. You need to do some research here about other similar books on the market – and why yours is different or special. What is special about your book – and why will it sell – your final sales pitch.
  • Inclusions: A cover letter, your resume and some visuals*.

*Sending visuals with a non-fiction design and craft book proposal if very important and you can do this in a couple of ways. First take really good quality photos of your projects (they don’t need to be professional though as the publisher is not expecting you to be a professional photographer), then if you are sending the proposal by mail you will need to print these out and attach to your other documents, or if you are able to send your proposal digitally, then you can either send jpg images as an attachement or design them into a layout (using a photo editing tool) and send the images as a pdf, or upload the images to a private page on your website — this is called a lookbook. Don’t embed the images inside your document as this can make the document unwieldy and the text should be able to carry itself — the images and visuals are extra.

Craft and design book publishers and their proposal guidelines

When researching a publisher that you might like to send your proposal to, you should head to a book store and to their website to get an idea about the kind of books they publish. Don’t waste your time sending your proposal to publishers who don’t publish your kind of book. Make sure that the publisher you choose is a good fit with your aesthetic and with your topic.

  • Princeton Architectural Press, require a detailed proposal, they would like to see sample chapters, the introduction and more — they want to really evaluate your writing style and personal voice. They also encourage you to send in visuals, and in fact many publishers will require this — so consider putting together a Lookbook of some kind.
  • If you are submitting to more than one publisher at a time then make this clear in your cover letter, Chronicle books submission guidelines state that you should indicate whether your proposal is a simultaneous submission.
  • If you are submitting without an agent then most publishers, such as Lark Crafts, prefer to receive a query letter first.
  • North Light and Interweave craft publishers, state on their submission guidelines, that they are open to accepting proposals and queries in different formats, you can send them a query with images and they will help you develop your proposal and idea.
  • All publishers require you to discuss the marketing of your book in your proposal — big publishers such as Watson-Guptill publications and smaller publications such as Quirk books – all state clearly on their guidelines that the marketing aspect is very important, you’ll need a market analysis, competing titles and how you will be able to help sell the book.
  • Storey publishing puts a lot of emphasis on the ‘hook’, make sure that first paragraph really tells a story.
  • Shambhala (and their Roost craft/lifestyle imprint) have few specific guidelines (so follow the guidelines laid out above).
  • The proposal guidelines with C&T publishing and their Stash books imprint are friendly and helpful, make sure to fill in the questionnaire and contact the acquisitions editor with any questions.
  • Australian publishers – Penguin Australia are currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts for their non-fiction Lantern imprint and Allen and Unwin have a very accessible Friday Pitch for unsolicited manuscripts, however they publish very few craft books.
  • Cooperative press is a small new craft book publisher who are seeking proposals. Shannon Okey write a guest blog post for whipup about the publishing world and about cooperative press last year.
  • Martingale & Company are actively seeking craft book proposals – fill in their online form to receive a proposal package

Tomorrow I will be discussing what happens next as well as giving you lots of resources so you can gain more perspectives on this great topic.

I would love to hear your publishing success or not so successful stories — please feel free to ask any questions you might have too — I will answer them in the comments.

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I have written a couple of craft books and have written a lot of craft book proposals. I am here to tell you that it is a lot of work, and won’t pay you enough to quit your day job any time soon. But what a published book will give you is confidence to pursue your dreams.

In Part 1 of this series today I will explain how to get started on getting published - I cover the beginning steps, getting an agent and researching a publisher and narrowing down that big idea! In Part 2 I will give a bit more gritty info – how to build that author platform, write that proposal and some publisher’s submission guidelines to get you started. In part 3 of this series I will be discussing what comes next – negotiating the contract and writing the book.

Publishing a book is great for improving your platform, changing the direction of your career, and finding new and interesting opportunities. A year ago I worked for the man (3/4 time) at a magazine, I did the layout and design, it was a great job – very flexible for a working mother, but my creativity was being dampened down and opportunities to move around within the company were nil. On the side I worked on my blog and a book, and then pitched for a second book — I decided it was time to quit the day job and work from home doing some freelance stuff.

It was scary, I took a long time to make that decision, I agonised over it, the whole family discussed nothing else for weeks, months, but finally I just had to make the decision on my own and it was incredible. Straight away I felt free, creative, energised.

As soon as I put myself out there, opportunities came my way — a series of books, some freelance writing and editing and I had more creative time to start up new projects (Action Pack magazine) — I am so on fire! So while that craft book of itself won’t be enough to quit your job — the benefits of unleashing your creativity and being rewarded for it are huge — both personally and professionally — you really can make your own path!

So while I am no expert at this craft book publishing business I do have a few tips and secrets I can let you in on … so read on if you are considering writing a craft book and are wondering where to go to next.

Find a literary agent

Many publishers do not actually accept an unsolicited manuscript*, for example Abrams books (who publish Stewart, Tabori and Chang imprint) do not currently accept proposals without an invitation first. Chronicle books on the other hand do accept unsolicited proposals, however if they are not interested you may not hear back from them.

*An unsolicited proposal is one that you send without an invitation to do so — to get an invitation you need to either 1. go through an agent; 2. write a query letter and get a positive response to forward your proposal; or 3. know someone.

  • An agent is also a great sounding board for your ideas, you can pitch your general concepts to your agent who will help you narrow them down and give you some sound advice, if you already have a publisher then you can work with them on your second or third book to narrow down the idea to something you both want to publish. If you don’t already have a publisher, and I am presuming you are reading this because indeed you don’t, then you need to develop your idea and write a proposal.
  • Finding an agent. I have been told this is not easy — ask some friends for recommendations, and then send a formal (spell checked) query letter to them: outline who you are, if you have a ‘platform’* and what your book idea is.
  • A good agent will also help you refine your proposal, work through your ideas with you, pitch your proposal to various publishers, broker and negotiate a deal, look through your contract and get you a better deal. If you don’t know anything about publishing or contracts then really — an agent is your best friend.

*A writer’s platform is how well you’re known and how big an audience you have, this could be how many blog readers, twitter followers, etsy sales you have, or it could be how many articles you have had published in print or online magazines or websites (all those free tutorials you wrote as guest blog posts on bigger websites count towards your writer’s platform). These days having a writing platform is essential to getting published.

If you don’t have an agent though — all is not lost — you can still write and publish a craft book — it will just require you to do all the legwork yourself.

[Edited to ad: An agent will take a cut of your payment - there is no up front fee - their payment is usually in the form of a percentage of royalties]

Lots of ideas for a book — but you need to narrow it down

So you want to write a craft book, you have a lot of ideas but first you need to do some research and find out which of your ideas is likely to sell: Research the craft blogs, the book stores, etsy and find the gap in the market — find your niche.

  • Once you have an idea or two this is where you can discuss it with your agent, or best friend — brain storm the selling points and then write it all down. F+W Publications (North Light imprint) are unique in that they accept half formed ideas and are prepared to work with you to develop your idea.
  • Now research your publisher and send out a query letter*. Check their guidelines and contact the correct person, make sure to write a formal letter without any spelling mistakes — eek! Check it twice, get a friend to edit it for you – this is your first impression. You can send out multiple query letters to several publishers that you think would be interested. On the Lark Crafts website, they state that they like to receive a query letter before you send in a proposal and if they are interested to know more they will request a full detailed proposal.

*A query letter is a brief of your proposal: you should explain your idea in detail, the main theme, the audience, the techniques you will cover, what projects will be included. You will also need to include your resume, your skills, your ‘platform’. What is your expertise, give examples of your writing and any previous publications. Include relevant posts from your blog or links online to your work as well.

Now visualise your book: You don’t need to write it yet, but you do need to narrow down a few things:

  • The title and the concept are important to give you and the publisher a first impression of what this book will be about — and who it is aimed at. This is the ‘hook’.*
  • A chapter breakdown will help you organise the book, and give the publisher an idea about what to expect. This is where you give your book its bones — how will your organise the book — difficulty levels, themes, materials — how many projects, how difficult are they, how many variations will you make.
  • Project samples: get making, make a few projects and see how they fit, photograph the instructions, write out instructions, what level of instruction are you going for — how skilled are the readers of this book — will you be providing photographic steps or will you rely on illustrations?

*A hook is a catchy phrase, an attention getting sentence intended to instantly grab the readers attention and reel them in. This hook can be a personal anecdote, an interesting fact, an amusing quote or a challenging question.

Tomorrow I will discuss writing your proposal, give some publishers resources and tell you what happens next! Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will answer either in the comments or in tomorrows post.

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