Savvy Author Book Proposal Checklist: Knowing About Publishing and Specific Publishers

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Photo by Glenn Carsten-Peters, from Unsplash.

Improve your odds of finding the right house for your nonfiction book with attention to the industry and its practitioners

This article is part of a series that adapts and excerpts my entire book, Pitch What’s True: A Publisher’s Tools for Navigating Your Best Path to a Published Nonfiction Book* (Everything Goes Media, 2019). Find an index to the series here.


Savvy Author Book Proposal Checklist

Here goes! Before, during, and after the preparation of your queries, pitches, proposals, and/or manuscript submissions to publishers, use the following and the next pieces of the checklist on The Book, The Author, and Sales & Marketing considerations to make sure you’ve covered all the bases.

Do you have general publishing knowledge?

  • Do you understand the publisher’s perspective (in general)?

  • Do you understand how the publishing industry works?

  • Do you understand industry norms?

  • Do you understand what’s typically and realistically expected of authors?

  • Do you understand how the publishing industry is changing and how that affects publishers?

As far as all of the above goes, where are your knowledge gaps when it comes to publishing? What do you still need to know or better understand? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a reminder: Just Google it! Look at what you’ve written above, and consider Googling for your answers. Some suggested inputs: How does traditional book publishing work? What do publishers expect of authors? How do publishers choose the books they publish? What is typical in the book publishing industry? What are the latest trends in book publishing?

Do you know what your publishing options are, including self-publishing, digital publishing,[1] hybrid publishing, and even…not publishing!?

A few research notes on self-publishing: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A few research notes on digital publishing: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A few research notes on hybrid publishing: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is it possible that you shouldn’t put in the effort to publish? Is not publishing an option for you? What are some other options for your content, material, and knowledge besides putting it in a book? What are some other options for your life besides going down any publishing path? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you used reference materials found at public libraries such as Literary Marketplace and Publishers Marketplace to increase your knowledge?

If not, when will you go to the library to do this? ___________________________________________________________________

Once you’ve done this, what are some of the most important and surprising things you learned? What do you want to remember for future use? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you used print/online magazines, such as Writer’s Digest, to increase your knowledge?

If not, when will you do this? ___________________________________________________________________

Once you’ve done this, take note of some of your discoveries to keep in mind for down the road. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you used online resources — websites, writer’s forums (LinkedIn groups and others), blogs, e-newsletters, and social media — to increase your knowledge?

If not, when will you do this? ___________________________________________________________________

Which sites do you need to return to for further study? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As you explore these sites, jot down those things you want to remember about the publishing industry. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you joined writer/author groups in your area to share knowledge and connect with others?

If not, when will you do research on local groups? ___________________________________________________________________

Once you’ve done this, list the groups you’d like to test out in person. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As you go about connecting with and learning from others in your region, make some notes for yourself. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you attended lectures, presentations, classes, or workshops by publishers or about publishing to gain the knowledge you need?

If not, when will you do research on the options available to you? ___________________________________________________________________

Once you’ve done some research, note the opportunities you’ll explore here (and add them to your calendar now). ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As you learn from experts, keep a list of their best pieces of advice and other relevant information. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Do you have knowledge of the specific publisher you’re pitching? What is the publishing mission and/or vision of the company/ies you’re approaching?

Make notes on elements of a company’s mission and/or vision that could potentially be a good fit for you and your book. (You may want to start a separate notebook so that you have enough room to answer the questions below for multiple publishers.) ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is your book a good fit for the company in terms of subject? Approach? Philosophy? Format?

What is your book’s subject? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Approach? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Philosophy? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Format? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Does it fit with any of their current or forthcoming books? Will it fill any holes in their backlist[2]?

Imagine where your book meshes with and distinguishes itself from others within a particular niche or genre. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Will your book open up new groups of customers for this particular publisher or help them build on their existing customer base?

Who are the different types of readers and customers[3] for your book? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this publisher, and how does your book fit within that structure?

Consider what kind of strengths or weaknesses a publishing company could have that could work (or not work) in you and your book’s favor. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How has this publisher done with books similar to yours? With authors similar to you? How well have these books sold, and by what means have they sold?

What kinds of authors and books will you be on the lookout for on possible publishers’ front and backlists? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Who are this publisher’s customers? Does your book meet their needs, likes, and level of knowledge?

What are the needs, likes, and level of knowledge of likely readers and customers of your book? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Are there new developments related to this publisher’s area(s) of specialty that they are likely to want to address, develop, or exploit?

What changes in your own field, advances in your book’s subject areas, and local/global trends should be promoted to a publisher so that together you, they, and your book can capitalize on them? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How is the publisher releasing and distributing ebooks[4]? Developing mobile apps? Are they current and savvy when it comes to new technologies and online and non-traditional methods of promotion?

What nonprint formats and technologies do you see as relevant, promising, or necessary for your material? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What does this publisher expect of its authors in working relationships? Editorial involvement? Marketing and promotion?

What sort of publisher expectations will throw up a red flag for you? Is anything a deal breaker? In what areas do you have boundaries that you won’t cross in your negotiations? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


[1] A broad, vague term that’s applied to publishing online and/or in a range of electronic formats. [2] A publisher’s backlist is the collection older titles a company still has in stock, available for sale (as opposed to a year’s new releases…the “front list”). [3] Readers read books. Customers buy books. Customers include individuals, libraries, schools, bookstores, gift shops, wholesalers, clubs, organizations, corporations, etc. [4] A book released in any digital format, such as a .pub, .mobi (for the Amazon Kindle), or .pdf file. Increasingly, digital books are distributed and monetized through vendors who serve library, university, corporate, and other institutional clients, charging them for various subscription and pay-to-read arrangements. Your content may be sliced, diced, and recombined to meet customer needs — and charged for appropriately — and this is generally a very good thing.

* affiliate link