By Cindy Hudson
Julie Bennett has been acquiring titles for Ten Speed Press out of Berkeley, California for eight years. One of the largest independent publishers in the U.S., Ten Speed Press publishes about 150 titles a year through all its imprints, which include Celestial Arts and Crossing Press, as well as Tricyle Press, its children’s imprint.
Bennett’s advice to authors hoping to successfully pitch a book proposal to a publishing house can be summed up in one sentence: Put in plenty of preparation time. Here she elaborates about what she looks for when reading a proposal and what writers can do to increase their chances of catching the eye of an acquisitions editor.
What can writers do before sending in a book proposal that will increase their chances of having it read?
One of the more important things is to research a publishing house and its imprints and send in what they want to see. If you look at one of our catalogs or browse our Web site you start to get a sense for the kinds of books we publish. If your book fits, great! Send it in! If it feels far off it’s probably going to get rejected quickly and there’s probably a different house that would be more appropriate. Try to familiarize yourself with the publishing house and submit accordingly.
How does reading a proposal help you decide to take on a project?
Writing a book and promoting it takes a lot of work. You may have a good idea, but you have to be willing to talk about that idea, think about that idea, write about it and come up with ways to promote it for a couple of years. It’s a huge part of your life, and I want to see that people have dedicated time and effort and resources to that idea before they decide to write a book about it.
What do you like to see in a proposal?
I want to have an overview that tells me, “This is my idea, this is how it fits into the marketplace and here’s my outline for the book.” But I also need to see that outline annotated with chapter summaries and at least one sample chapter. The other part of the proposal includes the marketing platform and the competition. What other books like this are out there and how is yours different? Who are you, what do you have to offer, what are your ideas for sales and marketing, how can you help promote the book?
What catches your interest?
I get excited when I read the basic concept for a book and think, “That’s a great idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.” As I continue reading it’s a combination of how it’s executed, if the writing makes sense, if it’s well supported and if the author has a platform.
What role does platform play when you’re looking at projects?
It’s hugely important, especially for non-fiction. We’re looking for authors who are well known in their field, and who are going to help us reach their audience. But Ten Speed is a smaller house so we’re not necessarily looking for a national platform. It depends on the book. The author could have a really strong regional platform or a strong academic background or something else that will be interesting enough based on the topic of the book for the media to be excited about.
What questions do you ask yourself as you consider a project?
I think about sales and how we could position the project. Would I buy it? Are there people I know who would buy this book? Is there a fit for it on our list? Are there other books on our list that are similar that we’ve been successful marketing and selling so we have good contacts into whatever those markets are? Is the proposal clear? Are we really going to be learning something? Does the author have a good platform?
Is there anything specific you’re looking for now?
Because we’re a particular kind of publisher, we publish lifestyle non-fiction, so we’re always looking for the same thing. For Ten Speed it’s very practical, kind of quirky, how-to books. Most of the books we take on teach people how to do something, make a recipe or find a new spiritual path, get into college or find a new job. Because I’m also working with Celestial Arts and Crossing Press, I’m looking for inspirational, spirituality, health, nutrition, and parenting books as well. Celestial Arts publishes books on things like alternative medicine, natural pregnancy or organic approaches to feeding your kids. Crossing Press is really edgy, and that’s where you’d find things like energy healing, charkas or vibrational healing; things that are a little bit less mainstream.
We’re also dipping our toe in the craft-publishing world, and that’s been really fun. We’re looking for somebody who is doing something different with traditional craft.
Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site, www.motherdaughterbookclub.com, and its companion blog, www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.