Forming a publisher relationship: 3 Steps for submitting your project

high stack of booksIn the first installment of this three-part series, “Forming a publisher relationship: The acquisitions editor”, I provided a perspective on the typical acquisitions editor, also called product manager. Now that you have a sense for this audience, how do you successfully connect with higher education publishers and make it easy for them to understand your project’s value?

Step 1: Target the Right Publishers. Think about your own experiences as a customer and what’s important to you as an author. Among the questions you might explore are:

  • Which companies are active in the discipline or course I’m targeting?
  • Does my project fill gaps or holes in certain publishers’ offerings?
  • Which publishers’ representatives are the most helpful, persistent, and successful?
  • Do I want to work with an established entity?  Or is a scrappy startup a better fit?
  • Do I envision a hybrid (print + digital) product or a fully digital learning solution? Would it be compatible with a given company’s dominant digital delivery platform?

I encourage you to ask fellow TAA members, mentors, and other textbook authors about their publishing or product development experiences. They’ll help you know what to expect after the excitement of the contract offer has subsided. Try to get a feel for a publisher’s culture: Its values, priorities, and typical working relationships with its authors. Remember that acquisitions editors come and go; the only permanent relationship is with your publisher.

Step 2: Make Contact. Once you’ve developed a short list of possibilities, some effective ways to make contact are to:

  • Ask a successful author who knows you to provide an introduction.
  • Meet with local sales representatives (your bookstore’s textbook manager can provide contact information).
  • Approach acquisitions staff directly.
    • Review copyright pages of recent publications that are similar to your project. Acquisitions editors or product managers will be listed in the credits.
    • With appropriate names in hand, you can:
      • Connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.
      • Arrange to meet at academic conferences.
      • Call or e-mail.  Most editors’ phones rarely ring anymore; distinguish yourself by making a personal contact. Find publishers’ main numbers on the Web. The best time to call is first thing in the morning or later in the day. Operators or automated phone systems will connect you to the right person.

Once you’ve made contact, you should be ready for the next step: Submit a winning proposal, table of contents, and, if requested, sample chapters or modules.

Step 3: Develop the Proposal and Table of Contents. A project proposal is your request for a company’s investment. Therefore, your proposal must put your best foot forward in all respects. Needless to say, the document must be free of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. Further, it must demonstrate that you can:

  • Logically organize your thoughts and construct a clear narrative.
  • Effectively introduce both known and unfamiliar concepts in an engaging manner.
  • Convey a distinctive voice or sense of personality.
  • Use appropriate and current research to support a narrative.

In addition to displaying excellent thinking and writing skills, the proposal is meant to sell your project. Therefore, it must persuasively:

  • Describe and support a robust market need for your product.
  • Explain why your approach and product strategy will take adoptions away from existing competitors.
  • Outline the product’s themes, content coverage, pedagogical features, supplements, and distinctive elements that meet customers’ requirements and highlight how each element contributes to taking market share from the competition.
  • Substantiate why you specifically are qualified to write or develop this product.

Key Strategies and Tips

It’s a good strategy to submit your proposal to several publishers in order to prompt multiple offers and gain negotiating leverage. Most publishers’ websites provide proposal guidelines, although topical order varies. Each submission should be tailored to what you’ve learned about that publisher and its product offerings, but most sections can be re-used across versions. As long as key topics are addressed in sufficient detail and the narrative flows well, most publishers won’t care if the organization exactly matches their suggested guidelines.

You’ll be expected to submit a detailed table of contents (TOC) with your proposal.  It should reflect all planned chapters or learning modules. The detailed TOC should make clear the range of topics being covered and in what depth (i.e., scope and sequence). It must be consistent with the proposal’s descriptions, clearly appeal to the target market, and support how the proposed product will be superior to the competition.

The most persuasive tables of contents are annotated outlines that include objectives and a brief rationale for each chapter’s themes and topical coverage. Then, in typical outline form, all main headings and subheadings should be listed. Titles and descriptions of any unique pedagogical features, such as special applications, case studies, and interactive simulations should also be reflected.

You may be asked to submit two or three sample chapters or learning modules for consideration. Before going to the effort of preparing samples, I suggest first writing and submitting an excellent proposal and annotated TOC. If you’re able to pique interest, the acquisitions editor or product manager may provide useful input to help you better prepare the samples.

What if you’re not ready to commit to a full-scale project yet? In the next installment, I’ll suggest ideas for building long-term relationships with publishers that can be leveraged when you’re ready to take the plunge.

Read the first installment in this three-part series, Forming a publisher relationship: The acquisitions editor


Sean Wakely

Sean Wakely is Vice President of Product and Development for FlatWorld. He is also coauthor of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide.