Playing the field: Is it ok to submit a single book proposal to multiple publishers?
Building a relationship with a publisher, for many authors, is a lifelong commitment, so the decision of which publisher to work with shouldn’t be taken lightly. How do you know that you’ve found “the one” for your book? We sought the opinions of seven TAA members on whether or not it’s acceptable to submit a single book proposal to several different publishers. Here are their responses and reasoning.
Phil Wankat, author of multiple engineering textbooks:
“Minor changes probably have to be made in the book proposal since a new book will compete differently for different publishers. The author may need a different argument if there is a book in the publisher’s list that competes or partially competes with the proposed book.
In addition, proposing a book to a publisher that is well established in a discipline is going to be different than proposing a book to a publisher that is just starting to publish in the discipline.
Finally, if you know the editor and/or have published with that publisher the cover letter and probably the proposal will be different than a cold call. One of my books was published after the editor of my technical textbook gave me an introduction to the editor of a different list (both Pearson, but different publishers).”
Pamela Reese, academic and textbook author:
“I don’t believe a book can be sent to several publishers at once. Perhaps that opinion is my own ignorance. If one must send an article to only one journal at a time, why wouldn’t it be the same for a book?”
Starr Hoffman, head of planning and assessment at the UNLV Libraries:
“No, but sometimes only minor tweaks are needed. Just like tailoring CVs and cover letters to the specific positions to which you might apply, book proposals should be tailored to each publisher that you approach. It’s likely that each has a slightly different audience or purpose in mind, and certainly a different catalog of existing works into which they would, ideally, see yours fit. Thus, when making your proposal, you want to show each publisher why your book specifically fits in with what they publish, particularly if there are any subject gaps or existing expertise. It’s a good idea, even if the publisher doesn’t ask for this, to include in your proposal some books on similar or related topics, and explain why yours is different–and, if they were published by the publisher you’re approaching, how your book would complement them (and thus perhaps have a ready audience, and/or augment sales of their existing books).
Some publishers have very specific book proposal guidelines, and I have had one that asks its potential authors to fill in a specific form for proposals. That alone means that it can be impossible to send the same proposal to different publishers–but you will likely need some version of similar information for each.”
Megan McShane, academic book author:
“Every major publisher has an easy to follow set of instructions for proposal submissions on their website, and a dedicated editor on their team whose responsibilities include your subject area. It is essential to follow those instructions very carefully to even have your book proposal considered. In my experience, those instructions are also very clear about multiple, sometimes called simultaneous, submissions. Depending on the press, one might be allowed to send the proposal out for review to others. Generally, this is not the case. While the proposal you, as the author, keep on your desktop can be quickly modified to suit each individual press, it is never a good idea to send out a generic proposal that does not adhere to the guidelines of the specific press with whom you wish to collaborate. In some ways, it shows that you do not respect their process. Overall, there are minor, but important, differences. Some wish to have a narrative of the chapters, others only request an outline. Some want a detailed timeline for completion, others do not at the preliminary expression of interest phase. A few presses require a sample chapter to be included with the proposal, while some do not wish you to send a sample chapter at all.
For obvious reasons, if you use a generic proposal and do not comply with the instructions, you will be off to a poor start and making a bad impression. Furthermore, as the majority of high quality presses would like to review your proposal exclusively, rather than having multiple submissions out floating around simultaneously, each time you submit you should modify your proposal for its intended audience and potential press. Following their guidelines and instructions carefully shows dedication and professionalism.”
Mark Roberts, former editor and director of academic and professional book publishing:
“I edited for Thomas Nelson for eight years, before joining academia. I edited and then acquired reference works (religious, primarily) and directed academic and professional book publishing my last year, 1999.
Publishing has changed a lot since then, so I don’t know what proposal etiquette is today, but then we would consider proposals submitted to multiple publishers but strongly preferred authors propose to one publisher at a time. We expected authors to say in the proposal or cover letter that they were submitting to others simultaneously.
We did not want to spend time considering a proposal seriously and perhaps following up with the author if we were only one of several being proposed to.
We found newer and first-time authors to propose simultaneously much more often than established authors, regardless of whether or not such veterans proposed through agents.”
Shauna Vey, academic book author:
“It depends on the type of publisher. I wrote a scholarly book that was published by a university press. For this type of project, a proposal should be sent to only one publisher at a time. Most university presses have much smaller staffs and budgets than commercial houses. For them, reviewing a proposal means committing resources. That’s one reason why these houses are very judicious in their choices; authors should be selective too. Rather than sending a proposal to multiple publishers, an author should begin with a query letter. It’s perfectly acceptable to send a query simultaneously to multiple publishers. If more than one press responds with interest, the author should study the presses and rank them. The full book proposal should be sent only to one press. If it passes on the project, then the proposal may be sent to another.
Prospective authors might also keep in mind that the world of scholarly publishing within a given field may be fairly small and tightknit. Editors may become aware of prospective authors who think nothing of squandering a press’s resources with multiple submissions.”
Visit the TAA website for links to many Textbook Publishers’ Author Guidelines.