A small sampling of the craft books Nissa and Kristy of Page+Pixel have worked on over the years.
Photo courtesy of Page+Pixel
Maybe you’re looking for ways to spread your knowledge or influence. Maybe you’re looking for passive income opportunities. Or maybe you’ve had a burning desire to become an author. If you’ve wanted to write a book or create a book-related project, such as a book with a design kit like those for kids by Klutz, but don’t know where to begin, this article is for you.
The book publishing industry worldwide—though it seems to be shrinking a bit with publishing houses closing, being bought, or filing for bankruptcy—is still on the lookout for original ideas and unique twists on the tried and true when it comes to arts and crafts. But one must understand how to approach them and to pitch an idea. Some publishing houses, like the bigger ones with many imprints such as Penguin Random House, only want to be approached by agents. An agent is a person who agrees to represent a writer and to find the writer a publisher for a book idea (or book series idea). For this work, the agent takes a percentage of the book’s royalties. Other publishing houses prefer to work directly with the writer. (See our resource, The Big List of Craft Publishers Submissions Guidelines, for specifics about each publishing house.)
The most common way to approach a potential publisher or a literary agent is through a query letter — a one-page letter that includes information about the proposed book and a relevant bio about you. All query letters start in one of two ways, both of which are to hook the reader of the letter.
The Query Letter
First, a query letter can start with a statistic or a story to draw the recipient into your project or make the reader understand why the project/book is necessary. Or second, a query letter can start with exciting information about the project/book itself. Those two options are the first paragraph after Dear __________:
The next paragraph of a query letter fleshes out the book or project idea. How long is the book? Does it have any special features, such as illustrations or photographs or fold-out templates? Who is its intended audience?
The third paragraph is your biography, generally written in the third person. Keep it short and relevant to the project at hand.
The fourth paragraph in the query usually thanks the reader for his/her time and consideration and asks, “Would you like to see the book proposal?” Also, if the query is to an agent, you may let them know that the idea is part of a series, if it is.
The Book Proposal
A book proposal is a multi-page document that explains the proposed book or project in-depth. Some publishers, such as Chronicle Books, prefer a proposal to a query letter. A book proposal contains these essential ingredients, in order,
1) Title Page
2) Table of Contents
3) Overview — a couple of paragraphs summarizing the whole book
4) Chapter-by-Chapter Outline — a paragraph or two about each chapter
5) Marketing Analysis — how do you see the book being marketed? what kind of marketing platform do you have and how many people does it reach?
6) Competitive Analysis
7) Author Bio — keep this to one page
8) Sample Chapters — two or three, or approximately 20-30 pages
Your whole proposal will be between 40-100 pages.
The Marketing Analysis for the book proposal and the Sample Chapters are the two parts that need to be the strongest.
Agent Kate McKean, of Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, who represents some craft book authors, says, “I think people approach writing a book thinking what do I have that I could put into a book, instead of what do readers want to read? A book can’t just be your greatest hits. In craft book queries specifically, I think writers don’t consider their platform enough. Crafters need a strong and established platform to support a book sale, and I need to see that right up front. The book can’t make the platform.”
This means if you have a huge mailing list, a very active Instagram account with a lot of followers, you teach classes, and have made a name for yourself in your specific craft industry, you need to say that in the Marketing Analysis. Don’t be afraid to brag a bit and speak the truth.
In the Competitive Analysis section of your book proposal, pick three to five titles that are similar and then write a paragraph on each, and how your idea/book differs from those, without bashing the competition. McKean says, “Study the craft book shelf at the bookstore and see what has come before and think about what readers what to see in a book and in a book by you.”
Some publishers who request proposals instead of queries may also want you to include samples of the work or projects. Agents and publishers all want to see proposals that look professional. Or as McKean says, “A well-designed proposal is always eye-catching.”
You can sell an idea for a nonfiction book after writing only part of the book. Much of trying to land an agent or publisher, and of the book publishing process itself, is a waiting game. It may take months to hear back on a query or proposal and, as McKean says, “It takes a year to make a book after you’ve finished writing it. Between design, layout, printing, shipping, and more, it takes a long time before a book is on the shelf.”
So be prepared for the wait. Work on strengthening your platform and creating market demand. And most of all, if you get told “no” to your query or idea, keep believing in your idea, refine it, and send out more queries or proposals. The road to publication is paved with a lot of rejection, but it only takes one “yes” to bring a book or a project to life — and I know because I’ve received dozens of rejections from agents and publishers during the last two decades, but I’m also the author of nine published books.
Be sure to check out our other articles on craft book deals:
Why Is It Still Worthwhile to Write a Craft Book by Melanie Falick
The Art of Crafting Book Contracts by Kate McKean
Beyond the Blog Tour: Innovative Ways to Launch a Craft Book by Abby Glassenberg