Saturday, February 8, 2020

What an Editor Looks for in a Nonfiction Book Proposal


By Nancy Tuminelly


Many say (think) writing nonfiction is an easier task than writing fiction. Being a NF author who has produced hundreds of NF titles in the educational children’s market over the last 20 years, there are specific passions, skills and talents that set the two genres apart. Our company has been tasked by our clients to propose new NF series as well as produce given title lists.


For a single title or a series, it is critical to have a good understanding of the depth and scope of the topic/s. Doing accurate and appropriate research with credible sources helps set the tone, depth, and overall organization. Much of children’s NF must adhere to reading levels, age/grade educational, content standards, and appeal to adults who buy the books and kids who want to read the books.


I look for, and develop, concepts that propose a different slant or focus than the usual standard curriculum-based content yet adheres to the standards. My goal is to set the bar higher with a differentiating feature or activity or content structure that attracts and stimulates young readers’ minds. An outline is useful to get a glimpse of the entire book. A writing sample or chapter shows the ability, strength, and writing style of the content. NF writing need not be mundane if you consider what young readers these days have at their fingertips to access. Ask yourself, as a young person, what would entice or inspire you to read this book?
 

Sometimes, going too far by submitting full manuscripts of proposed books is less helpful than you might imagine. Most publishers have in-house editorial guidelines that are not divulged until a contract is signed. It makes working together more efficient and effective to understand and follow the guidelines versus total/substantial rewriting to hit the mark.



Having a content expert on board is a plus for many publishers, dependent upon the content. Citing correct primary sources also provides reassurance and professionalism to potential publishers that your work and process can be trusted.


What is your objective in proposing NF to perspective publishers? Be clear and upfront about your goals. If it’s a one-time effort, then pitch it as that. Is it a getting to know one another to build a working relationship? Show brief samples (cover and spread or two only) of other similar work. 


When you contract with a publisher, the best products come from collaboration, in my opinion. Some publishers silo tasks and don’t include the author as much as others. Working with the publishing team helps you understand their goals and creates an environment of cooperation, coordination, and innovation that best uses everyone’s talents. 


The ultimate mission is to create and produce successful products as evidenced by marketing and sales. The more you work with specific publishers, the more you learn about their business, structure, and market. Feeling like everyone is marching to the same drum makes for less stress and positive problem solving as a team.


 A word of caution—follow the submission guidelines. Many publishers throw out submissions immediately without reading a word when they don’t follow the posted submission rules. Many great submissions are never looked at based upon this first impression of not following the rules. Try to mimic or rephrase submission information to show you read and respect the process.    


I understand the need for submission adherence because so many are involved in the decision making and it provides an analytical path for all to reference. That being said, I may be a bit different than most who review proposals for publication.


What do I look for? A pitch that shows the author explicitly knows the content, market, the need, and the differentiation in a sea of competition. I want to know what drives the author to write the content; something that makes the submission memorable and leaves me wanting to know more. I want to see an outline that covers the bases but what creative slant or feature can be incorporated to push it further. I like to work as a team, not in a standard hierarchy that can pit author/editorial against design/production. Some of our best efforts have been a collaborative process where all work together. The ultimate win is high quality within budget and timeframe that marketing is excited for and sales meet/exceed expectations. 


My advice is not to compromise your work if the project does not fit your goals. Issues arise when authors try to retro fit concepts into the publisher’s parameters. It is good to take into consideration the feedback, but when you feel strongly about your concept and approach, and the suggested revisions take a whole different turn for you, be true to yourself and know when to decline. There are other options for you to pursue. Or, show your willingness to compromise. What changes can work for you and what you want to keep. 


In today’s world, the opportunity to write exciting, accurate and stimulating NF is vast. Some content may not have the longevity but providing readers with relevant, current, and inspiring content about people and events is a rewarding personal and professional experience.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My creative journey began when I created a colorful design on big grid paper in kindergarten. I have been fortunate to stay that course my whole life thus far. When I took an art director job at a publishing company, I knew I found my spark. For over 30 years, my drive to operate my own company (with my husband/partner), design, write, establish long-term partnerships, mentor others, and make a difference in young people’s lives helps me live my passion every day.





ABOUT THE PRIZE

Nancy Tuminelly will be awarding a critique of a manuscript or series concept to assist creating a publishing project submission proposal.

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.
You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.  
 

183 comments:

  1. Nancy, thank you for giving us an editor’s perspective.
    Gail Hartman

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  2. Thank you for this candid, in-depth view of nonfiction proposals. I appreciate your collaborative, teamwork-focused work style.

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  3. Thank you for your tips, Nancy. For several years I've been contributing to Cricket media & these days, I'm fortunate to say that the editors often request pieces from me, rather than me pitching to them (although I do miss the hustle, LOL!). Yet no matter how the manuscript comes to be, I write that outline first--it's my road map to the final article!

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  4. Your perspective on NF proposals is so helpful. Thanks!

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  5. Great insights and lots to digest!

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  6. Very informative post. I agree with your comment that the best products come from collaboration. Thanks for giving us an editor’s perspective!

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  7. Thank you. Good to hear an editor's perspective

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  8. Great information. Thanks so much, Nancy.

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  9. It sounds like market research is just as important as researching for content. That's good to know.

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  10. Nancy, thank you for an inside peek at how your process works. I like a collaborative approach, too.

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  11. This is wonderful. Thank you for the insight.

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  12. Thank you for your advice, Nancy! It's great to know what sets a nonfiction proposal apart and grabs an editor's interest.

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  13. So much helpful information here, Nancy! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. I read the title of this entry and thought Nancy had read my mind. I'm preparing a middle grade book proposal for which the content provided professional guidance and reassurance. Forty years as an educator, I relate to the collaborative effort needed by all parties to create success for a child. Wonderful advice for a writer. Melanie Vickers

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  15. Thank you, Nancy, for your detailed advice on how to approach publishers with nonfiction. I appreciate all the important considerations you highlighted.

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  16. Thank you, Nancy. Being true to yourself and knowing when to decline stood out to me.

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  17. I loved the advice not to compromise if the project doesn't fit the goals. This was an incredibly helpful post, from the reasons to not submit a full manuscript to the need to follow the guidelines. Many thanks!

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  18. Thanks! Great tips on how to stand out in a sea of submissions.

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  19. Nancy, I really liked your reminder that it's not always best to write the full book - just an outline - before you submit.

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  20. It’s so great to hear this perspective! It echos my experience with editors on NF ms—very collaborative! Thanks for sharing your own experience!

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  21. Thank you, Nancy. I have worked on only one nf proposal (so far) and going into it with the spirit of collaboration and teamwork was essential.

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  22. Thank you for outlining the characteristics of an effective non-fiction project for the educational market as well as the general reading market. Most kids are attracted to nonfiction at a young age and writing quality work that is not didactic is one of my goals.

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  23. Good to hear what an editor is looking for, specifically ~ creative slant or feature in a 'sea of competition.'

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  24. I thought it was interesting you said to mimic or rephrase the submission information. Good idea and this also can serve as your own double check of, "does my manuscript fit their specifications?" Thanks!

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  25. Thanks for this great advice, Nancy, particularly what you look for in a pitch. I'm glad you noted the personal rewards in writing non-fiction. I'm just making a first attempt at it, and I'm very excited about this new challenge.

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  26. Very interesting to get the scoop on NF proposals, something I have never done or even really considered before. -Sara Ackerman

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  27. Speaking as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, both have challenges but there is nothing easy about nonfiction and for me, NF is way tougher. There's no pantsing around in NF! :-)

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  28. Thank you for your suggestions and tips.

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  29. Really great advice! Especially about not submitting a full manuscript for NF books. I had not heard that before.

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  30. Great post! Thanks for the fab advice!

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  31. Yes, as someone who's written many NF books, which I find more challenging than fiction, I agree that writers need to "be true to yourself and know when to decline."

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  32. Very helpful advice and insights. I appreciate your post and perspective!

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  33. Thank you very much! I will work on finding something that makes my submission memorable!!!

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  34. Thanks for your advice, Nancy. I’m just delving into NF now, so I had no idea about sending proposals instead of the MS, of which I have about 1/3 complete and researched :) I hadn’t thought of creating a series, either. I’ll have to meander that through my research and see if any other ideas pop up.

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  35. Love your point about staying true to yourself when you feel strongly about your concept and approach. I am wrestling with that right now. Although I love collaborating with an editor to make a stronger story, you have to listen to your heart.

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  36. This was an excellent, information-filled post! I'm going to apply it to my current mg nonfiction WIP. Thank you very much for the info. Just want to say that as a 1st-time nf writer, I've been told I should write the entire MS, not try to sell it from sample chapters and a proposal. I also appreciated hearing some of your "insider" discussion of what happens inside the publishing house and the editorial vs. production/sales departments. Very interesting and very true; writers need to know more about this stuff. Thanks!

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  37. Great post, Nancy! It's good to hear an editor's perspective when it come to writing nonfiction.

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  38. This was so helpful! I have several concepts floating in my head right now, and this helps me focus my energy on finding that angle that will set them apart from the competition. Thank you!

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  39. Can't find my comment, so posting again: I found this a really helpful, fact-filled post that I'm going to apply to my mg nonfiction WIP. But I have been told that as a first-time writer, I really need to submit the entire MS, not just sample chapters and a proposal.

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  40. As an experienced educator who would like to write for the educational market, I found your post to be quite helpful and insightful. Thank you for the informative tips!

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  41. Thank you, Nancy for sharing your editorial viewpoint on writing non-fiction to produce quality non-fiction children's books.

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  42. This has been very helpful. Thank you for sharing your passion with us.

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  43. Thank you Nancy. Your publishing insights were very helpful!

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  44. Thank you for sharing your valuable insights regarding submitting a non-fiction proposal, Nancy Tuminelly. Your experience is invaluable and offers important guidelines for nf writers to follow.

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  45. My favorite line is: "In today’s world, the opportunity to write exciting, accurate and stimulating NF is vast." Yes!

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  46. Thank you for this very helpful post! I learned so much and especially found it interesting to know that "Sometimes, going too far by submitting full manuscripts of proposed books is less helpful than you might imagine."

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  47. Thank you Nancy for a great post about an editor's perspective.

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  48. There's so much to think about when writing nonfiction. I don't think everyone appreciates this. Thank you for a peek into your journey and current process as an editor. Having worked as a freelancer for adults for many years, I keep waffling on applying for WFH in kidlit, because I ALWAYS put other people's deadlines ahead of my own, and then never find time to do my "own" work. It's one of my failings. But one of these days, I may just try again.

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  49. Thank you for a great post. It's valuable to hear what you, as an editor, want to see.

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  50. Thanks, Nancy, for giving an editor's point of view.

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  51. Thank you for your post. NF is a wide-open, fascinating field of kidlit. It's so helpful to hear from people like you, Nancy, who are on the front lines!

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  52. I haven't worked on a proposal yet, but after reading this post, it sounds kind of interesting (and possibly time saving!)

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  53. "NF writing need not be mundane if you consider what young readers these days have at their fingertips to access."--such an important point! NF has changed so much, and wonderful writers have shown that NF can be just as, if not more so, exciting than fiction.

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  54. Really interesting to consider writing on topics that may not necessarily have longevity, but writing about current topics. This has challenged my assumptions - thank you!

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  55. Thanks for such straightforward and clear information. It's very helpful.

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  56. Thanks for sharing your process. A collaborative process is golden, and you're right, makes for the best book in the end.

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  57. Thank you for sharing your editor's insight into the process. Much appreciated!

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  58. This is gold! I especially appreciate the respect you show for writers by encouraging us to believe in our work enough to respectfully stand up for it. Thank you for sharing all this great advice.

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  59. Thank you, Nancy! A lot of helpful tips here.

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  60. Great information! I printed it and keeping it as a reminder! Thank you

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  61. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Nancy! It's so helpful to hear from someone who has had different roles in the book creation process and who speaks to collaboration and working as a team.

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  62. The idea of a creative slant to enhance the topic and push it further makes a lot of sense as it would set that work apart from the other submissions.

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  63. Thank you for reminding me about rephrasing the submission guidelines in a proposal. I'm writing the cover letter this week, and will be sure to include that.

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  64. I like the tip about mimicking or rephrasing the submission guideline directions. Thank you!

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  65. I liked that you said to decide if you must decline the project or if you are willing to compromise and collaborate.

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  66. Thanks for this post. I did not know much about nonfiction proposals. And I do agree with this: "NF writing need not be mundane if you consider what young readers these days have at their fingertips to access. Ask yourself, as a young person, what would entice or inspire you to read this book?" It's so easy for them to jump on the computer and look up information. So how can you create a book that offers something the internet can't? I think that is something to think about before writing and while writing. Thanks for this post.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  67. This is great to know! I'm wondering, though, if this is more for the educational presses versus trade market? Thanks!

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  68. Thank you for this helpful post! Lots of great insights.

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  69. It's great to read a concise description of what a good pitch and proposal or outline should contain. Thank you.

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  70. Thanks for your perspective! I appreciate the advice to be true to yourself and the vision you have for your project.

    Celia Viramontes

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  71. Nancy, this is a "meaty" post. Thank you for your perspective.

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  72. Great to hear your perspective of the NF proposal process. Two things struck me in your post: your advice to "mimic or rephrase" the submission information and to cite "correct" primary sources. In-depth research of content as well as the market is so important. Thank you - Priscilla

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  73. Helpful insights into ways to we can collaborate with publishers and not back track and retrofit our work.

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  74. I appreciated your words of not compromising one's work if the feedback does not resonate at all, but keeping an open mind, all along. Thank you for this informative post!

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  75. I was instantly drawn to Robo Pet as someone that leads an Inventors Club (great example to illustrate your point).

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  76. Thank you Nancy for your advice on pitching NF proposals, and the process.
    I like your advice to "mimic or rephrase" the submission info, for clarity on both sides!
    Best in creativity,

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  77. It's a team effort when working with a publisher, and proposing nonfiction with a slant on a topic that will reach readers, and also sell is something to work toward while finding the right fit!

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  78. Thanks for your advice and insight! šŸ™‚

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  79. Great post, Nancy! Thank you for giving us an editor’s perspective on how to submit a nonfiction proposal. I liked your advice about mimicking or rephrasing the submission information...as well as your advice to stay true to yourself when you feel strongly about your manuscript

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  80. Nancy, this comment really stood out to me - "Try to mimic or rephrase submission information to show you read and respect the process" - and I wonder if this is more for WFH submissions or if you are referencing a comment like "please find the manuscript pasted below (or attached)" in our queries?

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  81. Thank you for the wealth of information you shared in your post, Nancy. I'll be referring back to it as I stick my toes in the NF waters.

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  82. Thank you for the reminder that it's okay to decline a project/offer/contract.

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  83. Thank you for your great information. This is very helpful and cleared up some misconceptions.

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  84. "mimic or rephrase" submission information! Thank you for this post.

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  85. A plethora of useful advice. Thank you for this post.

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  86. Nancy, thanks for the advice. I learned a lot.

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  87. Nancy, This was all such great advice and insight. Thank you so much.

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  88. Thank you for your perspective and advice.

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  89. Thank you for this advice. I love hearing about what editors look for when evaluating NF.

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  90. Your many words of wisdom, Nancy, resonate with me. I especially connect with your thoughts on the importance of considering all feedback from a critique. However, it’s important to stay true to a concept, approach, and vision.

    Thank you.
    Suzy Leopold

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  91. Thanks for the advice! Very helpful!

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  92. So helpful! Thanks for sharing.☺️

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  93. very interesting! Thank you! I learned a bit more about book proposals.

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  94. Thank you, Nancy. This inside look at what publishers want in a submission is invaluable.

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  95. Great advice on how to write a proposal. I often find that part even harder than writing the book itself!

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  96. I have written nonfiction books for the educational market, but have never tried pitching my own ideas, I've always been work-for-hire. I enjoyed reading what you are looking for from an author to not only interest you, but set the proposed book apart from others out already.

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  97. Non-fiction submission guidelines are very intense. Sure would be wonderful if there was some sort of unity in what each publisher asked for.

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  98. Very valuable information. Thanks for sharing!

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  99. Thank you for this peek at submitting proposals for the educational market. Very helpful, Nanyce!

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  100. Wow! Thank you for this informative post. I learned a great deal about the specifics of a proposal.

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  101. Thank you so much for providing the editor's perspective. The details are very helpful!

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  102. This is fantastic information. Thank you so much for your thoughtful post.

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  103. Hi Kimberly! We are in two different groups together.

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  104. Very detailed information. Thank you, Nancy.

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  105. Another fine blog post. This is so helpful. Thank you, Nancy

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  106. Thanks for pulling back the curtain and sharing your insights.

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  107. Thankyou, Nancy. Great information.

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  108. My agent requires book proposals for fiction and nonfiction. I have found writing proposals really helps with the focus of your work and in the end with promotion too.

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  109. Thank you for sharing your insights from the editor's perspective. I especially appreciate your emphasis on working collaboratively.

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  110. Another great post. Wow. A friend/fellow writer writes almost exclusively NF. It is so helpful to see what her submission requests are like. For example: Word choice. I hadn't even thought of it before! I love how you mentioned that a writer shouldn't compromise their goals/ideas/visions when writing NF. Thank you!

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  111. Thank you so much for your tips on submitting, Nancy! I so appreciate knowing what you look for in a submisison.

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  112. Thank you for the editor's perspective, especially "the need for submission adherence."

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  113. I was struck by the idea of a different slant and setting the bar higher. I was also touched by the passion that comes through in your biography.

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  114. Thank you for providing the editor's perspective.

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  115. Thank you! I start hearing static in my ears when book proposals are mentioned. I'm planning to find a workshop that can help focus this for me, but your post definitely brought some clarity to me. I appreciate your time to share your expertise with us!

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  116. Great advice, especially this:"Try to mimic or rephrase submission information to show you read and respect the process."

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  117. Always great to hear a perspective from the publishing industry itself. Thank you, Nancy

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  118. Thank you so very much for the editor's eye view. What a wealth of information.

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  119. Good reminder. Yes, feedback is helpful but know when NOT to change if it is a compromise. Many thanks, v-

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  120. Thank you so much for the wealth of information you gave us. This was a wonderful way to look at a book proposal from the other side of the table. Terrific post!

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  121. Thanks for all the info. I think I'm most surprised by how much the goals of the writer matter to a publisher. Good advice!

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  122. The wisdom I've always heard is to write the entire manuscript first, then makes sure it shines before submitting. That ignores so many of the options you've discussed here -- and I welcome the possibilities it raised. Obviously need to look more closely at publishers to see what they produce and how they take submissions!

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  123. Not sure my first post went through since I was on the train, but I really enjjoyed this post. I liked hearing about the entire process and what an editor would be looking for througout. Thank you!

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  124. I love. Love, Love, Love the information on presenting your NF proposal in a unique way. . . highlighting a specific activity, a different story structure in our proposal submission. It is quite obvious Nancy is extremely knowledgeable in this. Man, I'm so excited about this post because it is shining a light on how to take all of that research and present it so that it fills a need of the company, but represents me as the author contributor. Gonna be looking at my proposal in a whole new light now, thanks to Nancy. Love this.

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  125. "Try to mimic or rephrase submission information to show you read and respect the process." This is a great piece of advice, and one I hadn't thought of. It will also help me to be sure on my end that I am on top of requirements!

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  126. What I really took away from this is to do your research and be a subject matter expert. Also, to find that differentiation and use a new and interesting way to teach about a topic. Thank you so much for this article!!
    -Rebecca Blankinship

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  127. Lots of very helpful information--thank you! I'm not to this point yet, but I will keep this handy.

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  128. I agree that writers shouldn't compromise their work if a project doesn't fit their goals. Thank you for the reminder Nancy! Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  129. Thanks for a great post! I love your advice about mimicking or rephrasing submission information.

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  130. YAY team work together collaborations. Maria Johnson

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  131. You brought up some ideas that I hadn't thought about before, like not submitting finished work because the guidelines might be different than you suspect. Working together as a collaborative team is definitely a special experience. Thank you for the insights.

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  132. Great post, Nancy. I especially like that you made the point, "Citing correct primary sources also provides reassurance and professionalism to potential publishers that your work and process can be trusted."

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  133. Thanks for this very insightful and informative post. No compromise on your goals as a NF writer, reading the sub guidlines, and mimicking sub informaton and working collabartively -- the last tip is music to my ears!

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  134. Thank you, Nancy, for your insights and specific tips re: how to approach a NF proposal. It's so helpful to have a glimpse into the process from the editorial side.

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  135. This is great, commonsense advice, but two things surprised/interested me.
    1. Not to submit whole manuscript.
    2. Walk away from a revision that you feel is not right. I once told the editor to take my name off a book if a particular statement added in revision, an oft-repeated tale that I knew not to be true, was included. The offensive statement was removed and the book I wrote is on my shelf.

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  136. Wow, Nancy. These are important insights you've shared with us. I especially like your suggestion to stay with a vision, having worked on a project for several years, with ideas developing in the overall concept. But I think I may need to be sure my 'vision' of the project isn't keeping me from putting it out for submission and proposal. At some point I've got to 'let my baby go' so the kidlit village has a part in 'raising' it. Thanks for this great advice.

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  137. Thank you for sharing these helpful insights from the editor's desk.

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  138. Thanks for the "What I look for" advice and other tips.

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  139. Thank you very much. Such good advice ❤️

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  140. Is there a list of publishers available? That would be helpful when trying to find submission guidelines.

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  141. Reading specifically what YOU as an editor look for underscores the importance of a writer doing submission research as carefully as his/her book research.

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  142. Thanks for providing the details needed for a proposal. Very helpful to hear about the process from your side Nancy.

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  143. I appreciate reading your perspective as an editor, especially your comments about the value of collaboration. Thank you, Nancy!

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  144. Great inside look - I thought it was interesting that it's not necessarily a good idea to send a complete manuscript because of the potential for rewrites in order to align with their style, etc. Thanks!

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  145. Very helpful! Great insights from an editor's perspective.

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  146. Thanks for your insights. Following submission guidelines is so important!

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  147. I was struck by the fact that it is not necessarily wise to submit a full manuscript. Good to know.

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  148. Thank you for this clear advice. I like the idea of figuring out if my book is a one and done or a series before submitting.

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  149. "What creative slant or feature can be incorporated to push it further"? This is a great question to ask with each project.

    And you've included so much other useful info in this post. Thank you so much.

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  150. Thank you for sharing an editor's perspective. This is very timely for me! I'm preparing to send out my NF MG proposal. What struck me most is your goal: "My goal is to set the bar higher with a differentiating feature or activity or content structure that attracts and stimulates young readers’ minds." I'm aiming for this! Thanks again.

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  151. I didn't know that submitting a full NF manuscript was not ideal. Thank you for the insights!

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  152. Thanks for the reminder to look for submission guidelines when putting a project together to send out. Forewarned is forearmed in book business.

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  153. Thank you for laying out the "nuts and bolts" of book proposals.

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  154. Talk about timely information! I'm just in the throes of writing a proposal and will take your pointers to heart, especially writing the "pitch."

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  155. Thank you, Nancy, for your insights into nonfiction from a publisher's point of view--a perspective often missing from nonfiction information. I particularly appreciated your suggestions about pitches. I will use your wisdom in a pitch I'm working on right now.

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  156. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing what it looks like from your side of the fence. I appreciate the information.

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  157. Thank you so much,Nancy for sharing amazing info on pitches!I AM WRITING A PROPOSAL AND YOUR SUGGESTIONS JUST CAME IN TIME!

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  158. Non-fiction proposals are intense. I was surprised to find how different the proposal requirements were. Giving them what they asked for was a full time job in itself.

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  159. Thank you for sharing! I love the focus on what will make a book stand out among all the other books on a particular topic.

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  160. Thank you for this informative post.

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  161. Great to hear a publisher's point of view. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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  162. So appreciate your editorial perspective. Thank you!

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  163. Thank you for your post! Your advice will be very helpful in writing proposals, especially your suggestion about rephrasing the submission guidelines.

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  164. This is really useful. It’s surprising how often I have read “follow the guidelines” but this is the first time it was spelled out: “mimic or rephrase the information…” Great idea. By the way, what do you mean by “having a content expert on board” Get help and blurbs or recommendations along the way? As in, “I have taken a look at this author’s work and find it accurate and fresh. As well, her much-needed book will fill a niche ..”

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  165. "I want to know what drives the author to write the content; something that makes the submission memorable and leaves me wanting to know more." Great information. Thanks!

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  166. Such good points about working in collaboration with everyone involved in a project--it always makes for a better experience when everyone is on the same page about the final goal. Thank you for your thoughtful post!

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  167. Nancy, thank you for this advice! I believe the quality of collaborative relationships drives success. I like these words from your post--"cooperation, innovation, coordination"!

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