Proposal to Publication – Part 1 of 5

This week I’m going to take you on a journey through the publishing process “From Proposal to Publication.” I’ll give brief explanations of what’s happening at the publishing house during each of the stages, and what’s expected of the author. Please note this a generic overview… the process can vary substantially from house to house. Feel free to send questions.

Today we’ll start at the beginning:

The Proposal Stage

4 Either you or your agent submits your proposal to an editor at a publishing house.

4 It goes into the editor’s stack. At some point (could be the same week or it could be six months down the road) the editor takes a first glance. Is there a spark of interest?

4 If so, they’ll give it a careful read, and they may discuss it with another editor or two.

4 If it doesn’t capture the editor’s interest, a pass letter will be forthcoming. But if the response is positive, your proposal will go to the entire editorial team.

4 At the editorial meeting, all the editors will discuss it. Every aspect will be looked at: idea, execution, author’s platform.

4 Three possibilities can come from the editorial meeting:
1) Pass
2) Go back to the author for suggested revisions
3) Accept

4 If the proposal is accepted, it then goes to the Pub Committee. This is a team of executives usually consisting of the publisher, editorial director, marketing director, sales director, sometimes even the CFO. The question is no longer “Is this a good book?” but “Can we sell this?” Other questions being considered include: Will the author’s platform help sell this book? Does it fit with our vision as a company? Does it fit with our publishing plan? Does it overlap too heavily with anything else we’ve already contracted?

4 It’s really exciting if your project gets to Pub Committee, but this is where most projects get rejected. The main point of this meeting is to come up with every possible objection to publishing the book. This is where the author platform will be scrutinized with a magnifying glass. The market will be analyzed and the competition assessed. The numbers will be crunched via a P&L (or pro forma) in which every last little detail of publishing this book is projected: the expected first-year sales, the production costs, royalty rates, discount rates, etc. This is a meeting in which you, the author, are no longer a person but a product to sell, pure and simple.

4 The result is either a YES or a NO. A NO means you’ll get a pass letter. A YES means a contract offer will be forthcoming, and you’ll be celebrating!

4 Not to be a spoil-sport, but you should be ready for anything here. You may get an offer, but it could be a lot lower than you expected. There could be other surprising things about the offer, such as a publication date that’s two years out. You’ll need to talk with your agent about it and make sure he or she tries to get you a fair deal.

4 This process from submission to Pub Committee can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months or even a year.

Next up: The Contract Phase

I’m taking a blogging break this week, so I’m featuring a series I originally posted in 2008. Hope you find it helpful!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Sandy at God Speaks Today on July 22, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    >I’m new here too…so thanks.You know what struck me more than anything else in this post? The fact that I’ve spent the last three months preparing a proposal and several months prior to that creating blog posts that inspired the book idea…and none of that even has a “bullit point!”I’ve heard published authors say the proposal is only the beginning. I guess you weren’t kidding.:)Blessings,Sandy

  2. Renee Swope on July 21, 2009 at 8:08 PM

    >Love this post. I am new to your blog so I am very thankful for the re-run. I heard today that my proposal is being reviewed tomorrow by the Edtiorial team at a publishing house I really like, so this post helps me “see” where it is in the process and what the process going forward really looks like. Thanks!ReneeRenee SwopeProverbs 31

  3. Anonymous on July 21, 2009 at 1:50 PM

    >Great post! Thank you :)I know this is trivial, but I’ve always wondered…when the editors read it, do most do so on the computer or do they print the ms out? With all the “green” going on, I’ve wondered if they just read them online now. Thanks! :)Sandi

  4. Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie on July 21, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    >Every aspiring author should study this post and the next four in this series. This is a clear, incredibly useful "behind the scenes" look at publishing.

    We've published ten books with four Christian publishers and the process is exactly as Rachelle describes it here. At the Pub Team level, think of Tom Hanks telling Meg Ryan "It isn't personal. It's business." (You've Got Mail.) That is precisely true.

    The intangible here is your own relationship with the editors, artists, and executives at the publishing company. If these people know you personally, and trust both your work and your work ethic, this can help put your project "over the line" toward a yes decision.

    A "yes" decision is one of the happiest days in an author's life!

  5. Chris Pedersen on July 20, 2009 at 6:27 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. This was a very clear (love the clarity bullets provide) walk through the proposal stage. Helps put things into perspective.

  6. God and Ponytails on July 20, 2009 at 4:34 PM

    >Made it to the Pub a few times and did not get through because of cost concerns… I know it is just part of it but it is hard to hold the tension of business/ God stuff in this process.

  7. Billy Coffey on July 20, 2009 at 3:53 PM

    >I must have missed this the first time around, but I'm glad I caught it now. This was great information.

    Hope you have a great vacation, Rachelle.

  8. Beth on July 20, 2009 at 12:44 PM

    >I was just thinking the other day that I'd like to hear more about the process, so this is awesome! Thanks for the info!

  9. JStantonChandler on July 20, 2009 at 11:59 AM

    >Thank you for this, Rachelle. I'm am just a child when it comes to knowing the publishing industry from the inside. I appreciate the time and care you take in informing us.


  10. Jenni Saake (a.k.a. InfertilityMom) on July 20, 2009 at 11:45 AM

    >Thank you for this insider's look. Excited to read this entire series. 🙂


  11. Glynis on July 20, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    >Enjoy your break. Thanks for a very useful post. Old to you, new to me 🙂

  12. Dara on July 20, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    >Even if this is an "old" series, it's all new to me!


  13. Eric on July 20, 2009 at 10:32 AM

    >Thanks for this. This is neat to learn how things happen, especially for those of us new to the whole process.

  14. Enjoying the journey, Karla on July 20, 2009 at 9:39 AM

    >Thanks for the post. I am new to your blog and loved all the information. It is nice to know what the road ahead looks like.

  15. Kristen Torres-Toro @ Write in the Way on July 20, 2009 at 9:24 AM

    >Though I've read a lot of your "older" posts, I haven't stumbled across this series yet. So for me, it's new! Thanks for the teaching me about that which I'd have no clue of otherwise!

  16. Teri D. Smith on July 20, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    >Have a great break. You deserve it, and the info's still good.

  17. Katie Ganshert on July 20, 2009 at 7:42 AM

    >Very interesting to know what happens. Thanks!!

    This is incredibly random. But I dreamt the other night that you came over to my aunt's house for dinner, and she served you cereal. And I kept thinking, "Rachelle Gardner is at my aunt's house. And we're serving her Applejacks for dinner?"

    What do you think old Freud would do with a dream like that? 🙂

    Thanks again for the posts! Looking forward to reading through this particular rerun.

  18. Chatty Kelly on July 20, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    >Since I'm "newer" around here, I love reruns! Great information!

  19. Angie Ledbetter on July 20, 2009 at 7:20 AM

    >Thanks for the tutorial. You made it easy to understand.

  20. Mariana on July 20, 2009 at 7:19 AM

    >Very insightful. Can't wait to see the rest.

  21. Krista Phillips on July 20, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    >Great rerun! I did *kinda* a rerun myself today of the 2008 ACFW conference. Good times:-)

    It's always interesting getting a sneak peek into behind the scenes as to what goes on!

  22. Rachel on July 20, 2009 at 6:28 AM

    >Oh, I like this series. Good rerun.

  23. Sharon A. Lavy on July 20, 2009 at 6:26 AM

    >I don't mind at all that you are posting an old series. Many of us did not see the original, and those who have can probably use a refresher.

  24. Michael Malone on July 20, 2009 at 1:56 AM

    >Interesting post as usual. I've been "passed" a couple of times at the Pub Committee stage. Man, that was disappointing!