How I Organize Book Ideas and Proposals

aka, How I developed a publishing system for managing the dozens of proposals and book ideas that regularly come across my desk.

I am close to a year into my publishing industry gig. The longer I am here, the faster the proposals stream in. Lately it has started to get a bit much.

As of today I am handling 90 books and projects. 35 are under contract and 55 are in various stages of conversation and proposal development. There’s no way we can publish all 55, so I have had to develop a plan for judging which ones to accept.

As an “Ideator” (gee, that sounds pretentious), one of my strongest gifts is the development and organization of ideas. I had fun last week kicking in my organizer genes and creating a Big Board, of sorts, for my proposals. Here it is:

Not all 90 books are here; just most of the ones in active development but without a contract. With so many concepts, conversations and possibilities, it is crucial to create some criteria for saying “yes” or “no”. After all, these are big decisions for authors and prospective authors.

The big board is one level of criteria. Most proposals fit into one of several categories. How clearly the proposal fits into a category can provide some clues as to how successful it may be. Of course, some books bust genres, but they are the exceptions to prove the rule that successful publishing works from an idea management plan.

I have created four broad categories, or lines, for the leadership genre: Management, Church/Org Development, Practices, and Self-Development. These may sound vague but they have specific definitions for me. Next, each of these lines has three-four sublines. For example, management includes Money, Operations, Leading People, and Leadership Tactics. This is the practical, hands-on category of Leadership; the 5 foot level stuff, as opposed to the 30,000 foot level stuff.

The yellow post-it notes are people, with a one-word description of each idea. The Excel chart on the right contains a more complete explanation of each proposal, how it fits into the grand scheme, and some notes about development history. What I discovered as I created this was that most people’s proposals fall into a few popular lines and sublines. The funny thing is that these aren’t necessarily the lines that historically perform the best.

A second level of criteria relates to the proposals themselves. Most calls and emails I receive (book ideas by Tweet – not a good idea) are half-baked. There’s a nugget of truth in them but they need a lot of help. Next I will outline what constitutes a good book proposal.