My Book Proposal

Have you ever thought about writing a book? In particular, have you ever thought of writing a book on quilting or other crafting? I have. I’ve mentioned that I submitted a book proposal to publishers. My proposal was to write a book on medallion quilts. In fact I’ve submitted to three of the primary quilting/crafting publishers. None of the three offered me a contract for publication, so this is not a post about how to succeed with your proposal. It’s simply a discussion of the process I went through.

The intensity of my desire to publish has varied through time, and it still does. There are two primary motivations for me to publish the book I’ve proposed. First, I enjoy sharing what I know about medallions and want to help others learn to make their own quilts. The blog has a lot of information, but a book would be more complete and organized to find it more easily. Second, with this blog I’ve already published more about making medallions than almost anyone else, in blog or book format. While I want others to learn from it, I don’t want anyone to steal my work and publish it as their own.

On the other hand, creating a book is a time-intensive enterprise, and few authors make much money at it. I would not be doing it for fame or fortune.

Once I made the decision to proceed, I considered how to publish it. My friend Alan, who has published a number of books through traditional publishers, lobbied for self-publishing. Self-publishing can give an author greater control and a higher cut of the proceeds, but it also gives more responsibilities. Quilting books’ appearance is a big factor in their appeal. I’m a quilter, not a graphic designer. I wasn’t real interested in doing all the layout and design work. So I decided to submit to a traditional publisher.

All three publishers (C&T Publishing, AQS, and Martingale) have rigorous requirements for proposals. They all asked for a tremendous amount of information about me and about my book concept, as well as my intended means to market the book. Each has a different multi-page form, though the information requested overlaps substantially. This form from C&T Publishing is one example. Their form actually has changed since I submitted it a year ago, but the basic structure is the same.

It took weeks just to develop my first proposal, including the form, a table of contents, sample projects and chapters, and photos of quilts. That proposal was emailed as requested. (One of the proposals required real quilts be mailed, along with paper copies of everything. Really?!?)

One thing all publishers asked for was information about existing competitors on the market, and how my book would be similar and different from them. There are not many existing books out there, and I own or have seen almost all of them. This was an easy question to answer. (Would you like to see a summary of the other books? I could put them in a different post.)

Another item of overlap was my intentions for marketing the book. The form linked above for C&T has these questions:

Describe your online brand and engagement strategy:

Do you have a website on which you will be selling your book, and do you plan to sell your book directly to consumers at shows or teaching opportunities? If so, please indicate approximately how many books you anticipate selling directly to your consumers over the first year of publication.

How would you plan to promote your book in the first 3 months? First year? First 3 years?

Now an author has to have a “brand” and a built-in audience — they have to be famous before getting a book contract. That is a fairly recent phenomena. What it means is there is more room for the popular blogger to get a book contract than there is for the expert. (And it reminds me of a snake eating its tail…)

One of the three responses I received specifically noted the need for sales. That publisher said they need to project at least 10,000 books sold to take the chance on a book, and they didn’t foresee my book achieving that goal. They also said I had a solid proposal and a great blog site. I’m all for profitability, and I appreciated the honesty and compliments.

Another publisher encouraged me to submit the proposal elsewhere because they already had another medallion book in play. Apparently only ONE medallion book can come out every few years, regardless of the number of scrap quilt books, pre-cuts books, FMQ books, “modern” books, paper piecing books, and other pattern and technique books that come out every single year. LOTS of room for multiples of those!

The third publisher sent me an exceedingly short form letter with no personal comments. Ironically, this was the publisher that demanded the most, by way of requiring even quilts to be shipped to them to have the proposal considered.

I learned a lot while developing my proposals. Answering the questions on the forms, multiple times in multiple ways, helped me think through how I want to frame my book. I was forced to articulate my goals, wrote several chapters, and developed projects.

I also learned about publishers. I understand that publishers expect authors to carry most of the load on marketing. Authors need to create and schedule classes and guild presentations, flog their books at conventions (paying their own way generally), sell directly from their blogs and web pages, create short- and long-term plans to sell, schedule blog hops and reviews…

I’ve heard from other authors that their publishers did little if any real editing on their books.

That leaves open the question of what publishers do. This I know: they apply for ISBN and submit copyright documents. They do layout and graphic design. They generally will photograph the quilts and projects, but the author pays for shipping to get them there and back. (You’ve shipped quilts, right? Not cheap…) They generally will arrange permissions for photos of other quilts (like those owned by a museum.) They print the books and distribute them. And they take a majority of the proceeds for their efforts.

The only clear need I have here is for graphic design and page layout. Self-publishing with a company like Amazon provides ISBN, printing, and distribution. I can do permissions and photos. I can apply for registered copyright. I can learn layout…

My friend Alan is a smart guy. (I have really smart friends.) I’m not sorry I went through the whole process, including the rejections. But as it turns out, if I publish, I’m looking at self-publishing.






41 thoughts on “My Book Proposal

  1. Thread crazy

    I so remember when you started sending your manuscript to publishers. I’m glad to hear you are considering self-publishing as you project yourself well on your blog and am sure you’ll carry this over into your book. So I say go for it!.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks! I sent the first one out nearly a year ago. Coulda made a lot more progress by now if I hadn’t waited to hear “no” 3 times. 🙂 But that’s okay. There is value in “no.” I’ll write about THAT someday, too.

  2. Pam V

    Would really like to know how this turns out for you. I think you will find the layout to be easier than you think. Start with your favorite quilting book, any topic, and really look at it. What do you like? What don’t you like? Wishing you all the best.

  3. Debra

    Oh! I really think you should do this! I’ve heard really good things about self publishing. In fact, some established authors have ditched their publishing houses. I wish you all the best.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Debra. As I said, I think the biggest stumbling block is in the graphics and layout. But I don’t expect that to stop me. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Jane Victoria / Jolly and Delilah

    I think you’ve highlighted a real problem with the way the industry works. There’s already one book on medallion quilts coming out this year, so yours cannot. I only buy a quilting book if I know the author and like their work, or it contains projects I want to make. I probably would buy yours on the first qualification alone, even if I purchased it online without ever once opening the cover. I can’t say the same for that other medallion book floating in the ether.

    I do hope you manage to get your book out there eventually, in whatever format works. Your style of quilting is very different to mine, but I’m still evolving, and who knows where the journey will take me. I love your blog to bits. Your posts are always very informative and entertaining. Honestly, between you and Sam, I’m starting to think that the publishing world is pretty grim. I have other friends who can, and are happy to, pay the burden of selling and promoting their books. I think I’m too new to the industry to really get a good idea of how it all works, but it seems exhausting, and I imagine I’d have to throw in the added cost of a publicist if I wanted to go down that road… actually, that might be something my sister’s good at.

    Thank you for sharing this experience and your thoughts on it with us.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thank you so much. Your comments mean a lot to me. I do think there is a lot of positive in publishing, but most of the books I see look like more of the same. I also think that’s always been the case. It’s easier to publish on trends, of course. And medallions have a bit of trendiness to them but they are also seen as HARD, and mostly people want to do easy. It’s okay. We all like different things and that’s what makes the world go round… Thanks again.

      1. Jane Victoria / Jolly and Delilah

        Thanks for the fast response Melanie. I think you’re right about medallion quilts being seen as being too difficult, and yes, many people want to tear through projects as quickly as possible. That said, I’ve seen Elizabeth Hartman’s Aviatrix Medallion about 1000 times on Instagram. So yes, maybe people are starting to change their minds about them.

        Is it normal in other industries for writers to have to bear so much of the promotional burden? I’ll have to ask around.

        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          Let me know what I find out about promoting. I expect it is the new normal for all but “established” authors, and they’ve already done their grunt work.

          As to fast response, I try to respond quickly but yesterday was offline all day. I felt like I was very SLOW getting back to people! 🙂

          1. Jane Victoria / Jolly and Delilah

            No luck so far, unfortunately. My question just resulted in a bunch of quilt designers discussing their experiences. My friends list is full of journalists and academics. I really thought I’d get some information from someone in a different industry.

  5. Brigid

    You could look at the experience of Felicity Ford, who crowd-sourced the funding for her book on designing colourwork (Fair Isle) knitting pattersn. It’s a really good book and she is the sort of person who would be happy to advise on some of the ins and outs of self-publishing. Quite a few knitting books are now self-published. If you have to do the marketing anyway, why not!
    Her blog:

  6. ann

    Whichever way you go I will be looking to purchase your book.
    I have made one mediallion quilt, a pattern from a magazine. Your posts have me looking forward to making another one.

  7. snarkyquilter

    We’ve discussed your publishing proposal journey before, but I think your decision to get serious about self-publishing is a good one. The kicker for a quilting book is the cost of printing lots of glossy full color photos. Maybe you should set a dollar limit on how much you want to invest in a book and see if you can swing it.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      If I go with a printer like Amazon, the main investment I’d make would be of time. The book would be printed on demand, so I wouldn’t need to pre-order and warehouse them. BUT your suggestion is good if only in considering what price point I’d need to make it work out. That may or not make it a workable idea. I expect they have information available on that and it’s one more thing to investigate.

  8. allisonreidnem

    Thanks for sharing your experiences of approaching publishers – a real Eye-opener. I’m amazed at their taking so little responsibility for marketing! Glad you’ve picked up some helpful responses and links to give you options as you seek to carry your project forward. Sometimes timing is everything! I’m sure there will be a swing back to more traditional fabrics and structured quilt designs and publishers will move with that but too late to take advantage of your expertise!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You are so right on the pendulum swinging. Styles change through time, which is good, not bad. And the best designs from the past re-emerge as people discover their attributes. I’m not discouraged but am open to the possibilities.

  9. katechiconi

    As someone who’s worked in the design industry all her adult life, I know there’s a lot to book layout and design. And yes, you can certainly organise that for yourself without paying a publisher, and engage the services of a photographer (who doesn’t need to be hundreds of miles away).
    One thing you could do is open the job to senior design and photography students as a competition; you would get to see multiple options before you choose, pay less for the job, end up with something interesting and innovative, they’d get valuable experience and the kudos of actually being in print, and you would have the chance to watch the design and composition process at close quarters and have a greater degree of control over what is happening than you would with a publisher.

  10. zippyquilts

    Go for it! Self-publish. The market the book at all your workshops, as most authors do even if the book was taken by a publisher. And start applying to teach outside your immediate geographic area; you are an expert at what you do and should spread it around!

  11. Pat T.

    Once again, Melanie, thank you for sharing!
    And, good for you, to look to self-publishing!
    Your experiences and insights on exploring publication are SO interesting… and these publishers have really missed an opportunity!… They should have taken a look at your amazing quilt exhibition in July!!!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You’re welcome. 🙂 Knowing a lot about a subject and being able to write cogently about it are not enough. I think they are missing out, too, but I’ve heard “no” a lot in my business life, so it was not a huge shock.

  12. jimfetig

    Self publishing is all I’ve ever considered. I want to share what I know about long distance hiking after age 50. A good book on the subject doesn’t exist. I could care less about money.

        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          Take a look at this guy’s site. He’s an agent but also likes self-publishing and has a couple of podcasts about it. I listened, didn’t learn a lot new but they helped reinforce what I understood. Also he has a proposal template under the submissions tab. I didn’t look at it, but agree that going through the proposal process, even for yourself, is a good exercise.


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