Randall Payleitner


3 Questions Publishers Will Ask Themselves About Your Book Proposal

I love book publishing. The ideas, the details, the long-game, the history, the meaning of it all. The overflow of my love for the whole thing is really where this blog came from.

Amidst the romance and intrigue—at its heart—publishing exists to provide resources and tools for specific readers. Put another way, good publishers know their readers and provide them with content they want/need.

To that end, every publisher worth their weight in dust jackets has a system for deciding what to publish. The simpler the better. They usually look something like these three “buckets”:

(1) Is the Idea Any Good?

This is clearly quite subjective. But it encompasses the whole point of the book. Is it unique? Does it make sense? Is it interesting? Every publisher has a few key people and a few key processes through which each project must go and these are the fun questions that get asked in those meetings. This bucket is really the essence of the project—it’s pretty difficult for a publisher to compensate for a lame idea.

(2) Is it Executed Well?

Another way to say this is: How’s the writing? Does it sing? Is it special in some way? The best books have a killer idea and that idea is translated to the page with excellence. Sometimes that excellence comes after several rounds of editing, rewriting, and polishing—everyone needs to be edited, after all. But, at the early “should we publish this?” stage, it’s nice to see that the writing is of a certain quality—even if it’s not quite great yet.

(3) Is There an Audience Clamoring for it?

This is where too many publishers get lost in the “platform weeds.” The essence of this question is not “How many Twitter followers does the author have?” Or “How many copies of this book can the author sell?” If those are the questions, then the author doesn’t need the publisher! Instead this question is better answered by thinking about the potential reader. Can you picture them? Are there more than 14 people interested in this topic? Will they be willing to pay some money for this idea? Can we reach them? Sometimes this is related to the author’s platform, but more often it ought to be related to how the publisher and author, together, can reach exactly the right audience for each book.


In the end, even the best buckets have a few leaks. We’re wrong all the time! Every bestselling author has a wall of rejection letters to keep them motivated. Our goal is to partner with our authors to make great books and the above three “buckets” are the simplest way to think about a potential project when it first comes across our desk.