This is What Your Art Book Proposal Needs

Hello. My name’s Bridget and I’m the senior art book editor here at Chronicle Books. It’s nice to meet you.

I am frequently surprised when people tentatively ask me if it’s ok for them to put their artist or photographer friend in touch with me in my work capacity. Or ask if it’s ok for them to send me their own body of work for consideration. Dude! Of course it’s ok! That’s the whole point!

But it’s a good reminder that, weird as it seems to dorky awkward twelve-years-old-on-the-inside me, perhaps to the outside world the job title Art Book Editor might be a bit intimidating. So, in the name of total frankness and clarity, here is what I do.

I edit books (and sometimes non-book things like notecards or blank notebooks) that feature: fine art, illustration, photography, and design (graphic design, fashion design, industrial design, occasionally a bit of architecture).

I welcome book proposals and the chance to see bodies of work from: artists, illustrators, photographers, designers, writers, and creative thinkers. I love developing ideas and collaborating with folks on projects.

Like all reputable publishers, Chronicle offers on its website a handy batch of submission guidelines, letting folks know what elements to include in their book proposals, how to send them in to us, etc. But it’s the nature of such documents to have to cover a lot of ground–they must be general enough to encompass what to put in a cookbook proposal, a humor book proposal, a parenting book proposal, or whatever the case may be. Which is why I often hear from artists that they’re a bit unclear about what I really need to see in order to evaluate their project. So here’s the essence of it, in four easy steps:

1. Visuals

First and foremost, I need to see the art. Remember—you’re a visual person pitching a book to a visual publisher—lead with the visuals! A representative sampling of images (around twenty is usually a good number) that shows the scope of what you’re doing and that can be looked through easily. That last word is of paramount importance. Make it hard for the editor to review your work, and your work will be getting reviewed by a cranky editor. And no one wants that. Nice quality laser prints or easy-to-open electronic files, either one is fine. Avoid common pitfalls: overkill (huge portfolios of dozens of fine art prints that come with little white cotton gloves in the box, myriad unlabeled disks); underkill (photo prints from the drugstore, crummy home printouts); technical difficulties (DVDs—not every computer has a DVD drive—software specific file types, Mac or Windows-only files).

2. Text about the project

What is the book? If it’s a monograph, photobook, or other fine art book, this could be a draft artist’s statement. If it’s a how-to book or other book where text accompanies the images, this could be an outline and a short sample text chunk. This is also the place to make it clear what you’re envisioning; to talk about where and why and how the images where made; how many of them there are; how you imagine them being presented; what your general concept and thinking behind the project are. Common pitfalls are long-windedness on the one hand, and skipping this step entirely on the other. A page or two should suffice. And don’t bury the lead—start right at the beginning making it clear what your book idea is and why it’s awesome.

3. Text about you

Include a brief author/artist bio detailing your career highlights up to now (previous books, websites, media, exhibitions). Also detail your platform. That may sound like a buzzword (because it is) but all it really means are the things that will help you to promote and publicize your book, be they statistics like the number of visitors to your website (don’t inflate with non-unique hits), number of Facebook likes, number of Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest followers, or life nuggets like your upcoming gallery or museum shows, relationships in the media, potential sales outlets for the book. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the above—almost no one does—just talk about whatever’s relevant, whatever’s great about you that I can’t see in the images.

4. Comps

You should familiarize yourself with the other books in your category and on similar subjects. Include in your proposal a list of other relevant books, and note which ones are points of inspiration for the sort of book you want to make, which are your competition, and which you think missed opportunities which your book will fill. Bonus points for making a distinction between comps published by the publisher you’re submitting to, and ones from other publishing houses.

And that’s it! Happy proposing!

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To learn more about the nuts and bolts (or backbones and headbands) of the publishing business, you can read about…

Bridget Watson Payne

Bridget Watson Payne

Executive Editor, Art Publishing. You can follow her at @WatsonPayne and read about her latest projects at
Bridget Watson Payne



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