Prospective authors often ask the Books Panel about the process it follows when deciding whether to accept a book proposal. If you are thinking of submitting a proposal, the Books Panel first wants you to know that panel discussions are entirely confidential. Be assured that any materials you submit will be seen or discussed only by members of the panel, the copublisher's representative, and the MLA Board liaison to the panel.
Questions and talking points considered by panel members vary with step two and step three proposals. Here are some questions the panel asks as it reviews materials submitted for step two:
1. Is the proposal complete? Does it contain all of the elements detailed in the proposal guidelines? Proposals submitted without need, purpose, scope, unique features, author qualifications, or other required elements will be returned to the author for revision.
2. Is the content outline consistent with the scope defined by the author? In other words, for the overall topic area and audience, are all significant content areas covered? Are the depth and breadth adequate? Does the content assume that the audience will have background knowledge or is background provided? Is that appropriate for the audience?
3. Has the author correctly and adequately identified a market for the book? Did the author identify any competing titles? If so, how does this proposed book differ? This third area is the one in which many initial proposals are lacking.
The Books Panel has a revenue-producing mission. Similarly, our copublisher must sell a certain number of copies of each professional title that it publishes. Books with wide appeal to all types of medical librarians, as well as those of interest to nonmedical librarians, will likely receive the greatest consideration.
At the step three review, the panel focuses on writing style and organization of the sample chapter. Questions asked include:
1. Is the writing grammatically correct? Is jargon minimized or at least defined? Is the style of the sample chapter appropriate for the defined audience? Professional books are not academic publications. The style should be readable by all levels and types of librarians and should hold the reader's attention. Also, while it is important to document reference materials, footnotes should be used sparingly.
2. Is the level of detail in the sample chapter appropriate for the scope and audience? Are the topics and subtopics developed in a logical order, with smooth transitions between them? Does the author use headings or subheadings to designate sections? If not, what other convention is used to organize the material?
3. Is the material both current and accurate? Does the author clearly identify sources for broad generalizations or statements beyond widely accepted fact? If the book reports personal research, does the author present the results in a standardized fashion?
While the panel may consider other factors when deciding whether to accept a proposal, these are key questions and the ones that receive the greatest reflection and discussion.
Prospective authors also want to know how often the panel meets and when they can expect to hear something after submitting a proposal. The panel holds teleconferences nine months out of the year and meets face-to-face at MLA's May annual meeting. If your materials are submitted at least one week before a scheduled teleconference, you can expect to hear something from the panel within two weeks.
We hope that understanding the panel's decision-making process will help make your proposal stronger. Please feel free to direct additional questions to any current Books Panel member or email Elizabeth Lund, MLA director of publications.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2012 October 17