Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

A dash of agile, a dash of peer review: How we evaluate book proposals

08/16/2007

We’ve been hunting for a book on the intersection of agile development methods and UX design for quite some time. While we’ve not quite nabbed our quarry yet, I recently realized that we’re already taking something of an agile approach when it comes to developing and evaluating book proposals. We start with two people (the author and me) iterating for a few weeks on a concept until it’s a proposal. Then we move to a formal, traditional peer review phase. We hope this balanced process will help authors hit the ground running and write the best possible books. Here’s how we do it:

Most prospective authors feel that they can’t approach a publisher without a formal, complete proposal. Well, we do need one, folks, and we even require completing a fairly traditional book proposal template. But I know first-hand how off-putting the proposal process can be, and I’m sure it filters out the good along with the not-so-good.

Instead, I remind prospective authors that a book is a snapshot of a dialogue that the author is having with a large collection of colleagues. And, in Rosenfeld Media’s case, that dialogue starts with me (I wear a lot of hats, including serving as Chief Acquisitions Editor). I ask the author to send me a simple paragraph or two elevator pitch, and perhaps a very basic top-level outline. If it’s within our editorial sweet spot, I’ll review it and provide feedback. We’ll bounce it back and forth a few times, tuning and improving it with each iteration, until we achieve something that looks like a formal proposal and one that we both feel good about. It usually takes 3-4 weeks. That’s the part that’s at least agile-ish, if not formally agile.

Next we expand the dialogue: I pitch the proposal to Rosenfeld Media’s editorial board, and pay them to review it and provide comments. Though I’m calling it peer review, “expert review” might be a better choice, based on the board’s composition. The board can and often does reject proposals, but at minimum the prospective author walks away with excellent feedback from a panel of distinguished colleagues. If the proposal does get accepted, then the dialogue expands again—this time to include you, our potential readers, via our “book-in-progress” sites.

I think it’s interesting that we’ve organically developed a process that combines traditional, structured and new-fangled, fluid aspects. But what’s important are the results; as our first book nears completion, we’ll soon see what the market has to say. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the process—and your book ideas.