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Submitting Proposals: What I Learned on the Other Side | Rope Knits

When I put out the call for proposals for Stitching in the Stacks, I was praying that I’d get enough submissions to fill up the book. As it stood, I ended up with over 90. It was very difficult to decide which 60+ patterns to cut, but it was absolutely fascinating to see the variety of proposals that came in.

Now, I’m not a professional editor (though in a previous career incarnation I did a lot of editorial work) so bear in mind that the following list of suggestions represents only my own thoughts on submitting proposals and they apply primarily to proposals submitted over e-mail. And I want to emphasize that the vast majority of proposals I got were extremely professional and most of this advice is based on what people did right, not what they did wrong. But I learned a lot from studying other people’s proposals and I thought it might be useful to share.

Basically, you want to do three things:

  • Make the editor’s life easier
  • Reduce your chances of getting lost in the shuffle
  • Show off your work to its best advantage

So to that effect…

Keep it simple You don’t need whole pages of text to convey your idea. It will get scanned, not read. Try to get the whole thing on one page, two max.

Include the right information in the right places Make sure your name and contact information is on each page of the proposal. Don’t bury technical information about the yarn you used, the notions you’ll need, etc. in the text; put it in a sidebar or up at the top, just like a published pattern. Make sure you include a link to a website, blog or Ravelry page where I can see your other work, whether formally published or not. Number your pages.

Use sketches to show proportion Don’t just draw a picture of the garment/accessory; draw it over a human figure to show where the hem ends, what kind of ease it has, how cropped the waist is, etc. Don’t worry if you can’t draw people all that well (do a search for croquis templates to trace if you like); just give a sense of what your idea would look like on an actual human.

Don’t worry (too much) about layout I got some proposals that were beautifully laid out with lovely little graphic designer touches and others that were the most basic possible combination of text plus image. Didn’t really matter too much. The well-designed proposals did feel a bit more professional than the more basic ones, and adding an extra sense of  professionalism never hurts, but ultimately it’s more important that your photos be clear and your text well organized.

Worry A LOT about swatch photos The editor can’t see and touch your swatch in person so your photo has to convey the bulkiness of the gauge, the softness of the yarn, and the texture of the stitch pattern. Soft focus has no place here. Don’t hold your swatch in the air with one hand while you photograph it with the other. Don’t stretch it out with your fingers. Lay it flat. Photograph it in strong but diffused light—you don’t want it to be dark but you don’t want harsh shadows either. Don’t worry about styling an artistic backdrop for it, though photographing it with something that gives a sense of proportion may be a good idea (hint: I usually photograph mine laying next to a ruler).

Name your file something practical I received eight proposals that one way or another referenced Marian the Librarian from The Music Man. Organizing 93 submissions was enough to deal with; if all the Marian patterns had had names like Marian.pdf, Musicman.pdf, Dancinginthestacks.pdf, etc., I would have had a hard time remembering which was which. Fortunately, I’d asked people to name their files with their name and project type, e.g., RSmith_Cardigan.pdf. and about 90% of the submitters did. This made my life much easier and greatly reduced the chances that proposals got lost or overlooked.

Submit separate files for multiple proposals A couple of times I read through a proposal and closed the file then opened it up later only to realize that I hadn’t read the last two pages and that there was a whole other proposal there! Separate files give equal weight to each submission. If your proposals are linked in some way or if you’ve been asked to submit only one file, make it clear on the first page how many proposals and what kind are included.

Meet that deadline Look, I’m a soft touch. If you ask me for a few more days to get your submission in, I’ll probably say yes. But if you interpret “a few days” as “two weeks” or ask for more extensions on top of that, or write me multiple e-mails about how you were sick and then there was an earthquake and then the dog ate your computer, then it really doesn’t matter how good the proposal is when it comes in—I’ve lost faith that you’re going to get the finished project in on time or even at all. Do everything you can to get your proposal in on time. If you’re given an extension, get it in before the extended deadline.

Any other thoughts on what makes a good proposal? Fell free to chime in!

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2 Responses to Submitting Proposals: What I Learned on the Other Side

  1. Jenn says:

    It would be super interesting if you could get permission from a few of the designers who submitted accepted proposals to let you post them. Not just from the design perspective… but also as a cool element to see how the book comes together.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! Very good for those trying to submit to mags.

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