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How to Approach Your 33 1/3 Proposal

Kimberly Mack, the author by Living Colour’s Time’s Up, offers her advice on how to approach your 33 1/3 proposal. If you’re looking to submit during our open call, this post has some shrewd advice about the key things to consider during the proposal writing process.

It’s here! Another 33 1/3 call for proposals is upon us, and with this announcement comes the opportunity to become an author in this acclaimed series.

From the first time I heard about the 33 1/3 series in 2006, it was not a matter of if, but when, I would submit a proposal. And as a recent 33 1/3 author of Living Colour’s Time’s Up, I was offered this wonderful chance to share some insights and tips gleaned during my own application process. So below I offer some thoughts about how to navigate the proposal guidelines, and what the 33 1/3 editorial advisory board might be looking for as they read your submissions.

First, before beginning your proposal, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
1. Why did you choose your specific album?
2. Why are you the best person to write about this album?

3. And why is it important that readers hear about your take on this album right now (or presumably 1 ½ to 2 years from now when your book is published)?

If you can answer these questions clearly, you are halfway there.


There are so many ways to structure and write a book for the 33 1/3 book series. Writers are given free rein to explore, experiment, and tell the story of their chosen album however they see fit. This is a real strength of the series, but it can also be daunting. So it’s important to take time to consider how you might structure your book before moving too far into the proposal writing process. Will you approach your book as an extended work of non-fiction music criticism? Will you incorporate your personal story? If the artist or members of the band are alive, will you attempt to interview them and include their voices in your work? How about the voices of critics and fans? Do you want to do all of the above? Or would you prefer to do something completely out of the box like write a fictional novella instead (yes, that’s been done before!)? Whatever you decide, make sure your choices are not arbitrary and that they will truly serve the album and what you want to communicate about its importance.

Once you have found the perfect alignment of album and writerly approach, I strongly suggest you start working on the proposal right away. There are a lot of components and each one is important. Take all the time you have. There’s no need to rush this process just to get it off your desk. The list of required materials can be overwhelming, so it makes sense to break them up into discrete tasks rather than trying to work on all of them at once.  Obviously, the long description is key—it will be important to articulate some kind of argument or overall point you hope to make—as is the writing sample. A good sample is crucial, because at the end of the day the people on the editorial advisory board want to get a sneak peek at how you would write about the album. And they want to be excited by your writerly voice and ideas! There are other components that may seem less important—perhaps more about selling than writing—but I encourage you to put effort into the marketing and special features sections. The reality is that publishing is a business, and the press will want to know that there’s an audience for your book and that you will be a partner in selling it.

Finally, whether you’ve already read books in the 33 1/3 series or not, I recommend that you read at least 2 or 3 as you write your proposal to get a sense of how other authors have approached their works.


OK. All of this may sound like I’ve given you homework (I am an English professor after all!), but remember that the process should be fun! This is an opportunity to be as creative and innovative as you want, and your passion for the album should be felt on the page.

A final word about rejection.

The list of 33 1/3 authors who have had their initial proposal (or proposals) rejected is long, and I’m on it. Rejection is an everyday part of the publishing process, and writers who submit proposals for the 33 1/3 series are not immune. So if your proposal is rejected the first (or even the second) time, I urge you to try again. It worked for me!

Kimberly Mack

is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA. Her recent book, Living Colour’s Time’s Up, is part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 book series. She is also the author of Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White (2020), which won the 2021 College English Association of Ohio’s Nancy Dasher Award. Kimberly holds a Ph.D. in English from UCLA and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she has received fellowships and scholarships to attend writing residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Kimberly is a memoirist and music writer, and her scholarly and public-facing articles and essays have appeared in African American Review, Popular Music and Society, Journal of Popular Music StudiesAMP: American Music PerspectivesLongreads, No Depression, and elsewhere. You can find her online at kimberlymack.com, on Twitter/X at @drkimberlymack and Instagram at @dr._kimberly_mack.

Living Colour’s Time’s Up is out now and available to buy in bookshops and online (including at Bloomsbury.com).

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