Let me start this post by telling you that what you are about to read is a real life dream come true. I’m not one to use kitschy phrases like that – okay, yes I am. But I really mean it this time. Today I want to tell you all about what’s going on with my book.
A few months ago, I was contacted by someone at a publishing house in New York. I’m going to keep the person and the company confidential just in case I end up being the laughing stock of the literary community. I’ll save them the embarrassment of having been the person who first reached out to me.
Anyway, they reached out to me via email and said they had an idea for a book – an honest look at the ups and downs of the first few years of marriage. The person said that they had been reading my blog and they felt like I had the right voice to tell that story and had I ever considered writing a book, specifically a memoir? When I got the email, I burst into tears. Just a pool of jumping, shrieking, dancing tears. It wasn’t so much that I was going to be published because at this point (and still today) there is the uncertainty of publishing, but it was that someone out there in the industry thought I had what it takes. That they saw something in me and that what they saw was the dream that I have always had.
In the next few days, I spoke by phone with the person at the publishing company and we talked about what kind of book I could write. She wasn’t offering me a book deal. She was just reaching out and seeing if this was something I had considered. And then she gave me two pieces of advice. She said that she and no other big publisher could work with me until I had a) gotten an agent and b) started writing a book. And so I hung up the phone and I started researching how to find a literary agent.
Turns out, it ain’t easy!
People say that finding a literary agent is more difficult than actually getting published and after a few days of reading and researching and bugging anyone I knew who had any ties to anything resembling publishing, I decided that was true. For those of you, like me, who are not familiar with the book publishing process, your agent is the person who will sell your book to a publisher. So, you can imagine the pressure of finding the right agent. You want to person who understands you, understands your work, and can be your biggest cheerleader, adviser, and advocate. Not an easy process, to say the least. And it’s a bit like dating because while you are sizing up the agent, the agent is also sizing up you. Actually, they are sizing you way more than you are them. In fact, you’re damn lucky if they even take the time to size you up in the first place.
For non-fiction books like mine, the first step is to find the agencies that represent non-fiction. But the problem was that agents are behind the scenes for a reason and it is really hard to find information on which agencies are representing what. You can Google “nonfiction literary agencies” and you get a million different firms, but there is hardly anything out there that tells you up front what agencies are good and which ones you should pass. After a few weeks of doing nothing but researching best selling books and finding out who represented them, I came up with a list of about ten different agencies that I thought might be the right fit and I found the specific agent within the agency that I thought would be the right one for me.
And then I started writing.
For non-fiction, the first thing you write is a book proposal. It’s a big document (currently mine is about 50 pages, but it looks like it will be about 100 pages when all is said and done) and it includes things like the author bio, the introduction to your book, chapter outlines, chapter summaries, and sample chapters. Mine took a solid week to write and when I was finished, it was the first time I thought to myself, “I might actually be able to do this.”
With my proposal in hand, I started sending out queries (which is literary speak for emails that beg agents to read your stuff). My query was a one page letter introducing myself, my blog, and my idea for a book – a memoir about the first five years of my marriage. If an agent is slightly interested in your topic, they will write you back and request to see your proposal, if you’re lucky. Everything that I read said to be patient because it takes agents between three to eight weeks usually to respond, if they respond at all.
Within three days, I had responses back from almost every agent I queried.
And then I wet my pants.
So, I started sending out my proposal to people, which might be one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Up until now, anything I’ve written has been for you guys (who I like to picture more as pen pals than as an actual audience) and for Chris. I’ve never sent anything out professionally before. And so I waited to hear the laughter all the way from New York as these literary agents at the top agencies in the business started reading my ramblings.
For two weeks, I didn’t hear anything. And then, slowly, I started to get emails. And then my phone started to ring. And before all was said and done, all but one of my top five picks for agents had contacted me and had offered to represent me. Not only did I have a choice, but I had some of the top agencies in the industry to choose from. When I got my first offer, told them I needed to talk it over with Chris. I hung up the phone and I did the jumping, shrieking, dancing, crying thing again. And this time, Chris did it with me. And as more offers of representation came in, my mind just reeled.
I had narrowed my choices down to a couple top agencies who had made offers when I unexpectedly got an email back from my first choice agency, who I had not yet heard from. The agent said she had read my material (holy crap!) and she was interested in my material (HOLY CRAP!) but she wasn’t the right agent in their firm to represent the topic, and would I mind if she passed it along to someone who was a better fit? I said that of course I didn’t mind and I would wait to hear from someone.
A week went by and I didn’t hear anything and I didn’t feel like I could keep the other two agencies waiting for much longer. I was just about to commit to someone when I decided that I would email the agent at my first choice agency one more time. Truth be told, I really didn’t expect to hear from her again. Their film division represents actors such as Ellen Degeneres, Robert Duvall, Samuel L. Jackson, Beyonce, Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon, and Paul Giamatti, to name a few. Their literary division represents people like Nora Ephron, Toni Morrison, and the estates of Dr. Seuss and Tennessee Williams. The agency is so big that I figured she had other things going on and politely had given me the brush off. But as far reaching as this was, I couldn’t accept an offer with another agency without at least checking one more time. So, I sent a quick email her asking one more time if there was interest before I went with someone else. Within an hour or two, I had an email from both agents at International Creative Management, or better known as ICM. And within a few hours, I was on the phone with the agent who was offering representation.
We talked about my book and my blog. She had read everything I have ever written and was quoting my own self back to me. She had thoughts and ideas about my writing that were scarily similar to my own. She was enthusiastic, but realistic. And as we talked, it just felt like we clicked. I felt that I had found a partner. Someone to guide me through this process with the hand of a friend and the authority of a professional.
An hour after we spoke, I called her back and accepted her offer. This time, there wasn’t even the jumping, shrieking, dancing, crying thing. I was too overwhelmed for that.
It might seem to some people that I’m celebrating a little prematurely. I don’t even have a finished book yet. But that isn’t the part that is worthy of a celebration to me. Win, lose, or draw down the road, the part that I am celebrating now is that the wheels are turning because I finally am taking steps that will turn a pie-in-the-sky dream into a reality. Believe me, no more is more shocked at this than I am, but I’m so thankful for unexpected surprises!
I’m sharing all of this with you because this is your journey, too. As my imaginary friends, you all have been a part of this from the very beginning and it would be absolutely no fun for me at all if I couldn’t take you with me down this road. Periodically, I’ll share with you how the process is going and when I get the courage up, maybe even an excerpt or two from what I’m writing. I hope you all know how important you are to this process for me and how thankful I am for all your support and encouragement. It really does mean the world to me.