Anatomy Of A Book Deal (And the Magic of the 11th Hour) – Part 2
(In case you missed Part 1, you can see it here.)
Off I Go
If you’re like me you just think that authors exist, they get book deals and then are asked to write another book. Like trying to hop into a blistering Double Dutch, there’s no easy way to get into the fray if you’re not already “an author.”
One does not get “published,” one “pitches” an agent. Agents are the mysterious literary filters who hold the key to publishers’ ears, and we, the unpublished, are a bevy of Waldos; unsure how we get anyone’s attention amid the raucous spectacle we find ourselves in. This striped-shirt manuscript isn’t cutting it by itself.
Ok. How to Get An Agent?
I put together a list of agents who were seeking narrative non-fiction, travel, memoir. 52 to be exact. I had their contact info, bios, and interests on a tidy spreadsheet. I was two snoops short of a stalking degree.
Each one had their own submission guidelines. From query letters, to a few pages of the book, to sample chapters, to a full book proposal. Others demanded that specific words be in the subject line. How shitty is it that a book you’ve spent the better part of your creative energies on for two years can be thwarted by the email protocol of an agent you’ve never met, doing a job you don’t completely understand in the first place.
The result? Sure enough, 52 up, 52 down. Well, 52 up, 7 down and 45 crickets.
The Agent world is a black hole of communication. For a group of people whose life is literally words, they are quite spartan in their sharing of them. For instance:
“Response time 8-12 weeks. Due to the amount of submissions we get, if we’re passing on it, you may not hear from us.” “Response time can be hours, days, weeks, months or never.”
Like a modern-day marooning, you put whatever was asked for into a glass email, hit send and off it goes into the unknown sea.
To illustrate the non-uniformity, out of the seven I heard back from, one rejected me after a few days, and one rejected me two days ago, 8 months after submitting it.
I did get some decent feedback from a few agents which kept my spirits from cracking like kindling. They liked the book a lot but they were having a hard time getting memoirs picked up. Or, they liked the book but it wasn’t what they typically represented.
Should I just self-publish again? Or maybe a few more days of hope is all I needed to pick up a faint signal from the deep space. Or maybe I needed to send out another email to my contacts to see if anyone knew an agent..
I did the latter.
A name came back that might work. I put one last bullet in that gun of dreams and fired away into the unknown.
The Fortuitous Bounce Of Try
This agent’s funnel process was on www.authors.me. Through that website, I was given a few more agents/publishers that might be interested in the topic I was writing about. With one click, I could send them the same application I filled out.
A few weeks later, it was one of those other publishers (we’ll call them “Publisher A”) who reached out to me. They liked my book proposal. They wanted to see the whole book. I sent that too and then a couple weeks later they wanted to give me a book deal.
I got on the phone with them. I talked with the owner of the company. They loved my work. They had high hopes for the book. I was supposed to be ecstatic, but the agreement was strange, the percentages were unique. It didn’t look like the “book deal” I was anticipating and my gut didn’t like it. When you’re about to give up “rights for a lifetime,” it gives you pause.
But still, it was a book deal. Isn’t this what I wanted? They needed an answer within three weeks otherwise they were going to pursue other manuscripts.
I did some research on the company, talked to one of their authors and it still wasn’t clicking for me. I was fraying into an insomniac. Was I about to sell out, or worse, give up rights to my book for less than I should be? I felt so lost, unsure of who I should talk to. I was five pages in on google searches researching “first time book deals” and then I saw the two words that changed my trajectory:
What on earth is a book shepherd? Kind of like a life coach for first-time authors. Book shepherds typically have years of experience in the book world. Using their expertise and knowledge about publishers and agents, they can advise authors of various publishing options.
With seven days to go on my expiring offer, I found Debra Englander via this article and simply emailed her for advice. Worst case scenario, she doesn’t reply and I’m left crying myself to sleep under a blanket of indecision (kidding…about actually sleeping).
She liked my content and given President Trump’s foray into geopolitics utilizing weed whacking, stiff arming and crop dusting strategies, my book was a timely topic of borders/walls, inclusion/exclusion, us/them. Debra knew a bit about coverage of travel books so she checked out when NY Times Travel Show was (January 2018), and knew that the publisher Post Hill Press wouldn’t insist on waiting the 12-18 months that many traditional publishers do. Based on my answers to her questions about who would promote (endorsers, companies) she was able to do a quick proposal and pitch my book to Post Hill Press.
But there was no way I would hear back before my initial offer ran out, right? What happens if I wait and Post Hill rejects the manuscript? I was wary to let go of the bird I already had for the possible calamity of trying to catch two in the bush. I had a feeling I’d be self-publishing, holding nothing but a couple of loose feathers, while covered in thorns and scratches.
Debra told me to hang tight.
On the day my offer with Publisher A was going to run out she called me and said, “Are you ready for some good news?”
The Golden Ticket
Somehow within a week’s time of being introduced to a publisher, I had a book deal from them. Funny thing was, I wasn’t sure anyone had even read the book yet, but at least the warm and fuzzies were there. The offer letter looked like something I could get on board with. I met the publisher and everything clicked. They believed in me, my work, and what this book could do.
So, on January 8, Borders, Bandits, And Baby Wipes: 10,000 Crooked Miles Between Two Points will go on sale. Stay tuned for more info!
Like most things in life, you can never predict how it’s going to play out. I certainly got lucky with the timing, but it was because I continually put myself into the mix until luck found me.
What little I do know is that for those first-time authors who are listless in the murky waters between Cape Unknown, Port Self-Publish, and Doubting Bay, reach out to a book shepherd. Their guidance and advice can save you time, money and sanity.