In Part 1 of this post I shared some big news: I now have a literary agent! I also promised to tell you more about how I got to this point. I'm warning you now - this post is long. Before we jump in: I'll continue to give periodic book updates on this blog, but if you want more detailed resources, tips and stories on a regular basis (delivered via email no more than 1-2x/mo) sign-up here.
Life After College Book Project: Timeline of Events (Get comfortable!)
“If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.” −Rumi
1. Sept 2008 - Getting the Guts to Start A fellow life after college blogger (and amazing woman), ChaChanna, got in touch asking me to post a link to her book on my website. I immediately felt pangs of jealousy and replied with, "I admire you for jumping in. I've been wanting to write a book for a while now, but I keep getting stuck on 'it's already been written,' which I know sounds silly."
That was the first time I had even uttered the words out loud: I've been wanting to write a book. "For a while?" TRY MY WHOLE LIFE. ChaChanna wrote back and said, "Go ahead and write your book. The topic may have been written already but it hasn't been written by you!" For those words I will be forever grateful; they inspired my first "Aha! maybe I can do this" moment.
2. Dec 2008/January 2009 - The Burst of Inspiration and Hyper-Productivity
“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all that I can permit myself to contemplate.” −John Steinbeck
Struck with a wave of inspiration, I took two weeks off over the holidays to start writing. After the break, I spent many weekends alone on Friday nights and holed up in coffee shops to produce the first ROUGH, rough draft of my book.
I describe my book as "Twitter meets What Color is Your Parachute for every area of your life." It is not a narrative - it's a compilation of tips, quotes, advice and exercises for many aspects of someone's Life After College (similar to my blog). I spent most of my time gathering and assembling blog posts, quotes from college grads, quotes from famous people, books I've read and coaching exercises.
I felt high on life! I was in the zone, productive and happy. Nothing could bring me down; I was going to get this book in graduates' hands by Spring of 2009, rain or shine! HAH. Or so I thought. Little did I know at the time, it wouldn't be out by 2010 either.
3. February 2009 to June 2009 - The Dip (aka: You couldn't PAY ME to open the Word doc with my book in it) Once I finished the first draft of my book I debated whether to self-publish or go the traditional route. I thought I wanted to self-publish (deep down because I was afraid of rejection from publishers) until the thought of hiring an editor, designer and printer sent me into complete paralysis.
I got hit with this unbelievable sense of writer's block - except that it permeated the whole project. I didn't even open the damn Word file for five months. FIVE MONTHS! At the same time, I found myself experiencing a serious quarterlife crisis, job-related depression, and a major dip in confidence. While it was important to "feel my feelings" and give myself space to slow down and take stock of my life, self-doubts continued holding me back, particularly the fear that I was not capable of publishing a successful book. I was in no shape to be creative, nor did I have an ounce of energy to spend on what felt like an insurmountable behemouth of a side-project.
4. June 2009 - The Universe Smacks Me Upside the Head (aka: a chance meeting with THE author of How to Write a Book Proposal)
"Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
I met Michael Larsen, a well-known, well-respected literary agent, at a Northern California Speaker's Association Event. He and I really hit it off (he was interested in Google, I was interested in publishing my book), and before I left he gave me his copy of How to Write a Book Proposal. If meeting THE AUTHOR of THE BOOK on how to write a proposal isn't a cosmic sign to get back to work, I don't know what is.
Within two weeks, I was back on the horse, feeling re-energized with my book proposal draft in hand. I figured pitching my book to publishers was like applying to Harvard out of high school - they might reject me (just like Harvard did) but at least I would know that I had tried. For the rest of my life, I would sleep better at night knowing I gave this project my best shot.
5. July 2009 - "Are You Interested in Writing a Book for Gen Y?" Publisher contacts ME. At first I thought the email was spam (or a bad joke). The subject line, "Are You Interested in Writing a Book for Gen Y?" stopped me in my tracks. Ummmm, YES! I had literally just finished the proposal and was going to start sending it to literary agents, when out of nowhere a well-known publisher found my blog from Ryan Stephen's June Top 10 Blogs list (thank you Ryan!).
Through a series of calls, they expressed that they were "very interested" and took the idea all the way up to their Editor-in-Chief. I was floored - but didn't want to get my hopes up until their commitment was a done deal. Regardless, their interest helped me gain confidence that I had something special going with this book.
6. July 2009 to November 2010 - Dip #2: Hurry up and Wait...And No F@#*ing Clue How to Find an Agent To make a long story short (as this timeline is already long enough!), I hit a second dip. I went back and forth with that publisher for months. I found myself waiting for updates from them, knowing I should be looking for an agent in the meantime but not knowing where to start.
From talking to other authors, I discovered that the way to find an agent was through referrals and by looking through a directory of 400+ names, somehow narrowing it down to agents who might work with books related to mine, then introducing myself via email. For some reason that huge directory just sent me into a stupor again. I was overwhelmed with no idea where to start, and I think subconsciously I wasn't ready for the potential rejection from dozens of agents (I know, common theme anyone?! Stupid sabateur.)
7. December to January 2010 - Connections, "Cold" Query Emails and Contact! SIX MONTHS after finishing my book proposal (procrastination at its finest), and thanks to an amazing life coach who helped me break through my upper limits, I finally started contacting potential literary agents. I sent them 1-page query emails with a summary of me and my project and links to sample blog posts.
I got in touch with about 10 agents total (which is not very many) - some from the directory (akin to cold calling) and some through a network of family and author-friends. Half replied with rejections, but I had the good fortune of half of them being interested. After a series of phone calls, meetings and reference-checks, I went with my gut and picked a literary agent with a very strong background who was interested in my project...which brings us to today!
8. February 2010 - Momentum and Motivation Return So here we are now. After a year of ups and downs, I am finally feeling momentum and possibility around this project again. I feel like my lungs just filled up with oxygen and I can breathe; like my dream to be a published author is actually possible! I also know that all of the challenges in the last year served as great research; they helped me grow tremendously as a person and author, and I know that the book will be much stronger because of them.
Finally, I am so incredibly grateful for all of the encouraging comments you left on my last post and in the sign-up form for book updates; you have no idea how much it means to me. THANK YOU. Thank you for lifting me up and helping me feel like even though I may be writing alone, I am not on this journey alone.
So what's next?
9. March 2010 - Hold My Hand and Think Good Thoughts! Pitching Me & My Proposal to Publishers I am revising my proposal as we speak. For those of you who are curious, the proposal is about 35 pages double-spaced and reads much like a business plan. The first part answers the following key questions: Why me? Why this book? What will motivate my target audience to actually buy it? The second major chunk covers my marketing plan (how I will promote and sell the book) with a bio and testimonials, and the third part is an outline of the book with a description of every chapter.
Once my agent thinks the proposal is ready, we will start pitching to publishers in early March (so that ideally the book will come out in Spring of 2011). My dream is to have it on the "For Recent Graduates" table at Barnes & Noble, and you'll be along for the ride from now until then!
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WHEW!! Did you make it this far? A reminder from last time (since future book posts will not be NEARLY as detailed):
Because this blog is not about writing a book, per se – there are lots of tips, stories about my process, resources and updates I’d like to share more frequently than I am likely to post about (and somewhat more private updates too). If you are interested in following more detailed book updates, please let me know by filling out this quick form. I look forward to sharing more with you!