Adventures in Publishing a Book

I have always wanted to write a book, so using Gals With Goals was the perfect opportunity to execute on that dream.  I originally set out to write a book in 30 days in the month of November.  First, I had no idea how long it actually takes to write a book.  Second, had I not set that goal….the rest of the story wouldn’t have unfolded the way that it has thus far…..

Back in June (when I was doing a recipe a day), I started some preliminary research on how to publish a book.  I had no clue what to write the book in (should I be using a fancy application?), no clue on publishing companies or how you contact one, no clue if having an agent was necessary or not, and no clue what I was going to write about other than I knew it would be non-fiction.

During my research, I came across the New York Writer’s Non-Fiction Pitch Conference (if you know me in real life, you know I love New York City and not-so-secretly wish I had a townhome there).  The website said the conference was set for 3 days in November (um, fate!) and included the opportunity to pitch your book to New York editors and agents (with additional things like assistance on refining your pitch, an agent/editor panel to better understand the market for your type of book, how to query an agent, etc).

In order to get a thumbs up on attending the conference, you had to send in a 100 word pitch for your book idea.  I decided I HAD to attend because 1.  It was in the month I designated as write-a-book-month 2.  It was the opportunity to hear from real authors, agents, and editors  3.  It was New York City in the fall.

So I brainstormed and talked through all kinds of ideas and here is what I submitted:

Born the daughter of teen parents, my childhood is rooted in seemingly questionable advice from my mother. In “Do What I Say: Life as My Mother Predicted” I will present a collection of memoir-essays that weave together life events through my mother’s quotes. This includes relatable stories such as “When the Interns Start” created from her warning about the day someone prettier and younger than you is hired in the office. As a 2014 Tedx Columbus speaker, “Raising Teen Parents,” and co-creator of, my voice will be consistent with those efforts by delivering motivation, inspiration, and humor.

They wrote me back the following week….I was in!

Now…..I just had to write the darn thing (I have also decided since sending in that original pitch that I would replace “mother” with “parents” and include quotes my dad uses too – I felt like this gave me more story ideas and it was a better way to market my Tedx talk with the book idea…plus…it better represented my life.  I thought I could do a book 1 with my mom’s quotes and a book 2 with my dad’s but I think it’s better to do as 1 now and then dream up a different idea if/when I write a second book).

So, this month’s blog will be blurbs of everything I have learned about writing and publishing a book so far and the behind the scenes of my New York trip.  I have invested A LOT of time the last 5 months researching and writing (and there’s so much more to learn!)

Here we go!

Nov 1:  If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, this list of random facts I’ve learned so far should save you 5 months (or 5 years) of your life.  You can repay me by buying my book someday.

-There are 2 ways to publish:  1.  Traditional publishing – you “query” an agent by sending them a pitch per the requirements on their website, they either ignore it for all of eternity or they request a partial or full copy of your manuscript.  If they love it and want to represent you, I believe contracts are signed and then they begin pitching it to editors (aka publishing companies) who will hopefully love it and publish it.  The agent gets a percentage of profits but is also your gateway into large publishing companies that would act like you didn’t exist otherwise.  2.  You can self publish through companies like CreateSpace or IngramSpark.  (I plan to try the traditional publishing route first, if that is not a success by mid-2016-ish, then I will pursue self publishing).

-Publishing a book can take years.  Ugh, hate that part.  Even if you secure an agent, it can take awhile before they find an editor, and then the actual editing process begins and then there’s layout, design, etc.  “They” say (whoever “they” is that always make “their” way into my blogs) that it can take 2-3 years if you’re going the traditional publishing route.

-Nearly all book publishers reside in New York City and I believe all 5 of the top 5 publishing houses are there.

-When you pitch your book to an agent/editor, they also want to hear about your platform.  A platform is basically a method that you attract a following – social media, blogging, public speaking, you’re well-known person in a large community, you’re an actor/actress, etc.  If you already have a following on your own merit, then publishers are likely to have an increased interest because you already have a built in group of people who would likely buy your book.  (My platforms are this blog and having a Tedx talk under my belt).

-Write your book in Word – don’t waste time with other fancy applications.

-The average book is 50,000 words (this stat will vary on nearly every website you read).  To give you a general idea of what that looks like, I’ve written approximately 30,000 words and it equates to around 100 pages double spaced in Word.

-Most agents/editors like to see your manuscript double spaced because it’s easier to read.

-Every agent/editor has very specific formats and ways they want to receive a query letter, pitch, manuscript, etc.  On every video I’ve watched, it’s highly recommended you research their specific requirements.  Some want them submitted via email, some want them as an email attachment, some want hard copies with a self addressed envelope included.

-A great way to get your name out there is to submit essays to various publications.  Oftentimes (well, I’m not sure how to quantify “often” but it sounds like it’s a high number) editors will seek out the authors of these essays with intentions of publishing a book if they are writing one.  I took a detour on my book writing over the last few months and submitted a piece to the New York Times – Modern Love section about all the letters I wrote and sent for this blog in May.  I haven’t heard anything back yet (and there’s only a 1% chance you’ll get in) but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed.

-When you pitch your book idea, you should note other books that yours are similar to – you want to call out ones that are successful but are warned to never compare yourself to some of the greats or “Eat Pray Love.”

-For non-fiction books you can query an agent or pitch a book with a manuscript that’s only 1-3 chapters long.  Generally speaking, they just want to get an idea of your general premise (keep in mind non-fiction can be memoirs, cookbooks, leadership books, etc….so you typically have the gist after a few chapters).  For fiction, you better have that puppy complete.

-Agents (if they are accepting new manuscripts) only seek out certain genres.  If you wrote a witty book about your life and quoted your parents sketchy advice along the way, don’t send it to an agent only seeking historical medical non-fiction stories of the west (you should see some of the things they are seeking or say they have a passion around!)

Nov 2:  If you can’t make your way to a New York City Writer’s conference, go on YouTube and search for agent and editor panels.  I have watched hours worth of panels that were held in New York City that someone so generously posted for others to watch.  I have learned most of the things I listed above from those panels!

I have spent every weekend since June writing my book.  I am tired and can be found anywhere from “I could be a New York Times Best Selling author” to “Why am I going to New York and pitching a book idea that includes a story about wanting to murder people when you have PMS?”

Nov 3:  Chris couldn’t stand to not be a part of the excitement too…he booked a plane ticket to New York and will be joining me on the adventures.

I have written approximately 11 “chapters” – all varying in length.  Some are 1,500 words and some are 6,000 words.  I’m calling my book a “collection of memoir essays” because…..well…..because that sounded about right, and another book I read that was structured in a similar format called itself that too.

I am considering myself 65% done with writing and 5% done with self-editing.

Nov 4:  So…what’s in my book, you ask?

There’s stories that span topics such as only children, married couples without kids, PMS, winning jackpots, life as a landlord, psychics, and other fun non-sense.

Nov 5:  I received an email from the conference today (ahhhhhh!!!!!) stating that editors from the following publishing companies will be in attendance:

*Penguin Random House (they’ve published John Grisham books and “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” book that’s oh-so-popular lately, to name a couple)

*HarperCollins (they’ve published The Pioneer Woman Cookbooks, “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee)

*St. Martin’s

*CUNY – Feminist Press

There will also be a handful of agents from various companies too.

I am so excited I can’t stand it.  This blog post is really long so I’ll put a bow on it and will share more next week.

If you read this far, you probably want to write a book too.  Email me and we can chat all things publishing!