We’ve been sitting on a bit of exciting news for a few weeks now, mostly because we were still deep in contract negotiations up until a few days ago, but now that we’ve officially signed the papers, we are proud to announce:
We just signed a book deal with Penguin Random House!
Specifically, we’re at the same imprint (TarcherPerigee) as…
- Nomadic Matt’s “How To Travel The World on $50 a Day” (which we wrote about here)
- Napolean Hill’s best-selling self-help book “Think and Grow Rich”
- Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Nonconformity”
Regular readers may remember us stating at the beginning of the year that our New Year’s resolution in 2018 was to write a book. Turns out, that resolution came together a lot quicker than we thought it would!
Now, lots of people have asked us over email about our experience publishing a book, as many people (apparently) have a similar dream of becoming a published author themselves. And while we would try to be as encouraging as possible (“You can do it!”), we would typically be somewhat vague when talking about our own experience.
Because, to be completely honest with you, our experience publishing a book for the first time was a horrible emotional roller coaster. And I didn’t want to be too honest, because I didn’t want to scare anyone off from pursuing their dream. I don’t regret it but the truth is, that process was so frustrating I didn’t want to ever go through it again, or wish it upon anyone else.
First of all, the process of publishing a fiction book (which the vast majority of people want to write) is horrendously difficult. Our first book, Little Miss Evil, was actually our third completed manuscript, the first two having crashed and burned in unceremonious fashion.
You see, in the fiction world, you have to have a completed manuscript before you submit your work to an agent (a process known as “querying”). In an ideal world, you spend a year or so writing your manuscript, you query a bunch of agents with a one-page summary of your book (known as a “query letter”). If you successfully entice an agent or two with your query, they may request the first few pages of your manuscript (known as a “partial”), or your entire manuscript (known as a “full”).
After reading your story, they may give you notes on what they think needs changing (known as a “Revise and Resubmit,” or “R&R”), they may even offer to take you on as a client! In fact, the moment an agent offers representation for the first time is by far the biggest and most memorable event of an aspiring writer’s career. “The Offer” takes on a near-mythical status, and the first phone call with your agent becomes “The Call.” Writers dream about The Call. We dreamed about The Call.
The Call took 5 years to get to. From starting on the first manuscript, to getting an offer of representation took 5 years and 3 manuscripts. Because the most likely response to a query is a rejection.
Getting rejected sucks. There’s no getting around it, and in our careers as writers we’ve gotten easily over 100 rejections. And the worst thing about rejections is that the vast majority of the time, they’re just form letters you get over email. “Sorry, not for me.” That’s all you get. And that’s if you get a response at all. For 5 years, we were terrified of our phone pinging because we knew it was another rejection.
And the worst part of getting a rejection is that you have no idea what they didn’t like. You actually pray for an R&R, because then the agent at least has enough faith in you that your manuscript can be fixed, and is willing to provide notes. Most of the time, you’re stumbling in the dark. Your manuscript sucks, and you have no idea why.
And finally, when you do get offered representation? The agent then turns around and starts trying to sell your manuscript to a publisher (a process called “Going on Submissions”). Then the whole cycle repeats itself in a tornado of anxiety and self-doubt.
Non Fiction Is Way Better
The entire process turned me off traditional publishing for a while. We spent 5 years publishing our first book, and about 1.5 years creating this blog. In 1.5 years, we’ve watched this blog explode into a traffic powerhouse, now hitting almost 2 million page-views a year. And in the process, we’ve been able to interact with you, our audience, in ways that traditional publishing would have never allowed. So we were like “Screw publishing! Blogging’s way better!”
Enter Fay Wolf.
Fay Wolf is a Hollywood actress/singer/professional organizer who reads this blog, and she also wrote a book recently about de-cluttering, called “New Order: A Decluttering handbook for creative folks (and everyone else)”. If you like “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, this book is for you! It’s this awesome quirky book with a spunky voice that coaches you into decluttering and bettering your life. I’ve already used her advice to declutter my inbox (which is ALWAYS a ball of disaster) and it’s been really helpful! So of course I bought copies for Christmas for my family and friends and they’ve been loving it. But no one’s getting their hands on my personal copy, which Fay sent me herself, completely with the best inscription ever:
Thanks, Fay! How could I possible not love anyone who uses the term “FIRECracker-ing me into shape” ?
So anyhoo…after Fay’s book got published, her editor asked her if she had any ideas for interesting books, and she directed said editor to this blog.
Imagine our surprise when we got a random email out of the blue from Penguin Random House asking if we’d consider writing a book based on our blog.
But surprise is one thing. Reality is another. We initially thought “HELL NO”.
Another turn with the traditional publishing industry? Another 5 years of grinding away when we already have a platform and an audience of our own? Thanks, but no thanks.
But this editor wouldn’t let up. Eventually, we agreed to having a chat to discuss what a hypothetical book would even look like. This was in Ecuador, at our last Chautauqua.
So we did our call, and surprisingly we hit it off. And gradually, she convinced us to take a shot at traditional publishing once again.
Here’s the thing about fiction vs. non-fiction. First of all, fiction is horribly subjective. Horribly subjective. J.K. Rowling got rejections on her first Harry Potter manuscript. Harry Fucking Potter. In the agent world, there’s a running joke where nobody wants to search their emails to see if they rejected Harry Potter, because the lost earnings would drive people to suicide. It’s not easy to tell the difference between a best seller and a worthless manuscript. That’s why writing fiction is so frustrating. Non-fiction, on the other hand, is much easier to tell if a book is going to do well. Do you know what you’re talking about? Do you have a platform? Can you write? Then the book will probably do just fine.
And second of all, you don’t have to write a full manuscript to query a non-fiction project. For non-fiction projects, you write what’s called a “Proposal,” which is a 50-page document that describes what you’re writing about, why you’re qualified to write about it, chapter summaries, and a sample chapter or two. It is orders of magnitude less work than writing a full manuscript, and that’s what you sell.
Over the Christmas break, that’s what we did. We worked like crazy on a Proposal we could be proud of, and when we wrote about our 2018 New Year’s Resolutions, we had already signed an agent. And not just any agent. One of the biggest agents at one of the most well-known New York-based agency firms. This is an agent we would have given my left arm to represent us during our fiction days (and in fact, we did actually query her back when we were writing Little Miss Evil and she said no).
Our faith in our agent turned out to be well-founded, because she not only negotiated our book deal with Penguin, she ended up turning it into a pre-empt offer. In other words, an offer that was way too big to refuse.
So to summarize: We are now writing a book. With Penguin Random House, the biggest book publisher in the world, with the biggest advertising budget in the world, and the biggest reach in the world.
This is going to be a very interesting 2018.
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