I believe I’ve mentioned a million times before that I have a book coming out soon? Like early next year? I thought I’d share just a bit more with you, both about the book and about book deals in general. I’m often asked how the heck I got a book deal, especially by those who want one. Since the world of publishing is so big and scary and non-intuitive, and since I once also craved exactly that information, I thought some of you might be interested in my answers to those questions.
but first, about the book…
|photo by Abby Greenawalt|
Many, many debates were had between the publisher (ie. the awesome staff at Harlequin) and myself over the title. It had to capture the essence of the book in just a word or two, I insisted. I’m not writing a book on baking desserts, I’m writing a book about turning desserts into art. Not about cupcakes, but frogs on cupcakes. Not about cookies, but mustache cookie pops. See what I mean? It has to be about: cute, clever, crafty, artsy, edibles, sweet, treats, oh, I don’t know. We settled on one of Harlequin’s choices:
I like it. I think the “cute and clever” part conveys the “artsy and craftsy” part. The book will have decorated cookies and cookie pops, marshmallows and marshmallow pops, cupcakes, cakes and cake pops, petits fours and candy clay. I cover everything you’d ever want to know about crafting sweets: piping icing and frosting, flooding icing and decorating cookies, dipping in candy melts, working with fondant, using edible writers, stamping and painting on sweets, using edible icing sheets, and more and more.
I’m really, really proud of this book. It’ll be about 200 pages of solid information for those of you just like me: Interested in the world of edible crafting that pervades blog pages and magazines and The Martha Stewart Show (hint, hint, Martha), but not really sure where to start or where to get basic information. Sugarlicious will give you mastery over that baking aisle in the craft store, even if you’ve never picked up a frosting bag before. And I promise lots of giveaways in 2012.
Above are a few tiny snippets of photos just to give you a teaser for more treats in the book. Tiny, sneaky snippets of much bigger photos… You may remember when I gave you that sneak peek of the photo shoot with my photographer, Abby Greenawalt. That photo up there is the finished Winter Wonderland cake seen in the photo shoot pics. (TIP: For a sneak peek of even more photos from the book, there are some in the “Conceptual” section on her site.)
how to get a book deal
Perhaps one or two of you, upon reading that I was writing another book, thought “Really? How do you have a book deal? They’ll give anyone a book deal nowadays. I want one!” I have what is still a relatively small blog, and while my other gig gets a significant amount of traffic, I promise you, I was not handed this deal. If you have millions of readers every month, or if you are famous for what you do, your book deal experience will be very different from mine. You may have publishers scrambling to sign you. I did not. Publishers did not seek me out, I went out and got them.
While this may sound discouraging, it’s actually meant to encourage: Getting a book deal is very, very hard. Don’t give up. So you sent out a manuscript and waited a few months and got a form rejection letter? Hee hee, I shake my head at you. Want to see my folder full of those? I’ve been at this for over seven years. I earned my MFA in Literature in 2004, which helped me to the extent that I became familiar with how things sort of work. While I absolutely promote joining a writing workshop and getting feedback from others (especially for fiction), I do NOT think it necessary that one needs a Masters degree to get a book deal. But I was immersed for years in academia, surrounded by papers and pencils and professors and words. I became familiar with how to write a manuscript and prepare a cover letter, how to find resources in publishing, and I learned terms like “unsolicited manuscript.” (This means, by the way, that if you are a nobody, like me, agents and publishers don’t ask to see your manuscript. If you send a manuscript, on your own, out of the blue, to some head honcho at a big publishing house, or, an “unsolicited manuscript,” it will likely sit in a huge pile unread. These head honchos are not bad people who don’t care about you. These head honchos are just very, very busy because there are so many of us.) I started submitting manuscripts for fiction way back then.
Have an idea for a book? You’ll need a proposal (for the most part, for fiction, you should have the book written before submitting, for non-fiction, like cookbooks, a proposal is all you need). I can write a treatise on what this might entail, more than I can fit here. I suggest you do some searching for sample proposals to guide you. This proposal needs a solid introduction, a bio all about how great you are and how you’ll sell a million copies, a market analysis, a table of contents, sample chapters, photographs, and evidence that you are awesome. Work on this for a long time. Make it good. Don’t waste a publisher’s time or piss them off. (Ouch, that sounded harsh. But it’s true.)
Once you have this proposal, you have two routes. Actually, three routes, but I’m not covering self-publishing here because I know nothing about self-publishing. There are plenty of resources online about this, and if you want to go that route, stop reading now! I have no knowledge to share. But many others do. On to the two routes that I’ve taken:
1. Find publishers that accept unsolicited submissions and submit directly without an agent. Many smaller, independent publishers accept submissions straight from authors (as opposed to those that only look at submissions from agents), and this is a good way to go. You get experience writing proposals and submissions and putting your work out there. But don’t just send stuff out at random. Find publishers that you like and would be a good fit for you. I recommend going to the book store and checking out similar books, find the publisher inside the front cover, go home, find their web sites, search for their submission guidelines, and follow them exactly. Examples of publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts are Sterling and their Lark books or Storey. Way back when, I got the Writer’s Guide to Publishers, which contains a list of all book publishers and which ones take unsolicited manuscripts (vs. “agented material”). I believe this is the current version HERE.
You might get rejections. Nay, you will probably get rejections. It can certainly happen that you’re lucky the first time out, but just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out that way. And please, please have thick skin if you get that letter saying “No.” “No” doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t worthy, that your book isn’t good, and that you won’t eventually find success. That might mean that, sure. (Ouch, that sounded harsh. But it’s true.) But there’s a very, very good chance that you are worthy, that your book is good, and that you will find success. Make your proposal better and better. And PS. If you get a rejection letter saying “No,” any kind of personalized response, such as a handwritten note saying they at least liked your idea, this is a very good thing. You’re noticed.
Used to be that publishers didn’t like “multiple submissions,” which means sending your work to several publishers at a time. Because it can take months to hear back from publishers, that stipulation is changing. Nowadays, it’s acceptable to send your proposal out to everyone at once, unless the publisher’s guidelines ask you not to.
2. Find an agent first and let them sell your book. Back in 2005, long before the cookie decorating blog world really took off and before an internet presence was important, I found an agent for my first book, Cookie Sensations. I bought the Guide to Literary Agents (the 2005 version), went through page by page circling every agent that took unsolicited and new writers. I sent a query to them all. (“Query” being a one-page letter about your big idea and how awesome you are.) If they ask you to send a one-page query, send a one-page query. Not a two page query, not a 40 page proposal. A one-page query. Don’t waste an agent’s time or piss them of. (Ouch, that sounded harsh. But it’s true. Geez. Now I’m just being mean.) Hopefully you’ll hear back from at least one. If not, get a new list and keep on trying.While many prefer route number one to keep everything they earn, I find the agent’s 15 percent cut well worth it. Well. Worth. It. Granted, I lucked out and got an agent that I think is the bee’s knees. I’m sure plenty of others out there can share less happy stories. PS. If any agent tries to get you to pay them up front, run away screaming. They are not reputable. Paying for occasional copies and paper and office supplies may happen, but no “Pay me and I’ll sell your book” deals, please.
Royalties and Contract Stuff
I wish I could share info on all the details of book contracts, but I can’t. I trust my agent fully. I did have my husband (who is a lawyer who handles contracts) look things over, but for the most part, I just let my agent handle this. But what I can tell you is generally how such things work, if you are confused by the notion of “royalties.”
In a nutshell, this is how it works: Publisher offers an amount for a cash advance plus a percentage of each book sold to the author (the royalties). Then the agent negotiates to get more. They settle. We sign. Woo hoo. This “advance” is a lump sum against royalties. With every book sold, that little percentage you get (“royalty”) goes to the publisher instead of you until it matches the advance amount. The advance varies depending on the type of book, the publisher, and how many books they anticipate the author selling. It can be only a few thousand dollars. It can be six figures. Um yeah, I did not get six figures. Considering the year or so I spent writing and working on the book, the expenses out of pocket to make the book, the long hours and late nights, I got paid very, very little per hour, possibly even pennies. But that’s not the point for me. You can’t go into this thinking you’ll make your fortune in writing books. You may make a fortune, sure, but don’t start buying Bentleys and diamonds quite yet. It’s not likely you’ll ever see an actual royalty check unless you hit it huge and Oprah likes you. Usually the advance is it. So dear cookbook buyers, please make me a bestseller so I can disprove that.
How long it takes
Writing and publishing a book takes a painfully long time. It’s agonizing. Especially since in the blog world, ideas for crafty food are exploding at a much quicker speed. Every time I see an idea out there that mirrors one I put in the book, I groan. I worry you will think I took the idea from someone else, when really, I submitted the proposal (which took many months in and of itself) to my agent back in summer 2010. She sold it to Harlequin that fall, and I wrote and wrote and wrote and snapped photos and baked and dipped and piped and experimented and scrapped a lot and rewrote more and eek! until Spring 2011. The photo shoot took over two weeks of about 15 to 20 hour days (12 hours or so with the photographer, then all the baking and prep for the next day). The past five months, my publisher has been hard at work with edits, designing, layout, marketing, and work I don’t envy. My hard part is over, aside from the occasional manuscript reviews, discussions with my editor, and page proofs. The book will be out in early 2012. So that’s almost two years from start to finish. And then the real fun begins… seeing your book on the shelf and trying to sell it.
The trials and tribulations…
Getting an agent was one of the best things I had ever done. Mine is fantastic, kind, smart and a great negotiator. Having my agent certainly helped me the second time around, but it was still a struggle. My first book started out great. I had a big feature and rave in the Washington Post, my book was the number one selling cookie book on amazon.com for ages (until Martha’s unseated me). But then, the publisher did little to promote me (this is a common truth, authors, so be prepared to work hard to sell your book, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be saying the opposite about my new publisher this go around), and my daughter was born, and I didn’t have an internet presence at the time, and then we moved and all our stuff was in storage for eight months, and blah blah blah. So sales started dropping. Now my book is almost extinct. Doesn’t make me a very good sell to another publisher. I could kick and scream about how much more I know now, but in the world of shrinking readers, I can’t blame a publisher for not wanting to take a risk. Hence, why I’m so happy that Harlequin is taking a chance with me.
This process is long and difficult. I say have thick skin, but rejection is always hard to take. But that moment your book is sold, knowing you accomplished something rare and difficult, makes it worth it. That little glee you feel when you say, “I better get back, I have to call my editor.” (Also works with “agent.”) Or when you see a New York City phone number pop up on your Caller ID. I gotta admit, it’s all pretty exciting.
So to sum, I’m giving you the same advice I’m still trying to take, advice I give myself daily, for I still have a looooong way to go to get to where I want to be: Work on your craft, work on your ideas, build your internet presence, build a blog, and keep trying. And love doing it. You have to love the process of writing a book, conceiving a unique idea, creating crafts and cupcakes and cookies, figuring out what readers need to know, figuring out how to write it, figuring out how to organize it… figuring everything out, essentially, on your own. It’s difficult and challenging, but rewarding.
Please, please feel free to weigh in below, or to ask a question (either directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or even better, in the comments so others can benefit).
Here’s to us! I hope we all get the book lives we want….