How to get a book deal: A behind the scenes look

Forever and ever I’ve wanted to be an author. And forever and ever I thought that was impossible. See, I’ve got this eye thing from childhood seizures (long story, I’m fine now) that makes it really hard for my eyes to see typos (I also CANNOT find Waldo, but that’s a story for another day). And to me, that felt like an insurmountable problem!

It’s not like people didn’t like my writing… they would read my blogs, and told me they enjoyed my emails… but I assumed they liked it because I have a quirky sense of humor, not because it was GOOD or anything like that.

Or at least that’s what I told myself because:

There is no dream scarier than the one you have buried deep in your heart.

I actually started to write a book in May of 2015. I was knee-deep in burnout and was searching for some way to be creative. I was excited to share what I had learned about mindsets and change management and how those things can help you change your regular old, day-to-day life. I wrote up a “chapter” and sent it to a friend.

He was… confused. He was super nice about it, but it was full of “Say more here, what do you mean by this, can you give an example here?” kinds of comments.

I realized that I wasn’t (yet!) all that great at explaining these ideas. It was clear that hadn’t thought it all through, and so I stopped writing.

But I didn’t just stop, I came at it from a different direction. If the problem was that I needed to talk to people to be able to explain these ideas well, then I would figure some way to get out there and do that. I reached out to a place I found on the internet, the Brooklyn Brainery, and asked if I could do some workshops. They agreed and I began.

And then, in July of 2016, when I was in the middle of a 17 workshop streak with the Brooklyn Brainery, I got an email from Sarah Todd, an “Ideas” editor at Quartz.

“I saw your workshops posted at the Brooklyn Brainery and thought you might be a good person to write an article for us.”

THE Sarah Todd, for whom I will always be grateful!

I said yes, and then talked myself into it, talked myself out of it, talked myself into it, talked myself out of it…

Then, I did it! 

It went viral! And I lost my mind.
(According to BuzzSumo that article STILL gets 10k views a month)!

I was even interviewed on NPR to talk about it!

This was a turning point for me… I wrote more articles for Quartz, Sarah edited my articles to make them (soooooo much) better, but she always told me that they were really, truly good already. I began to believe her… until I finally decided to cut ties with all that head trash and dedicate myself to LEARNING HOW to become a better writer (typos and all!)

In 2017, I wrote two articles for Quartz that play a role in our story here: One was about how we are all so dang exhausted because we never take any time for ourselves. The other was about how teacher burnout is one of the most important economic and social justice issues of our time. Around that time my business took off and I got busy… but I kept in touch with the editors at Quartz to whom I owe so much.

In January 2019, I got a call.

“Hey! It’s Jenni Avins from Quartz! I am writing a piece about that viral BuzzFeed article about millennial burnout. I was wondering if you had time to talk to me about what you think people should do if they are burned out.”

Jenni Avins, Without whom there would be no book deal

I said yes, of course, and we spent about an hour on the phone chatting about the importance of taking control of your day-to-day life. I then promptly forgot about it… I didn’t even see it when it came out!

But someone else did. (<– oooooh, look at that curiosity gap. I’m a writer, you know. OFFICIALLY.)

How to get a book deal tip #1: Write about stuff you care about wherever they will let you… and then stay in touch with those editors

In March I was approached by an editor at a really big publishing house asking me if I would be interested in writing a book for them.

I DID NOT KNOW THAT THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENS!

The trick was that I had to write the book on the topic of Millennial Burnout and I had to write it in 10 weeks. TEN WEEKS.

I considered the facts:

  1. I have always wanted to write a book.
  2. I am passionate about changing the narrative about what it takes to be ambitious: people need to realize that shame and overwork and burnout are NOT the solutions to the problem. They ARE the problem! So, yes, I will write on that topic!
  3. I am not afraid of hard work, especially if I get a book deal out of it! “And let’s be real,” I told myself, “this is the *only way* that I’m going to get a book deal!”

Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in early mornings and late nights. I had two weeks to find an agent (Thank God for Jill Sheerer Murray who shared her agent with me!), pull together the marketing plan, write an entire book proposal and a sample chapter.

I did it.

Mmmmhmmm

And then they rejected it.

It wasn’t what they were looking for.

Even reading that was kind of a roller coaster, right? It was quite the roller coaster for me, too, I can promise you that. I cried, swore that I’d never write a book (not ever!), ate a lot of ice cream… you know the drill.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was honest.

How to get a book deal tip #2: Get a damn good agent. I recommend Liz.

And then, my agent stepped in (thanks to that whole debacle, I got an agent! That’s not nothing!). Meet Elizabeth K. Kracht, agent extraordinaire.

Elizabeth K. Kracht, Agent to future best-selling author, Amanda Crowell

First of all, Liz was willing to help me write a book in TEN WEEKS.

Why?!

Because she’s like that: all in, ready to do what has to be done for her authors to succeed.

And it was LIZ who picked up the pieces when it fell through. “Just let me shop it. You don’t have to do ANYTHING. Just let me take it out to a few places and we’ll see what kind of interest we get.”

So she shopped it (I did have to do some things, it turned out, but by the time I needed to it I was back on board. She’s sneaky like that.). She shopped it to all the big houses (lots of rejections) and some mid-sized publishers (lots of rejections) and then… Georgia Kolias at New Harbinger Press popped up on the scene.

Georgia Kolias, my champion.

She was not just casually interested, she was DOWN. She was enthused! She was excited!

And she wanted another chapter. Like… next week?

How to get a book deal tip #3: Find the smartest people you can find and ask them for help

WAIT ONE SECOND. Are you telling me that I might actually get a book deal in the “old fashioned way?” The way that everybody and their brother will tell you is DEAD? Impossible? Absolutely against all odds? This might happen to ME?! That was inexplicably and mind-alteringly exciting.

But I was gonna need some help to pull this off. Enter Ann Sheybani. Ann is a book coach who I met at one of my public speaking trainings. We became facebook friends (as you do) and I admired her from afar for a few years. Her writing is honest, vulnerable, and quirky. I love it.

Ann Sheybani. Super Legit!

When the original offer to write a book in 10 weeks was on the table, I called her for advice. She encouraged me to do it.

When the offer came off the table (sob!) she read the feedback and gave me advice about how to interpret it.

When Georgia asked for another chapter, I again turned to Ann. We had a little more than a week to get the new chapter together so I wrote a draft and sent it to her just before boarding a plane to Paris.

Intermission:

Celebrating 10 years with the love of my life.

While I was gallivanting about in Paris, Ann read the chapter, read the proposal, and we had a call from my hotel on the Rue St. Germain on the night before I flew home. She reiterated how much she believed in the book, offered extremely clear advice, and sent me on my way.

When I landed back in New York City (after 8 straight hours of editing on the plane, including an hour sitting on the tarmac), the chapter went off to Liz for transmission to New Harbinger. And Georgia was ready to pitch it!

How to get a book deal tip #4: Don’t freak out!

The hardest individual moment of both of these potential book deals was that I knew EXACTLY when the book was being pitched. For those of you who don’t know (like me), a book is pitched to an acquiring editor (or in the case of that other publisher, the acquiring editor pitches the author). If the acquiring editor likes it, they negotiate for any new materials (ie, a new chapter) and then she brings it to an editorial board.

From what I can tell, the editorial board includes people from the editorial department, marketing, sales, and “the publisher” (which I thought was what New Harbinger was, but apparently NH is a publishing house, and the human being who runs the show at a publishing house is also called “the publisher.” See how much we are learning?)

The editorial board in both cases met on a Thursday. So ALL DAY on those two Thursdays, I pretended to be doing something else. Oh, I’ll do these dishes but really I’ll be thinking about the editorial board meeting. Wait, let me “read” this magazine while actually obsessing about the editorial board. You get the picture.

Anyway, unlike the first time where they drug their feet for almost a week, this time I got news quickly. The board liked it (HOORAY!)… but they wanted revisions to address “tone and voice” (OHGODOHGODOHGOD).

Basically, Georgia said: “If you can do these revisions to editorial’s liking within a month, I can offer you a contract.”

Here’s a live cam from my house at that time.

Repeat. Nonstop for 5 weeks.

Let me tell you, all that emotion DID NOT HELP.

I will not tell you what I put Liz through.

I will not tell you what I put David through.

In fact, let’s just sum it up this way: It helps a lot if you don’t freak out.

Now, I wrote those revisions in one week. They approved the edits about a week later. So why 5 weeks of nonstop nailbiting?

Here’s the vague version: People had thoughts. And I had other thoughts. They were super sure about their thoughts. I was pretty sure about mine. We agreed (like professionals) on thoughts that sat somewhere in the middle. And through it all, there were Georgia and Liz, championing the idea, the author, and the process, and never ever wavering in their commitment to this book. It was a sight to behold.

It was also a moment where holding my own was important to me. There were things that I wanted to be true about the book (things like audience, focus, and perspective) and I stood by those ideas. I didn’t say “I’ll do anything to have a book deal.” I said “I’ll write a great book with these constraints and commitments.” And then we negotiated those terms. I acknowledged when they were absolutely right and they heard me out on issues that mattered to me. As much as anything else in this process, that made me feel like a real writer.

And then:
(DRUMROLL PLEASE…)

I was offered a book contract!!!

(And then we negotiated the contract, which honestly, see tip number 2 for how to handle that.)

On August 16th, 2019, I, Amanda Jane Crowell who didn’t believe, and didn’t believe, and didn’t believe (until she did, to her delight) signed a book contract agreeing to write a book for a legit publisher on a topic of grave importance in the world and about which I am dangerously passionate.

How to get a book deal tip #5: Be in action, even when you are really f*cking scared.

As I was writing this up, I was struck by the one commonality in all the twists and turns I took between the book I started in May 2015 and the book deal I just signed:

I was doing things.

I did things when I thought of them, and I did things when I was asked.

  • When I decided to write a book, I wrote it and sent it to t a friend.
  • When he was very confused, I took the ideas out into the world for an airing (or 17).
  • When Quartz asked, I said yes.
  • When Jenni asked, I said yes.
  • When that other publisher asked, I said yes.
  • When Liz asked to shop it, I said yes.
  • When New Harbinger asked for another chapter, I said yes.
  • And when I decided to speak up about the parameters of the book, I wrote the email and stood firm.
  • When they offered me the book deal, I said YES.

And in every. single. one. of those cases (and in all the other little twists and turns that didn’t make it into this blog post, because I chose to focus on the amazing women who surrounded and supported me), I was AFRAID.

Sometimes a little- like when I did my first Brooklyn Brainery workshop and was so nervous that I did TWO dry runs.

And sometimes A LOT, like when I thought the New Harbinger deal might fall through, and I freaked alllllllll the way out.

From what I can tell, when you are going after your scariest dream– whether that’s to start a family, be a news anchor, build a thriving practice or write a world-changing book, the one thing you MUST DO is be willing to do something when you are scared.

So. What’s your scariest dream? What’s the next step? When can you take that step? How about today?

getting unstuck in life

I’ll be right here believing in you and your dream the way these amazing women believed in me and mine. Let’s go! We got this.

About the Author Amanda

Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.

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