How I Landed a Book Deal!
For the past four years I have been writing, and writing, and rewriting some more. Three complete books to be precise, in hopes of landing a book deal. Today I got my negotiated contract from Skyhorse Publishing. Believe me when I tell you, there are no words adequate enough to give this moment justice! Unless you’ve worked tirelessly –literally without sleep, staying up until the wee hours of the morning for weeks, months and years on end– cried, bleed, started over and talked yourself out of giving up more times than you can recall…. you wouldn’t know what this feels like. But if you, like me have been out there puttin’ in #TheHustle for your dream even when it seemed pointless, just to one day realize it; then you get it. You know this is what we dreamers/doers live for. Our vindication. The only thing that can satisfy our desire to succeed, is success itself. Nothing else will do.
This is how I applied my #HBRMethod to manifest my dream.
The evolution of my dream to become a traditionally published author:
In 2010 I began writing my first book; Thoughts.Stories.Life.
I was NOT a writer. To this day it’s still difficult for me to say “I am a writer” because I feel so inadequate as such. But nun-the-less I began trying to write my story, mixed with my attempts at sharing what I’d learned. The book consisted of song lyrics, my story, tips on how to find success and other musings. It was so green, dear god was it terrible! Hindsight is 20/20 right? And when your dream doesn’t come true on your timeline and by your terms, remember this: it’s a huge blessing disguised as a slap in the face (#SurvingEarthquakeMoments). You will, like me, be grateful later.
I knew the book wasn’t all it could be, yet you have to start somewhere when you have such an audacious dream. So I did my research. I found out if I wanted to get my book published the traditional way, I’d need a literary agent. Publisher don’t read unsolicited manuscripts, especially from unpublished “authors”. So I began the process of sending my query letter to every agent I could find (#TheHustle) who worked with self-help and memoir authors. And every agent eventually responded…. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.” Then I got my first little break. One of those top agents, Beth Davey responded with the kindest note. She said she obviously had to pass, but told me to keep writing. Told me my “voice” didn’t suck and to keep working on flushing out my ideas. I clung to her and those words. They were what kept me going when I was like; ok I get it. I suck, and I really need to quit.
I was ultimately completely unwilling to quit (#RelentlessPursuit). My dream from day one was to have my story traditionally published, period (#BigPictureDream). So when the offers came in from internet and self-publishing/distributing companies, I politely said no thank you. I have always said that I wanted to one day walk into Barnes & Noble or an airport and buy my book (#SpeakIt). That was the image I kept in my head, and it was the one I went to every time I thought of quitting or settling for less (#CreateAMovieInYourHead).
Then in 2012 I was able to find a young agent, new to the business who was willing to take on my book and submit it to publishers (#GetGrateful). I was so ecstatic, until slowly but surely every single editor in the business turned it down. This is the point when rational people quit.
I’ve never been very rational.
I believe in going after your dreams, and I believe (“believe”) that if you work hard enough (“Hustle”) you will LIVE YOUR DREAM (“Receive”). However, I’m not a total moron. I knew that every experienced agent and every publisher in the game must have had a point. Here and there a few of them added helpful comments and feedback in their rejection letters, and I took them to heart. I asked my friends to read the book and give me honest feedback. I recognized that I had NO IDEA how to write a book, and was open to all feedback from any source. The overwhelming response was “tell your full story. Write your complete memoir.” This was the obvious direction that even I knew I should be pursuing. That was the book I had always believed I would eventually write from the time I was in my early twenties (long before I even thought of becoming a “writer”). My full life story is…. how shall I put this…INSANE. But it was a hard story to tell and I felt even more inadequate and terrified to scrap my first book and start all over with just my memoir. But I listened to the feedback and began a year long, emotionally draining journey of writing my full memoir. Yet deep down I had always wanted my “short story (post-divorce) and tips to success” book to come out before my memoir. It was just more relevant to my life and my passion, but I went to work anyway.
In 2013 I wrote my childhood memoir, titled “From the Outside” (one of many titles I struggled with). Again I knew it wasn’t where it needed to be, but I needed some feedback and direction and the best way I knew how to get it was to submit it. So again I queried agents (#TheHustle). And again I was rejected. When I saw the reply from Beth Davey, I was almost too scared to open it. She’d written a long response. She loved my story, and my voice, and begged me to keep writing. But of course she was going to pass. I was crushed. I’d done everything everyone told me to do and still, failure. And failing at telling your personal story is much harder to digest than any other failure I’ve faced in my life. There is something about baring your soul, and telling all your secrets, just to be told, you kinda suck at it.
But Beth’s words stayed in my mind. I wrote her back and asked for more direction, thanked her for her guidance and thoughtful reading of my work. I was determined to build a sticky relationship with her, one where she’d remember when it was time for me to send her my next project (#ChangeYourCrew). I wanted her in my circle somehow, even if she wasn’t ready to give me a chance just yet.
For six months I refused to write, accept on my blog (#ChillOut). I wasn’t ready to quit, because I never doubted deep down that one day I’d realize my dream (#BelieveItToLiveIt), but I needed a break. I needed to clear my head and try to go back to what I really wanted in the first place.
In early 2014 I knew I needed to get back to my Hustle, but I still wasn’t fully motivated or inspired. I felt lost. Both directions I had tried led nowhere, and though my #BigPictureDream remained as clear as ever, I didn’t know what avenue to pursue to make it happen.
There was one last book that I’d always had in my mind to write. I’d even started a blog with the same name back in 2012 that I’d hoped to turn into more of a teaching blog (but realized keeping two blogs was too much work!), the title was #HustleBelieveReceive, and it was the self-help version of my post-divorce story. The 15 steps I used to change my life and live my dream, woven with my personal story as an example. That was the book that made the most sense by far. It’s what people have been reading my blog for these past few years. But again I didn’t know how to do it, and how do I write my story in a book, when all of you have been watching it happen live this whole time? But I started writing anyway (#TheHustle).
In May of 2014 I quit my corporate job to pursue my dream full time. I decided it was now or never. I was going to write this book come hell or high water and transition my career into my passion. But the writing was tough. I still didn’t feel inspired; I lacked that spark that I knew was critical to making it work. And then I had an idea. I wanted to interview my football player friends and see if they had achieved their success using the same steps I had used. I knew they had because most of what I’d applied to change my life I had actually learned from talking to, and watching them. But I had never interviewed anyone before in my life, and had no idea what I was going to say or if they would even do the interview. I was equally afraid that if they did it, I wouldn’t be able to get them to really open-up and make it a good interview.
But I did it anyway (#TheHustle), and to my amazement the interviews where awesome! The guys opened up and shared things we’d never even talked about in our years of friendship. I was blow away and TOTALLY INSPIRED. I named the five-part blog series “Inside the Mind of an Athlete.” And it showed how each of them used the same tools, beliefs and actions that I was using to get success. They proved that it worked in pursuing an athletic dream, and I was proving it could work in “regular life” and pursuing any dream. I was so excited by those interviews that I again put book #3 on the back burner.
One night in June of 2014, I took my kids to see the movie Million Dollar Arm. During the whole movie my kids kept looking at me and saying “mama! That’s #HustleBelieveReceive! That’s what you tell us!” That night I went on twitter and landed an interview with the real life inspiration behind the film. It was the first real and “random” interview (meaning I did not know him) I’d ever done. I was beyond terrified. I knew I wasn’t really a qualified “interviewer” and I wasn’t sure that Ash’s responses would support what I believed, but I had a feeling they might. Since I wasn’t sure what questions to ask, I simply said; will you tell me your story? And to my delight his story reinforced what what I’d been discovering. That self-made successful people had all used the same basic method to achieve their success.
As soon as that interview was finished I knew what my new book was lacking. It needed stories of other people doing the same thing I had done! I wanted more proof. More examples from every possible walk of life, living out every dream I could think of. I was so excited and inspired; it was an entirely new world that opened up that day. It was like the wall that I’d been beating my head against for the last four years cracked from top to bottom. It didn’t crumble, but the crack was good enough for me.
Overnight everything changed. I began interviewing successful people in all walks of life with these AMAZING stories. I would just listen as they told me (many times these were total strangers) their life story. I was humbled and honored that these successful people would tell me their story when most had never told it before. Every time I’d get Goosebumps and want to cry with excitement and gratitude.
June of 2014 –And THAT is how #HustleBelieveReceive The Urban Guide to Changing Your Life and Living Your Dream was officially born.
I knew right away that this idea was the one. Something felt different… it was pure joy. Everything about writing this book and working on the stories filled up parts of my soul that had never even been touched before. So I told myself, and everyone I came in contact with, a new story (#MottoForLife), that this book WAS getting published. It was just a matter of time. And what’s amazing, is everyone believed me. I was so totally convinced that not one person I asked to interview for the book, responded with “well do you have a book deal?” And thank god ‘cuz hell no I didn’t! But I worked my ass off as if I did. And this time I believed it without a shred of doubt, and I didn’t care if I was a “great writer” or not. This time none of that mattered. I had a story to tell that the world needed to hear; it had to! And it wasn’t about me, though my story is a big part of it, the project was no longer about me and so my inspiration has been on cloud 10 throughout this process.
When I’d compiled about thirty stories, and four chapters for the book I knew it was time to make an official book proposal and try once again to get an agent. This time I didn’t send my proposal or query to all the agents in the game. I sent it to just one. And instead of a formal query I sent Beth an email, thanking her for all the guidance she had provided me throughout the years, and asking her to give me one more shot. I made a promise to her in that first email that if she would take a chance on me I would get US a book deal and turn it into something amazing. I thanked her for always believing in me and said that if anyone was going to ever make money on this book as my agent, it had to be her.
Two weeks later I saw her reply come across my phone and my heart raced, as I opened it. She simply said “Sarah can you give me a call?” That was the first time in all those years that I’d ever been offered a call with her or any other real agent. I knew what that shit meant!!!!
In July of 2014 (just a month after I’d started working on the new #HBR) Beth and I were sitting in Grand Central Station in New York, and I was breathlessly pitching her. I was a total hotmess, jumping from one idea to the next in the book, but it was just falling out of me, I couldn’t stop it! I was so excited to be in that moment, I knew I just needed a chance, and this was it. She needed to see the real me; faults, hotmess and all. We talked for almost two hours, and then got up to leave. I hugged her goodbye and thanked her again for always believing in me and I turned to go. She reached out and grabbed my arm and said “Sarah I think we need to have you sign a contract.”
I’m not kidding when I say I SCREEMED in the middle of Grand Central! Signing with a top agent is the dream of every writer, and harder to do then winning the lottery it feels like! But I had done it. My #RelentlessPursuit had paid off just like I knew it eventually would.
On that trip I was actually in New York because I’d been offered an amazing “day job” which was a TOTAL manifestation of everything I’d ever wanted from my corporate life. And at the end of the day I needed to eat and feed my kids while I pursued my dream, and the best part was my new job was fully supportive of my dream. Things were finally clicking, all the proof I needed that I was on the right path.
All of August and September Beth and I worked on the official proposal to send to editors. It had to be perfect and represent the book in a way they could fall in love with it too. All the while Beth (sweet soul that she is) remained me that “publishing is cruel, and difficult, and few people make it” even with her help. But I wasn’t worried. I told her every time that #HustleBelieveReceive would be the exception to that rule. We’d get an offer I kept promising her (#BelieveItToLiveIt).
Our first test was to have a retired editor critically read my proposal and provide feedback. I wasn’t prepared for how “frank” that conversation was going to be, and after I got off that call I had, for the first time with this book, those familiar feelings of self-doubt. I struggled that night to not let it derail my passion, but it was tough I can’t lie. But that feedback turned out to be the pivotal point in getting the whole concept of the book to click and flow and when I was done with my rewrite, it fuckin’ kicked ass! And I was so glad I’d pushed through, listened and then made it that much better.
When October rolled around our date to submit to editors had come. This time I just knew someone would see #HBR’s potential. I knew we’d get an offer, maybe two or three. We had to, it was THAT good! Responses came in almost immediately, which Beth said is unheard of. Editors were dropping whatever they were doing to read our proposal. They were excited about it. They loved the concept; the title, the steps to success, the featured stories and my story… yet still they were taking a “pass.” Twelve proposals went out, and by the end of our second week six had responded “no thanks.”
That’s “Ok” I kept telling Beth, “we will get one” (#MottoForLife). But I was starting to sweat just a little. What if we didn’t? What if the third time wasn’t really a charm for me? I refused to let those thoughts take over (#ChangeTheVoicesInYourHead) because I KNEW completely with everything in me that we would get one.
I had just landed in LAX and turned my phone back on waiting for my turn to exit the plane when Beth called. I knew this must be it, and when she told me we had a top publisher who wanted a meeting I screamed out loud on the plane!
In all we spoke to four editors out of the twelve we submitted. Again Beth reminded me that this type of response just does not happen with a new author, she was shocked and overjoyed. Editors at some of the biggest publishing houses in the world. All four editors pitched my book to their editorial board (sadly an editor alone does not have the ability to decide on buying a book or not, it needs to pass the approval of the board). And from those 4 we got 2 written offers. Beth tells me this is unheard of, that these things “don’t happen.” I laugh and remind her that this isn’t just any book it’s #HustleBelieveReceive and it, and the steps have the power to work magic.
November 21, 2014 is the day I finished negotiating my contract with Skyhorse Publishing. It’s a day I’ve worked my ASS OFF for (#TheHustle), believed (#BelieveItToLiveIt) would come, and today was the day I received (#ManifestThat!).
I tell this story because sometimes when you are watching someone else live out their dream, it looks easy. Even if you’ve seen them struggle a little, you’re not privy to those bad days, and I wanted to show you that on the path to success you WILL have heartbreak. You will be tested and tried, and as cliché as it sounds it’s absolutely necessary to get you to the next level. If my first book had been published I would be mortified today. It wasn’t ready; it wasn’t something I could be proud of for the rest of my life. I had to go through this entire journey to get here. So when you’re in the journey try to trust it. Know that it’s always looking out for you and has your best interest at heart. When the timing is right, when you’ve done the necessary work and preparation, it will happen. Not it might happen I’m telling you for a fact it WILL. You just gotta want it more than you want to give up. Giving up cannot even be an option if you plan to be successful. Period.
I provided a detailed timeline because I wanted you to see that in the pursuit of your dream the particulars might change along the way. I had started this process with one book in mind, and finished four years later with my third book attempt. But my #BigPictureDream had always stayed the same, and that was the dream I believed in. You have to be open to accepting the fact that your dream might not manifest how or when you want it to, and that is out of your control. But it’s also always in your best interest, which is a key point. That is why you simply can not give up if you really believe and are passionate about your end goal/dream. It takes time, patience, work, blood, sweat and a lot of tears… but stick it out because it also brings the type of joy you’ve never known before.
Timing is everything, and when the project was right and my energy was ready and receptive to letting it come to me, and I was open to listening and then willing to work and believe, that’s when it happened. And it happened so damn fast! If you look at the timeline it was under five months from the time I had the idea for this specific book to the time I signed my book deal.
Now I just need to write it!! My deadline is June of 2015 so expect to hear more fun stories about this process as the months go by. And next Christmas (2015) is our projected release date. I can’t wait!!! To think that this time next year I can walk into a book store and buy my book, well it’s almost unbelievable. Almost.
“Anything is possible child, anything can be.” -Shell Silverstein.