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The Journey of a First Time Author - How Book Publishing Works (Part 2 of 4)

Posted on June 23, 2021 at 12:35 AM


Enter: The Agent (Jan. 22, 2014)


"Sideways" is one of my all-time favorite movies. The scene where Paul Giamatti's character goes beserk and sloppily chugs the spit bucket of red wine at the tasting room of a winery is a classic.


Do you remember what caused him to go beserk? It was talking to his literary agent.


Today, I communicated with a literary agent for the first time. No wine buckets were spilled in the process, but I am going to refer our agent as Miles going forward in homage to my favorite fictional author. Miles represented Mike for his book and was key to getting it published. So when Mike suggested we see if Miles thought we had a good book concept, I instantly agreed. Mike and I spent the next several days polishing up the simple outline I had so we could get Miles something to react to. Mike emailed it to Miles under the subject line "Next book" last Friday. Miles replied surprisingly quickly with a "I'll get back to you next week. Have a good weekend." I wonder how quickly - or even if - Miles would have responded if I had sent the email cold to him.


I checked my email inbox about 100 times a day for the next several days. Today, we finally got a reply from Miles - "I like this quite a bit, and think it is definitely worth developing... Let's discuss."


I'm not sure what I was hoping or expecting to hear, but this sounded pretty good. I don't think I will be chugging a spit bucket of red wine ... at least not today.


Agent Feedback (Jan. 23, 2014)


Mike and I just got off of a conference call with Miles the agent. It was great to hear he liked the outline and said it had good potential worth pushing. He gave some very helpful feedback too.


First, he said we have to decide what our "voice" would be in our writing. Are we going to use "we" or be non-personal. Whichever way, we had to be consistent. Then he pointed out the part he thought was the weakest part. It was exactly the place that Mike and I thought he would. He reacted to our working titles and gave us some tips on what makes a good title and subtitle. We left the call with a bunch of "to do's" and an agreement to get something back to Miles soon.


More Agent Feedback (Jan. 26, 2014)


The phone call with Miles sparked a new email conversation between Mike and Miles on Mike's first book sales update. When the conversation touched on our book, Mike looped me in. (Seeing the earlier part of the email conversation about tracking sales of Mike's first book via a portal for agents to check retail sailes was an interesting peek behind the curtain for me.) Miles reaffirms that he likes our concept with an "I like this idea a lot" which brings a big smile to my face. My logical self knows that tossing out positive affirmation to aspiring authors must be a regular task for agents - like what lawn sprinklers do with water. That said, it still makes me smile.


Their conversation goes to ideas to further monetize the concept. (Ok, maybe Miles really does see something here if he is already thinking of that.) Could we offer additional training on the concept in a mass market way? Miles throws out a couple examples we should think about as ideas to emulate. One is a new one I have never heard of. The other book is a household name that I still see in every airport bookstore. Now this is getting interesting. If only this book could write itself...


Formalizing our Co-Author Agreement (Jan. 27, 2014) 


Mike and I decide that we should probably formalize our partnership terms on the book to avoid any confusion down the road. We are both on the same page about what partnership means, but it sounds like a good idea anyway.


Jointly creating intellectual property does create some unique questions worth answering (e.g., what happens to the intellectual property rights if one partner drops out part way and the other wants to continue). Besides he has an old coauthorship agreement draft he did for a past project that can be an easy starting point. He will mark that up and get it to me.


From the first time I shared the idea with him, I said I wanted to be true partners - 50/50 on everything. Sure, the original idea is mine but I know that Mike brings a lot to the table that I lack that complements the idea. Mike's experience successfully publishing a book opens doors and helps us avoid rookie author mistakes. He also has built a great marketing platform with his thousands of readers of his book and business blog. He is a prolific writer how has learned to communicate business topics in a compelling way. Finally, he is a great and smart guy I have been partnering with on other things and really enjoy working with. Overall, a no-brainer.


I do have exactly one thing I would like to not split right down the middle and I'm a bit uncomfortable saying so. One of our names has to go first in the author line and, for some reason, it would mean a lot for me to be first. Before I even ask, Mike has already taken care of that in the draft agreement, noting me as "author" and him as "coauthor" with my name going first. Everything else seems pretty common sense and I send it off to an attorney specializing in copyright law to give me an expert read. (I use to bid out my legal projects and have been very happy with the service.) We agree to finalize any tweaks after incorporating any changes from the attorneys. I'm not 100% sure this book will ever produce a penny of revenue, but now it is incurring some real expenses. This is getting real.


Work Intrudes (Feb. 14, 2014) 


It's been over two weeks since our flurry of activity pushing the book and connecting with Miles. We haven't made as much progress in these two weeks as we did during the last two days of that flurry. It's for a good reason though ... other work has popped up that has distracted both Mike and me. We both have our own management consulting and training businesses and we partner together frequently. In the last two weeks, we have had several new potential client leads come in all at once and putting together proposals to respond takes some time. Prospective clients are always a priority, so the book has taken a back seat. It is a good problem to have, but hopefully we can find some time to continue pushing forward to a proposal Miles can start marketing. Oh, and also Miles emailed today to ask for an ETA for the updated proposal. It is a good reminder ... and a nice validation that he must think there is some good potential here.


Proposal 0.0 (Feb. 17, 2014) 


The gentle nudge from Miles has spurred us to finish up our edits to the outline and get it back to him for his thoughts. Miles gives us a few suggestions and tells us we need to start translating the outline to a more formal proposal. Mike sends a copy of his final proposal from his first book and we decide to use that as a starting point. We need to translate the 5-10 page outline into a 30-50 page proposal. We have our work cut out for us. Kind of intimidating.


Good Distractions, but Distractions (Feb. 28, 2014) 


We've had more good distractions. A couple of other potential clients needing proposals. Some family and vacation. Excuses, excuses. Bottom line is we haven't made a ton of progress in building out the big proposal format. Most of the progress we have made in the last couple of weeks has been around setting up the process through which we will work together. Mike set up a Dropbox folder for us. First time I am using it and it is very useful. We also set up a weekly meeting to check in, although we have skipped the last few because of competing priorities.


Mike: Slammed (March 15, 2014)


I finally got back to working on the proposal and check in with Mike. His reply back - "Slammed. Will review/revert soon. Sorry for the delay." The terseness of his message reinforces the content. Mike is a workaholic (he would admit so) so I don't doubt for a second that he is slammed on other valuable things. I just find that pushing the ball alone takes a little wind out of my sails. I feel like I am playing tennis with a wall - the only thing I get out is what I put in. The adrenaline I felt in January is kind of running low. I start to wonder if this was a crazy idea after all. No hard feelings, just more like a check back into reality that feels like an adrenaline hangover.


Victor: Slammed (April 3, 2014)


I am not sure what happened to the second half of March. A freak cold snap in DC froze my pipes, which meant I started a new job of babysitting plumbers in my house. My parents' 50th wedding anniversary and an impromptu family reunion in DC meant I was hosting a big party. More client requests came in. Spring and Cherry Blossoms. Nationals baseball season opening. A mayoral race to help with. Whatever it was, the last couple of weeks were quite event filled, but did not translate to a lot of progress on the book.


Restart (May 5, 2014) 


The book proposal has moved exactly zero inches forward over the last several weeks. Lots of excuses, none of them great. I was overseas on a hiking trip for a couple of weeks. Mike continued to be slammed with work. Etc. So I reached back out to Mike today and asked if we should restart the book or should we take our lack of progress as a sign that maybe it wasn't meant to be. We both decided to get back to it and schedule a call to get us going again.


Sometimes a Break Can Be Good (May 22, 2014) 


We have made some nice progress over the last couple of weeks. In fact, setting it aside seems to have had some big benefits. First, re-reading it confirmed for me that there was a good concept here worth completing. Second, it made it much clearer what should be changed and gave some fresh ideas on how to restructure. We have cranked quite a bit on it. The proposal is up to almost 40 pages and it is getting much tighter. Much tighter. I am officially excited again and getting eager to get it to the next step.


Coffee with an Author (May 28, 2014)


I had coffee today with a neighbor of mine who just published his first book. The whole time I was meeting with him I was thinking to myself "when can I call myself an 'author'?". He cracked the top 10 of the Washington Post's non-fiction best seller list. It was interesting to hear about his experience. When he asked about where we were and when we started, I felt a little embarrassed about our big delay over the previous couple of months. I told him we started at the New Year, secured an agent who wanted to represent us, and have our proposal up to about 40 pages. His reply - "Wow, that is really fast." That was a surprise. It was a nice reminder about how picking the right partner so early was a very smart move.


Finally Hitting 'Send" Again (June 2, 2014) 


I love the book. I hate the book. Well, to clarify, I am really happy with where we are with the proposal draft. We seem to be accelerating in finding ways to tighten it every time we exchange edits. I am starting to think people actually might want to buy this book when it gets printed. Yes, I said "when" as I am now getting very eager to get to the next stage with it.


At the same time, I am hating the book a bit because I am now at the point where I have read it so many times I am having a hard time letting it go back to Miles (remember, he is the agent) for his feedback. I keep thinking "what if we added this or changed that" but then realize that at some point you just need to sew up the patient up. We set a goal to send it to Miles by the end of last week. It was ready, but we decide to sleep on it over the weekend.


So today was the day to send it off. I sent Miles a heads up on Saturday that we would be getting something to him in the next few days. My purpose with that was to (a) remind him who I was after such a long gap so my email didn't get lost in his inbox, (b) let him know to set some time aside because going through the 40 page document does take some time, and (c) to commit myself to getting it out. I reread the proposal one more time. I found no type-os and changed exactly one word. I resaved and then attached it to an email. My temptation was to write a long explanation of what changed since last time, what we think is good, what we know we need to work on, etc. etc.. But I resisted that temptation and simply said "As mentioned. We are eager to get your feedback." under the subject line "Revised Book Proposal".


For the first time in months, I feel like the ball is out of my court and it feels good. The bad part is that I am now playing a waiting game. The proposal has grown a lot since Miles last saw it. Would he still think it is a good idea or has he since come to his senses? What if all the work to date was for naught? Was I crazy to think I could write a book? And I wait...

Categories: Publishing a Book, Communication Skills, People Leadership