I haven’t blogged about my book project for awhile, mostly because it’s been quite a saga. But things are happening fast, and I wanted to take a quick break from my pressing deadline on May 1st to give an update of where things are at.
The brief history:
I was contracted to write a book 3 years ago, and spent a lot of time and energy working through the ideas of the book. I finally finished up what I thought was the final draft in April of 2012. However, the agreement with the publisher ended up falling through, and I was suddenly back to square one.
I was initially discouraged of course, but I tried to keep my head up. First off, I have learned an awful lot about the world of publishing over these past few years, and I’ve heard a number of stories where something like this has happened. It seems to have one of two effects on the author. For some, they become frustrated by the process, insecure about their material, and end up either shutting it down or prolonging it indefinitely. For other authors I’ve met, this lit a fire under them to make the material even better and to search even harder for the right publishing partner.
I was determined to be the second.
The agent who had helped me procure my first deal was retiring, so I had to go all the way back to the basics. Few publishers accept book proposals directly from an author anymore, and I’ve learned that getting a good agent is the single most important step at the beginning of the process.
So I did my research about who I wanted to pursue, and whittled it down to two agents. In the olden days when the economy was booming, the agents were the ones pursuing the essence providers. But that has changed. Now a good agent is like gold. Their relationships with the publisher are invaluable, and the publisher relies heavily on the agent to weed through the hundreds of thousands of book proposals that they don’t have time for. I knew that I needed to put together a killer proposal to secure one of these two agents.
I was extremely fortunate in that the material I was writing about hit a nerve with one of these agents. We began to interact about the project on a regular basis, and he told me that he thought it had great potential. I was excited about the possibility of having him represent me, if he was willing…
Before agreeing to represent me, he gave me a version of the same speech that I’ve heard many times now. It is really difficult to publish in today’s marketplace, as a convergence of factors have squeezed out all but the very best. First, with the economy still struggling, fewer people are buying books. Second, with the rising unemployment rates, more people are turning to writing as a potential source for income. Third, with the coming of the age of social media, everybody thinks they have a story to tell. The end result is that there are more people submitting book proposals than at any point history, and publishers are accepting fewer than an at any point in recent history.
This was hard to hear early in my journey, but I was ready for it now. The whole process had really seasoned me, and I felt like I was ready to take on the myriad of challenges. I asked my agent what I needed to do to get him to represent me, and he was very candid. “You need to create an unbelievable book proposal. It has to be the best thing you have ever written. I think what you are writing about is really, really important. But unfortunately, that’s not enough anymore. You have to seize the attention of a potential publisher. You have to convince them that they can’t not publish this project.”
This was a bit of funny advice for me at first, because I had already gone through the process of writing a proposal and landing a publisher, and I had already written what I thought was the final draft of the book. But as I went back through my original proposal, I understood what my agent was saying. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as I had remembered it, and it needed to be markedly improved.
So I went to work. As I did, I became grateful for the ways that God has guided my steps throughout this process. With the benefit of time and perspective, I can see how God has been birthing something inside of me, and then given me a number of years to work out exactly what that message was. Though my original proposal no longer looked impressive, I was also confident that I had done the best that I could back then. It was as far as I was able to take it based on where I was at in my development. But now that I was looking at doing a proposal again two years later, I could see the ways in which my ideas and beliefs had matured in pretty significant ways.
I worked my butt off on the proposal, and each time I presented it to my agent he politely told me that it wasn’t there yet. I was a little bit frustrated, but I trusted his judgment. He wasn’t going to pass it on to a publisher until he thought it was ready.
Finally, after more than a dozen revisions, he finally told me he thought it was a home run proposal. I was relieved, and ready to see what would happen next.
He sent it out to three major publishers, and to my delight all three showed immediate interest. My first proposal had been sent to these same publishers but all three passed on it back then. This was immediate confirmation that the turbulence and delays that I experienced were actually all part of the divine process of bringing this book to fruition.
After a month worth of negotiations with all three, I eventually signed a contract to publish with Baker Books. I was thrilled to partner with them, and things have only gotten better since signing the deal.
Two weeks ago the editor that is assigned to my project travelled from Grand Rapids, Michigan to spend a day with me here in Chicago. He told me that he wanted to see my neighborhood first hand, and listen as I talked about how it was that my context was shaping the thoughts that would inform this book. It spoke volumes to me about the level of investment that Baker is making in me as an author and in my forthcoming book, and I was filled with gratitude.
We had an unbelievable day together, and I gave him the grand tour of the neighborhood. We talked all about the book, and where the ideas had been initially formed. He gave me a ton of helpful feedback, and told me where he thought I should continue to go strong, and where he would caution me to go easy. We talked life, theology, culture, race, justice, and so many other important themes. It was a day to remember.
The deal with Baker included a rapid timeline for bringing the book to the marketplace. My final manuscript needs to be completed by May 1st, 2013, and they are hoping it will be on shelves by September, 2014.
It is a fast and furious pace, but I welcome it. Life is a little crazy right now. My day job at River City is already very demanding, and I have two little ones who constantly need something as well. So most of my writing happens early in the morning and late at night, and I feel a bit dizzied by the whole thing. But I’m excited to have a publisher that wants to get this thing done, and I am ready to drive it to the conclusion.
What I thought was my final draft was really not all that great when I went back through it. So I am basically rewriting the entire book in about four months. Because I’ve been living in it so deeply for three + years, I can finally see the macro-picture of where I am trying to go with the whole thing. I will try to write another post soon about the new and more focused goal of the book.
But for now, that is the story of the odyssey that has become my book. It’s been hard, challenging, stretching, and wonderful. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I’m more convinced than ever that what I am talking about has critical and far reaching implications. I am so motivated to create a book that gets to the heart of what I believe needs to be said to today’s generation