Sometimes people ask something along the lines of, "How'd you get a book deal?" And although we aren't experts we do have our first book coming out August 13th and we'd love to share our story with you.
Elsie and I started dreaming about writing books together probably about two weeks after we began working in our local shop every day. When we are together for long periods of time we usually start dreaming. We've been that way since we were kids. And, like most dreams, this one felt completely unattainable. In our minds it MIGHT be possible to get a book deal SOME day. Maybe. If we were lucky. I think actually trying for the things you want in life is often the biggest and scariest step of any journey.
We wanted to do a DIY inspired entertaining book. Throwing parties is so fun and fun to photograph plus it fits in well with our interest (crafts, decorating, and recipe creation). We made, what we thought, was an awesome book proposal. We dreamed of pitching it. We sent a proposal out to a publisher we loved. We received NO response. In fact, the only real feedback we ever heard about that book idea was "entertaining is a dead category" in the publishing world. That was discouraging. We had put our hearts into that idea, not to mention hours upon hours of work, other resources, and we'd even hired a photographer to shoot the concept. It all felt like such a waste of time.
As luck would have it an editor contacted Elsie. She seemed legit, she was from a big publishing house in NYC. She wasn't interested in doing an entertaining book though, or a craft book, or really any book idea we had been dreaming about. She wanted to do a self-portrait book, tips and tricks for taking your best self portrait. She had been researching self portraits on the Internet and found an old blog post Elsie had written. She liked it, so she called us just to discuss. She was very kind, complimentary and willing to work with us as first time authors who really knew nothing about the book publishing world. I remember we thought the concept of doing an entire book based on self portraits sounded really hard because it was such a limited concept. A whole book of photos of just us—would anyone buy that outside of our mom? But this was our chance to get our foot in the door of the publishing world so we kept a conversation going.
Around the same time a literary agent (also from NYC) contacted us coincidently enough. I remember we talked on the phone with her for the first time while we were out Christmas shopping one day. Lindsay seemed really cool, and we could tell she had read through our blog and knew a little about us. She asked to read through some of our e-courses so we sent them to her. We talked a few more times via email and over the phone, and it just felt like a good fit. She then started joining in the talks with Julie, the editor we'd been talking to.
This was all really exciting, but talking to people on the phone isn't exactly a book deal. We didn't know if a contract was going to come out of all this, but we, of course, got our hopes up and started dreaming up the best possible self portrait book we could imagine. And we waited to hear what would come of it all. We kept working at our shop, and we kept blogging. We just kept doing what we had been doing and just hoping the phone would ring. Even if we didn't end up getting a book deal out of all this, we felt like our new relationship with Lindsay, our agent, had been a positive step in the right direction.
We always worked until 7pm (when our shop closed), and I often had to bake for the sweet shoppe afterwards (the commercial kitchen space I rented only allowed for me to bake late at night). One night, after getting home around 10pm or so I saw I had a missed call from Lindsay. I actually saw it before I left the kitchen, but I didn't listen to it until I got home. The whole drive home I felt nervous and was already trying to talk myself out of being sad if things didn't go our way. In her voicemail Lindsay sounded upbeat, and she said that she would be sending over an email later with all the details but that we got it. We had a book deal! Not only were we signed on to do a photography book but our contract would also get us a second book that we and our publishers could decide on the topic at a later date. And just like that we had a two-book deal with Random House. We were going to be authors! I kind of wondered as I listened to her message that night how often Lindsay gets to tell first-time authors they just landed their first book deal. It must be one of the best parts of the job. The next day, while we were still at the shop, Elsie and I had a short phone meeting with her to go over the contract and connect about the whole deal. We couldn't believe we were going to get to write TWO books.
Soon our photography book concept changed, and they wanted a lifestyle photography book, rather than just a book on self portraits (YES!). This proved to be an even stronger concept for us. We love snapping photos of our lives, so sharing tips and tricks we've learned over the years was a dream come true. Even though we had never dreamed of writing a photography book, it actually felt like the perfect fit.A few things we learned from getting our book deal:
1. Dare to dream. Writing a book is just like any other dream you might have right now. It feels crazy out of reach! Just keep dreaming anyway. That's where it all begins.
2. Take small steps toward your goals. We wanted to write a book one day. Big dream. In the meantime we did our best to write quality blog posts and e-courses that we published and shared. It was a blog post that lead our editor to discover us. It was our blog and our e-courses that got our agent interested in our work. We probably wouldn't have a book deal today if we hadn't already been writing and publishing work while we were dreaming about being authors!
3. Be flexible. We wanted to do an entertaining book. No one wanted to publish that at the time (maybe someday!). Our first idea wasn't to do a self-portrait book. But we felt we could take that concept and do a really good job, so we accepted the project. There are times when you have to flexible. There are also times when you have to stand up for your ideas—don't get me wrong. But when you are starting out or working with people more experienced than you, it's a good idea to listen and see where you can fit in, not make demands. We've learned so much from our publisher and agent over the past few years. Their experience is the best crash course in publishing we could have ever received!
Thanks for letting us share our book deal story with you. Next up we'd like to share more about what it was like writing our first book. Let us know if you have any questions. xo. Emma (and Elsie too)
*First photo by Arrow & Apple.