Shortly before my second son was born, I worked with Executive Coach Jeffrey Hull on his book concept, helped him think through whether to self-publish or traditionally publish and provided feedback on his writing.
When my second son came along, immersed in mommying, I referred Jeff to a colleague, Lisa Sussman, to help him with his book proposal. Before he sent out the proposal, I weighed in with additional feedback and ideas.
It was exciting to get his book Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear in the mail a few weeks ago. I thought of several people who could really use this book and then I thought of my blog community. Wouldn’t you love to hear his story about how he got published and what he learned in the process? Here it is.
Lisa: How did you get your publisher?
Jeff: In the midst of the huge financial debacle (end of 2008), I was fortunate to find Globe Pequot Press, after receiving many lovely rejection letters; e.g. “We love your proposal but we just laid off our entire editorial staff…” Needless to say, I was thrilled when their acquisitions editor was interested in my book proposal and wanted to meet with me!
Lisa: Did you use an agent?
Jeff: Yes, I worked with a wonderful agent named Malaga Baldi, who found me after I had written to the New York Times and wound up getting profiled in the Small Business Section. Malaga, and a number of other agents, contacted me directly. She sent me one of her books and actually asked me if I would be interested in writing a book.
The timing was fortuitous, as I had already completed a 100 page proposal (with great editing support from Lisa Sussman) and was in the midst of receiving very complimentary rejection letters from agents usually saying that they already had books like mine underway, or that they were not taking on new clients, when I serendipitously decided to write directly to the New York Times.
The topic of the New York Times article—“Tackling Anxiety in Difficult Times” seemed to touch a chord in a number of agents. It just goes to show that sometimes publicity is the best route to an agent…and a publisher. Of course, all the time I spent on the proposal and thinking through the book gave me what I needed to present the book to interested agents.
Lisa: Yes, sometimes agents love a book, but they won’t take on the author until the author builds more of a platform–you did that in one fell-swoop! Any details about landing your publisher?
Jeff: Since I was considered a “first-time” author (I had written a book before but not with a major publisher), having an agent was extremely helpful in negotiating a good advance. Malaga worked directly with the editor and the publishing team, handling all the little details with regard to royalties, foreign rights etc. She was a godsend.
A key element of securing a publisher was having a great connection with the acquisitions editor, Lara Asher, who later became my working editor. We hit it off right away.
Lara was excited about the possibilities of Shift and a book to help people master fear and navigate change. At the moment when I met Lara—February 2009–the recession was hitting hard and I think we just both “got” how the timing was right.
Lisa: What was the process at your publishing house?
Jeff: Generally, my relationship with the publishing house was managed through my editor, Lara. I negotiated the deadlines with her and we worked quite closely over a four month period, going back and forth with material, mostly through emails and phone.
Lisa: What surprised you?
Jeff: I was a bit surprised by how tight they were on the deadlines towards the end. My agent and other writers had told me that publishers were pretty “flexible” about deadlines and that authors were “notorious” for missing them.
I found that the publisher was pretty strict about it. If I missed my deadlines by too much there was a good chance my book would have been pushed off an entire year.
I’m glad they pushed me to stick with the deadlines. I learned how to write with discipline—every day—and I developed a good reputation with my editor and the publishing house for delivering.
Lisa: What did you like about the process?
Jeff: I loved the “back and forth” process with the editor on the content and the same thing on the design, title, lay-out with the design team. They were a joy to work with and having a “team” working with me made it all very exciting!
For readers of this blog who are considering the benefits/drawbacks of self-publishing versus trying to get a professional publishing company—the thing that often gets left out of the equation is just how much more fun it is to work with a team. Writing a book is a big undertaking and can often get lonely (at least it did occasionally for me).
Having my editor to bounce ideas off of and get feedback from, as well as seeing the different designs for the lay-out, cover, etc. and having true professional support on everything was extremely valuable part of the process. It was, to my mind, the real gift of having a professional publisher.
Lisa: Anything you wished was different?
Jeff: I was a little disappointed by the amount of pre-sales publicity the publisher tried to get for me. I think because I’m not yet a well-known author, I didn’t get into the early pipelines for review and write-ups at places like O. The Oprah Magazine (which has a four month lead time).
I know that my editor tried to push the sales team to do more, but as you would expect, they put most of their time into the more “known” authors on their lists…so this is somewhat unavoidable.
Lisa: What suggestions did your editor make?
Jeff: My editor made TONS of suggestions—everything from the number of chapters, to the number of practical exercises and case studies. She focused on keeping a good balance between practical information, my story and case-studies, which was extremely helpful.
Lisa: Were there any major changes?
Jeff: No major changes to the initial project plan, but I did ultimately have to shorten the content. I just had way too much – lots of stories, lots of exercises—and we had a fairly strict limit on the number of pages the book could be.
I learned how publishers “think” in terms of length, page design and cost. They follow specific parameters in terms of the price the book will sell at based on these variables, which was news to me.
Lisa: What are your marketing plans?
Jeff: I hired a great PR team in New York to handle my publicity–Mouth Public Relations. Everyone involved in the project told me it’s totally worth it to make an initial investment in PR…and now that I’ve worked with a publicity/PR team for a few months, I wholeheartedly agree.
While it’s possible in today’s world of social media (Facebook/Twitter) to do a lot of your own PR, the PR team has been invaluable at getting me radio interviews, talks and newspaper and magazine articles.
I’m now a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, have had articles in the NY Times, Albany Times Union, Personal Excellence Magazine and more.
Most of these have come about because of the hard work of Justin Loeber and the great PR folks at Mouth Public Relations. PR is not cheap…but if you can swing it financially, I think it is worth the investment.
AND, I would recommend that anyone looking for a PR company do TONS of homework and get personal referrals, etc. There are LOTS of PR people out there, but you want to find someone who knows the book industry and has the right connections. I was fortunate in that my PR consultants had already worked on a number of projects with my publisher so they came highly recommended.
Lisa: What would you do differently after this experience?
I’m not sure I would do anything major differently. I would perhaps hire the PR team earlier in the process – many months even before the book comes out. I think I missed a few good opportunities with magazines and TV because I didn’t sign up the PR folks until two months before pub date.
Lisa: Any last bit of wisdom you want to pass on?
Jeff: Two key “learnings” for me in the process of dealing with a major publishing house for the first time are as follows:
1. It is totally worth it to try and get signed on by a professional publisher, but only if you can find a GREAT editor to work with. Your editor is the crucial partner that makes the whole process work (or not).
2. Don’t expect the publisher to do much book promotion. Getting a publishing contract is a great experience, but you still have to slog the PR/social media/publicity road yourself.
The publishing industry is going through such upheaval these days that I’m sure it will be different the next time around. With the rise of E-books and IPADs, I’m not sure the traditional publishing houses will even survive. On the other hand, I LOVED having a great editor to partner with. Lara was a dream to work with and made the whole process of writing a book much more fun and much less isolating. I’m hoping to work with her again.
Finally, I would caution people about rushing the process—for two reasons.
1. Writing a book is a big deal and you will have to live with the result for the rest of your career. Take the time to write a GOOD book; something you can be proud of that really makes a difference for people.
2. Don’t rush the process of writing—try to enjoy it, revel in the creativity of it. Having the time and energy and passion for writing is a true gift. A great book should come from your soul, not just your head.
I know that everyone now says that “books are a business,” but they are more than that. They are, even in today’s wired world, a powerful expression of our hearts, our souls and our passions. It took me two years, from start (when I first called you) to finish…and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
It’s great if you can whip out a book in three months…but there is also something to be said for taking your time, trying to write something that people will be reading for years to come, and most of all, enjoying the process!