My Publishing Adventure: How I Landed a Book Deal with A Major Publishing House
According to my research I had a better chance of finding a purple spotted chicken in the jungle than landing a book deal with Zondervan. Why, you ask? Well, if you’ve ever looked into the traditional publishing process, the odds are not with new comers.
Besides the challenge of getting your voice heard above all the other content out there, almost all publishers require you have a “platform”. Chances are if you’re an aspiring writer, you just cringed when you read the p-word. If you are unfamiliar, I will try and cliff notes it for you.
What the platform does for the publisher is a few things, actually. #1. Having a platform is basically your “following.” It may be your website, social media numbers, etc. It’s “clicks” on the content you have put out there in internet land. It’s an email list, “likes” and “shares,” who is joining your conversation?, etc. These numbers show you have your own unique built-in audience. This is especially helpful with book sales (obviously). On the business side, platform foreshadows profitability.
#2. Your platform can show stability. There should be a solid history/consistency about your topic/topics of choice. You have been pioneering or championing something for some time now. You have targeted a niche market, and you are educated and passionate about it. Thriving within your own unique demographics helps validate your voice. Plus, let’s just be honest. Good branding just makes you look legit 😎.
What doesn’t make you look legit is using emoji’s in your articles, which is my case in point and where I enter my non-legit self into the professional world of major publishing. Needless to say, I had no form or presence of a platform.
In the end 2013 my world came crashing down to a screeching halt. Through that season, my book was unintentionally born. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to avoid the topic of my book and just talk about the publishing process itself. The manuscript is in final edits right now. If you sign up for email updates http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/ you will be the first to know all things book-related!
I finished my manuscript by Spring of 2014. But I had never written anything before. Like, anything. No college writing classes, no published articles, nil. I thought the actual writing of the book would be the hard part. I shake my now educated, future-self head at the naive sweet younger version of me. I wish I could pat my past self on the head and tuck me into bed with warm cookies and milk. Sweet dumb girl.
I didn't know what to do with my manuscript, so I did nothing for a few months. Then one day I was talking to my brother-in-law about it and he mentioned he had a good friend who may be able to edit it for me. So I contacted her and she was interested in the content so she agreed to edit it free of charge. (I’m not advocating for free labor here, don’t hate! Just telling you my story and how everything fell into place.)
I remember feeling so honored because she works as an editor at a major publishing house and I previously had no professional contacts. That was the first sprinkling of favor from God over this project. After months of editing, we were all done. So I did what I nailed before: Nothing. #likeaboss
I did not know what to do, so sat on it a while longer.
Fast forward a few months and my friend Lyndsie was working on a project for a client of hers who was a published author (Hi Amy!) I asked Lyndsie if she would be willing to pass my manuscript her way to see if she thought it was good enough to pursue the next step.
Amy’s advice was the monumental next step. She told me to attend a conference put together by Lysa Terkeurst and Proverbs 31 Ministries. The conference primarily targets writers and speakers. It was to be held July of that year (2015). I signed up March 24th.
One of the benefits for writers is that you have the option when you register to sign up for publisher appointments at the conference. Traditionally, aspiring authors do not get the luxury of meeting face to face with a publisher. Your best bet is to hire a literary agent who will act as your liaison. As far as I know, it’s near impossible to be a first-time author with no representation. At She Speaks, however, these appointments become possible.
You can imagine the prep work that goes into these meetings. You can, probably. I, however, had NO IDEA how unprepared I was. The first being, I had registered too late for a publisher appointment and was put on a waiting list. I wasn't sure if that meant slim chance, or if I should prepare as if a spot would open up. I was discouraged I had signed up too late and was already overwhelmed with all the preparations I was learning needed to be done.
I already had the entire manuscript completed, edited, and packaged pretty. What preparations, pray tell, could possibly need done? Oh young, sweet reader. Plenty. For one, NO ONE was going to read my 77,828 word count piece at any meeting. There is a procedure to follow to attempt making it through the very first step of publishing. The goal is getting the publisher to leave that meeting with a copy of your book proposal for review. Your aim is to catch their attention so much that they will pass along your material in the small window of time you have allotted.
So that brings me to the preparations. I had to create a book proposal, one-sheet, elevator pitch, and order business cards, for starters. There were tutorial e-books to be purchased, conference calls to attend, and online groups to join. I was learning so much about the publishing world in a condensed amount of time. I learned in May that a publisher meeting had opened up if I wanted it. The conference was in June.
I literally copied and pasted the format for my book proposal from Mary DeMuth’s book Write a Winning Nonfiction Proposal (http://www.marydemuth.com/store/get-published-2/nonfiction-proposal/) and used that template to add my own content. The worst part of that whole process was the blank spaces I had to leave. It felt like every section was a gaping reminder, “You are unqualified for this!” I just left the blanks and trucked on.
They wanted to know who are the big names that have agreed to endorse my book? (At the time I had zero. I now have several but for that info, you have to sign up for my email! :D <------(See what I did there?!) I had to leave that section blank. They wanted to know my writing experience and where I had been previously published. I had to leave that section blank.
Writing my bio was panic-inducing. If you follow my blogs already, you may know I settled for "Shauna Shanks, human" on my business card because I just couldn’t embellish a title enough to be truthful and compelling. My experience lacked. My expertise lacked. But I follow a lacking-nothing God who has provided each step of this journey. He kept pushing me through to places I had no business even dreaming of being. I talk more about that here: http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog-1/2016/3/9/great-bi
I finished my book proposal with full knowledge that if my book was going to advance to the next step, it would have to be something God wants done, whispering into the ears of the whom it may concern. I knew I wanted to get my story out, and if this wasn’t my avenue, I would begin looking for another one. I met almost none of the “requirements” I had read about. But man, that’s why I love this story. I just gotta do me. God does God.
I got to pick choices for my publisher appointments. They said they would do their best to accommodate those choices as best they could. On July 10th, I was notified I was scheduled for two appointments, and it was with my top two choices. Ironically, the publisher from my second meeting works at HarperCollins, the parent company that owns Zondervan, the company I eventually signed with. I found out after I received my contract that the gal from HarperCollins and my second interview, had helped championed to get my book pushed through during the publishing process! (How cool is that?!)
My third choice meeting was with a literally agent. Although I wasn't assigned a meeting with her, I actually ran into her in the Starbucks line the first day of the conference. I was talking to her not realizing who she was. When it finally occured to me, I was so excited I asked her if I could test my elevator pitch on her. (Since I had prepared one; slow clap.) She graciously listened to my spiel, and we have stayed in contact after the conference. The contacts I met at She Speaks have been instrumental in this process. God used this avenue to arrange things for me that were otherwise way beyond my ability to arrange on my own.
The first step of publishing for me, was getting my now editor to take my proposal in the interview set up by She Speaks. We hit it off immediately and even though I wasn't sure if my book would make it any further, the truth is, I felt so honored to have met her and to be awarded an audience with her. She championed for this project through every step of the way, month after month as my manuscript was approved and advanced to the next step at each stage of the process. (This is definitely at which point I say publishing is not for the faint of heart!)
Though I knew I was going to be getting an offer on the book in November of 2015, I got the official offer in December. It’s been really fun today going through old emails and looking at dates as things progressed and putting a mental timeline on each milestone of this journey.
To me, my publishing journey is proof that God can do whatever He wants, despite our capabilities and qualifications, or lack there of. If He puts something in our hearts to do, we can pursue it knowing full well that with God all things are truly possible.
I was asked to write this blog targeted specifically for aspiring writers or first time She Speaks attendees. I love talking about my book journey, but I also want to be sensitive with the wording here, because there are plenty of writers who are not signing with traditional publishing companies. Please let me be clear that, our success or validation does not come through a publishing company. I know plenty who are writing via self-publishing, posting on personal or group blogs, or submiting articles to publications as freelance.
Our tendancy is to think that signing with a publisher is our "validation" as a writer. That, I believe is false. My manuscript never changed. From April of 2014 when I finsihed until now, it has been the same, so how could one version be validated but not the same version? I have not changed. So when people (perhaps with good intentions) say I am a "real" author now kinda bugs me. That thinking would mean without someone else defining my worth as a writer, I had none.
This kind of thinking could discourage writers everywhere to put down the pens. Writing for me, I decided in 2014, was as an act of obedience to the Lord, period. If it goes viral overnight or receives 9 total clicks after a week, that is not my business, my responsibility, nor my problem. My job is obedience. Period. The outcome of that obedience is up to God. The Bible encourages us to use the gifts God has put in us. God's job is everything else. You just gotta do you. God will do God.
I feel like you should get a prize for staying with me this long! Leave me a note and introduce yourself. I love encouraging others and I’d love for you to continue on this journey with me as it plays out in real time.
A Fierce Love is set to release June of 2017. You can take the rest of this journey with me by subscribing here. More info to come soon!