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How to Get a Book Deal

How to Get a Book Deal

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book?

A couple weeks ago I was offered a wonderful deal on a decor book (my second book) with my dream publisher, Abrams, publisher of NYT best seller The New Bohemians by Justina Blakeney.

Now, to be clear, just typing that feels silly. One is not just "offered a book deal". Saying that sounds like it happens in a vacuum. When I announced this on Instagram several people DMd questions about getting published.  I want to be real here and tell you how it happens. 

The bottom line is no one except celebrities are "offered" deals on a silver platter. There's a lot that goes into it ahead of time. So here's my story:

In early 2017 I told a group of friends that I wanted to write a decor book. First, I have to say this wasn’t my first rodeo. I have a published sewing book from 2011 (Inspired to Sew), and I knew how to write a proposal. But I'd never done a decor book. And I hadn't worked with such a big publisher before.

I believe there are several factors that helped me to succeed. I'm going to share all of that with you. In my opinion, it shouldn't be a mystery.

First, I wrote a good proposal and designed it like a book. And second, I had a great literary agent. Let me tell you how that all happened. You should be aware that it took a year for me to just finish the proposal.

Note: I'm just talking about non-fiction/visual books here. My understanding is if you are writing fiction you have to submit the whole manuscript. With a non-fiction like a decor book you write a proposal.

Bari J. press kit

{ press kit example of visuals }

These are the key ingredients of a book proposal:

• Name of the book.

• About the author. 

• Author social media stats.

• What is the book about?

• Why are you the person to write it?

• What books are on the market that are comparable and how will your book be different?

• How with the book be marketed? Do you have a network that will help promote it? Name the ways in which you will promote the book.

• Sales opportunities. Where can you personally sell the book?

• Press and Praise for the author.

• Table of Contents. You'll want to flesh this out pretty well.

• Several pieces of sample editorial.

• And if this is a visual book, lots of visuals.

What I did in addition to these ingredients:

• I created a document that was fully formatted in Indesign and converted to a PDF to give a very clear idea of what the book would look like. I added graphics and text to make the whole thing total eye candy. I had written and designed a printed press kit earlier in the year and used this as my basic format.

Bari J. Press Kit 2017

{ Bari J. Press Kit Created in 2017 - The format I used for the design of my book proposal. }

Should you hire a literary agent?

My answer to this is unequivocally, yes! Unlike my last book and my coloring book, this time I hired an agent. This was absolutely key in getting a great deal with a great publisher. I would not have written as good a proposal without her feedback, and I would not have gotten in front of the right eyeballs. And I most certainly would not have asked for advances and a photo budget etc. This is super important because you can't make a quality book without spending some money on props, photos, publicity etc.

An agent also makes the process as painless as possible. When you finish the proposal and it's ready to go, your agent will send the proposal to the publishers he/she feels is the best fit for your book. The publishers will then respond and you will have a conference call with each. Your agent then puts the book "out for bid" and gives the publishers a deadline. Then each bid comes in and you have a chance to consider each and your agent can go back to the lower bidders etc. Then finally revised bids come in and you decide who to go with.

Let's call it what it is: That's not a process I'd know how to or would want to do on my own. Having an agent advocate do your cheerleading and keeping everything on track is really key.

Another thing an agent will do is tell you the truth. She will tell you when you are not ready and what might need to be changed in your proposal. I first contacted my agent at the beginning of 2017. She didn't mince words. I needed more decor press before I could submit anything or I wouldn't be taken seriously. I spent all of last year getting that press.

Then when I did submit my proposal she came back saying, actually the title you are proposing and the focus won't work. She told me what she thought I should change it to. And a month later I was ready. That was some of the best advice I could have gotten. Not only did she focus the book, but it pointed me in the direction my brand itself was really focused on. I was spinning my wheels trying to be something when I already had it right in front of me. She pointed that out.

You are probably wondering how to get an agent. Do some googling on literary agencies and check them out. You will find many options. Ask questions and talk to people they have represented. It's not as hard as you may imagine even though it sounds mysterious. I was referred by a friend. I highly suggest that you ask people you are close with if they have suggestions.

Bari J press kit

{ another section of my press kit }

What's next?

Now that we have the offer it's time to get started. I met over the phone with my editor last week and we started discussing the table of contents. We will be meeting every week until I'm pretty comfortable with where I'm going. The book will be due next year and will be available in Spring 2020. That sounds like forever away, but I know it's going to fly by!


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  • Rachel Robles

    I think it is great that you are sharing this info! Really speaks volumes about the confident woman you are to share what others would think are trade secrets. Thank you!

  • Linda Barutha

    Congratulations! Huge accomplishment and very generous of you to share the process.

  • Rebecca Bryan

    Good for you! Congrats! And, thanks for sharing.

  • Katia Almeida

    I am very happy when I see your art and your challenges. Congratulations.

  • Patricia Belyea

    Abrams is my publisher as well. I had an amazing team and would not have gotten the deal without my literary agent. Congratulations!

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