How I landed a Book Deal

In Writing by Chris Marlow16 Comments

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In 2012, in an airport security line, Jen Hatmaker did what Jen Hatmaker does. She looked me in the eyes as we frantically tried to get through security after spending a week in Haiti and said:

“Chris, you need to write a book and tell this story.”

To be clear, Jen is not the kind of person you ignore. She has that “it” factor–the one where you just tend to follow her lead and say, “Yes, ma’am!” She will never admit this, but it’s true!

So, a year goes by and I feel this nagging tug at my heart. I need to do this for so many reasons. But fear grips me. “You are not a writer; you’re a speaker, a strategist, but not a writer.(Jeff’s materials and blog have helped me overcome my fears – thx Jeff!)

So, I call Jen, who tells me to call Chris and Curtis (who are two really accomplished literary agents). I finally did, though before I phoned, I googled “what questions to ask literary agents.”

(By the way–those results are not helpful.)

I share briefly, they both like my idea (even though I stumbled my way through our conversations), and I decide to move forward with Chris, since these two dudes are close friends and they have a crazy rule: whoever is talked to first, gets the client!

But, to be honest, these guys gave me the confidence I needed that my idea mattered and it had legs.  I needed them to say “Yes, I like it!” or “No, that is a terrible idea and the only people who will buy your book will be your wife, mother-in-law, and the nice old lady down the street.”

Now I have an actual, legit agent. “Crap,” I thought. “This is is getting serious.” I had to ask some friends of mine for advice. These friends are real writers with published books and they did not get “F’s” in English.  A name keep popping up.

“You need to talk to Jonathan. He knows the writers world, he’s published a few books, and he helps authors work through the chaos and write books that readers want to read.”

Two months later, Jonathan flies down to Raleigh. We eat lots of Chick-fil-A, Krispy Kreme, and Goodberry’s. Jonathan is a Southern boy who lives in Brooklyn, so he does not have access to all of this goodness.

We go through 2 1/2 days of planning and strategy. We narrow the focus, outline the chapters, kill some bad ideas, and dream about new ideas. Then, we’re done.

All of my ideas are on paper, in an outline, and ready to be crushed.

I write the first two chapters of the book, complete the proposal with Jonathan’s help, get Jon to do a fancy design, and just like that, I’m done with the first stage. I send the proposal to Chris and then leave the next day for Ethiopia.

I come back home eight days later and we begin to get a few nibbles from some very accomplished publishing houses. We meet with editors, I share the vision, and wait for them. Two said “Yes;” others said “No,” but they would probably regret this decision. Others said that the idea was terrible and they were not interested at all.   I wanted to email those folks back and let them know that they’re lame, but I did not do that because I thought Chris would have been a bit upset.

After a few rejections, I text Jen with this “world is ending” heartbreak. She texts me back “Get over it. Welcome to the world of publishing.”

That’s it. That’s Jen and that’s reality. Getting published is HARD, people. I respect authors so much more now than ever before!

I reach out to Jeff, and tell him I only have two deals. He laughs at me and says, “Dude, I only had one offer on my first book. You’re lucky; stop complaining, and be grateful.”

“Oh ya,” I remind myself. “This is really hard work.”

And the true work is not done yet, even though I put a year’s work into this journey so far. I was getting a little weary!

I had three publishers on my list of “I’d like to work with them.” One we had not heard from yet, the other had backed out, but the last one of the big three finally reached out and wanted to chat. We set up the appointment for Friday. I was speaking at Together for Adoption, in Greenville, SC, so I frantically was trying to find a room that was quiet so I could speak with this editor.

I asked the janitor if I could use a locked room for 60 mins. He said no.

I shed a tear, begged, and he finally gave in and took out his magical keys and opened the door to what seemed to be the storage room for this old church. It was filled with all sorts of music books and file cabinets, but it had one mini-table and a broken chair. I called into the conference meeting and got nothing. I had been given the wrong conference code!

I had to speak in an hour, so we were forced to reschedule the meeting. Fortunately, I was going to be at Allume and so was Stephanie, an editor from Zondervan. We were able to meet there. We had a great conversation as I shared my dream for the book.  I was hopeful. I could tell she got my vision for the book. She could tell that I was teachable and wanted help to shape the book.

A few days later I got an email from my agent with an official offer. We also had some other publishing houses reach out with interest, but I knew what team I wanted to work with. A week later, after a little back and forth, I received another email from my agent as I was ordering a #1 meal at Chick-fil-A with a cookies and cream shake and TWO cherries on top for my daughter!

“It’s a done deal.”  

We accept the offer before I pick up the food. I got a bit emotional–rare air in my world. I did not understand why, but I think it was all the hard work, culminating to an end … which is really just the beginning of all the hard work.

But, I believe in the project more now than ever.  I know this book is going to help empower everyday people to do good and do it well.

Let me stop for a moment and make this clear: it always takes a team to make great art. This is why community is so vital.

I want to think Jen, and SO many other amazing friends, for encouraging me to start the journey. I want to thank Chris (my agent) for working with me and securing a great deal. I want to thank Jonathan for teaching me, editing my ideas, and helping me shape the book. I want to thank Ken for doing edits and proofreading. I want to thank Jon for the design, and I want to thank Charles for coming up with the initial concept in a strategy meeting two years ago!

And finally, I want to thank Stephanie and Zondervan for believing in this project. As Stephanie said in the offer email–“let’s get this done and get to work!”

NOW, I’m going to make my first ASK to you. I’m going to write my little heart out for the next 4-6 months. The professionals (sales and marketing) are gonna do what they do, and we will have an official marketing plan.

That said, I’m going to need you to help me make sure this book has the impact that I so desperately want it to have.  I’ll need you to buy this book, talk about this book, give a few copies away, blog about it, launch a book club…. and so forth.

Without you, this journey will not be successful. Just like all aspects of life, we need each other to succeed. Help One Now is what it is because of you — the tribe of amazing businesses, individuals, and churches who partner with us.

And that’s my publishing story so far. Now, onto the next step of the journey, writing 50,000 words that matter! 🙂

Comments

  1. Jen Hatmaker

    This made me laugh so hard! I am a kind but ruthless friend, man. Who never had a doubt. Proud of you and so glad the world is going to get your story. This one matters. GET TO WORK AND STOP PROCRASTINATING ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

  2. chadkmiller

    Great job, I especially like the way you focused the post on who helped you to make it happen. A great way to honor an AWESOME friend network!

    1. Author
      Chris Marlow

      Thanks Chad,

      I wanted to let folks see that is takes a team to make dreams come true. I could have never done all of this, without those folks!

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