Getting An Agent, Writing A Proposal, & Landing A Book Deal

We promised you guys a post all about the whole book-deal process back in March (when we spilled the beans about our upcoming book here). And the only reason I can think of that it has taken us this long to write is because we’ve been so busy actually writing our 260+ page book behind the scenes along with juggling the bambino and the blog and all of the projects that go along with those things. Haha. So forgive us for the delay. Many of you guys expressed an interest in how it all went down (a few years ago we never would have known how to navigate the waters of book proposals and agents and potential publishers to somehow “land” a book deal), so we’re happy to share. Here’s how it all happened, in bullet form (with photos of Burger acting out our emotions, naturally):

  • About two years ago (after blogging for about two years) we were contacted by a few agents & independent publishers about a potential book deal.
  • We went crazy for the idea (we love to write and share our projects). We basically did this.

  • We chatted with John’s sister about the folks who contacted us (she works in NYC with a large magazine publisher – so although she doesn’t do books she knows who’s who for the most part).
  • She gently explained that they were a bit less “legit” than some other folks that we could potentially work with if we held out, so we decided to just wait and see what happened.
  • We sort of forgot about it.
  • About six months later (a year and a half ago), we were contacted by a NY/Boston literary agency (Zachary Shuster Harmsworth) – so we asked John’s sister about them and she got really giddy and said they were highly recommended (their agency just emailed us out of the blue asking if we would like to pursue a book).
  • Uh… yes! We got excited. And naturally, we dove right in.

  • We immediately started working with an agent to put together a book proposal (this is what they send out to potential publishers to “shop” around a book idea and see who’s interested).
  • A proposal is typically 70-150 pages, so it takes a while to put together. The process starts with a book outline and you write an intro and a conclusion and explain why your book would be different/fun/exciting. You basically plead your case.
  • It took us a year to complete our book proposal. Not lying. It was a ton of work! And we kept tweaking things until we loved it (no sense in pitching a book that you’re only feeling so-so about, so we took our time developing something that we thought was fun and fresh and exciting).
  • After a year of work on that 100-ish page document we got to a place where our agent thought it was time to send it out. So she did.
  • Then she had a baby. So another agent took over after the “pitching” process. That was a little nerve-wracking but it was such an exciting time so we tried to just remember to breathe and eat and stuff. This was our nervous face:

  • It turned out that after our literary agency pitched our proposal to about twenty publishing houses, seven of them were interested in bidding on our book. We were crossing our fingers for one or two (which we heard was typical – hey, you only need one!) so it was an insanely exciting and unbelievable reaction. We still get glassy-eyed when we think about that day.
  • After publishers indicate that they’re interested, there’s an “auction” (yes, it’s sort of like ebay – haha) and they each extend a bid about what they want to do/pay (everything from a book advance to royalties is indicated in their bid along with where they “see” the book going – so one publishing house might indicate that they see a giant expensive coffee table book while another wants a smaller less expensive handbook).
  • It was super helpful to learn which publishers wanted to do big expensive books and which ones were more of a small shop atmosphere who do a more customized look at a more affordable price point while believing in a lot of collaboration (obviously that type appealed to us a lot more).
  • By the end of auction day our heads were spinning as we compared the offers and picked a publisher. Our pick? Artisan/Workman. Workman is a huge publisher who is known for all sorts of best-selling books (like What To Expect When You’re Expecting) – but Artisan is their smaller boutique agency that manages a much smaller volume of books per year in a real hands-on way that’s full of collaboration. They understood that we didn’t want to create a giant $50 coffee table book and that we just wanted something fresh, fun, and affordable – and full of great ideas and great photos.
  • They actually offered us a two-book deal, which is especially encouraging because they were saying “we have faith even before your first book comes out that it’ll be great and we’ll want to do a second book with you” – so yeah, we were over the moon. We have no idea what the second book will be about (since we didn’t touch on that in the proposal) so it’s nice and open-ended now. Which we like (who knows what we’ll want to write about after the first book comes out).
  • About eight months ago we all signed on the dotted line to make things official (which is actually when we shared the book deal news with you guys – we couldn’t wait!). Then we… you guessed it… dove right into writing the actual book.

  • After about seven months of nearly nonstop writing (behind the scenes while we continued to blog and love on Clara), we handed in our 100+ page manuscript outline, which felt pretty darn good. Although it’s around 120 pages now, when the tutorials and photos are added it should hit the 260+ page mark. This momentous hand-in day was over a month ago. We’re currently gearing up for the photography stage (working on the book’s layout, fleshing out all the tutorials, and beginning to secretly complete and shoot hundreds of projects with a pro photographer).
  • We’re also coordinating with a few other guest bloggers who we’d love to feature (you know we love to share the love slash eye candy).

  • Let’s just say we completely understand why the title of “author” is a full time job. It has been kind of crazy being stay at home parents to Clara, keeping up with the blog and the projects that we share, all while writing a book and doing secret projects for the book behind the scenes. But we couldn’t be more excited to see how it all turns out! And when we’re done we’ll probably sleep for at least five days straight.

  • The book is slated for release in the fall of 2012 (although there are occasional murmurings of the spring of 2013). Isn’t it amazing how much longer books take to make than blog posts? Especially since most of the content is already completed and the release date is still a year (or more!) away. All that pro photography and layout and production stuff takes time though, and we’re sure it’ll be well worth the wait!

As for what our book is about, the concept is that it’s an idea book. A giant compilation of over 250 ideas for showing your home some love (our tentative title is actually Spruce: 257 Ways To Show Your Home Some Love). The number might change as we continue to execute the projects that we have detailed in our manuscript (some might be awesome and lead to other ideas while some might fail – so it’s flexible). We just want it to be a fun book that you can flip through to see tons of numbered ideas, and then you can start on any page and do any project in the order that it appeals to you. Informal just felt right to us, and the idea that every project or suggestion could be altered a bit (so everyone can do their own spin to fit their house and their style) seems fitting.

A decorating bible with explanations about boxpleats and start-to-finish home staging, it’s not. It’s more of a spark. A starting point. A junkload of ideas to pick and choose from and adapt to fit your home. Some are more involved, some are super easy. Some are free, some might be something that you have to save up for a little to take on. Basically it’s the blog. Only a book. And instead of getting a post or two a day, you get 250+ ideas with photos and checklists and tutorials and illustrations (along with a lot of extra tips, sidebars, and commentary) and a little dorky humor a la us.

Oh and virtually all of the 250+ projects/photos/illustrations will be new for the book – so it’s nothing regurgitated from YHL or anything. Some of the ideas might be the same (ex: paint a piece of furniture or reupholster a bench) but those general concepts had to be included – so we decided we’d execute them in a fresh way (instead of seeing the same bench that I painted three years ago for the blog, you might see a dresser painted in a completely different way that we secretly completed this winter). Sure it’s extra work, but we really want the book to look fresh and be full of different “takes” on a ton of decorating ideas – both classic and unexpected (and pretty much everything in between).

So there it is. A big ol’ rundown of the book process, what we’ve been up to, and how it all went down. I would definitely encourage anyone who is looking to be published to work with an agent (if they don’t email you, I’d definitely try emailing them a proposal to see if they’d like to take on your project). Let’s just say that I can name fifty times that having an agent to help navigate the contractual terms, timeline, and general process came to the rescue – so it’s definitely something we probably couldn’t have gone without.

Does anyone else out there have publishing tips to share with others who are hoping to get into author-ship? Has anyone actually tried to author a book in the past? Any self publishing experiences to share (we were too scared to go that route, but hear it can work too). As for book ideas, waaaay before John and I were bloggers we tried to write a proposal for a hilarious pet naming book (say the people who named their dog Hamburger) but after realizing how much work it was… it just sort of fizzled out. Maybe someday we’ll give it another go. We owe it to Burger. Haha.


  1. says

    Can’t wait for you guys to get the book out, how exciting! my partner runs his family’s book store and is always asking me to recommend books for the art/craft/diy section. I will be sure to get you in (with an extra copy just for me haha!)

  2. says

    The Burger pictures are cracking me up. I’m pretty sure he is jealous of the chihuahua with the leather jacket.

    Also, congrats on the book process. It’s always been my dream to write a book and seeing bloggers like you make it big time is so encouraging for us little bloggers!

  3. Thais Bessa says

    Wow, it is a lot of work and such a long process!

    About the name, did you think about keeping up with the blog branding (like changing the “home” to “house” to link better with the blog) or is the idea exactly to separate it a bit from the blog?

    You guys deserve this and all success that I am sure is coming your way!


    • says

      It’ll say from the authors of somewhere on it, so we hope that’ll be a pretty clear connection! We liked the word home instead of house for anyone who rents or doesn’t feel like an apartment or dorm room is a house because it’s still a home! And lots of our ideas will work in those spaces too, so it’s not just for people with a house of their own.


  4. says

    This is so very exciting. I will be buying both books!!! This is like a dream come true. What a whirlwind for you guys. It’s nice to see such a great couple “make it” for having talent and heart, and not for being a crazy reality couple fighting all the time.

    I just think you guys are awesome and you have inspired me and empowered me to believe that I can do things in my house on my own terms and pace. Many thanks!

  5. says

    I just self-published my first book (Make Love, Not Scrapbooks) after not being happy with where my publisher wanted the book to go. I used and it’s been great. My book is now listed on,, and several other book selling sites.

    The main problem with self-publishing is the advertising- you have to do it all yourself. BUT, you two have a ridiculous number of daily readers, so I think you’ll be fine.

  6. says

    I’m so excited for you guys and can’t wait to add it to my wishlist! One question though, how do you keep the projects secret? Do they end up in other people’s homes? Is your basement piled high? Or are you just REALLY sneaky with your blog photos?

    • says

      The playroom has a bunch of them along with the basement and some haven’t even been completed yet, so they’re not in our house. Yet. Not sure where we’ll stash them though! Maybe the sunroom and just not shoot that space for a while!


    • Sandra T says

      I was wondering the same thing! That, and where do you guys get a “secret” stash of time to do MORE projects than we see? You guys are like home improvement/diy/blog/baby and chihuahua wrangling magicians!

    • says

      Haha- our trick is going to be at 2am. Haha. More hours while the baby sleeps to get stuff done! Might not be very sustainable though… we’ll have to let you know!


    • says

      I had the same questions. Another one- are these projects still funded by you guys as well? Maybe you have some local Richmond-ers to volunteer for these secret projects?

      Congrats on your successes, you guys totally deserve it. You have so many fans that really believe in you guys. I will be one of the dorky fans waiting at midnight at Barnes and Noble (none are close by so it will be an adventure). If you all are doing a tour, you bet I’ll be there for your signatures :) Like others I wish I could pre-order on Amazon (as an additional copy).

    • says

      Many of the projects involve us using things we already have (paint, ribbon, etc) or things that we have found at garage sales and thrift stores, etc. We also have a predetermined photo/execution budget for some bigger items, so if there’s a page about different lighting ideas, the pro photographer and the publisher will be ordering fixtures and shooting them for the book so we can make mood boards or grids to share all of the fun things we’ll be using to demonstrate different ideas!


    • says

      Clarification- maybe you guys have some local Richmond-ers BENEFITTING from these projects as give-always/using their money to decorate their spaces, or something (and I would be toooottttally jealous of those LUCKY people)? Ok maybe those guesses are a little out there.

    • says

      Haha- that’s actually something we’ve mentioned a few times in the comments so we’re definitely thinking about doing some sort of fun giveaway when the book launches with some of the items that we’ve DIYed for the book! Could be so much fun to send things out to readers along with a copy of the book!


    • Chelsea in Richmond says

      I was wondering the same thing! I’m disappointed though that we won’t be able to play “I spy the new unannounced objects in the room” :-)

    • lizkayl says

      Awww- I see you replied to say that you were hiding the projects in rooms you’re not photographing.

      I was gonna take it as a challenge- see if we can spot the stuff you’ve changed!

  7. says

    #1 – I wish I could pre-order this on Amazon right now.

    #2 – I will be traveling to bookstores and placing this book in front of bestsellers – Watch out Steig Larson!

    #3 – Please make that “censored” pic of Burger’s business your cover.

    Seriously – so happy for you guys! You have earned it!

  8. Liz says

    I am so ridiculously excited! My friends and I talk about this book regularly and we hope you do a book tour to Chicago so we can meet ALL of you. Congrats on the book and all of the hard work!

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