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

    Your book is already on my wishlist on Pinterest, so my husband has no excuse not to gift it to me next year(lol) since he has so much advance notice. Of course I’m using that fake romance novel picture you guys used, but it’s all good. I’m am super, super excited to get my mitts on that book!

  2. Thais Bessa says

    Oh, and if you make a tour, go crazy and come to the UK! Sherry, you will be a step from Italy, it might be a good opportunity! :)

  3. Ashley W says

    Wow, you guys make me feel so lazy! I’ve been trying to write a book since before I was in college and you guys managed to write one between all your hectic blog and baby activities!

    Maybe it’s time for me to dive back into my writing? Thanks for the inspiration… like always. :)

    • says

      You can do it! One of our favorite times to cram in writing is during long drives (John drives while I tap away on the laptop and Clara naps in the backseat). Hope it helps!


  4. Lauren says

    With so many “secret projects” going on, will you have a hard time not letting some of them slip in to photos for the blog? I hope you won’t have to rearrange furniture for every blog photoshoot!

    • says

      Haha, we have most things hidden in the playroom and basement and some things haven’t even been completed (or started!) yet, so we’re not sure where those will end up! Maybe we’ll hide them in the sunroom and just not shoot that area for the next season or two until we’re done?


  5. says

    So looking forward to seeing, buying, reading your book later on!! Hey, I can sorta feel like “I knew them when”—-ha! Even though most of us on this blog comment section don’t know you, we feel like we do. You two young uns are special indeed and the book sounds unique. Great work! (P.S. Will Burger be used as illustrations in the book? :)

  6. Megan H says

    I used to work with Workman in my old role – they are a fantastic company to collaborate on this project of yours :) Couldn’t ask for you to be with a nicer bunch of people!

  7. Susannah says

    I am so excited for your book! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a 2012 release and adding it to next year’s Christmas list now. :)

    And please put Chapel Hill, NC on that book tour!

    • JennyB says

      I third that!! NC PLEASE!!

      I hope it comes out next fall..I will be buying copies as Christmas gifts for all the people I’ve been telling about your blog! Congrats!

  8. Cara says

    Let us know when we can pre-order it! And can I just say how much I appreciate the effort you’re taking to create new projects. It’s so disappointing when you open a book you’ve been excited about to find out that it’s just the author’s magazine/blog all over again. It’s going to be awesome.

  9. Jocelyn Wittig says

    can’t believe how sincere you guys are! anyone else would just cut and past from their blog! thank you so much and i can’t wait to get my hands on it (so sell it on amazon which has international shipping please). you’ve already helped make our house a home and i look forward to new ideas from you!

  10. Carol N. says

    How exciting! I was (briefly) a journalism major in college so have always been excited by the idea of writing a book. Maybe when I retire from my programmer job I’ll have time for that. Can’t wait to add this one to the wish list and would love to attend a book signing in the Birmingham area.

  11. says


    I’m so excited I could die. That Burger happy dance? Oh yea, I’m right there with him.

    So excited for you guys and cannot wait to meet you on your book tour (because I will be waiting when you come to Boston. You will come to Boston, right? Please, come to Boston!). Good luck with the finishing touches – I’m thrilled to see the finished product!

    • Kristi says

      Here’s a second on the Boston-Book-Tour-Stop!! So very very VERY excited for you! Not sure HOW you find the time – but just know your loyal fans are greatful that you do!! (Oh – and thanks for the Karlstad review/comment on Facebook – my husband and I are picking it up tonight – SO excited!)

    • Hannah says

      Third-ing the Boston vote! Huge fan. I’ll even travel to nearby cities if necessary. This will be on every wish-list I have next fall, but I’ll probably just end up buying it for myself 3 times over before anyone else gets a chance to buy it for me. So awesome, congratulations!!

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