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

    I did a book six years ago and the second came out this week! My third proposal went out but I am editing the sample chapters after feedback from editors. It’s been five months (writer’s block!)I’ve learned that each project is different and you are so right that strong non-fiction proposals take months! Also–if you have a strong concept and write a good query letter….you will break through and find an agent. You explained a very complicated process perfectly (you have a strong platform and were approached…others would have to query) Workman publishes very well-designed, cool, quirky and fresh titles. So excited for you and can’t wait to buy it. Great, great shower or hostess gift.

  2. Amanda Miller says

    Could not be more excited for you guys! I cannot wait for this book to come out so that I can always have you guys helping me through projects (even with no internet access!)

    Congratulations, you both deserve this- you’re such an inspiration to all of us readers.

  3. says

    OMGOMGOMG! Ok I’ve been so stoked ever since you guys mentioned the book! I seriously cannot wait to get my hands on it! The anticipation is killing me! Congratulations on your deal and all of your amazing awesomeness that is YHL! I totally dig the name too! Did you guys come up with the name? Is it concrete?

    GAHH! I am so stoked!

  4. says

    The post I’ve been waiting for! I was actually wondering about your book the other day, so thanks for reading my mind!

    I’m glad you brought up the fact that some places aren’t as “legit” as others. I was involved in writing a book with someone during the very early stages, and it was totally fishy and weird–not to mention disorganized, which was a huge red flag. So I never signed the contract and told them to find someone else!

  5. says

    Congratulations to you both! It sounds like a lot of work but how exciting is it to be real authors?! I’m looking forward to your book and I’m glad that y’all decided to go the affordable route…that way I can buy one! Thanks!

  6. says

    So happy for you two! So many great things have come your way. As scary as it is, going after your dreams is totally worth it. You’re such an inspiration (both as people and as bloggers/decorators/DIY-ers).

    Cannot wait for the book to come out! Thank you for standing by your own personal life philosophy and putting together a book you know everyone should be able to buy and get use from.

  7. says

    My dad is an author who writes about the history of the American West in and around the 1870’s (Paul L. Hedren just to give him a plug cuz I’m proud). He’s got a new book that just came out (‘After Custer: Loss and Transformation in Sioux Country’) and he was autographing at Barnes & Noble in Omaha on Black Friday! He is not a Black Friday kind of shopper, so I thought that was HA-LARIOUS! Anyway, I’ve seen him do all the manuscripts and indexing over the years and it does take a long time! Can’t wait to see yours.

  8. Elle says

    Congrats on the book! Looking forward to buying a copy. By the way, where did you purchase that stuffed animal that Burger is with in the last picture? Its so cute!

  9. LaMadre says

    This is so exciting! I look forward to enjoying it. It will be fun to read the blog once the book is out – will we see 272 new items and projects suddenly appear around your house? And, thank you for not using previous blog posts for your book content – that would be so disappointing.

    • says

      It helps that some of the 250+ projects will actually be illustrated, so we aren’t doing allll of them (although we’re doing a ton of them because we love glossy pics and want to be sure all the projects actually work when you do them- haha)! We like that some of the steps will be more easily explained in an illustrated format, and it means that the book will have a fun mix of photos and cool illustrations (we’re trying to get an illustrator that I love to come aboard for the project!). Cross your fingers for us! We’ll hopefully find out if we get her within a few weeks. She does work for Real Simple, so she’s amazing!

      So we might have a few favorite items pop up around the house but we’ve been chatting about doing some fun giveaway with the rest of the project items when the book comes out! So our readers score get some homemade by us stuff!


  10. says

    Aww, congrats you guys! This is so sweet. You have a lot of fans who will be chomping at the bit for this book, so I’m sure it will do fantastic. Way to put in the man-hours to make it happen. It makes me dizzy thinking about balancing it all. Then again, we’re starting a Christmas Tree Farm so I guess everyone has their thing they love doing so much it doesn’t matter if it gets crazy!

    • says

      I am so excited for it that it’s ridiculous. It’s my husbands dream to run one. One of his first jobs ever was actually working on a tree farm. I love the idea of taking care of the business side of it, and running a shed (or in the barn) a shop selling local crafts, wreaths and giving guests hot drinks. Because the location of it is in a field behind the pasture, where the cows aren’t allowed, we’re thinking of doing cut your own tree and giving hay rides to people to and from the lot.

      I might be slightly excited. This spring is going to be nuts. New addition on the house, chickens and planning our tree farm. The only downside – it takes between 5-7 years to actually have the trees large enough to sell as Christmas Trees.

    • says

      Lots of hard (and hot in the summer) outdoor work, but cozy for sure. We’re in the planning stages now and discussing the taxes with a CPA. I did the taxes for a tree farm but it was a few years ago, so we’re getting brushed up (and leaving it to a professional since I left the field). Hopefully by the time the trees are ready to sell we’ll have a kid or two to grow up around it and enjoy it.

  11. says

    This is so exciting. I’ll have mine pre-ordered as soon as it’s available.

    What I REALLY love is that it would’ve been much easier for you to re-package your blog posts into book form but you went the route of creating all new content. That is fantastic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *