Skip to main content

My Accidental Book Deal

I've been working on a book about a local brewery for three years. Like many would-be nonfiction authors I wrote as much as I could when I wasn't at my day job. I was a reporter when I started, then (mostly because I was cheap and the newspaper was bleeding cash) I was an editor and finally a section editor at a bigger paper. Between my day job and my book I was cranking out a phenomenal number of words every week.
When I finally left the newspaper business for the nonprofit sector, my first draft was nearly done and I was cruising toward a second draft. It was time to try selling my book. I've learned since that it is foolish (or at least amateur) to first write and research a nonfiction novel before selling it. My first proposal (I also learned nonfiction authors don't query) was to +The History Press. As I'd never written a book professionally before, I included the first four chapters of the second draft as an example.
Having not heard from them, I started sending what I was learning to call "draft proposals" to agents. As it turns out, according to the Internet, larger publishing houses only deal with agents. You pitch your book to an agent, and, if they're interested, they try and sell it to a publisher. It is incredibly tedious (but no more so than editing submitted copy from the garden club).
I was fully prepared to start getting rejection emails, I thought, but the first one was a pretty serious punch in the stomach, as were the second, third, and so on. It got to the point that I didn't want to send any more, 'cause it was getting brutal. My official rationale(izing) was that I didn't want to overdo it with the query/proposals. I decide to cut back to sending one each week as a way of protecting my ego, but was a little lackadaisical about it. That's when the History Press called.
I was working, so they left a message asking me to call back about my book. I was outrageously excited and reached out to an author friend who was both familiar with my book and who'd written for them before. She calmed me down pretty quickly.
The narrative nonfiction book I'd been working on was in the 130,000 words range, she told me the History Press tended to prefer books that came in closer to 50,000. She said I should consider whether I wanted to cut what I'd already written. I didn't.
"You may want to think of a counter-pitch," she said. "They don't publish that kind of book."
It went exactly as she'd predicted. The publishers asked me if I'd be interested in shortening my book. They were friendly and gentle when they explained the reasons they weren't interested in the epic I had written and even gentler in suggesting potential changes. Still, three years is a long time. I was pretty committed to my narrative.
"What about a history of beer on the Eastern Shore," I asked. I went on to explain that, between the work I'd done on colonial taverns in college and the ton of great stories I already hadn't used in the other book, I easily could put together a brief history of Eastern Shore beer.
Could I do it by the end of August? There was only one way to find out.
I sent a revised proposal, they sent a contract and we were off.
SPOILER ALERT:
I'm writing this blog because I did, indeed, finish the book, shooting for a late fall/early winter release. While I'm going through the drafting and composition process, I'll share the photos, stories, and minor adventures my photographer and I had putting this book together.

Popular posts from this blog

Into the past

I went to college as a 30-year-old and, as I made for the graduation finish line, my first marriage came apart. If I ever write that story it will read like the lamest version of the poor man's Fear and Loathing. Come to think of it, Fear and Loathing in Delmar would be an awesome title. Doing primary source, original research was a graduation requirement, so I combined my appreciation for a good tavern with the fact that I had to write about something. While researching taverns in colonial Maryland I discovered that there was such a place a Castle Haven. More than a decade later, that paper became the first chapter in my first book, and the second installment in my blog about writing the book. This is the story of our attempt to breach Castle Haven in search of photos.

What is in a name?

In this week's Beer with Strangers podcast, Doug Griffith of Xtreme Brewing in Laurel and I discussed the recurring news story that craft beer is running out of names. Among the concerns is that it makes it harder for new brewers to break in and it prevents smaller brewers from having big breakout beers. Craft beers allegedly have kooky names because they are the product of one brewery making many, many beers.
It makes sense, at some level, to have weird names for beers. Brewers like to be distinctive, to set themselves apart. And people who like craft beer get a kick out of kooky names.  Raging Bitch made national news when there was a fight over whether it was an obscene name. Beyond that, as shelves get more crowded with bottles and cans, and as breweries continue to try and push the envelope with tastes and flavors, brewers want a name that is as distinctive as their beers. Plus, in absence of any other knowledge or review, lots of beer drinkers simply judge the beer book by …

Searching Philadelphia for Maryland Beer

The Van Pelt library at the University of Pennsylvania truly is the type you can get lost in. I know 'cause I did. Early in my research I discovered that there was a person named John Beale Bordley, who was a colonial hotshot and one of the first production-scale brewers in Maryland. Bordley was friendly with Thomas Jefferson and as concerned as he was about what we now call sustainable living. Part of that, for Bordley, was not having to rely upon the British for ale.
After reading his book online and fumbling across some of his papers, it became clear to me that it might just be possible to find his recipe. Finding the first Eastern Shore beer recipe and including it in my book, would be a massive coup. I had to head to Philly to have my computer repaired. The best way to have your Mac die, it turns out, is to get behind on your writing schedule and then engage on a wild goose chase. The Apple people took it from me and sent it off to have the hard drive replaced. I thanked God…