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.
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.