Category Archives: Success Stories

New Author Success Story: Geraldine DeRuiter

Geraldine DeRuiter is a Seattle-based writer and admittedly hapless traveler who founded the awesome travel blog, The EvGeraldine DeRuiter Picerywhereist. We were excited to learn she landed her first book deal—and to hear her tale of multiple rejections, confusing feedback, despair, perseverance, and finally, success! She’s a great reminder of the thick skin we all need to develop if we want to find the right home for our books. Read her story, pass it on, get inspired. You could be next!

What’s the title of the book and who’s publishing it?
The working title is ALL OVER THE PLACE—a humorous guide to life from a travel expert who finds out that if you are trying to find yourself, getting lost is a great place to start. It will be published by Public Affairs in summer 2017, because sometimes god gets drunk and dreams come true.

Tell us how this book came about. What inspired you?
I’ve been blogging for years on my site The Everywhereist, and the book felt like a natural counterpart to that. I realized I’d started withholding certain stories on the blog. At first, I was just stockpiling them for my therapist, but then I decided to compile them into a book, which I’m pretty sure is how the entire genre of memoirs originated.

Can you share some insights on the chain of events that lead to your book deal?
It has been a nonstop ride on an Emotional Roller Coaster followed by a spin on the Drama Ferris Wheel. And then a visit to the Funhouse of Rejection. (Metaphors, y’all.)

I started writing the book two years ago, and I sent a sample chapter out to various agents. The feedback on that one chapter was very positive (though there was one or two harsh rejections), and a few agents asked to read the entire manuscript. After that, the rejections just rolled in! It was like Christmas morning, and every gift was debilitating self-doubt! Most of them said that they felt my manuscript required too much work before they could pitch it to publishers.

The feedback was really inconsistent, which was pretty frustrating. I heard that it wasn’t unique enough, I heard that it was too esoteric. I heard that it tried to do too much (it was both a travel and a personal memoir) or that it did too little, and didn’t have a unique hook. No one could agree on what was wrong with the book and what needed to be fixed.

However, there were a few agents that were actually interested. The problem was, their visions for the book didn’t really match mine, or I didn’t really feel like they were someone I could work with. Weirdly, my eventual agent, Zoe Sandler, who is just wonderful, actually contacted me. She’d seen an article I’d written for Good Housekeeping, and from there she found my blog and saw that I was looking for representation. I really liked her. And she believed in my work.

I told Zoe I wanted to revise my draft before sending it to her, so I spent a few months polishing it up. She then read it and gave me some feedback and changes which I rolled into the manuscript, and she started pitching it to publishers early this year. The response, considering how many agents passed on the manuscript, was surprisingly good. And in the end, I had several interested parties, so the manuscript went to auction. So now there were different publishers bidding on a book that numerous agents had told me didn’t have a chance.

How did you handle the challenges along the way?
I cried and told my husband that I was never writing again and that I was a talentless hack who had wasted her life.

Seriously. (I take rejection really badly. I should have never become a writer.)

So I decided to throw myself back into blogging, which is what I had been doing for a while. One day, after getting a really brutal rejection, I decided to write a post and I told my husband it was going to go viral. And then it did. I got half a million visitors to my blog in less than a month. It was a good reminder that there were people out there—probably not normal people, but people nonetheless—who wanted to read what I had to say.

I also had an amazing support system and people to talk to. My husband, Rand, is my biggest fan, and he was so supportive to the point of being annoying (sometimes, you just want to wallow in self-doubt and misery, you know? And he did not let me.) And I swear I’m not saying this because it’s her website or because she bribed me with baked goods, but talking to Kerry Colburn (of Jen & Kerry fame) was super helpful and always picked me up. She reminded me that there were always ways to publish this book—I could even do it myself. Knowing that made the rejection easier to take.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
That in the end, the rejections are sort of irrelevant. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. It’s like falling in love. You just need to find the one right person—the one right agent and the one right publisher—who thinks that you are amazing. That there will be lots of people who don’t think that your book is that great, and there will be a few who will think that it’s wonderful and they’re the ones who can make amazing things happen.

What’s one thing you’d like to say to other burgeoning authors?
You suck way less than you think you do. Trust me.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently in the editing process for ALL OVER THE PLACE, which is fun and agonizing. My manuscript should be completely done by this summer, and after that I’d like to get back to blogging. I also have a few other ideas for my next book. I think it’s going to be a feminist memoir, and the concept I’m toying with has the potential to be really unique and fun. I’m excited about it. But I need to get this one done first.

Anything else you’d like to share?
My husband said something to me recently that I really, really liked. I was having trouble with a chapter of the book, and I told him I wasn’t a good writer. And his reply was, “Of course you are. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you are bad at it. Writing is hard even for good writers.”

That was sort of revelatory, because it reminded me that it’s the process itself that is difficult. So you just need to keep at it.


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New Author Success Story: Anne McTiernan

Anne McTiernan took our UW class last spring to work on her proposal, and we were thrilled to hear that she scored a book deal for her memoir, StarvedFH_AnneMcTiernan_2616Writers, remember: book deals DO happen, and they happen every day. We share these success stories to give you insights from real people going through the publishing process, and to inspire and motivate you to keep going! Here’s Anne’s story.

What is the title of your book, and who will be publishing it?
Starved: A Nutrition Doctor’s Journey from Empty to Full by Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD. It’s a poignant memoir of a girl who endured childhood emotional and physical deprivation, a binge-eating disorder, and abuse, to find love, strength, and happiness.It will be published by Central Recovery Press in November 2016.

Tell us how this book came about. What inspired you?
After reading Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, a memoir of his miserable Irish Catholic upbringing, I was inspired to write about my miserable Irish-American Catholic upbringing.

Can you share some insights on the chain of events that lead to your book deal?
I sent queries to many agents, received some positive responses, and went with an excellent agent who was ready to work with me without a delay of several months. I received many rejections—that seems to be unavoidable in this business.

How did you handle any challenges you faced? Did you seek out professional services or other help along the way?
There’s a saying among doctors in training: “See one, do one, teach one.” I naively thought that I’d be able to whip off my memoir, but soon found out that creative writing requires a lot of learning and practice. So I sought help. I took the University of Washington Certificate Program in Memoir with Theo Nestor, and also took her Advanced Memoir course. Then, when I had a completed manuscript, I worked with two excellent book advisors/editors: Claire Dederer and Jennifer D. Munro. Finally, when I was ready to find an agent and publisher, I took Jen & Kerry’s UW course, “Publishing Your Book in Today’s Marketplace.”

What surprised you during the publishing process?
I had previously published a health advice book (Breast Fitness: An Optimal Exercise and Health Plan for Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer, St. Martin’s Press, 2000), and was surprised at how much more challenging and competitive the business has become. Another surprising thing I learned with both books is that the author has to be actively marketing the book, and can’t expect that the publisher will do all of that.

What’s been the best aspect about getting a book deal?
It’s very rewarding to have a publisher get excited about my book, and to commit to share it with the world.

What’s next for you?
I’m learning a lot about marketing! I’m also working on a memoir about my medical school years.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I highly recommend the information provided by Business of Books—Jen and Kerry covered exactly the things I needed to know for developing a query letter and book proposal.
(Thanks, Anne!)

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New Author Success Story: Eric Ford

We have had all sorts of writers in our class, writing for all different audiences. We help authors realize their dreams of publishing with one of the “Big 6” houses in New York, sure, but it’s most important to find the right home for your project. And that just might be with an academic or medical publisher. Eric Ford, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Radiation Oncology, came to our courses because he was working on a novel in his spare time (he’s quite the Renaissance Man). But he used the intel gathered during our class to pitch and publish a reference guide for medical professionals to a well-respected academic press. He talks about his path to publication, shares tips for collaboration, and discusses why a proposal is so darn important, no matter how you are publishing your book.

Can you tell us about this book and how it came about?
Practical Radiation Oncology Physics is a reference guide for medical professionals working in oncology (cancer care). It focuses on technical aspects of radiation treatments. Since about half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy, we are talking about a pretty substantial segment of healthcare. The idea for the book arose out of discussions that a colleague and I were having about four years ago. We were frustrated at not having a handy reference source for the increasingly vast amount of information for practitioners in our field. So that is what we came up with. A practical guidebook. I think the marketing copy says it best: “An indispensable guide to radiation oncology physics!” Anytime your book is an “indispensable guide” to anything that is good. Plus, I love the exclamation mark.

Can you offer up any tips for collaborating with co-authors?
I think a clear leadership plan is essential. What do you do when deadlines inevitably slip? How do you keep each other motivated? A big book project like this is a lot like running a marathon (or so I am told). It is very helpful to be running alongside others, having them push you along and vice versa.

What do you think is unique to academic and medical publishing that it would be helpful for writers to know?
The profit margins on academic texts are very thin, so when you are pitching the idea, it is really helpful to have a solid business case. Who is the audience? How big of a market are you expecting? The publisher may not do that legwork for you.

Another difference is that academicians almost never work with an agent (I do not know of anyone who has an agent). Therefore, you will be dealing directly with the publisher. There are pluses and minuses to this, but one advantage you have is that, comparatively speaking, publishers are not used to dealing with people who are familiar with the publishing world. They almost never receive a formal book proposal, and if they do, then it generally violates nearly every principles of good proposal writing. If you can write a decent proposal, it is a huge advantage in this context.

How did your Business of Books course help you in the publishing process?
Our publication deal had its origins in Hurricane Sandy. I was stuck at a conference in Boston for a week and at one point I found myself more or less randomly wandering the convention center when I bumped into someone from Elsevier (an academic publisher of scientific and medical publications). “Hey, I’ve got a book idea you might be interested in,” I told her. “Can I run it by you?” That got our foot in the door, but it was really the book proposal that got us the contract. Writing a good proposal was something I learned in the Business of Books class. Prior to that, I had essentially no idea what a book proposal was.  A week after I spoke to the woman in Boston (Kate was her name), we had a proposal in to them. The publishers were very impressed and it helped Kate to advocate for it within her company. I’m convinced that we would not have gotten the contract without the proposal.

What other book projects are you working on?
I’m working on a novel. It is a “mathematical thriller” about a frustrated engineer who uses the exponential formula to save the world (or tries to anyway).

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New Author Success Story: Karen Gaudette Brewer

Karen_G_B_Headshots_Proofs-1 (2)We’ve been thrilled to hear of the recent success stories of our clients: several new book deals in the last few months, including children’s, memoir, and cookbooks! It’s exciting to see that our Business of Books gospel has been paying off for new writers across a variety of genres. We’ve asked these first-time authors to share their publishing stories with our community. 

This week, we spotlight Karen Gaudette Brewer, an award-winning food and lifestyle journalist who is endlessly fascinated by why and how we eat the things we do. Her new book is The Seafood Lover’s Pacific Northwest: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions (Globe Pequot Press). Karen describes her book this way: “Armed with thisSeafood Lovers Pacific Northwest (2) guidebook, the Pacific Northwest and its magnificent seafood culture become your oyster. You’ll find the best eats and can’t-miss festivals for your next road trip; cooking inspiration for the salmon, halibut, and mussels you picked up at the market; and get to know the people, places, and traditions that make living here so enjoyable.” This beautiful book will be feted at a book launch, which is open to the public, at Seattle’s University Book Store on November 7 at 7pm.

Tell us how this book came about.
Twitter is the surprising genesis of this book. An acquisitions editor reached out to me after noticing my work and platform and pitched me this project. I was delighted but torn: I had (and still have) a) a day job b) an active toddler and  c) a spouse who travels often for work, so I knew I’d have to balance more than I ever had before to make this project a reality. I decided to take the challenge.

Why were you inspired to write this book?
I grew up in a small Northwest town. I realized this book was an opportunity to help many excellent, small, out-of-the-way businesses get the attention they crave. We have such a unique fusion of native and immigrant seafood traditions here in the Northwest and I knew digging into that culture would yield some fascinating stories and experiences. Plus, I loved the challenge of finding new experiences in my lifelong home. We truly do live in one of the best places for adventure.

What professional services did you seek out in the process?
This is my first book and much of the process took me by surprise. I wasn’t fully clear on when copy editing would take place, so I hired a copy editor to edit the first manuscript drop, to get a sense of whether my voice and style were working structurally (they were). That gave me a confidence boost through the rest of the project. Guidebook projects, I’ve heard, place a lot of content demands upon the author: art, mapmaking, gathering permissions for recipes and other submissions, etc.. About a third of the way through, I hired a talented, punctual friend to serve as my permissions editor. I just didn’t have the space in my head to think about permissions AND write the book. Best decision ever. What wasn’t a surprise: handling the pitch. The Business of Books class I took a couple years prior with Jen and Kerry gave me confidence to find my way through the process.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
How many people are involved, and how so much of the marketing falls into the author’s lap in this day and age. I had read that, but it’s different to experience it. I’m thankful I kept a running list of publicity ideas, another helpful hint gleaned from the Business of Books coursework.

What’s been the best aspect about getting published?
Since the first grade I’ve wanted to become a published author. Now, I am. And my mom and family are around to see it. That’s the best aspect personally. Professionally, I’m glad to introduce (or re-introduce) readers to eateries and people off the beaten track that they might never have encountered. I am a features writer through-and-through, and so enjoyed the chance to interview so many interesting folks and share their stories. There are so many family dynasties in the fishing, oystering, and restaurant industries. It’s fascinating to learn more about what drives people to keep the lineage unbroken despite such grueling work.

What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
Listen to time management advice from your friends who have already published books. Everyone told me to get a giant dry-erase board and to cover it in sticky notes as I built my book’s structure. Yeah, yeah, I thought. I’ve been a journalist and storyteller for years: I got this. Then, I realized just how challenging it is to see your book’s shape on the limited real estate of a laptop. The next time I write a nonfiction book, I’ll spend more time at the beginning on strategy, no matter how behind I feel, because in the end it will pay off. One example: had I thought ahead, I would have had video footage galore from all my research adventures. At the time, I kept thinking I’d have time to get back to all those places, but it was impossible when it came time to hit my writing deadline.

What’s next for you?
I’d like to find an agent and move forward with several nonfiction projects I’ve been noodling over the past few years–some in the food world, some not. I also need to make the time to work on some fiction (perhaps on my bus commute!). As a longtime journalist, writing fiction terrifies me. It’s been beaten into my skull not to make things up, to describe things as they are, not as I would like them to be. Fiction is like, make whatever you want to have happen, happen! It’s liberating and terrifying all at the same time.

Anything else you’d like to share?
My book launch party is at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 7, at University Book Store in Seattle’s University District. BeanFish, the nation’s first taiyaki food truck, will be serving piping hot Japanese-style sweet and savory waffles shaped like fish. It’s going to be a great time, and I hope to see you there.

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How to Get an Agent: A Q&A with Author Curt Weiss

CurtWeissAfter wanting to know how to get published, the most common question we get is: “How do I find an agent?”

We feel your pain.

Securing an agent is just as hard as landing a publishing deal these days, and requires savvy, a thorough submission, and persistence. When we heard one of our former clients landed an agent, we asked him to share his journey, as well as any advice he picked up along the way.

After over thirty years of working in media and the arts, Curt Weiss knows a good story when he hears one. Now he’s ready to tell the oh-so-good story of one of the most influential and overlooked musicians of their time: Jerry Nolan of the infamous Punk Rock granddaddies, the New York Dolls.

Tell us about your path to seeking and securing an agent.
I had been writing and researching my book on and off since 2006. I hadn’t really given much thought to how I was going to sell the book, thinking I would figure it out after writing it. Little did I know…

In the summer of 2013 a writer friend of mine told me about the Willamette Writer’s Conference. When she explained to me that this was an event where you could meet literary agents, I figured that, after seven years, it was time to jump in feet first. My book was about 95-percent finished so I had no reason to wait anymore.

I researched the event and realized that I needed to learn how to pitch my book to agents. The whole gist of the event is setting up meetings (either one on one or in small groups) with literary agents where you’ll have a limited amount of time to convince them that you’ve got something that’s right up their alley. I needed to learn how to sell my book and myself in no more than two minutes (group pitch) and up to five minutes (one on one pitch).

Before I even learned how to pitch, I had to figure out which agents to pitch to. At conferences like Willamette, you pay for each agent you pitch to, so you need to be selective. Before reserving a spot with an agent, I read their bios (available on the conference website) and found agents who were looking for books like mine. As I was selling a non-fiction oral history on a junkie New York rock and roll musician from the Punk era, I looked for agents interested in the arts, urban grit, bios, etc. Conversely, if their interests were, for example, romance novels, science fiction or young adult genres, I didn’t waste my time and money booking time with them.

The week before the event I attended a pitch workshop given by Cynthia Whitcomb in Portland. I worked her system, practiced and practiced and then practiced some more. She reviewed and critiqued it by e-mail afterwards and my writer pal did the same. It was also important to time myself so I wouldn’t be rushed when the time came to pitch my book.

There was a pitch slam on the first night of the conference, where people lined up and one after another pitched to a panel of agents in front of hundreds of people. If you have trouble speaking in public, you need to get over it quickly. Besides getting in more practice of your pitch, I got to hear others. I noted what worked and what didn’t and kept refining my pitch as well as my delivery. I realized that you can’t read a script. It’s one-part conversation, one-part sermon, one-part advertisement, and another part political speech. You’re selling an idea (your book) but you’re also selling yourself, your abilities, and your credentials. No one can tell this story except you. And no matter how emotional your story is, DO NOT CRY. Practice selling emotion without crying.

The next day, I began two-and-a-half days of meeting agents and pitching. Here’s a tip: if you’re in a group pitch, sit in the center, opposite the agent. The agent will usually go in a circle and as you don’t know whether they’ll start on the right or left, you don’t want to be last and feel rushed if the pitch session is running long. Sitting in the center means you won’t go last and you can face them head on.

I had 13 agents to meet. I ended up getting 10 requests for proposals. Of course, I had no proposal and barely knew what it was. As I was doing 13 pitches, I started to see the same people at the agent’s tables and I started to talk to them between meeting agents. I noted who had already published a few books and asked them about their processes and any tips or suggestions. Like most conferences, there was a table of books for sale, including some related to writing non-fiction book proposals. I bought one that was suggested to me: Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon.

After working on the proposal for a few months I decided, as this was the first book proposal I’d ever written, I wanted some professional input. I chose to take Jen and Kerry’s proposal workshop and after that, used their individual review service. They helped me edit and hone it.

I was finally ready to submit a proposal. In spite of getting cards from each of the agents, I still needed to check their agency websites for particulars. Some require you to use a central mailbox as opposed to the individual agent’s e-mail address. Some want one sample chapter, some more. Always put the name of the conference and the agent’s name in the subject header.

I sent out six query letters. In addition to the one offer of representation, I received three rejections, one non-response and another acknowledgement of receipt that arrived after I signed my representation agreement. Before I sent out the next four, I got an offer, so I never pursued them. I took notes from the responses to my pitch and used them in each query. Here is the query I sent to John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich on May 14th:

Dear John Rudolph,

Thanks very much for requesting my book proposal and sample chapters at the Willamette Writers Conference last August. My book is titled Hit It! The Secret World and Public Life of Jerry Nolan: A Drummer’s Story, Before, During and After Punk Rock. In my notes from the conference, I wrote that you were interested in music and non-fiction. If that is still the case, my book should continue to be of interest to you.

Coming out of rough-and-tumble New York in the 1970s, Jerry Nolan played drums for two of the most influential and infamous bands of their time: The New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers. He was one of the driving forces and most memorable characters of both the American and British Punk Rock movement. Told as an oral history, HIT IT! features more than 100 new interviews, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame legends like the Sex Pistol’s Glen Matlock, Blondie’s Clem Burke and Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth. Unlike other books on Punk Rock, HIT IT! examines both the New York and London Punk scenes from their earliest days, and lays out Jerry’s important contributions, both musically and stylistically.

Those who knew Jerry say he had what it took to be a star, and his resume showed it, spending time in bands with Bette Midler, Suzi Quatro, and Punk icon Sid Vicious. Sadly, his battles with heroin stymied his career and caused him to contract HIV, ultimately ending his life at the age of 45. He is remembered as a cross between a Martin Scorsese film character and legendary Jazz drummer Gene Krupa: a stylish, wisecracking raconteur, with a streetwise charm and powerhouse drumming skills. But there was a destructive streak behind his attractive veneer that manifested in his prodigious drug use, ability to scam for “chump change,” lying to promoters and managers, or stealing from the women who loved him. Jerry was a walking contradiction: one part loyal, trusted friend and mama’s boy, another part duplicitous, junkie thief.

I knew many of the people involved in Jerry’s life and saw him play numerous times. During the 1980s, I drummed with major label artists including the Rockats and Beat Rodeo, with members of the Violent Femmes and B-52’s, and on recordings produced by Richard Gottherer (Go-Go’s, Blondie), Mike Thorne (Soft Cell, ‘Til Tuesday) and Scott Litt (REM, Nirvana). Transitioning to television in 1992, I joined the award-winning Seattle PBS affiliate KCTS, where, as Unit Manager, I worked on international productions as diverse as Perilous Fight: America’s Second World War in Color, The ACLU: A History, and Vaudeville: An American Masters Special. I have also written for Classic Drummer Magazine and guest DJ for original New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain’s “Rampage of Songs” web page.

I believe that HIT IT! would strongly appeal to male readers, aged 40-70, with an interest in the music of this era. At this time, I am also approaching other agents who have requested proposals.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Curt Weiss
Phone number
e-mail address

John responded on May 16th by asking for a different chapter, one with more “big names.” I sent it and he offered me representation on May 23rd. By May 27th, we had a signed agreement.

A proposal is not something you’re going to write in a weekend. It took me from August 2013 until May of 2014 to complete a proposal that I was happy enough with it to submit it to prospective agents. If you’re like most people you probably have a job, kids, aging parents, a lawn that needs mowing, etc. All of those things need to be attended to while you write and research your proposal. It’s hard work and it takes time. Not only do you need to convince someone that your book idea is great, but you have to present potential audience and market data, a promotion plan, a bio and, particularly if your book is non-fiction, establish yourself as a credible expert on your subject. You may also need to set up a website, blog and or Facebook page to establish your “platform:” how will you stand above the crowd? And of course, a sample chapter…or chapters. That’s many months of work. Just keep your eyes on the prize and keep at it.

What surprised you during the querying process?
Trying to settle on a format. There are so many to choose from and I kept finding conflicting info on the web: statements made about what the right format is, with examples contrary to the formula. Look for examples of a successful query in your genre and start there.

What’s the next step toward publication?
Working with my agent to get him the proposal that he’s happy with. Every agency has a format they like. It’ll probably be somewhat different from what your workshop suggested, which is different from what the book suggested. Your agent is your sales person. Give them the tools they need to make the sale. Grit your teeth and do what they say. I’m on version four. Still gritting my teeth!

For more on Curt, check out his website at

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New Author Success Story: Joe Guppy

lo res JG smileYESIn 1979, 23-year-old Joe Guppy was struggling with a bad breakup and existential angst, but a few stomach pills drove him into paranoid psychosis… and straight into a mental ward. He shares his story in My Fluorescent God, a raw, often comic memoir that’s a powerful spiritual and psychological adventure. He’ll be reading from this newly published memoir at Elliott Bay Book Company at 7pm on September 13.

But first, we caught up with the Seattle native, an award-winning writer and performer turned psychotherapist turned author, who shared with us his struggles and successes on the road to publication, as well as some sage advice for aspiring authors.

Tell us about your path to publication.
lo res lMFGcover 3I had had a lot of experience in journalism and writing for theater and television, but I had never written memoir before and knew nothing about the publishing business. My Fluorescent God was a “from the ground up” project. I was lucky to have deep archives for the project, all the medical records from my time in the mental hospital, my own and my mother’s thirty-year-old journals, even a taped interview from 1979 with my psychiatrist and some fellow patients. But I not only had to write the memoir, but also learn how to write a memoir. When it came time to seek a publisher, Jen & Kerry’s class showed me how to get a book proposal together. I started out with the traditional route, discovered Query Tracker, and collected plenty of agent rejections. I ended up landing with a local independent Seattle publisher, Booktrope. It’s definitely not self-publishing but I have had to do more work on the publishing side than a mainstream author. The trade-off is I’ve had a lot more control. As a control freak, I like that. I am very pleased with the quality of the finished product.

Why were you inspired to write this book?
This 1979 journey through delusional psychosis was the most traumatic and most meaningful event of my young adulthood. As a writer, I had known from the moment I recovered that I wanted to write about it someday. I didn’t know it would take me thirty years to get to the project or that the experience of writing it would be so personal and profound.

What professional services did you seek out in the process?
My cover designer had designed the Joe and Nancy Guppy annual comedic Christmas cards for years. I didn’t know if he’d be right for this more serious subject matter, but he nailed it on his first attempt. I love the cover. I’ve worked with two different editors, a couple years apart. The first editor, who had written her own terrific memoir, functioned more as a teacher. By the time I got the second editor, Seattle’s own Karin Snelson, I was able to collaborate head to head. We got into some wonderful and intense literary struggles, which resulted in the book being the lean, crisp, page-turner it turned out to be. Jen & Kerry started me on my road to publishing. The book proposal, and the ability to think in marketing terms—which came out of their class—was crucial.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
The amount of detail work in book design. Page headers, table of contents, placement of graphics, font choice. It’s seemingly never-ending. I’ll never look at books the same way again.

What’s been the best moment/aspect about getting published?
The reaction from readers. The most common comment is that the narrative draws the reader deep into the mind and the experience of a mentally ill person. And people often add that, while my story is fairly extreme, all humans have been there to some degree, and we all fear falling into that place of insanity. Above all, I want to engender more empathy and understanding for mental illness. No one should be dismissed or ignored as “crazy.”

What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
You need to be a bulldog. A bulldog with wings.

What’s next for you?
My wife Nancy and I have a project going, a comedic look at long-term marriage. Right now, I’m too swamped in marketing My Fluorescent God to think much about that.


Look for interviews with Joe later this month on KUOW-FM, on the Seattle Channel’s Seattle Voices with Eric Liu, and on KING-TV’s New Day Northwest. He’ll be speaking at the “Psychology for the Other” conference at Seattle University the weekend of November 7th. Read more about Joe and Nancy in this Seattle Magazine article.

Find out more about Joe, My Fluorescent God, and upcoming events at and

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New Author Success Story: John Clifford, Graphic Icons

Graphic-Icons_Cover-2When we reviewed John Clifford’s proposal in 2012, we knew we had a winner on our hands. John had a big idea: an accessible, visual overview of graphic design history, profiling the modern era’s most influential designers. Continually frustrated that this book did not exist in the marketplace, John did the enterprising thing—he set out to create it himself. Luckily, he had the tools to do so. He’s an award-winning graphic designer, teacher, and creative director at New York’s Think Studio, focusing on the design of brand identity, websites, collateral, and books. By fall 2013, his book, Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design was published by Peachpit Press.

JohnClifford-l Tell us about your path to publication.
I went after a traditional publisher. This book needed to be very visual, so I knew I needed an image budget. I also wanted a publisher’s support and expertise throughout. I was already taking on roles outside my comfort zone—writing, researching, negotiating usage and permissions—so I wanted help with publicity, distribution, and everything else. Graphic design books are a small niche in the publishing world—there aren’t many publishers putting out books like this—so I didn’t think an agent was necessary. I sent out proposals myself, and I was lucky—there was interest right away, and I had to decide between two offers. No complaints.

Why were you inspired to write this book?
It’s all about me: I’ve always wanted this book for myself. It’s an easy reference on history, and provides great design inspiration. When I teach, I want students to have this—I think it’s easier to understand some of the basics of graphic design when there are human stories involved. Mainly, though, I want people to know the names of these designers. Many people are familiar with some of the famous architects, artists, and fashion designers, but nobody knows the graphic designers. I hope my book can change that in some small way. I thought about this book for years, but figured that someone else (who knows how to write) must already be working on it. After a few years of not seeing it come out, I knew it was time to get serious and try to do it myself.

What professional services did you seek out in the process?
I ran the proposal by my friend Nancy Eklund Later, an editor in the design world, and she had some great input. I then hired Jen and Kerry, who helped make the proposal more lively, and also helped me think beyond publication and consider promotion and marketing. The publisher connected me with an excellent editorial team: development editor Bryn Mooth, copy editor Elaine Merrill, and production editor Tracey Croom. I did all the designing myself (because I’m a designer, not because just anyone can do that). While I love the idea of the DIY approach, I’m a big believer in working with people who know what they are doing.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
I’ve been designing books for years, so I knew something about the process already. This book relies heavily on imagery. The expense and hassle of securing the images and permissions was pretty shocking. It took a lot of creativity and time (and an obsessive nature) to find ways to make the book I wanted with a limited budget. Also, this didn’t surprise me, but writing is hard!

What’s been the best moment/aspect about getting published?
It may sound corny, but I think it was seeing my 4-year-old find my book in the bookstore. There they were: my two big accomplishments together.

What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
Only one piece? I guess beyond the “just write” and “keep at it” and all that, I’d say learn everything you can about what a publisher would want from an author like you. Look at your proposal critically and objectively: why would someone want to invest in your idea? Oh, and hire a good designer! And pay that designer. Your book should look great. Don’t put it out there with crappy type on the cover.

What’s next for you?
I hope to write and teach some more about these design icons. Fortunately, my design work is keeping me very busy right now, which is great. That means I never really got to do the “I just wrote a book and now I can sleep for days” thing, so I maybe I can do that soon.

You can learn more about John Clifford and Graphic Icons here:

Book site:
Think Studio:
Twitter: @thinkstudionyc
Facebook: Think Studio

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New Author Success Story: Mike Curato, Little Elliot

MikeCurato headshotOne of the issues we continually address in our Business of Books classes is the importance of understanding that publishing is a business. We encourage our students and clients to get to know as much about the industry and their particular genre as possible. We also drive home the value of persistence. You will most likely have your project rejected (repeatedly) and it’s important to be armed with great material as well as a belief in your work when you seek a book deal or self-publish your project.

Illustrator and writer Mike Curato has savvy, sticktoitiveness and a whole lot of talent, a winning combination that led to a three-book deal  (with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers) for his stories of a polka-dotted elephant named Little Elliot. Mike talks to us about how he put himself in a position to make his longtime dream a reality, shares what surprised him along the way, and offers up some advice for burgeoning authors.

Tell us about your path to publication.
I’ve wanted to make children’s books for as long as I can remember. I tried the traditional route while I was still in college, mailing out book dummies and postcards to publishers. One transcript actually garnered some attention, but all the editors agreed it hadn’t found its groove yet. Self-promotion was a lot of work, and a lot of the time I was busy just trying to pay the rent. I established myself as a graphic designer to make my bread and butter, but I daydreamed of being in children’s publishing.

Many years later, I was asked to illustrate a book by an author who was self-publishing. I’ve been asked to do this many times, but Amy Jones was the first one who actually offered to PAY! It was called Mabel McNabb and the Most Boring Day Ever, a very cute rhyme story about a sassy little girl who got into a bit of mischief. It was a great experience actually taking an entire book to finish and collaborating with an author. Meanwhile, I also attended a Business of Books seminar and put together a show featuring all new work. All of these things gave me confidence to start fighting for my dreams again.

LittleElliot_coverThe story behind my debut title Little Elliot, Big City is a bit nontraditional. For years, friends who were in publishing urged me to attend SCBWI meetings (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). I finally attended several local meetings in 2011, which encouraged me to attend the 2012 Annual Winter Conference held in NYC. The conference features a juried portfolio show, and I entered knowing that many of New York’s children’s publishing editors and art directors would be there perusing. I thought it would be a great way to get more visibility. Maybe someone would take my card! Well, I ended up winning the show, which was not necessarily in my plans. Talk about 15 minutes of fame! Within 24 hours, I was receiving phone calls and emails from different publishers and literary agencies. Everyone wanted to know about the little polka-dotted elephant in my portfolio, and about his story. The answer was that there was no story! I had some seeds of ideas, not a completed manuscript, but that didn’t seem to matter. People were enamored with this character.

I was absolutely overwhelmed. Though I had been researching the children’s book industry for over a decade, I felt I lacked the insider knowledge to navigate the new terrain by myself. So, I decided to meet with several agents who introduced themselves to me, and ended up going with the fabulous Brenda Bowen of Sanford Greenburger & Associates. It was such a relief to know I had someone in my corner with experience not only as an agent, but also as an editor, publisher and author.

Once I had a story that was “good enough” to show editors, we met with several houses to pitch the idea. The book sold at auction, and I decided to go with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, who offered a three-book deal! The first book comes out September 2 in the US, and will be coming out later in several other countries (as of now we’ve confirmed Israel, Germany & China).

Why were you inspired to write this book?
Book one deals with feeling small and unnoticed. Little Elliot has a challenging time living in the big city. I think a lot of children can relate to feeling invisible or unimportant in the rush of the grown-up world. Although Elliot is small and can at times feel helpless, he learns that size is relative, and he can still make important contributions in a big way.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
In today’s modern age, I am surprised by how long everything takes! It’s my understanding that large book buyers like B&N and Amazon want to see hard copy proofs of the final book at least half a year before shelf date. That pushes production far away from release date. So, my first book is finished, and nobody but buyers will see it for the next nine months!

What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
Read ten times the amount of books that you read right now. I know that I still don’t read enough, and it’s so crucial not only to learn craft from others, but to be plugged into what is current, and to have a deep knowledge of what is classic.

What’s been the best moment/aspect about getting published?
I think the best aspect is just feeling validated for all the years of work and pining away. I’m glad that my dreams were not in vain. I pinch myself quite frequently these days while chanting, “This is happening, this is happening…”

What’s next for you?
Well, Little Elliot received a three-book deal, so I have plenty of work cut out for me to finish the series. I’m always collecting little ideas for other books as well. I am also still doing freelance illustration and graphic design, which keeps me busy and helps pay the bills. I plan on attending the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York this coming February, so hopefully I will see you all there!

You can find Mike all over the interwebs:
Twitter: @MikeCurato
Order prints


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New Author Success Story: Judith Gille, The View from Casa Chepito

JudithWe are pleased as punch that in 2013, several Business of Books clients realized their dreams of getting their books finished—and published! To celebrate those accomplishments, we’re launching a series of success stories. We’ll profile these first-time authors, tell you about their projects, and share the ups and downs they experienced on their path to publication. We hope you’ll find inspiration and motivation in their stories. (In 2014, we’d like to profile you and your book! Let us know how we can help you get the job done.)

Our first profile is Judith Gille, who recently published The View from Casa Chepitos. This memoir, set in Mexico, puts a human face on the immigration debate and explores issues faced by women of all cultures and ages. The elevator pitch? Think Eat, Pray, Love on Mexican Time. It’s a formula that’s resonated with readers, garnering Judith gratifying reviews and a #9 spot on the Elliott Bay Books’ best-seller list, as well as the Grand Prize in Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published e-Book Awards. You can meet Judith in person at her reading this Sunday, January 12, at 5:30pm at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

Here’s what Judith has to say about the process and her book.

Casa Cover jpg imgTell us about your path to publication and the reasons behind it.
I wrote a lot when I was younger. I had essays and articles appear in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, the Florida Sun-Sentinel, in magazines, online literary journals and anthologies. But after I started City People’s [the beloved Seattle mercantile and garden stores] and having kids, I no longer found time to write. But the urge to express myself through words was always there. Then, in 2006, I attended a reading by Tony Cohan (On Mexican Time and Mexican Days) in San Miguel. Afterwards I asked if he ever taught classes and he told me about Book Passage’s Travel Writer’s Conference in Corte Madera, CA. I signed up for the conference. I met a bunch of travel editors there, and was soon writing articles about Mexico. I came to realize that writing longer narratives was more interesting than how-to travel pieces for a newspaper industry that was on life support. So I began writing sketches about the people who live on callejón de Chepito, the Mexican alleyway where I live part-time.

Why were you inspired to write this book?
I’ve heard a number of writers say that they experienced an “Aha!” moment that prompted them to write their books. It was like that for me, too. On a train trip into Mexico’s Copper Canyon, I contracted salmonella poisoning and became extremely ill. One night, in a semi-hallucinatory, feverish state, it suddenly dawned on me that the essays I’d been writing about my neighbors on the alley were meant to be a book. I just needed to learn how to write it…

What professional services did you seek out in the process?
Originally I’d hoped to publish the book through a traditional publisher. I honed my first 50 pages, worked hard on my book proposal and hired Jen and Kerry (who did a terrific job) to edit it. I then submitted it to a dozen agents. I got lots of positive feedback about the themes, the quality of the writing, and the story, but they were uniformly dismayed that I didn’t have a well-developed platform. Without it, they said it would be a hard sell to a publishing house.  I decided to form my own small press and publish the book independently. Self-publishing, at least in part, has gotten a bad rap because many books are not well-edited or designed and the product values are poor. I was determined to create a top-quality product that readers and book buyers would have a hard time distinguishing from a more traditionally published book.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
My husband was in the printing and publishing industry for 20-some years, so there wasn’t much that surprised us about the process. We decided to produce the book through Lightning Source and ordered 1,500 copies (which they had to print twice because during the first run, the press operator fell asleep and the books were all misaligned). The challenging part, however, has been distribution. Currently the books are only in a dozen bookstores in Western Washington and San Miguel de Allende, but they’re selling so fast that I need to restock the stores frequently. Bookstores don’t always pay attention to whether your book has sold down or is out of stock, so you have to keep track yourself. Ideally, we hope to partner with a larger distributor or publishing house for fulfillment.

What’s been the best moment or aspect about getting published?
The overwhelmingly positive response to the book has been astonishing. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get an email or a hit on FB, or someone comes into the store to tell me how much they loved it. In only five weeks, it jumped to the #9 spot on Elliott Bay’s best-seller list.

I’ve been surprised by how many readers tell me they couldn’t put it down, or who read it in one or two days (it’s 310 pages, for god’s sake!), or how sad they were when it ended. A few people even said they immediately started reading it all over again! I’m just so grateful that the story resonates with readers and that people are rooting for Lupe and Juan’s success in life because achieving a fair immigration policy toward migrant workers is so important right now.

What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
Be a stickler for quality. Write the best book you possibly can, then find a good editor to help you fine tune it. Hire an experienced book designer (unless you have those skills yourself), insist that the printer does a top-notch job. If you want to pitch to an agent or publisher, use Jen and Kerry to help you produce a professional pitch and book proposal. And as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” The best advice I can offer is to be persistent. Even when it seemed hopeless, and the horrible nagging voice in my head kept telling me that my story sucked and nobody would want to read it, I kept plugging away because I believed in the importance of my story.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently visiting with a lot of women’s book groups and before the evening ends, I inevitably get asked when my next book is coming out and what it’s about. I’ve got at least two more books I want to write. The first follows the story of a young Mexican woman named Vicky. It continues with life on callejón de Chepito, but deals with the changing role of women in Mexico, and Mexico’s burgeoning feminist movement. The second book is a novel that takes place in a remote part of Lake Huron and is based on a true story that my grandmother was fond of recounting, about a young woman who was ostensibly kidnapped by a hermit.

Any upcoming book events?
My next reading is on Sunday, January 12th at 5:30pm at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Seattle photographer Lesley Burvill-Holmes will be joining me to show her lovely photographs of sunny San Miguel de Miguel and my neighbors from callejón de Chepito.


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Client Mike Curato scores 3-book deal!

Another success story! Our friend and former Business of Books client Mike Curato, a Seattle-based illustrator and designer, has struck publishing gold…and it couldn’t happen to a nicer chap. It all began in January, when Mike won the Portfolio Award at the national conference of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Agents and editors started calling, and many had interest in an adorable elephant named Elly from his portfolio. “I felt terribly unprepared,” Mike confesses about the immediate attention. He quickly decided he needed an agent to collaborate with, and he found one at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates who was both experienced and nuturing. “She told me to take a breath, and that everyone who was interested wasn’t going anywhere,” he says. “That gave me the space in which to write Elly’s story.”

Several rounds of meetings later–with such heavy-hitters as Little Brown, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Scholastic–Mike and his agent accepted an offer at auction from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers for a series of three picture books starring Elly. “They are so passionate about the character,” he says with gratitude. “It’s exactly what you’d want.”

And now, to work. Mike’s first book debuts next fall. We can’t wait to see it!

If you’d like a sneak peek of Elly and all of Mikes’ work, check out

And if you’d like to know how we can help you on the road to publishing success, drop us a line at

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