When I was in second grade, we spent 45 minutes every day in Writer’s Workshop. (It was a special full-circle moment when I got to facilitate Writer’s Workshop with my own class of second graders.) In this model, students move through each phase of the writing process, from brainstorming all the way through publishing.
I published my first memoir that year, which I called My Family’s Trip to Disney World. (I’ve never been great at titles.) It was a glimpse into the emotions I felt in that small but monumental slice of my life: when my world broadened for the first time through travel, when I saw places I had only ever dreamed about, and how I reconnected with my first best friend while I was there (she had moved to Florida the year before).
During parent-teacher conferences that quarter, my teacher, Mrs. Arbo, asked us to choose one piece of work to share with our parents—whatever thing we were most proud of. I read that story aloud to my parents as we sat in the tiny chairs at the kidney table. I don’t remember the looks on their faces or how they reacted; what I remember is Mrs. Arbo’s commentary: she told my parents that I was an excellent writer. And then she looked me in the eye and told me that I was an author, that I was meant to keep writing, and that she couldn’t wait to see what else I would craft.
I knew at that moment that I wanted—needed—to be a Real Author. My career path meandered away from that dream and toward more practical aspirations, but the dream was never uprooted from my heart.
I suppose this makes The Making of Mom my second published memoir, although this book involved years of laboring (with more to come), a contract to sign, and all kinds of adult complications causing me to wonder if I could really do it—if I should really do it.
The process to here has been long, though surprisingly straightforward, and the writing has been more rewarding and more exhausting than I ever imagined it would be. There have been plenty of times when I’ve panicked and wanted to scrap every word, certain that a book-length project is beyond my skill set. (It is beyond my skill set, actually. But how can you build a skill set if you don’t push past your limitations?)
In those moments, I keep coming back to Mrs. Arbo’s prophetic voice: I am meant to keep writing.
Perhaps, though, the greatest unexpected joy about the whole thing is how much I can’t wait to share this book with you. It has taken a village to get to this point—through blog post comments and Facebook likes and Instagram connections and Voxer messages and critical feedback on essays.
When I first announced the news about this book, I asked you to send me your questions about the publishing process in general and The Making of Mom specifically. I’m so excited to give you a little peek at that process today.
What’s your goal or vision for the book?
My vision is to write the book that I wanted to read when I was pregnant, especially for the first time. It seemed like most of the books out there about pregnancy centered around the physical changes/medical condition of pregnancy (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, for example—which does have an important place!) or were in the inspirational/devotional category (praying for your pregnancy, preparing your marriage for having a baby, etc.). But what I was really craving was not a prescriptive guide to pregnancy, but stories of women who had been pregnant and felt the emotional and spiritual weight of it all. I wanted to read about the fear following miscarriage scares, the shame of gaining weight paired with wonder at what our bodies are doing, the frustration and relief of morning sickness, the joy of feeling movement for the first time.
After having Selah, I realized that these emotional “milestones” were what had shaped me into a mom. I didn’t become a mom overnight or in an instant in the delivery room. I became a mom through each of these small moments, which means pregnancy is not just a means to an end—nine months we have to go through to get to a baby. Pregnancy itself is a deeply transformative experience, and much like our babies are growing inside us, we are growing into our new identities as mothers.
My goals for this book are:
- To tell the story of my identity change honestly, which included a lot of wrestling with the goodness of God and the goodness of my body
- To invite readers to make sense of their own pregnancy journeys alongside me
- To expand the language women are “allowed” to use when talking about pregnancy—we are not limited to being only joyful or grateful
How did you get connected with a publisher?
Through my agent, Rachelle. I work in publishing but did not have a direct or personal connection to Fortress Press. After I started working with Rachelle (more about how I connected with her below), she sent the proposal out to publishers that she thought would be a good fit both for the book and for me as an author. Ultimately, Fortress was that sweet spot!
Typically, publishing houses will only accept proposals and manuscript submissions from agents, not directly from authors themselves. There are exceptions, of course, but my advice is always to find an agent before you approach a publisher.
How did you find your agent?
Rachelle Gardner has always been my pie-in-the-sky, a-girl-can-dream agent: she’s well-known in the industry, has a super helpful blog, and works with powerhouse women whose voices I hope to be aligned with someday. I queried her by email using the process on her website, but while I was waiting for a response, I noticed that we would both be attending the Festival of Faith and Writing. (This was in April 2018.) I emailed her again and asked if she’d be interested in setting up a meeting so we could discuss my pitch in person, and she said yes!
I was beyond nervous to ask, because I hate putting people out or even thinking about violating someone else’s boundaries. But I also figured if she didn’t want to take the meeting, she would be strong enough to say no. So I jumped way out of my comfort zone and went for it. We met for about thirty minutes to discuss my pitch, and at the end of the meeting she requested my full proposal. I sent it to her the next Monday, and later that week, she took me on as a client.
In general, these are my tips for finding finding an agent:
- Finish your book proposal before you look for an agent. If an agent is interested in your writing, they will most likely want to see a full proposal.
- Make a list of agents that would be a good fit for you. Most agents have a credit line on the copyright page, and most authors thank their agents int he acknowledgements. Hunt around books in your genre to get an idea of who is representing authors like you and books like yours.
- Do your homework. Most agents have a wealth of information on their websites, including whether they are accepting new clients, what kinds of books they are looking for, and how to pitch them. Some want a full proposal, and some want just a query letter and will request a proposal if they’re interested in reading more.
- Make a personalized pitch. Put your homework to good use! In your query letter, tell the agent exactly why you think your book and you as an author would be a good fit for him or her. Is your book similar to others he has published? Do you look up to the authors she represents? Tell them so!
How long did it take you to go from idea to book contract?
There’s no such thing as an overnight success, right? Or maybe an overnight achievement—we’ll see if this book is a “success” in the traditional sense. To me, the fact that I’m writing it already means it is a success.
The short answer: getting from idea to book contract took almost exactly four years.
Here’s the long answer: I got the idea for this book shortly before I got pregnancy with Selah in 2015, but I assumed there were already dozens of books out there like it. So when I did get pregnant and went looking for them, I was shocked that I couldn’t find much about pregnancy in the memoir genre. There was a lot about motherhood generally, but not much about pregnancy specifically.
I had just started blogging around that time and knew that I was far from ready to write a book, so I kept the idea on the back burner in my head. I experimented with writing about my pregnancy publicly, and over the next few years I noticed that those posts consistently drew tons of traffic from Pinterest. I also received many private emails from people who had read and resonated with those posts—way more emails than I get about other posts. The general message in these emails was along the lines of, “I haven’t told anyone I’m pregnant yet, and I’m so afraid. I needed someone to validate how I’m feeling right now, and your words resonated with me.” It showed me that I had hit on a felt need, so I kept turning the book idea over in my head.
In mid-2017, I decided to get serious about pursuing it as a book. I started writing sample chapters just to see what would come out and what shape it would all take, and I also took Ann Swindell’s book proposal workshop (more information below). I finished the book proposal and sample chapters (about 1/3 of the book) in early 2018 and signed with Rachelle that April. In September 2018 we started submitting to publishers, and I had an offer in October. It takes quite a while to negotiate and finalize book contracts, so it all became official in March 2019 (though I started writing the book again in January because my due date with baby boy was approaching).
Tell me all the things about book proposals! What are they? How do I write one?
Oh gosh! There are whole ebooks and workshops on this topic, so I will try to keep it relatively short and point you instead to my favorite resources.
Basically, a book proposal is a sales pitch that you use to sell your idea to an agent and/or a publisher. Book proposals vary for sure, but as an example, mine was approximately 80 pages—20 of those pages were the actual proposal and 60 pages were sample chapters. Most agents and publishers will want to see three sample chapters, or the equivalent of 50 pages of written material (I included more than three chapters because mine are essay length, so much shorter than chapters in a traditional non-fiction book).
Most book proposals will have an overview of the book (a hook and longer summary), the market (the target audience, felt need, and comparison to similar titles), the author (why you are exactly the right person to write the book!), a marketing plan (pre-launch, launch, post-launch), an outline of the whole book plus synopses for each chapter, and fully written sample chapters.
I was very surprised at how much I loved writing and refining the book proposal. It helped me get excited about and clarify my vision for the book, taking me from “this is my idea” to “this is who my idea will serve, and how.” I hired an editor for the proposal and another editor for the sample chapters, and doing so was worth every penny in terms of the clarity it brought to my ideas, the polish it brought to my writing, and the way it invested me beyond just my time. I invested real dollars into this thing, and once I did, I felt like I couldn’t give in to fear and abandon it.
Here are my favorite book proposal resources:
- The Writing with Grace book proposal one-day course: Ann only offers this course once a year or so; you can find out about the next one by signing up for her updates here.
- Writing a Winning Nonfiction Book Proposal (ebook by Michael Hyatt): This ebook walks you through every step of writing a book a proposal, and it is well worth the $20 investment.
- “How to Write a Book Proposal” (blog post by Rachelle Gardner) and “Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal” (blog post by Jane Friedman): Super helpful overviews of the book proposal process; maybe start with these if you’re not sure that writing a book proposal is your right next step, so you’re not ready to spend money on a book or a course yet.
- All these blog posts about writing query letters.
Can you include _____ (C-sections, miscarriage, infertility, etc.)?
Yes! I’m still working through how to do this, but it’s very important to me to tell stories other than my own. That said, this book is primarily a memoir, and I can only write about what I know and have experienced. But I’m experimenting with some ideas for including other stories about pregnancy, as I know it is not the same for everyone and I want readers to be able to see their own experiences reflected back to them, even when those experiences are different from mine.
Where can I buy the book once it’s out?
That’s a great question that I don’t really know the answer to yet! Definitely Amazon, and hopefully some other online retailers like Barnes & Noble, Target, etc.
That’s it for now! If you have other questions about the writing and publishing process, I’d be happy to answer them. Leave a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.