My Book Writing Journey

From a Dream to a Deal and a Finished Manuscript

A couple of days ago, I finished my first book and turned it in to my publisher. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it in a few months, but this post is for the large number of readers who have sent me all kinds of questions about the book publishing process.

It was a tremendous feeling, to finally finish my book and know that it’s actually going to be published. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do – write a book of my own, see it published, then walk into a bookstore and find it on the shelf. The idea that it actually happened is almost unbelievable to me, even now.

Many readers have asked me over the last few months to talk about how I secured a book deal and managed to actually write a book. Did I get an agent? Did I write the book first and then shop it? What exactly was involved? What can I expect for income?

Here’s the real scoop on my book deal from beginning to end. This is not a “how-to” on getting a book deal. This is merely the path I followed from dreams of writing a book to writing one.

Before the Deal

Ever since The Simple Dollar became successful, I’ve been thinking about publishing a book. I tossed around a lot of different ideas about what it could be, but for a long time, I never really did anything about it. It just seemed like a neat idea, but my time was so tightly packed that I never really went forward with any plan.

Last September (2007), I decided to get serious about the book publishing idea. It was about this time that I was beginning to think about writing as my primary career and walking away from my job at the time, and I decided that getting a book written and published might be a good way to do that.

I hit my social network pretty hard and found two people who were in the publishing industry and another who had published five (or so) books, and asked them what I should do to get my foot in the door. They all told me that the first thing I should do is put together a book package, describing exactly what I wanted to do.

The Book Package

Basically, the book package that I assembled had four pieces.

A cover letter

This was basically just a letter introducing myself, giving a one paragraph pitch of who I was, a two paragraph pitch of the book, and a one paragraph pitch of why I was perfectly positioned to write the book.

A justification

In other words, why am I an appropriate author for this book? I described my personal story and the success of The Simple Dollar (450K monthly visitors, 35K subscribers, built within two years with no promotion). At the time, I had very few other writing credits, so I felt that was the biggest hole in my package.

An outline of the entire book

This was basically a four page document outlining my full idea for the book I was proposing. I described the full idea, then broke it down chapter by chapter.

A rough sample chapter

I also included a sample of one of the chapters. I spent about a week writing a rough draft of one of the easiest chapters in the book, intending it to be a sample of what I was working on.

Trying to Find an Agent

I then attempted to find an agent for my book. I basically spent five months doing this without actually finding an agent to represent me. I had several strong bites, but the biggest thing that seemed to turn most of the agents away was the realization that I had almost no print publishing history. If you can’t point to stuff you’ve done before, you have to rely entirely on your other successes, and a lot of literary agents don’t get the internet. Yes, there are some that understand what’s going on online, but they’re few and far between and they’re usually out there cutting their own deals.

I almost acquired an agent twice, but both times they seemed to completely drop off the face of the earth. They simply stopped responding to emails, so I gave up.

Trying Another Path

Given this failing, I was pretty disheartened in February. I talked to some of my friends and they encouraged me to just send out the package to publishing houses that seemed appropriate. I basically made a list of the publishing houses of many of my favorite personal finance books and I simply sent a copy of my package to all of them.

No responses at all for a month and a half.

I had basically given up, when out of the blue I was contacted by Adams Media. They weren’t interested (yet) in my proposal, but they were interested in my story and they offered me an interesting deal. They had a general concept of a book project that they were interested in publishing and they thought that I was almost perfect for the idea. Would I develop a proposal for that book and send it their way?

The idea they had in mind was just about perfect for what I wanted to do. It gave me a ton of latitude to take things in my own direction and focused heavily on useful information for a broad audience. I really can’t talk about the specifics of the book quite yet (be patient, I will before very long!), but there were many aspects of the project that I loved.

I put together a proposal centered around the idea they had in mind. They loved it and accepted it almost immediately. Three weeks later, I had signed a book deal. No agent, no anything. The advance (which are book royalties paid in advance of writing the book, usually to help support the author while the book is written) was reasonable for a first time unpublished author who’s not riding a tidal wave of publicity (between $5K and $10K).

As the project developed, Adams informed me that they were very happy to hear a proposal on a second book project from me, perhaps an updated version of my original one. This is something I’m going to mull over in the future, but I’m already thinking about it on the back burner.

Writing the Book

My first attempt at tackling the book was a failure. I tried just starting at the beginning and plowing through the whole thing based on the very brief outline I’d included in my proposal. Bad, bad idea. I got about 20% of the way in and hated it. It was disorganized and nonsensical.

So I trashed the whole thing.

I started over again, using the methods for writing that have worked well for me for The Simple Dollar. Basically, that means doing an enormous outline. Each time I write a post for The Simple Dollar, I first come up with an idea and toss some fragmented ideas down on paper. I then do any necessary research, figure out the ideas I want to communicate, then develop an informal outline down to the individual paragraph.

So that’s what I did. I wrote an outline for an entire book down to the individual paragraph. The outline itself took up almost fifty pages in Word, and it was what I spent about 50% of my total writing time on. I finished this outline in early May.

After that, I wrote between 1,500 and 2,000 words a day on average for the book, fitting paragraphs onto the outline that I’d developed. I promised the publisher I would be able to deliver a strong draft of the manuscript on July 1, and I was pretty confident about making it.

But another problem developed. There was a lengthy period in early June where I was distracted by a lot of real-world events. This left me focusing intently on the book for most of the second half of June, writing as many as 5,000 words a day on the manuscript over the last two weeks. I used a common time management trick to do this – I basically ignored everything that was not vital in order to get it done. This means I currently have 1,300 email messages in my inbox that I need to read and respond to.

I finished the manuscript on June 24, turned it into my publisher, and now I’m waiting. Next comes the editing process and some design choices, then it will be made ready to publish, with promotion and other such things. Adams Media seems pretty committed to get the book out the door by the end of the year – in fact, the editing process has already begun and I’ve already been involved with some of the promotional issues related to the book.

This is where things sit right now. The last month or so has been incredibly intense, so I intend to take things a bit easier in July. At this point, just keeping up with The Simple Dollar seems like taking things quite a bit easier.

If you have any questions, I’d love to answer them. Ask away in the comments. I will probably assemble a “reader mailbag” just of questions about this process (at least answering the questions I can answer right now) and post it soon.

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  1. Marcy says:

    Congratulations Trent. Your dedication and commitment to your passion and disciplined methods are very inspiring. I can’t wait to read the finished product!

    Cheers!

  2. Congrats!

    I hope your success will clear the way for more bloggers to get book deals. Hard to believe literary agents only want to talk to published authors while basically ignoring bloggers who have huge loyal audiences who already like their writing style and content.

  3. KJ says:

    Does “hooray!” count as an appropriate comment?!?

    I’ve been curious about this part of your working life and was really excited to read about the process. Looking forward to updates!

  4. Carrie says:

    Do you know if the process would be similar for a fiction book? Like a book package proposing the basis of the fictional plot? Or do works of fiction need to be more written out before hand?

  5. What an amazing experience. Congratulations on finding the courage to follow your dream Trent. And may this be the first in a long line of successful publishing ventures.

    I’ll be eagerly waiting to snatch up my copy

  6. Erik says:

    Once the book is out, would you be willing to show us the proposal?

  7. MS says:

    Break the trend by *not* putting a picture of yourself on the cover!

  8. Congratulations, Trent. Man, that took an overload of courage and a lot of Faith. Your blog shows you have a solid command of how a piece flows and your awareness continually provides us excellent topics to read.

    Couple those two traits with the toughness to get down to business, and it is no wonder you’ve succeeded at completing your book.

    I wish you much success and prosperity in the future. You work hard to provide a great resource for your readers and you deserve to benefit financially from your talent.

    Way to go. I hope you make a million dollars down the road.

    Cade

  9. tarraguna says:

    Thank you for sharing the process. I love your website and expect to love your book also.

  10. Chandoo says:

    Hi Trent,

    this is tremendous achievement…. congratulation. You continue to inspire scores of us :)

  11. Jamie says:

    When your book hits the stores are you gonna review it on the The Simple Dollar?? Haha just kidding!
    Now seriously I’m very happy for you, you have really put a lot of work on this project and you deserve the success you’re getting. Congrats!

  12. Annie Binns says:

    Wow – congratulations!! You have accomplished something that most of us just dream about. Way to go!!! (And let us know when we can pre-order on Amazon!)

  13. Erin says:

    Congratulations Trent!! That’s awesome.

  14. Heidi says:

    Congratulations! Enjoy this moment, Trent!

  15. sm4k says:

    I think the real question is:

    Will Trent buy the book, or will he just check it out from the library to read?

    Just kidding Trent, congrats on reaching such a monumental milestone!

  16. Shanel Yang says:

    Wow! I am so jealous! Which is exactly what I need to get my keister into gear and exactly as you did! My way of dealing with jealousy is to push myself to get whatever it is that someone else has that I want ( http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/27/jealous-much-make-it-work-for-you/ ) so I use it primarily as motivation and it’s my highest compliment to anyone. So, again I say, I am very envious of you right now, Trent! But, you motivated me to work my butt off to get as great and loyal a readership as you have so I can also fulfill my dream of having my future books in bookstores. Thanks so much for sharing these steps. It’s always been a mystery to me of how exactly it was done, and now you’ve lifted a lot of the fog of me and I’m sure others who are also interested. You’re the best!

  17. Jennifer D. says:

    Wow! I believe nothing happens by chance! I was googling the “Envelope System”…found the Frugal Dad and then he mentioned your blog…so here I am!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your publishing journey. I too have the dream to one day becoming a published author. Many of my questions have been answered, but I always wonder about what happens when the royalties come flowing in. Are you considered self-employed? You know how the tax man needs his cut! :)

    Congratulating on your accomplishment! I have favorited your blog so I can stop by and browse from time to time. I will look forward to reading your book!

    Blessings ~ Jennifer

  18. Amanda says:

    A heraty congratulations. My quickie advice: shop your next book ASAP. You’ve got one under you–I wouldn’t stay w/ them unless you have to.

  19. Amanda says:

    A hearty congratulations. My quickie advice: shop your next book ASAP. You’ve got one under you–I wouldn’t stay w/ them unless you have to.

  20. Mike says:

    Congratulations, Trent. I am currently setting the foundation for what will hopefully be my own publishing house. I’ve edited published pieces, but nothing I’ve written has been printed yet. I’ve always worried about the agent/schmoozing end of things. Special thanks to you for proving once again that, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  21. Katy McKenna says:

    Fantastic, Trent! From everything I know, Adams Media is a great company to work with. Major congrats!!!

    To Carrie: With your first novel, it works a bit differently than with non-fiction. Agents and publishers alike generally must see the entire novel before offering a contract. With subsequent novels, contracts may be signed before the book is even begun.

  22. Randy says:

    Congrats, Trent. Your feat is an inspiration to writers everywhere. I personally know of several that would do just about anything for a non-agent driven book deal. Great job!

  23. Angela says:

    Congratulations! I am writing my first academic book, so I was empathetic reading your story. Glad you stuck it out!

  24. Faye says:

    Congratulations on finishing your first book! That’s the most important thing for now and you can work on the next steps. I’ll be rooting for you.

  25. Ibod Catooga says:

    Which douche do you use? Massengill? Summer’s Eve?

  26. Ryan McLean says:

    This sounds like a great win for you. I have a question though. How come you didn’t just write an ebook, with a regular audience of over 35K every day you could have just sold your book online…how come you didn’t take this strategy?
    I am asking because I too run a financial blog and I am thinking about publishing an ebook in the coming months and am not sure whether or not to go ahead with it.

  27. Mike says:

    Congratulations! Impressive article showing your determination and I can’t wait to read it

  28. Flexo says:

    Sounds like an amazing experience, Trent. Looking forward to reading it. Congratulations on your success so far!

  29. Valerie says:

    Bravo! Your online family is so proud of you. Your post today shares your intense desire to finish this and your relief for completing before deadline. We feel relieved for your. Can’t wait to buy a copy and get it signed :-)

  30. Hey Trent,

    How long until you hire a secretary? At least part time? I am serious when I ask this.

    My deepest congratulations to you. Consider 5 to 10 of your books bought when they hit the shelves. Will you go on a book tour? How fun would that be????

  31. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing the basic process with us, as well. I’m looking forward to reading the book when it comes out!

  32. Ryan says:

    Congratulations Trent. That’s great news.

    Oh, anybody else find comment #16 a bit odd?

  33. sunny says:

    Congratulations and best wishes for much success!

  34. Congrats Trent! What’s the title of the book? (I had to be the first one to ask!)

  35. Frugal Dad says:

    Thanks for sharing some of the details of this deal as I was interested to learn more, but certainly understand and appreciate the confidentiality that surrounds pre-published deals and materials.

    I recently completed my first published writing project, which compared to a full-blown book appears relatively small, but it was for a well-known bookstore chain that publishes some of their own materials. It was a great experience, and I hope to use the lessons learned from that project, and your insightful post here as a guide to publishing something more significant down the line.

    Any plans for the advance? May I suggest you do something nice for yourself and the family. Considering all the hours you put in and the support you undoubtedly received from your wife I’d say you all deserve some rest and relaxation. Enjoy!

  36. Chad Oliver says:

    Yipee! I hope your publishing company sells on amazon, and if not, they better ship to New Zealand.

    Congratulations again!

  37. Expatsaver says:

    Congratulations Trent! This site has provided me with a constant source of inspiration and I’m really looking forward to checking out your new book!

  38. Mickey says:

    Congrats on finishing the book!! It will be very probably the first book I buy on Amazon (if it gets there, and I do hope so).

    When translation time comes, count me in for the Italian version: things here are really not looking good, and we could reeeeeeeally use some frugality..

  39. Kate says:

    Congratulations, Trent! Your success is hard-earned and well-deserved!

    You are a good example for other writers to follow. Have you thought about putting this post in article form and sending it off to Writer’s Digest or one of the other writer’s magazines? I think it would help publicize your blog (and book!) to a wider potential audience.

    Also, congrats to the family for backing you up!

  40. Lola says:

    Thanks for sharing some of the details with us. I enjoyed reading about the process.

  41. gibbersome says:

    Oh, where can I sign up for reserving an advance copy of your book?

  42. JM says:

    Bravo!

  43. austere says:

    Amazing. A BIG Congratulations! to you and your family.
    Superb.

  44. Congratulations Trent and thank you for sharing your publishing journey with so much honesty and detail.

    It sounds as if you have done a tremendous amount of work and deserve every success. Fingers crossed you’ll have a best seller on your hands.

    On a bummer note, isn’t it sad that so many agents still don’t “get” the internet? It’s hardly a new invention now, is it.

    Kelly

  45. Great inspirational read! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Best Wishes,
    D4L

  46. gibbersome says:

    Awesome news, can’t wait for your book to come out!

  47. Eden says:

    Congrats!

    I’m curious about your outline process- that sounds incredibly detailed. Maybe you could share more info about that some day- it sounds like something I need to work on. When I write, I just sit down and write.

  48. Ro says:

    Congratulations!

  49. Writing is much harder work than most realize. You should be very proud! Congrats!! Coming from someone who has been ’round the slushpiles herself!!

  50. Savvy Frugality says:

    Congratulations on your publishing contract and seeing your book to print! (Although I’m sorry to see my publishing company won’t be the one publishing your book).

    The best advice I can give you is this: getting a book published is only half the battle. The success of a book lives and dies by its marketing, and the publisher won’t do it for you. This means a lot of promotion, book signings, author events, etc., which is a job in and of itself. I have always said the REAL work begins when the book is released! You’ve already got a great marketing vehicle with The Simple Dollar blog, so use that to its full potential. Remember, getting an advance is great, but the publisher must make that money back in book sales before you’ll see any additional royalty payments.

    With that being said, I have no doubt your book will be a great success, and I’ll definitely grab a copy for myself!

  51. Louise says:

    Thanks for posting this detailed account of how difficult it is to get a book published.

    I worked in the publishing industry for years, eventually owning a small company. People think that putting a book out is easy and that any crackpot idea they have for a story or manuscript should be published.

    You are a very skilled writer with a relevant, interesting subject. You are also clearly highly organized and driven. That very rare combination makes you a suitable candidate for publication, and yet book success is not guaranteed by any means. The failure rate of published books is staggering; I wish you all the best and feel you will be in the incredibly small minority that will make money.

    Folks, writing a successful book is like being a star athlete: the ratio of failed wanna-bes to those actually living on the proceeds is thousands to one. Don’t encourage your children to choose these as a career unless you want them living with you when they turn 40 :-)

  52. sophie says:

    Congratulations and thanks for sharing your inspiring story with the rest of us.

    Louise, the last paragraph of your comment seems wildly out of place here (but actually pretty funny) since the whole idea here is to go for the dream.

    I’m going to pretend I didn’t read that. Fingers in my ears “La, la, la, la…”

  53. Congratulations on your book, Trent! I really am quite eager to see what you’ve written. My brother-in-law has been trying to get published too, but it’s been tough. I admire how much work you’ve put in on this, even knowing how tough it is to break through the industry. Your journey as you tackle this project is quite eye-opening. I’m forwarding your story to my brother-in-law so he can get inspired! :)

  54. Jules says:

    Thanks for sharing! I hope to get a book deal one of these days (though there is that little nitpicky thing called “time”) for my shorts, though we’ll have to wait and see if the novel actually comes together.

  55. JB says:

    Trent,

    Congratulations! I would love to read your thoughts about Amazon’s new Kindle.

  56. Jon says:

    Congratulations on the book Trent! And thank you again for taking the time out during all this a few weeks ago to answer an email I sent asking for advice.

  57. Millionaire Mommy Next Door says:

    Congrats, Trent!

    I am astounded at the amount of copy you generate every day. 5000 words plus lengthy blog posts? Wow.

    I’m only at the beginning stages of my book. I was lucky enough to be contacted by a reputable agent (via my blog) and have decided it’ll be easier to negotiate my first publishing contract through the agent. We’re putting the book proposal together now.

    I’m finding the creation of the proposal (book packet) very helpful as it makes me figure out the chapter-by-chapter outline first, before tackling the book copy. I like your idea of going further with the outline, paragraph by paragraph. Thanks for sharing this tip.

    Best wishes to you and your first published book! May it become a bestseller!

  58. Congratulations, Trent! I’m looking forward to reading the book. Thanks for sharing the process with us.

  59. Jess says:

    Congratulations!

    I know that I’ll definitely be picking up a copy when it comes out. That or borrowing it from the Library :P

  60. scott says:

    Congratulations. I am very enticed about writing a book, and I look forward to hearing more about your book. it’s interesting to hear your writing process, I have such difficulty working with an detailed outline while writing, it seems the outline takes longer than the writing, and I get so frustrated, and just start writing.

    Yet, planning sometimes does take longer than the actual action, and good planning makes actual action easier. I’ll have to remember that in the future.

  61. Gretchen says:

    Thank you so much for this synopsis of your book journey! Congrats on getting it done.

    I am in the final stages of writing a non-fiction book myself (due Sept 1 to the publisher’s), and I was wondering if you are relying on your editor for proof-reading or if you hired someone yourself? I am not the most meticulous writer so I was thinking of plopping down around $1500 for a good professional proof-read prior to turning in my manuscript but maybe that is overkill if they will do it for me? Thanks for your help!

  62. Norm Maher says:

    Did you help promote the book with the publisher? Did you work with Amazon and just how and what did you do with Amazon to push the book?

    Anything you did/know in this digital age of publishing would be very helpful to me.

    Thank you,

    Norm Maher

  63. Colleen in MA says:

    Hi there – I worked on the interior of the book (designed and paged the inside pages) and I just wanted to say I enjoyed working on this project! So many good tips. Your audience here will be so glad to know that it is full of great information and written in your personable style. Congrats on your book deal! Adams Media is a great publisher to work with as they are so open to proposals and ideas, especially since they are a consumer- and trend-driven publisher.

  64. Jeremy Day says:

    I am excited about reading the book when it comes out. Can’t wait for the post that says, “The book is out!”

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

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