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How I got a publishing deal:

To my surprise a conversation with a friend one day left me feeling like I had a book in me about college success. I began writing two pages a day in January '92. Crucial to my writing process was the fact that my wife would read what I'd written immediately, and then hand it back to me with positive (and only positive) comments written in the margins. This was very motivating. (Because I started off very insecure about my writing skills, we agreed in advance that she would not make any negative comments.) As my confidence improved, I got feedback from close friends.

After producing twenty-five pages, someone told me about a book titled, How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen. I bought the book and used it to guide me in writing a six page book proposal. I also rewrote the twenty-five pages into two stronger sample chapters. All in all, completing a ready-to-go proposal took me three months.

How to write a book proposal


However, I didn't mail the proposal to any publishers for an entire year because I felt that launching my speaking career was a better use of my time (I was appalled when I learned publishers get 90% of the profits and authors get 10%).

The reason I finally mailed the proposal out has a lot to do with chance. In March of 1993, a woman whose partner was Don Asher, an author for Ten Speed Press, approached me after my lecture to ask questions about my speaking career. A short while later I ended up getting together with Don and, after reviewing my book proposal, he strongly suggested that I send it into Ten Speed Press. He told me who to send it to and offered to put in a good word for me.

Before mailing it in I rushed to rewrite the proposal since I'd learned a lot in the past year. In the meantime a young woman, Lisa Ryers, from Ten Speed's publicity department called me to request my speaker's kit so that she could use it as a guide for creating a publicity kit for Don. While I had her on the phone I took the opportunity to pitch her on my book proposal. Being able to speak to her in advance and in person about the book was very helpful; she agreed to be on the lookout for it - especially since Don had put in a good word on it.

After I mailed it in it took about a month to get a response, and when I did it was very enthusiastic. Lisa Ryers and Ten Speed's vice president liked the book idea and took me to lunch to discuss it. At lunch they said they wanted to publish it, but first they needed two more sample chapters.

It took me a month to write the additional sample chapters and while doing so I cold called an author, Scott Edelestein, who wrote a very good college guidebook called The Truth About College. I called on Scott to praise his book and ask questions about the publishing business. To my surprise he was also the author of The Indispensable Writer's Guide, the definitive guidebook for writers. I suggested that we could swap expertise - I'd teach him about the speaking business and he'd teach me about publishing. He said yes to the swap and that's how I got a literary agent.

Once I completed the sample chapters it took two months and Lisa Ryers urging, to get final approval from the president of Ten Speed. However, once I did Scott took over as my agent and did contract negotiations for four months. At the end of the negotiations I officially had a book deal and a $10,000 advance.

I wrote for a highly concentrated six months. My book was in book stores six months later (January 1995).

Major in success

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