6 mindfulness practices to relax into your work

It’s 77 degrees in Alexandria today. (What?!)

Spring is popping up in every corner, and Pepper has had more long walks this past week than she knows what to do with. She loves to chase squirrel trails (which I’m convinced she’s just pretending to pick up on so that she can go berserk), and she runs so fast that she practically drags my lazy butt down the running path.

mindfulness practices for writers

But it feels so good to finally be entering into spring—I love that feeling of both new energy and slow growth. It’s equal parts raring-to-go and stop-and-sniff-the-flowers (or be dragged away from the flowers by your embarrassingly athletic dog).

Isn’t that the same balance we strive to keep in our work? Excited and energetic, yet still calm, composed, and present. Which isn’t easy for writers—I think nearly every writer or blogger would own up to being neurotic or perfectionistic or overachievers or wound a little too tight in one way or another. (I think their agent might be guilty of this, too. Ahem.)

So today I’m sharing 6 mindfulness practices that can help bring a little more zen into your day-to-day work. I think we’re all guilty sometimes of being so results-oriented and efficiency-driven that we completely forget that we actually like doing this work that’s in front of us.

I know that happens to me all the time! Half the time that I’m editing proposals or answering emails my shoulders are so tense and my jaw so clenched that it feels like I’m shouldering through some sort of terrible trial. But in reality, I love editing proposals, and I love chatting on email with my authors. With just a few calming breaths and some of these mindfulness practices, I’m reminded that I love this work I do and that it’s okay to relax and enjoy it.

Maybe the same thing happens to you?

You sit down to write and find yourself so pressured by the ticking clock or the word count or your own expectations that your whole body tenses up?

Or maybe you find yourself knotted into a ball of stress as you’re drafting query letters, or writing social media posts, or responding to email?

If so, head on over and read this article on The Kitchn!

It’s framed around work in the kitchen, but these practices can just as easily be applied to showing up at your computer to write or facing a stack of pages to edit.

I hope it’s a little reminder in the middle of your week that, once we learn to relax into our tasks, anything can become the soothing and meaningful experience we search for in meditation and yoga. So for those of you who show up to a manuscript or a computer or a kitchen every day, remember to breathe, feeling deep gratitude for this moment, right here, right now, with this work.

Mindfulness Practices for writers


What I’m Reading This Week

Ready to Learn How to Write With Purpose? (Kristen Kieffer of Well-Storied): Since we’re chatting about being purposeful today, it was perfect timing that Kristen released this free 46-page workbook! Aren’t we all trying to bridge the gap between what our ideal workday looks like and our actual habits? If you’re nodding “yes” along with me, then this is a great resource to help you take a few more steps toward getting it right.

The Why of Urgent Vs. Important (Seth Godin): “The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used to be, but we are now. Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure. Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”

Remember Chutes and Ladders? Book Publishing is Just Like the Game (Emily Wenstrom on The Write Life): This is a great inside look at how to speed up (or slow down) your journey toward reaching your publishing goals. And yes! Be bold and chase down any leads, always staying professional along the way.

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds (Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker): “People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.”

12 Tips for Pitching Articles to Publications and Websites (Dianne Jacob): Essential tips for pitching to both online and print outlets! Make sure you scan through these before starting in on pitching a piece.


What We’re Eating This Week

Another week without traveling for work means lots of fun things to cook! And would you believe this: we ended up with the pickiest eater of a dog. I’m now the world’s most accomplished chopper-upper of hot dogs. There has to be a culinary award in this.

Monday: Ah, Monday. I always feel better about you if I have a salad on deck for dinner. Otto-inspired Italian chopped salad it is (with extra salami, of course).

Tuesday: Soboro beef with rice and broccoli, using this Bon Appétit recipe. Easy, yummy, and not a hot dog. Checks all the boxes!

Wednesday: Thai chicken and rice noodle soup, from my author Jenn of Once Upon a Chef. Because springtime means soup…? I don’t know, I just wanted soup. Welp.

Thursday: Arroz cubano, just like my Yaya makes! Start by packing some white rice into a cup, turn it over, and shake it out to form a little mountain. Then top with whatever kind of tomato sauce you like and a crispy-edged, olive-oil-fried egg. Kids love it; adults love it; dogs better not decide they love it.

Friday: ??? I have no idea. Can we have gin and tonics for dinner?

Cheers!

how to get a book deal–3 case studies

In case you missed it on Instagram, we got a dog!

literary agent blog

Meet Pepper, the newest addition to our little family. She’s a blue merle Australian Shepherd we adopted through the great folks at City Dogs Rescue, and she loves pets, couch-laying, and Breakfast Jacs. She was rescued from southwestern Virginia (where we visited her in January!) and spent the past two months making, birthing, and mothering 8 beautiful little pups who also went to their forever homes last Sunday.

Pepper’s a hard worker who naps next to me while I work from home. Anybody know of a part-time job I could sign her up for?

literary agent blog

In publishing news, we’re right in the thick of submissions season, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of authors I want to help grow. I mentioned in this post how important engagement and voice is for getting a book deal—it’s not enough to just have a huge platform anymore.

But the trickiest thing for me to explain when I’m chatting with potential authors is the exact configuration of attributes I want in a client. And that’s because (of course!) there is no one answer. Which brings me back to the standard publishing answer: it depends.

So, instead of rattling off a long list of things I like to see in potential authors who are ready for a book, I want to talk today about how diverse—wonderfully diverse!—the paths to success can be. There is such a complex interplay of platform, concept, storytelling/perspective that makes a project attractive, and my job is to help authors see where they can most shine.

Lately I’ve been thinking of a well-rounded book as:

platform + concept + storytelling = a great read.

Each of those three elements, while always present, can step into the foreground or recede into the background depending on each author’s particular talents.

But the only way to make this concept fully come to life is to tell you the stories of a few of my first-time authors and how they got their book deals. My hope is that these case studies will bring into the light something we don’t talk often enough about:

There is no one path to success.

There is no one right way to get a book deal. There is no checklist or step-by-step plan that will guarantee your success (and often, one-size-fits-all approaches can stifle the uniqueness that’s vital to success).

And though we do build deep reservoirs of best practices over many years of working with authors, every one of my authors has different goals and therefore deserves a different strategy. After all, not every book exists for the same reason, so why should every author get a book deal for the same reason? That’s what I hope these case studies will show—how to get a book deal that fits your particular strengths.

How to get a book deal

A few things to keep in mind about these book deal case studies:

  • All three books sold at auction with advances in the $75,000-$100,000 range.
  • All three authors were first-time authors who built their platforms, from scratch, on their own—they were regular people who, day in and day out, started to share their work, build an audience, and earn the respect of their communities. No celebrities here!
  • All three authors received very different proposal treatments—again, one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work!—which highlighted their particular strengths and helped them get their book deals.
  • All three book deals were cookbooks sold to publishers in 2016. I wanted to remove the variables that exist between different categories and from year-to-year as the market changes, so that those fluctuations wouldn’t interfere with illustrating how these projects were valuated.

Book Deal #1:

This author is a talented photographer whose photos dazzled editors. She also has a fascinating, unconventional life story and wrote a proposal which one editor told me brought her to tears. It was a visually beautiful, highly personal proposal that showcased the author’s strength as a forward-thinking recipe developer, a skilled photographer, and a rising star in food media. The editor that acquired this project told me that she fell in love with the author’s unique perspective and story, and that it was this unique point-of-view, rather than platform metrics, which ultimately won over her team and allowed her to offer competitively on the project.

Traffic: 100,000-200,000 page views per month

Social media reach: Around 50,000 followers across platforms

Press: Heavily buzzed about in top-tier food media; writes regularly for a major-market newspaper

Speaking engagements: Regularly invited by colleagues to speak on food culture panels and at conferences

Awards: Recently received 3 high-profile, national awards

Connections: Very well-connected and has real friendships with movers and shakers in the food community; foreword contributed by a top food writer

Takeaway: This author’s storytelling and unique voice are what pushed her project over the top, but she had the necessary foundation of a strong concept and critical acclaim to back it up.

Book Deal #2:

This author has an incredibly popular blog, where millions of readers come again and again because they love her practical approach to home cooking. Her readers love her recipes because they work every time, and they know they can trust her with their time and their ingredients. The concept was highly practical yet elegant, and it offered a new perspective and new insight on how to cook more easily at home. The book is also targeted to the average home cook—a very broad audience. The author’s large and engaged platform was a clear sign that she was already winning the trust and admiration of readers—readers who would be eager and excited to buy her cookbook, just as editors were excited to buy the cookbook proposal.

Traffic: 4 million page views a month

Social media reach: Around 800,000 followers across platforms, as well as an email list of over 100,000 with extremely high engagement

Press: A long list of print and online outlets who had featured her work

Speaking engagements: None

Awards: None

Connections: Had a great list of high-profile connections who were willing to review an early copy of the book for possible endorsement

Takeaway: This author’s very large platform clearly shows that she is already producing recipes and writing that readers think is worth their time. Yet it was crucial that we still come up with a concept that did something new, without going so niche that we created a book only a segment of her readership would like. The author’s emphasis on telling engaging stories with her recipes and sharing snippets of her life also brought the world of this cookbook (and cookbook proposal) to life.

Book Deal #3:

This author is very well-known in his particular niche in the food blogging community. His writing is personal, authentic, and vulnerable, and therefore his readership, though on the smaller side, is highly engaged and supportive of all his new projects. He was also able to identify a significant trend in the food blogging world that hadn’t yet been explored in a full-length cookbook and to make a very convincing argument as to why he was the expert in this particular niche. Ultimately, editors were excited about this proposal because it offered something new—it had an entirely unique angle that both filled a hole in the marketplace and fulfilled a real need in people’s lives.

Traffic: 500,000 page views a month

Social media reach: Around 45,000 followers across platforms

Press: Some online press, but particularly strong brand partnerships that were relevant to the book concept

Speaking engagements: None

Awards: None

Connections: Well-connected to other bloggers within his niche

Takeaway: For this project, concept was king. It’s so rare to find a real hole in the marketplace, especially because we also need to show that it’s a hole people actually want filled! Yet this author was savvy enough to carve a niche for himself in this space and to use his great personality and real-life stories to build a small, but mighty audience for himself.

 

As you can see, all of these authors had one leading strength (platform, concept, or storytelling), but they had to exhibit all three of those elements to be well-rounded authors. And even though their paths (and stats!) were incredibly different, they all received fantastic book deals with great publishers, and even more importantly, they’re all well-positioned to make their books successful.

This is why it’s pointless to compare your path to anyone else’s, and it’s also why I hope you never forget that:

Your book is unique. Your platform is unique. Your path is unique. Don’t try to change that. 🙂

 

Want more? Read this case study of how one author had her second book pre-empted by a Big 5 publisher! 

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What I’m Reading This Week:

Organized Enough is here! (Amanda Sullivan): We celebrated the release of Organized Enough last week with my client, Amanda Sullivan, at a packed reading and book signing at The Corner Bookstore! This is the book to buy if “get organized” was one of your New Year’s resolutions. Amanda is equal parts wise and gracious, and her advice is that gentle kick in the tush you need to finally get organized enough. (And if you think I’m just being biased, watch her in action yourself on WPIX!)

A Brown Kitchen (Nik Sharma): A huge congratulations to my client Nik Sharma whose San Francisco Chronicle column, A Brown Kitchen was just nominated for an IACP award! If you don’t already follow his blog, why not start now?

The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists (Tim Grahl): Tim Grahl has updated this essential read to reflect new changes that are happening with “The List,” as we call the NYT list. This is exactly why I always hesitate to let authors get too attached to “hit the NYT list” as a goal. There are just too many variables, and the hard truth is that it does matter who your publisher is, who you are, and whether your book is being “watched”–it’s not just about copies sold.

How to Read More and Internet Less (Danika Ellis for BookRiot): “At some point–usually while taking Buzzfeed quizzes–I know I’m no longer even enjoying myself and would benefit immensely from just picking up a book instead, but I can’t seem to resist the siren song of the internet. Maybe you have amazing self control and never find yourself in that mess, but just in case, I thought I would share some ways that have worked for me in limiting my internet use and maximizing my reading time.”

7 Useful Insights for Savvy Book Marketers from Digital Book World 2017 (Goodreads Blog): Graphs, charts, and snippets of takeaways: all the DBW nerding-out you could want!

Where to Find Opportunities to Teach (and Supplement Your Writing Income) (Eric Maisel on JaneFriedman.com): Teaching others is a fantastic way to both build your platform and help others along the way, but just like with anything else, it usually takes starting small to grow this facet of your portfolio and platform.

A Vanderbilt Library Comes to Life (CJ Lotz for Garden & Gun): We adored visiting the Vanderbilt library when we were there in January, but we just missed this fantastic exhibit: “A new exhibition at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, ‘Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics,’ opens February 10 and pays tribute to George Vanderbilt’s love of literature by presenting a selection of his favorite tomes alongside more than forty costumes from their screen adaptions.”


What We’re Eating

Monday: We were off work for President’s Day and focused on settling in with Pepper, so naturally, all three of us ate a lot of hot dogs and not much else.

Tuesday: We received our extra-early air freight copies of the Add a Pinch cookbook, and so we’ll be eating Robyn’s delicious food all week! This book is so full of heart and good food and sweet stories, and your home will be a little happier if you add this book to your collection. (Not to mention the fact that we had THE BEST of all time short rib tacos on Tuesday night using Robyn’s slow cooker short rib recipe. There were words had at the dinner table over the last scraps of meat–even Pepper was drooling all over the floor over them!)

Wednesday: Robyn’s Jambalaya, also from Add a Pinch. And you know because it’s Wednesday that this is an extra-easy, one-pot recipe.

Thursday: I’m at a volunteering shift, so leftover Jambalaya it is. (The crowds rejoice.)

Friday: Baked Chicken Spaghetti from Add a Pinch. I’ve never had Southern-style Baked Chicken Spaghetti, but you know you can’t go wrong when something like spaghetti is South-ified.

Cheers!

Read More

How to organize your cookbook recipes

I know it sounds strange, but I have a very specific process for welcoming a new cookbook into my home. We get a ton of them crossing our desks at Stonesong—either given to us at editor lunches or sent by the publishers—but I only let a few of them come home with me.

(I’ve seen first-hand what a life of book-hoarding looks like, and I don’t want to be surrounded in my old age by a lot of books I only sort of like. And then have to dust them!)

IMG_2943

So on the rare occasion when a cookbook makes the first cut and gets an invite home, we have to have a little period of getting to know each other. We sit on the couch together, and I read every single last word the author has to say to me, starting with the front matter and all the way through the acknowledgments.

As I go through, I dog-ear each and every recipe I want to try, running through a whole list of questions before I’ll give a recipe a fold:

Can I cook this on a weeknight?
Is there something new and exciting about this recipe to me?
Are these ingredients I usually have or can easily get?
Is this a good weekend project to push me out of my comfort zone?

But see, the problem is that a dog-eared page doesn’t really tell me why I wanted to make that recipe. And it doesn’t call out to me that “This is the one!” when I’m in a rush and trying to plan a week’s worth of meals.

When I heard from so many people about how they hate to fold the pages of their favorite books, or how they love to use sticky notes to mark recipes they want to try, I realized this wasn’t just a problem I had. I think it’s generally kind of hard to mark-off cookbook recipes in the categories that actually matter to you!

So I decided to have some fun and work up a solution for myself that would make it much, much easier for me to find that just-right recipe from each of my cookbooks.

Here are the cookbook index tabs I came up with, free for your downloading and printing and cooking pleasure!

Free printable cookbook tabs, perfect for categorizing your recipes

cookbook index tabs

cookbook index tabs

cookbook index tabs

Cookbook index tabs

Aren’t these fun?! Jarrett has already requested that I make him a set for his cocktail books.

You can download the file for these cookbook index tabs for free here, print them on these sturdy Avery tabs, and then have fun indexing your cookbooks for the way you really use them!

Click here to download these printable cookbook index tabs!

 

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What I’m Reading This Week

Which Cookbook Cover Should We Use? Your Vote Counts (Thriving Home): Polly and Rachel continue the fun by letting their readers choose the cover for their upcoming cookbook. I personally love both options–what do you think?

Losing by Winning (Seth Godin): “Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning. Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.”

May Sarton on the Artist’s Duty to Contact the Timeless in Tumultuous Times (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This is not only timeless, but timely: “Now it has become impossible to guard one’s soul… we are forced to read the papers, and yet… our job is somehow or other to be above the mêlée, or so deeply in it that one comes through to something else, something universal and timeless.”

How to Become More Consistent in Your Daily Journaling (Michael Hyatt): Do you journal? I’ve always wanted to be the journaling type, but no matter how many pretty notebooks I bought, I couldn’t seem to stick to the habit. But I love Michael Hyatt’s idea here of using a template for journal entries, so you’re not reinventing the wheel each morning. And I’m determined to try the Day One app he recommends!


What We’re Eating This Week

On to more urgent matters: what are we going to eat this week?

Monday: We made this ridiculous bro recipe for Super Bowl Sunday (guess who’s idea this was…), and now we have very full bellies and too many leftover cold-cuts in the fridge. The only solution? Muffuletta salad! The definition of healthy-ish.

Tuesday: I’ll be in NYC for a dim sum party to celebrate the launch of Crown’s new online mag, Taste! Jarrett will be eating whatever’s in the back of the fridge.

Wednesday: If I play my cards right, I’ll talk Jarrett into picking up what we affectionately call “The Chicken” from El Pollo Rico before he picks me up at the train station.

Thursday: I’m still on my white chicken chili kick–it’s just the only thing I want to eat lately. Chili in the mornin’, chili in the evenin’, chili at suppertime

Friday: Taco night, and I’m hoping that between now and Friday I dig up a really great shrimp taco recipe from one of my cookbooks. But suggestions are always welcome!

Cheers!

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Read More

How many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When you work in an industry like publishing, you tend to get the same questions over and over.

Where do I start with publishing my book?
How long will it take for my book to come out?
How much creative control will I have in the process?
How many followers do I need to get a book deal?

I hate to see authors feeling in the dark about these things, which is why I aim to build an archive right here to help shine a light into the sometimes mysterious workings of the publishing world.

So today, I’m answering that last question–how many followers do I need to get a book deal–over on Dianne Jacob’s blog!

how many followers to get a book deal

Here’s a little snippet, but head on over to her site to read the full piece. And while you’re there, take a poke around her archives. Dianne has an incredible wealth of information on cookbook writing and publishing!

So, how many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When I was an editor, my publishing house did one of the first blog-to-book cookbooks. We were only allowed to do one, because obviously, we had to wait and see if this “blog” thing was going to blow over.

Now, every one of my authors is a blogger or vlogger (except the chefs). It still amazes me how blogging can build deep and lasting relationships. Yet, too often, I get that inescapable question: How many blog followers is enough? How much traffic do you need to get a book deal?

Click here to read the rest of this piece on Dianne’s blog!


What I’m Reading This Week

How to Stay Positive on Your Path to Getting a Book Published (Adrienne Proctor on The Write Life): This is a great, great post, because it’s a reminder that nothing worthwhile happens overnight. I think cultivating the skills of patience and persistence is just as important to success as a writer or blogger as plotting or character development skills. I believe in this so much I created a cute art print to remind me and others of it! Click here to download this free art print:

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

This is Why You Should Still Buy Cookbooks in 2017 (Julie R. Thompson for The Huffington Post): This is a must-read for any author writing (or thinking about writing) a cookbook. As I always tell my authors: you need to give the reader something they simply can’t find on Google.

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – February 2017 (Amy Collins on The Book Designer): If you’re not already following these “Do This, Not That” posts, you should! Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from the mistakes of others?

Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA) (Jane Friedman): In summary: “BEA is a quality industry event, and it is a legitimate marketing and promotion opportunity. But for the majority of indie authors, it does not make sense to invest what are likely your limited resources in BEA.”

3 Keys to Finishing Your Book Once and For All (Chad Allen on Goins, Writer): Chad always has great posts with practical, compassionate advice for authors–here’s another great one on setting up a 3-step process that will help you finally get your book done.


What We’re Eating This Week

Home, sweet home. Let’s cook!

Monday: Very unfussy, no-recipe stuffed peppers, which I did not even cover in cheese. That was my Willpower Accomplishment of the week. And it gave me full permission to spend the entire meal telling Jarrett how much better the stuffed peppers would have been with cheese.

Tuesday: Pork ramen with stock made from our giant Virginia country ham. As Dorothy Parker said, “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Welcome to eternity.

Wednesday: Italian chopped salad, with extra salami. Life motto: It’s not a salad without salami.

Thursday: Root vegetable and sausage pie from Victuals. Mmm.

Friday: This cacio e pepe recipe, because my deep adoration of cacio e pepe was rekindled when we ate at The Shack in Staunton, VA. (Jarrett and I split a plate of the cacio e pepe during our main course, then I ordered another plate for myself as dessert. YOLO?)

Cheers!

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