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 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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The only new year’s resolution writers should make

Jarrett and I had the most fantastic staycation between Christmas and the new year. It felt so, so good to relax and get a few long-standing projects done around the house. The week was full of crazy exciting things like gift-wrapping and Costco shopping and house cleaning. We’re a wild bunch here.

There was also, of course, a lot of reading. I’m reading about four books at the same time right now, and while I’m not quite sure how I get myself into this love rectangle, it’s been magical.

Once again, one of my new year’s resolutions this year is to read more. To read well. To read where my interests lead me and explore new kinds of relationships with new kinds of books and new ways of thinking.

I will always believe that reading well is the single most important commitment any writer, creative, or curious person can make.

new years resolution for writers to get published

Here’s why:

When I started out in publishing I had a sort of weird job: I was the editorial assistant for both a nonfiction imprint and a genre romance imprint. It was incredible—one minute I’d be writing a tipsheet for a bestselling author’s next cookbook and the next I’d be editing racy copy for a romance novel. My desk was equal parts “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!” and “Has the billionaire cowboy finally met his match”? It was fun.

Working on series romance was a huge stroke of luck since it meant I got to edit manuscripts and build my own author list right away. I will never forget the day a Senior Editor handed me a manuscript and asked if I wanted to take a crack at editing a book. I ran back to my desk, grabbed a red pen, and started reading—I had officially made it! I was editing A BOOK. A real book. People were going to read this book I was editing. I would edit it until it was the best book that had ever existed. My comments would be profound yet kind. My edits would be impeccable.

Two paragraphs into the manuscript, I hated my life. The book was awful. It was boring, clunky, empty words, one after the other after the other. Words plodding along for two hundred tiresome pages. I began to fantasize about quitting. It seemed the only humane thing to do, for the author and for myself. I would write a brilliantly worded resignation letter, and it would show them my true genius and talent. Genius and talent that shouldn’t be wasted on this drivel.

Instead, I gave myself a mental slapping around, pointed out to myself that there isn’t a speck of genius or talent to be found on me, and kept reading. I edited one such manuscript every month for the next nearly 3 years, and I learned something very important:

The mere act of writing will never make you a better writer.

Not ever.

You can pound away at the keyboard for the next infinity years and never have output that’s any good.

Because to output good writing you need to input good writing. It’s that simple.

If you don’t read outside of the echo chamber of your genre or category, it won’t matter how disciplined you are about sticking to a write-every-day resolution. You won’t one day emit good writing just because you’ve hit some imaginary threshold of word count or books completed. Good is honed, and to hone a precision edge you need to scuff up against something that’s stronger than you.

You need to read good writing.

That’s the first thing I tell every aspiring writer who asks me for advice on getting published. And it’s the first thing every writer—no matter where they are in their career—should put at the top of their resolution list. It’s non-negotiable.

Read The New Yorker; read books on the New York Times bestseller list; read critically acclaimed books in your genre; read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times; read Pulitzer winners and the best books of the year. Just read good writing.

And don’t ever read bad writing.

The process of reading is the process of listening, and developing an ear for fluid prose is how you learn to write fluid prose. Every input you give your brain adds another data point for the rhythms and sounds of written language. Essentially, what you put in is what you get out.

So don’t put bad writing into your brain. Just like eating low-quality food is bad for your health, consuming low-quality writing is bad for your writer’s ear. The clichés, the lazy phrasing, the pompous reaching, the empty fluff will vibrate in your writer’s ear just as much as a perfectly turned sentence. Curate your inputs, and your mind will become attuned to the rhythms of good writing.

Once the sound of good writing is lodged inside you, then you can tackle all the other resolutions that have to come next: sticking to a writing schedule; connecting with readers; networking with other writers; learning how to market your work.

But start with reading. Each and every year.

This post was originally published one year ago, on January 5, 2016.


What I’m Reading

What Writers Know About Paying Attention (Stephanie Smith): I recently stumbled across the Slant Letter newsletter from Stephanie Smith, an editor at Zondervan, and I loved what she had to say this week about reading well: “Every novel, every narrative, every thesis or thinkpiece, all of these churn together like coffee grounds and kitchen scraps in the same compost pile. And slowly, with patient turning and over time, a nutrient-rich soil is created. If your sources are good, your soil will be good, and any seeds that are planted in it will absorb their richness and health. The reverse is also true: if your sources are lacking or anemic, chances are you won’t germinate that brilliant idea you were hoping to hatch.”

The 24 Best Longform Food Stories of 2016 (Eater): Well, look-ee here. Some great writing to read!

The Sixteen Most-Read New Yorker Stories of 2016 (The New Yorker): And some more.

The Most Popular Food News of 2016 (The New York Times): One last serving of good reads. (That Per Se review really was killer.)

A Literary Agent’s Guide to Publishing Terms Authors Should Know (Mark Gottlieb for The Write Life): If you’ve ever wondered what “D&A” means, this is the year to get your publishing jargon down pat.


What We’re Eating

We had good intentions. Good resolutions. Good plans. In fact, my health resolution this year was to cook vegetables in bulk and cram myself right full of them. But then we got home late from the cabin we rented for New Year’s, and our Peapod order was delayed, and we had nothing fresh in the fridge. Here is a true accounting of what happened from there:

Monday: Leftovers

Tuesday: Leftovers

Wednesday: Takeout, wine, friends at our house

Thursday: Finally back on track! A shrimp greek salad. Dinner of the resolution gods.

Friday: White Chicken Chili. I became obsessed with white chicken chili after having a dynamite bowl of it last week at a volunteer event. Luckily, my authors have a few knockout recipes: I’m trying Robyn’s white chicken chili recipe this week and Jenn’s recipe after that. 2017: the year of bathing in white chicken chili.

Cheers!

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A self-guided study to overcome rejection

How did you survive Thanksgiving? I ate way, way too much and loved every minute of it. Then I cooked an enormous pot of turkey soup based off of this recipe and over-ate for another two days. I love the holidays.

But now that we’re in the slight reprieve between Thanksgiving and Christmas, let’s tackle a big subject: rejection.

books-about-rejection

Rejection is an inevitable part of the creative life (and of regular old life, too), but most of the time we focus our energy on trying to avoid rejection, rather than expecting it and building resilience to it.

Let’s turn that around. Because if I’ve seen one thing in my years in the publishing industry, both as an editor and a literary agent, it’s that rejection is part of the job.

So then, our work as people who are engaged in the business of art, is to make peace with rejection. It’s not a bonus skill that will help you get ahead; it is the way ahead.

We’ve talked before about how every single person in the publishing industry gets rejected by one person or another–authors get rejected by agents and publishers; agents get rejected by editors; editors get rejected by acquisitions committees; publicists get rejected by producers.

And we’ve also talked about what to do in those moments and days right after a particularly tough rejection rolls in. But what can we do to steel ourselves against these blows to our souls? How can we dig and then fill a deep well of resilience that allows us to withstand rejection?

Well, the answer, as always, lies in BOOKS. Books are the repository of all human wisdom and knowledge, and you can bet you’re not the first or the last person in history to get kicked about in this particular way. Books also allow us to design our own self-guided studies of any topic known to mankind, and then to spend a good many afternoons on the couch, having our minds blown right open.

That is and will always be the most deeply important thing to me about books. The wisest and most expert minds in the world wring every last drop of their knowledge into a book and sell it for $19.99. If that’s not the best thing about our society (and a really nice deal to boot), then ship me off to the moon because I know nothing.

(Oh, and if you went a little too hard on Cyber Monday and don’t want to drop a few $20s on a few books, may I remind you about libraries? Libraries are the world’s collective knowledge and experiences, assembled over millennia, available to every last person for the price of $0.00. Show me a better deal anywhere this season.)

So this December, let’s hunker down with a self-guided study on rejection, so that we can be fierce and stubborn and relentless rejection warriors in 2017.

I truly believe a rejection study is an essential part of any writer’s self-education.

Only by being in a civil working relationship with rejection will we be able to look it in the eye around the water cooler, roll our eyes at its same old complaints and lies, and huff a little despondently as we walk back to our desk and get to work. Sorry, rejection, we have work to do, and we’re not going to sit around all day whining about how things could have been. Try someone else.

Now let’s get to work and buy or borrow our way to a stack of books that will show us how to build resilience in the face of rejection.

These are the books I would recommend as a start, but as with any self-guided study, only you know how you learn best. If you prefer a more kick-in-the-pants approach, find some authors who will shake you up a little. If you like to supplement with audio and visual learning, search out a few podcasts or video courses on the topic. But I do recommend getting one or two books—books have the incomparable advantage of living in your home, patiently waiting to be pulled down when you need a moment of counsel with them. (They make great home decor, too!)

(By the way, I only recommend books I’ve read or that I’m genuinely excited about reading myself. Life’s too short to read mediocre books. But if you do feel like picking up one of these, it’d be great if you bought them through one of the Amazon Associate links below. It supports the many hours of work this team of two [me and Jarrett] put into this little corner of the web!)

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang

jia jiang rejection proof book cover

Think you’re down and out? Jiang put himself (voluntarily!) through an experiment to seek out rejection for 100 days. This boot-camp approach helped him deflate the dread of putting himself out there, conquer his feelings of self-doubt, and build him back up so he could dare to live more boldly.

From the back cover:

“Jia Jiang came to the United States with the dream of being the next Bill Gates. But despite early success in the corporate world, his first attempt to pursue his entrepreneurial dream ended in rejection. Jia was crushed, and spiraled into a period of deep self doubt. But he realized that his fear of rejection was a bigger obstacle than any single rejection would ever be, and he needed to find a way to cope with being told no without letting it destroy him. Thus was born his ‘100 days of rejection’ experiment, during which he willfully sought rejection on a daily basis–from requesting a lesson in sales from a car salesman (no) to asking a flight attendant if he could make an announcement on the loud speaker (yes) to his famous request to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the shape of Olympic rings (yes, with a viral video to prove it).

Jia learned … techniques for steeling himself against rejection and ways to develop his own confidence–a plan that can’t be derailed by a single setback. Filled with great stories and valuable insight, Rejection Proof is a fun and thoughtful examination of how to overcome fear and dare to live more boldly.”

Get the book!

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brene Brown

brene brown rising strong book cover

Already a classic—if you read only one book on this list, make it this one.

From the back cover:

“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.

Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.”

Get the book!

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

the obstacle is the way ryan holiday book cover

Want to tackle rejection from the angle of the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism? Try this one.

From the back cover:

“The book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher. As Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Ryan Holiday shows us how some of the most successful people in history—from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs—have applied stoicism to overcome difficult or even impossible situations. Their embrace of these principles ultimately mattered more than their natural intelligence, talents, or luck.”

Get the book!

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

angela duckworth grit book cover

If you’re going to get kicked around by life (and we all will), you’ll need a bit of grit to get back up. This instant New York Times bestseller has gotten so much attention and praise because of its research-backed look at this new concept of “grit”—the combination of passion and perseverance. It shares dozens of stories of rock-bottom moments in the lives of high-achievers and how they pulled themselves out of the mire of disappointment.

From the back cover:

“Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.

Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.”

Get the book!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

big magic elizabeth gilbert book cover

This book will give you the kick-in-the-pants you need to move on from the tortured artist stereotype and bring some serious delight back into your creative life. If lately your work is feeling like a slog rather than a source of energy, get plugged in to this book STAT!

From the back cover:

“Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the ‘strange jewels’ that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”

Get the book!


What I’m Reading This Week

Maya Angelou on How a Library Saved Her Life (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This beautiful piece on the magic of libraries is right on point for this week! I especially loved the quotes Popova started the article off with: “’You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,’” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians. “’Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom,’” Ursula K. Le Guin asserted in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries.”

The FLASH Drives (Seth Godin): “Fear, loneliness, anger, shame & hunger. They drive us. They divide us. They take us away from our work, our mission, our ability to make a difference. And yet, sometimes, they fuel our motion, leading to growth and connection.” (This backs up my long-standing belief that we can’t get anything good done when we’re hungry. So get something to eat!)

Bookish Gifts Under $20 (Kelly Jensen): Once you’ve stacked a pile of books under the tree, you’ll need some accessories for stocking stuffers right? 😉

The Kitchn Holiday Gift Guide (The Kitchn): Not sure what to buy your favorite cook? Start with this very-cute, very-practical flowchart (which also leads to some extremely fantastic cookbook recommendations!).

How to Write a Great Story: A Roundup of Best Advice (Jane Friedman): All the storytelling goodness you need in one place. Bookmark this one and come back to it whenever you have a little pocket of time in your day!


What We’re Eating This Week

Finally, a normal week again! I spent our 8-hour Sunday drive from Ann Arbor to Alexandria thinking about what we’d eat this week. Here’s what I came up with with an iPhone, a lot of time, and a desperate need for more vegetables.

Monday: A giant chopped salad based off the chopped salad I always order at Mario Batali’s Otto in NYC. Because if I’m going to be good and eat salad, there better be salami in it.

Tuesday: Penne with prosciutto, asparagus, and kale, adapted from my favorite Italian cookbook (which is written in Italian and now out of print, or I’d share it with you all!).

Wednesday: This recipe for cauliflower steaks, but with leftover pesto instead of the lemon herb sauce. And a side of Rich Lemon Rice from Viana La Place’s classic cookbook Unplugged. (Yes, I’ll share this recipe with you all soon–it’s so, so good!)

Thursday: This Serious Eats recipe for One-Pan Chicken, Sausage, and Brussels Sprouts. Plus adding cabbage to the pan. I’m telling you, I went into a deep vegetable deficit over the holiday.

Friday: Derek Brown’s Miracle on Seventh Street Christmas bar with friends. Cannot wait.

Cheers!

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