Through storytelling and accountability, Bassam Tarazi helps businesses not only to finish and communicate, but also to have the mindset to do it all over again, each and every day. He’s a degreed mechanical engineer but soon became a tinkerer and scientist of the human experience. His blog Colipera (Collective Inspiration + Personal Accountability) was the launchpad for his writing and consulting career. With a Green MBA to his name, he also helped steer the cultural and strategic ship of an NYC-based construction company (Omnibuild) as their Director of Business Strategy, growing from $12 million to $275 million over 9 years and landing Omnibuild on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in America, two years in a row (2016 and 2017).
He has been featured in Forbes, Young Entrepreneur, Life Reimagined, Backpacker, and more.
An “explorapreneur” at heart, he’s been to all seven continents and 72 countries, trying as he may to have some stories to tell when he’s old and gray.
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The Anatomy of a Book Deal
I write, but I’ve always felt awkward calling myself “an author.” Authors live somewhere in Vermont or Cape Cod or Colorado with three kids, just writing books and getting paid. With my latest project, I wanted to kick the can a little further down the word-slinging road. I wanted to write a story, like authors do. I wanted a book deal.
If you Google “How To Get Published,” you’ll find all kinds of resources for book proposals, pitches, finding agents, building your platform, and all that. It’s all necessary, but if you can’t write a book worth reading, none of that matters.
Hire an Editor
My book is about my time on the Mongol Rally. It’s about the kind of adventures we said we’d have but never do. After 11 months of writing, I thought it was a masterpiece. Then I submitted it to an editor.
The Mongol Rally is an intercontinental car rally beginning in Europe, passing through Mongolia, and ending in Russia.
The writing process isn’t a manifestation of what you’ve discovered, it’s a discovery of what you’ll manifest. Writing is an unearthing of words, not a transcription of them.
Writing is part 3-D modeling and part sculpting. Both creative processes are happening at the same time. Adding the form, theme, style, and plot from within, and chiseling away lazy, excess, and contradictory writing from the outside — until they meet somewhere in the middle to reveal your masterpiece.
Editors are the key to getting you there. If it wasn’t for the help of my editor, Alice Peck, I wouldn’t have ever written something worthy of getting published.
Getting an Agent
One does not get “published,” one “pitches” an agent. Agents are the mysterious literary filters who hold the key to publishers’ ears, and we, the unpublished, are a bevy of Waldos; unsure how we get anyone’s attention amid the raucous spectacle we find ourselves in.
I put together a list of agents who were seeking narrative non-fiction, travel, memoir. I had their contact info, bios, and interests on a tidy spreadsheet 52 rows long. I was two snoops short of a stalking degree.
Each one had their own submission guidelines. From query letters, to a few pages of the book, to sample chapters, to a full book proposal. Others demanded that specific words be in the subject line.
(Regardless of specific submission guidelines, agents want to see that you have some sort of platform to help market the book. Sadly, writing books is not just about writing books, it’s about email subscribers, followers, and reach. Be prepared to talk about platforms, guest blog posts, and influence when writing your query letters and book proposals. If you don’t have a direct pipeline of fans or readers already, talk about how you plan to reach your target audience.)
The Agent world is a black hole of communication. For a group of people whose life is literally words, they are quite Spartan in their sharing of them. For instance:
“Response time can be hours, days, weeks, months or never.”
My result? Sure enough, 52 up, 52 down. Well, 52 up, 7 down and 45 crickets.
I did get some decent feedback from a few agents, which kept my spirits from cracking like kindling. They liked the book a lot but they were having a hard time getting memoirs picked up. Or, they liked the book but it wasn’t what they typically represented.
Something else to remember is that in this day and age, your book isn’t about you, it’s about how your book connects with a potential reader. Being able to make your book relevant and timely is as important as writing a good book in the first place.
Know your audience. Know why they will want to read your book. That’s what agents are looking for.
In that vein, Alice had one last agent I could reach out to, but she suggested I tweak my query letter’s theme from solely adventure, to the bigger thread of global culture, given President Trump’s utilization of weed whacking, stiff-arming, and crop dusting strategies in geopolitics. She knew my book was a timely topic of borders/walls, inclusion/exclusion, us/them.
With that, I put one last bullet in that gun of dreams and fired away into the unknown.
Mongol Rally campsite, as seen by a drone.
The Fortuitous Bounce of Try
This agent’s funnel process was on www.authors.me. Through that website, I was given a few more agents/publishers that might be interested in the topic I was writing about. With one click, I could send them the same application I filled out.
A few weeks later, it was one of those other publishers who reached out to me. They wanted to give me a book deal.
I talked with the owner of the company. He loved my work. He had high hopes for the book. I was supposed to be ecstatic, but the agreement was strange, the percentages were unique. It didn’t look like the “book deal” I was anticipating and my gut didn’t like it. When you’re about to give up “rights for a lifetime,” it gives you pause.
But still, it was a book deal. Isn’t this what I wanted?
I felt so lost. I was five pages in on Google, researching “first time book deals” when I saw the two words that changed my trajectory.
What on earth is a book shepherd? Kind of like a life coach for first-time authors. Book shepherds typically have years of experience in the book world. Using their expertise and knowledge about publishers and agents, these shepherds can advise authors of various publishing options.
With seven days to go on my expiring offer, I found the book shepherd, Debra Englander, and simply emailed her for advice. Worst-case scenario, she doesn’t reply and I’m left crying myself to sleep under a blanket of indecision.
She liked my content, the timeliness of it, and Debra knew a bit about coverage of travel books. Based on my answers to her questions about who would promote (influencers, companies) she was able to do a quick proposal and pitch my book to Post Hill Press.
The Golden Ticket
Within a week’s time of being introduced to Post Hill, I had a book deal from them. The offer letter looked like something I could get on board with. I met the publisher and everything clicked. They believed in me, my work, and what this book could do.
So, on January 9, Borders, Bandits, And Baby Wipes: A Big Adventure In A Tiny Car will be shared with the world. (You can pre-order now.)
Like most things in life, you can never predict how it’s going to play out. I certainly got lucky with the timing, but it was because I continually put myself into the mix until luck found me.
What little I do know is that for those first-time authors who are listless in the murky waters between Cape Unknown, Port Self-Publish, and Doubting Bay, hire an editor and utilize a book shepherd. Their guidance and advice can save you time, money, and sanity.
Convoy and dust.
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