Cindy Hudson is the author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press, October 2009). She writes a weekly, neighborhood news column for The Oregonian, edits the e-zine Writers on the Rise, and interviews authors for tips on how to promote books for The Get Known Groove. Cindy lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters. Visit her online at www.motherdaughterbookclub.com and www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com.
Q: How did you get the idea for your first book deal?
Cindy Hudson: It truly started when I formed my first mother-daughter book club eight years ago. My oldest daughter was nine, and she loved to read, and I thought this would be a way for us to have an ongoing, enjoyable activity each month. When my youngest daughter turned nine three years later, I started a second club with her. Our experiences in both of those clubs have been so rewarding, that I knew other moms would want to know more about how to create their own groups.
I started thinking of the topic as great to pitch to magazines for feature stories, and I wrote a magazine query when I took your Pitching Practice class. I’ll never forget your feedback on how big of an idea it was, and your encouragement to think past magazine articles. The next day I signed up to own the domain name, motherdaughterbookclub.com. The seed of writing a book started to sprout.
Q: How long did it take to get the deal and how much work was involved?
Cindy Hudson: From the first time I presented the idea until I signed a contract was a one-year process. It may have gone faster if I worked on it full time, but I fit platform-building and proposal writing into a schedule of already-committed-to volunteer activities and other projects.
When I attended the Willamette Writers conference in August 2007, I first pitched the concept of a guidebook for mother-daughter book clubs to Brooke Warner, an editor at Seal Press. She really liked the idea and asked to see a full proposal, which I put together over the next few weeks.
I sent the proposal to Brooke and a few agents, but they all turned me down. No one was convinced that the topic was big enough to draw a substantial audience. I knew it was big enough, which meant I had not done a good enough job writing the proposal to sell the concept and myself as the writer. So I went to work expanding the scope of the idea, adding more depth and detail to the proposal, and revising, and revising, and revising.
I can’t say enough about how important it is to work with someone who will objectively look over your proposal and help you revise it. I was fortunate to have you, Christina, reviewing my many drafts and making suggestions about what I could improve. I thought each draft sounded good, but you helped me see ways to write more clearly and make my points more strongly.
I realized that when you have a good mentor looking over your work, you can’t take the criticism personally; instead you have to know that someone with experience is helping you make your best case. I am also lucky to have a husband who works in marketing and sales management. Both of you helped me says things about myself and my accomplishments I was too afraid to say because I thought it sounded too much like bragging. But somewhere in the process I realized I was selling myself as much as my concept.
By June of 2008, I sent queries for my new proposal out to a lot of agents, and ended up signing with Rita Rosenkranz. Within a month, Rita received an offer from Brooke at Seal Press. That was especially rewarding for me, because I knew all the hours I had spent on my proposal and platform had turned a skeptic into a supporter. I signed the contract soon after.
Q: Do you think it was necessary to work with an agent? How was it helpful for you?
Cindy Hudson: Rita then helped me tweak my proposal even more before sending it out to several publishers. I really appreciated her experienced eye, and her advice during contract negotiations was invaluable. She has also been an extra voice advocating for me on issues like cover design and publication date. It’s good to have someone in your corner through the whole process.
Q: In the meantime, while you were working on selling the book, what was happening with your platform development?
Cindy Hudson: I spent a lot of time developing my website content and my blog. I started a regular email newsletter too, and publishers started approaching me to review books. Then reporters at magazines and newspapers started to find my name when they were searching for an expert to quote in their stories about mother-daughter book clubs. By the time I was done rewriting the book proposal to repitch the idea my own credentials were much more solid.
Q: What was the book writing process like?
Cindy Hudson: When I started it was hard to imagine how I was going to get from the outline to the finished manuscript. I began by brainstorming with a friend the points I wanted to make in each chapter. Then I made a rough list of the kinds of people I wanted to quote in each chapter. The list included authors, moms in mother-daughter book clubs, parenting experts and librarians among others. From there I started writing one chapter at a time while making contacts with people I wanted to quote in future chapters.
As it turned out, my personal life got incredibly busy at the same time I was writing the book. My oldest daughter, Madeleine, is a senior in high school, and she was researching colleges and applying for admissions as well as scholarships. I had no idea helping her would be so time consuming. My youngest daughter, Catherine, was just starting high school. She needed help adjusting to a busier homework schedule and new activities.
I also had my kitchen remodeled while I was working on the manuscript. It sounded like such a good idea when I was planning the remodel before I signed my book contract. I reasoned that it would be no big deal because all the big decisions would be made before I started to write and I could just close my door and be productive.
Wow, was I naïve! For two and a half months workers constantly interrupted me to ask about a million little details. They were also hammering and sawing and drilling outside my office doors every day. It was a good thing my plan was to finish so far in advance, because as the remodel progressed I became less and less productive. I finished the last chapter six weeks before my deadline, then took the next six weeks to polish everything up and send the last piece squeaking in two days before my deadline.
Q: What has been your favorite part of the book writing process so far?
Cindy Hudson: I have most enjoyed seeing my idea come to life even stronger than I imagined it would. I watched it morph in shape from vague concept to what I believe will be a very helpful guide for moms with daughters, and it’s really rewarding to know I could do that. I had never written 60,000 continuous words on one topic before. It’s easy to see that fiction needs a common thread to hold that many words together, but nonfiction does too, and I enjoyed discovering what the common thread was for each chapter.
I loved writing every day, and while I don’t think of myself as a hermit, I did have to push myself at times to interact with others while I was writing. Email is just as much of a conversation for me as talking on the phone is, and I learned that I have to switch gears big time from the introspective part of writing to stretching out into the outside world with an email or a phone call to get the quotes I wanted. I learned to start my days by contacting someone. Then I would switch to writing and check on any responses when I needed a break.
Q: What suggestions do you have for other nonfiction writers who would like to get a book deal?
Cindy Hudson: Do as much research as you can on your topic before you commit to something that will likely occupy you for years to come. Start by doing a search online for your topic and see what kinds of things come up. Then go to the bookstore and look at the shelf where you imagine your book will be. That will help you determine if you have an idea and a specialty that will sell.
After that put a lot of effort into making yourself known as an expert in your subject area and building a platform if you don’t already have one. Make connections with people who can help you along the way, but remember that you have to give something back to those who help you as well. Develop a plan for creating your proposal and getting the attention of agents and editors, then put it into action, one step at a time.