What Would You Do with an Email about a Possible Nonfiction Book Contract?

Who knows why I didn’t delete Ginny’s email on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. She asked me if I wanted a nonfiction book contract to write a book about Woodlake, CA. It sounded like a spam email. Did I want to write a nonfiction book? Did I want a successful blog? Did I want 1,000 more readers each month? Did I want to make $100,000  a year with my blog the first year?

Come on! Really?

Everyone Has Advice for New Bloggers – Even Publishers

After two years of blogging, I had received hundreds of email offers to make me a better blogger, writer, and social media queen. It was offer overload. I nearly deleted Ginny’s email asking me if I wanted to nonfiction book contract to write about Woodlake.

My name is Ginny and I am the California acquisitions editor for Arcadia Publishing. We publish local or regional pictorial history books as part of our Images of America series. I’m interested in starting a similar project about Woodlake and came across your blog while researching potential authors. You’ve got a great style and voice and your experience and knowledge of the area would make you an excellent candidate to author the book. Is this something you might be interested in?

Most people would say, “Yeah sure,” and be done with it. I fell for it almost as hard as I did for my first my spammer compliment on WP. She sent some attachments about the company, so I wrote her back.

Hi Ginny,

That would be so fun! Let me look this over, and I’d love to talk to you!

And my friends say I’m shallow!!! haha

How DID someone from South Carolina find me in Woodlake, CA?  Why did she ask ME to write a nonfiction book about the history of the small rodeo town?

Woodlake and I had only a short history. I grew up in Indianapolis, IN, then moved Portland, OR. After I had married, my husband changed jobs which took us to Cottage Grove OR. His school necessitated going to Colorado Springs, CO. When he started pastoring; we relocated to a tiny unincorporated area called Ivanhoe. For a long time, we lived Visalia, the largest town in Tulare County.  Sixteen years ago my second husband and I ended up in Woodlake.

non-fiction book contract

On October 31, 2015, Morris and Leroy Bennett (center) and Virginia Taylor (not pictured) retired from Woodlake Hardware.

How A Publisher from South Carolina Found Me

In 2014 blogging had been a two-year long retirement experiment. One day my neighbor Gary Davis came over, and we started talking about Woodlake and his long association with it. (His great-grandfather was the first white resident of the area.)

As a history consultant, my ears perked up. He brought me pictures. He sent me to the town’s oldest business, Woodlake Hardware. The owner was over 90 and still worked every day. The perfect story dropped in my lap.

The Process from Unpublished  to Under Contract

Ginny called me the day after she emailed me. She had read a post I wrote about Woodlake Hardware. Just as I had, she fell for Morris Bennett, 92 and still working daily in his store, where he had been employed since graduation in 1940. (Pictured above the day after Morris, his son and daughter retired.) Ginny gave me a six-day deadline to complete a 10-page proposal including a book outline with 10-20 sample pictures and captions. Only she forgot to send me the proposal form! On Monday, June 2 she wrote,

Hi Marsha!

I just realized I had not gotten the proposal to you last week as promised! It is attached to this email. The most important sections are the Author Information, Book Information, and Schedule – everything else can come later (including sample images/captions). Please let me know if you have any questions! I look forward to speaking to you soon!

The due date for the nonfiction book contract was still Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Among other details, the project application asked about my background, community involvement, businesses that might carry the book, and dates that might affect the release of the book. Woah! Intensive! I guessed a lot! So I sent her one of Gary’s pictures and wrote a caption for it. I wrote a 200 word summary of what I thought I might write in this imagined book and spent the rest of the day completing the nonfiction book contract.

non-fiction book contract

Gary Davis and his grandfather Images of America Woodlake p. 92

I made my June 4th deadline. On June 12, 2014, I received this reply along with 450 more words and two attachments of instructions.

Hi Marsha,

I hope you are doing well! I am pleased to inform you that your proposal,Woodlake, has been approved. I am delighted to have this opportunity to work with you in adding Woodlake to our Images of America series!

The Process from Under Contract to Manuscript Submission

Right away someone on Facebook asked me, “Why you? You’re not from Woodlake?”

True enough. I had nothing!

Little by little I began to collect pictures.

nonfiction book contractI had my first opportunity to publish history, starting with four scanned photos on my way to receiving over 200 more to fill the book. Images of America: Woodlake became a community project. From having zero pictures of historical Woodlake, I collected well over the required 200 needed for the book.

nonfiction book contractPhoning strangers and asking them for their old family photos became my daily ritual. One person led to another. As my scanner droned, I took notes as my new-found best friends talked. Marcy Miller, Belen Gomez, Ernie Garcia, and Robert Edmiston drove around with me showing me how places had changed. We pieced together a gigantic puzzle of Yesteryear Woodlake, CA.

I collected documents and pictures of documents even though I could not use them in the book because of low print quality.

From knowing less than I thought I knew about my town, I became one of the experts on its history. In Woodlake I am famous.

Obstacles in Writing a Nonfiction Picture Book

Difficulties arose as I compiled the book. One person would tell me about a famous Woodlaker, but they had no pictures. I could not write about them unless I had a picture to attach. Other people gave me pictures but knew only a bit about them. People had moved away from Woodlake a generation before, and we (my sleuths and I) found them as far away as Washington! Many of my contributors became Woodlake detectives as well. Because I worked through word of mouth, many residents who had history to tell, never told it. I did not know all the people to ask. Following all the leads I received, I wrote the stories I got. The time for research and writing came to an end too quickly.

nonfiction book contractI sent my final draft in with all the pictures on Monday, December 8, 2014.

The Process from Submission to Publication

Just like the military, the process was to hurry-up-and-wait. In January 2015, Woodlakers began asking when the book would come out. I told them the publisher had said it would be published in June. June came and went with no word from the publisher. The pressure at home rose. Where was it? I began to wonder if the publisher changed its mind. No books about Woodlake had been written since the 1940s when Grace Pogue published Within the Magic Circle. Woodlakers were getting restless for the next one to come out.

By August people started asking me if I had the book.

“It’s on Amazon, Marsha. Don’t you have ANY?”

I still hadn’t heard from the publisher. I checked on Amazon, and there it was. A few days later my friend Lauri Polly brought me the copy she received in the mail from the publishing company because she was a local business. I received my first copies of the book about a week later August 17th.

The Process After Publication

Images of America Woodlake originated from the community. Without community input, the non-fiction book contract for Woodlake would still be in Ginny’s nonfiction book contract to do pile. Their families held the keys to Woodlake’s history.

nonfiction book contractAfter I had turned in the manuscript, fretting became a way of life. Information kept rolling in after the submission date. Would Woodlakers who contributed to growing the community be upset because I did not contact them? Had I made mistakes that nobody caught. (That answer is yes.) Until invitations to events started, I worried that not every picture made it into the book. 

My husband Vince and I decided to donate the proceeds from the book to the Woodlake High School Foundation where we thought it would do the most good for the community.

Soon, I started attending events all over the town, signing autographs and selling books for the Foundation. Diana Pearcy, from the Woodlake High School Foundation, asked me if it was worth the effort.

It is.

Having a nonfiction book contract fall into my lap changed my life. When I watch people at a dinner thumbing through the book, my heart swells. They find pictures of themselves and their families in a printed book. Their excitement fills the room. They became famous. They don’t know me, but suddenly they want my autograph in their book.

That was one of my dreams – to publish a book. But life has a way of giving more than you ask of it. Tonight Woodlake honors me with one of the greatest honors it bestows on a contributor to the town, Woodlake Woman of the Year. I am humbled to stand on the shoulders of the giant personalities that built and maintain this town.

Thank you lovely people of Woodlake, CA. You are my HUGE family.