How I Got My Book Deal

Last July, over a lovely outdoor Indian food dinner, a friend asked me to list three things I want to accomplish or experience before I die.
"Have a family," I responded after a few moments of consideration. "Publish a book, and...hmm...oh, visit all seven continents."
"All seven? Even Antarctica?"
"Yeah, even Antarctica."

At the time, I each of those things would take a number of years to progress into anything real. I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me that I'd be signing a contract with an international travel guide publisher six months later.

Let me establish this now. This blog post is not a guide with instructions or suggestions on how to get your own book deal. My situation was unusual in the publishing world, as far as I can tell. But many friends and family have asked me to tell the story, so here it is if you're curious!

In August, I was working part-time in a restaurant and was looking for some supplemental income. Truth be told, I was in kind of a dark place regarding my career. I knew I wanted to live in the gorge but wasn't sure how I was going to handle it financially, and was questioning my ability to make it work. As I combed through craigslist employment ads—an incredibly depressing and demoralizing activity—one ad in particular caught my eye when I saw the letters PCT in the title. I clicked the link, and with each sentence I read, my heart began to pound.
Avalon Travel is seeking a professional writer to write and update the Moon Pacific Crest Trail Road Trip guidebook.
"Wait, a PCT road trip?! How brilliant is that?" I muttered to myself.
The writer must be very knowledgeable about the Pacific Crest Trail, should be able to provide strategic planning advice for travelers, and should have experience writing about the PCT.
"I knowledgeable is very knowledgeable? I'm not exactly a professional writer, but I did study writing in school, and I kept a decent blog during my PCT hike..."
The guidebook will cover food, nightlife, recreation, accommodations, etc. in surrounding cities and towns in addition to day hikes on the PCT.
"Oh, I can handle that. Those are pretty much all my favorite things."

All I had to do was submit a resume, a cover letter, and some writing samples. Just like a regular job application.

I rehearsed the cover letter in my head for a few days, then typed it up at a coffee shop on Snoqualmie Pass, highlighting my experience in food tourism, the hospitality industry, and the trail itself. After pressing send and closing the laptop, I set off for a day hike along the PCT to Kendall Katwalk. "Brilliant," I thought to myself. "Good job on that cover letter. You're awesome."

Later that day, I opened the cover letter file to review my beautiful work, and discovered a fatal flaw. I'd started two sentences in a row with the same intro phrase.

Sigh. That publisher wouldn't be calling me. At least, if I were an editor, I wouldn't call me after seeing a mistake like that.

But you know what happened next. I got an interview after all. First we talked on the phone, and the conversation went really well. The editor assured me that my lack of "professional" writing experience wouldn't necessarily prevent me from getting the assignment. She asked me to describe things about the PCT that I found particularly interesting or noteworthy, and she sensed my passion for the long-distance trail that changed my life in the best ways possible. She liked me.

Next, along with a few other candidates, I was asked to submit a proposal, and I was provided with a detailed format in which to do so. I spent about 40 hours researching the trail and the surrounding areas, typing notes into a chapter-by-chapter outline, and writing up sample listings.

I submitted the proposal at 11:47pm on the day it was due, and I actually thought it kinda sucked. There I was again, thinking, "Well, I won't be getting this gig." But I was glad I tried, and grateful for the experience.

Imagine my surprise when my editor told me she loved the proposal, she wanted to move forward with it, and that my proposal was the only one she wanted to pursue. She gave me a few suggestions for updates and adjustments, and a new deadline by which to submit them.

This was getting real. I could barely believe it, and yet, I knew I needed it. I needed something this good in my professional life, something to remind me that I could have work fueled by passion for what I love. But nothing was for sure yet. At any point, the editor or the acquisitions committee could decide to pull the plug on the project.

Months had passed by now. Work at the restaurant was slow and I continued to wonder if I'd be able to make it in the beautiful place that I so deeply wanted to keep calling home.

On November 9th, I got the email.
"Your proposal has been accepted, and we definitely want to move forward with you as the new author of Moon Pacific Crest Trail Road Trip."

I literally dropped to my knees in the kitchen and started crying. I guess I was a little overwhelmed.

This April, I'll begin boots-on-the-ground research for the book, starting in Campo at the California-Mexico border and working my way north. I'll spend time in April, May, June, and July in California, then dedicate August and September to research in Oregon and Washington.

After my long distance hike, I kinda wanted to do the PCT again, but then again, maybe not. If I could somehow find a way to do it again without all the pain and suffering, and with a lot more fresh vegetables, I'd consider it. And here I am, preparing for a year of PCT road tripping. Could anything be more perfect?

Caroline HinchliffComment