How I got a book deal and wrote a book

seasonal plant dyes book botanical threads

Soon after sharing the exciting news that I had a book deal my inbox started to fill up with questions on how it all came about. I think lots of people assume that I’d probably written a book proposal which I’d shown to lots of different publishers in the hope that one of them would see how great my idea was and decided to go ahead and work with me...but that wasn’t the case.

Since I started Botanical Threads in 2016 I’ve kept a list of what I like to call Very Big Ideas, the sort of ideas that I know I want to pursue sometime in the future. On this list there are quite a few ideas for different books that I want to write, along with websites and companies that would aid me to publish, print and distribute them. I always assumed that I would either be turning all of my book ideas into ebooks or going down the self publishing route. 

Then at the very start of 2018 I received an email from Katherine Raderecht, a freelance brand consultant, asking if I would like to write a book for her latest client, White Owl publishers. At first I thought the email was a hoax so I checked and double checked every single point of reference in her email until I realised that it was the real deal.

After typing back an enthusiastic YES, the next stage was to write a book proposal that Katherine would then submit to the publisher for approval. This was really easy as I already had lots of book ideas - I just had to choose which one I wanted to submit. 

I spent the next couple of weeks working on my proposal, which included the idea for my book, some background on myself and Botanical Threads, images that represented the look and feel of the book, an estimate on how long it would take me to write the book, along with some facts & figures to back up why my book would sell well in the current market (I found the facts and figures part the hardest). It was only short (a couple of A4 pages) but I remember writing and rewriting it all several times as I wanted it to be perfect and was aware that this might be the only chance I got to get my book idea in front of this publisher. 

It’s only as I write this blog post that I realised what a emotional rollercoaster this time was for me. After lots of heartache and loss I was awaiting the results of some fertility testing (tests that I actually had on the same day that I received that initial email about the book deal). I also had a sneaky suspicion that I was pregnant for the 5th time and was worried that I might miscarry again. As well as that, I was about to leave my day job and take Botanical Threads full time AND we were moving house. Luckily it all worked out and baby Sebastian arrived 9 months later. 

Once my book proposal was submitted there was an anxious wait until I received the good news a couple of months later: White Owl loved my book idea and wanted to go ahead with it! 

The next couple weeks were busy with many e-introductions via email, contracts being signed and final details ironed out. It was then that I found out that the book was to be 20,000 words and that the publisher wanted me to take all the photos for the book too. At this point I remember having a bit of a wobble and freaking out about the amount I would have to write and really worrying that my photos wouldn’t be good enough. 

I gave myself until August to write the book as that allowed plenty of time before my baby was due. This meant that I had about 5 months to write the book and take all the photos, as well as dyeing all of the fabric and making the projects featured in the book. I knew it was going to be hard work but luckily I was now working on Botanical Threads full time so I could dedicate most of my time to my book. 

Having morning sickness meant that I couldn’t stand the smell of hot metal saucepans so I was forced to write all of the text of my book first and then do the plant dyeing, making and photographing parts of the book later. This actually worked really well as it gave me a few months to grow, forage (or in a few cases) purchase the dye plants needed for the book. I would have liked to either have grown or foraged all of the plants but because my book is based around seasons it meant that some of the plants just weren’t going to be available in the summer. 

A really hot summer and being pregnant (and working in the small, cramped kitchen in our new house) meant that ironically the fabric dyeing was the whole part of the process that I liked the least. My favourite parts were waddling (6 months pregnant) to a local cafe with my laptop to sit outside in the sunshine with a smoothie while I worked on my final edits. 

I forced myself to set a really strict daily structure for myself so that I would get my book written on time: I set loads alarms on my phone to notify the start and end of tea breaks and lunch breaks and put my photo onto flight mode while I worked. It’s something that I would recommend for anyone who needs to get work done for a deadline. 

Once I had finished writing my book I transferred the file along with all the photos to the publisher and breathed a big sigh of relief. After that I didn’t hear much for a few months, except when I was needed to provide a few things like the blurb and a bit of information for their files. 

At this point my book was still titled “Dyeing with Plants”, which I never intended to be the final book title as it does make the book sound a little like its full of ways to use plants in morbid ways- I just had to name the file on my computer something and then it sort of got stuck. Over a period of two or three days myself and an editor must have exchanged about 30 emails while we tried to figure out the title and subtitle. In the end we finally settled on ‘Seasonal Plant Dyes’ as the title and I’m really happy with it.

In the spring of 2019, I received the first edit of my book back. It was beautiful and looked even better than I thought it would. I loved everything about the design and I really loved the photo that they had chosen to use for the front cover. I’ve got fond memories of standing in front of my camera on self timer mode in the middle of August, wearing a too-warm jumper and trying to angle myself in such a way so that my huge baby bump was disguised. 

I had been send both a pdf version and a printed paper copy of my book and I spent a week or so going through the it, making little changes, adding things and swapping things around. So much so that by the time I was finished I don’t think there was a page that didn’t need to be amended in some way. I’m sure my editor hated me when they got the book back and saw how much I had changed.

Up until this point I was still absolutely terrified on the idea that I was going to have an Actual Paper Book. I suppose there was the worry that it would look rubbish and hat nobody would like it, but seeing the first edit back from my publish gave me my confidence back and I was starting to feel really excited about it. 

Embarrassingly I realised that I had been so busy with acutely writing the book (and then of course with the arrival of baby Seb) that I still didn’t know an exact publication date, price or format of the book. It had all been discussed a little at the time of my contract but it wasn’t set in stone. After clarifying a publication date with my publisher I had a quick look on Amazon and OHMYGOSH I could see my book! It was there! Admittedly not the correct front cover or description but I was THERE and it all felt so real (and exciting and terrifying again).

On 1st September I searched for my book again and noticed that it was live for people to buy, to preorder and knew that it was time to share it with you guys on Instagram. I do think it’s funny that nobody told me that my book was available to preorder on amazon and that I only found out by searching for it myself. From speaking to other people and the stories I’ve heard this isn’t uncommon either. There must be someone somewhere (presumably the person who submitted the book the Amazon in the first place) who gets a little notification in the inbox from Amazon to let them know, but somehow that doesn’t translate across to the author. I think it simply highlights the difference between the print and digital worlds and that they still don’t quite work together in sync yet. After all, at this stage in the book process the author still generally tends to be the main person who can get the word out about their book via social media - at least until the book goes to print and is in real life shops anyhow. 

So, as I write this I’m typing the words out into the Notes on my phone, as my baby sleeps on my lap. I do a lot of work that way these days. I received the second edit pdf from my publish last week which I now need to read over and make amendments to in the next few days. After that I will send it back to my publisher again and wait to receive the (hopefully) final version. 

Now my mind is turning to the potential sales of the book and ways to promote it and help everyone to feel as excited about it as I am. In case you don’t know, the way the majority of book contracts work is that the author receives an advances from the publisher, which is usually paid in stages from when the contract is signed to the date of publication. Once the book is published the author earns a small percentage of each book sale (royalties) but these won’t start to be paid out until the profit from the books sold covers the advance that the author was paid. Which is why preorders and those initial sales are important. If a lot of copies of a book are ordered then this means that Amazon will order more from the publisher which has the added bonus of highlighting to them that they might have a best seller on their hands and put more effort into marketing it to a wider audience. This in turn results in more copies being sold on Amazon and the cycle continues.

Going back to the title of this blog, how did I get a book deal? I think to use the word luck would be a bit flippant and disregarding of all of the hard work I’ve put into Botanical Threads, but it definitely was a case of it’s not what you know but who you know. A few years ago 91magazine got in touch and asked if I’d like to feature in their magazine. Handily for me it turned out that Katherine (who’s job it was to headhunt new authors for the publisher) knew the editor of 91magazine and had recommended me. 

So you see because if the way it came about I can’t really offer too much advice on how to approach publishers with your book idea, but I hope this blog post has been useful to you in some way to explain the process of writing a book.  I will be writing a second blog post in a few months time about what happens in the run up to a books publication date.

Thank you all for your support. If you would like to preorder my book you can do so here. If you would like an alternative to Amazon then it will be available to preorder from my publishers website from the end of October. 

alicia hall