cellini's Diaryland Diary


Agents are biting.

Last night I sent out two query letters to agents. The night before I had sent one. Today I woke up to one of them, a lady who is kind of a big deal, asking to read my book.

So much for the whole, 'wait 2 to 8 weeks to hear back from an agent query.'

Not for nothing have I slogged it out as a freelance journalist for years. Querying is pretty much the same craft as pitching stories to magazine editors who have never met you. Write a subject line for the email which is pretty much the same idea as a clickbaity headline that they will want for the story. Then open with something gripping. Explain why it matters and how you are going to deliver. Close with your qualifications to write it.

This lady also wants to see a book proposal. Which is kind of annoying since I have written the whole actual book, but fine. I can do that in two or three hours tomorrow. I have notes on marketing stuff. Somehow I was on the marketing team of a NYSE traded quantum computing company for most of last year. I've worked in radio, TV, documentary film, journalism and books.

Part of my vision for the marketing of this book is, of course, doing a podcast and radio interview tour. Culinary shows, history, politics, true crime. Then I'd also like to do a series of things on camera with the six recipes that I have in the book.

The making of the actual turt1e soup could easily be an hour of content for one of a dozen food shows on streaming channels. Fuck cable, nobody is actually watching it. I could do this as an episode tacked on to a new Netflix series, or reach out to B1nging With [email protected], or a lot of other options. I have figured out the most legendary secret recipe of the 19th Century and all I need is a staff of about a dozen people and a budget of a few tens of thousands of dollars to make and film it.

Also I have their formerly secret recipes for devilled oysters, fried and stewed eels, turtle steaks, and their legendary rum punch. That is three or four more separate historic recreations to film for TV or Youtube or whatever.

So all of that is going into the book proposal. I don't think that they see that shit every day in big five proposals, and I've done enough TV and documentary film to follow through with it.

Then I have to write about why I am the guy to write this book. Which I have already written. I dunno, two other books about strange wild food under my belt, two years writing about food and weird biology for Slate, two years of features for the Washington Post, two years writing history and science for Smithsonian Magazine. Features for Thrillist investigating the origins of iconic foods. A year of working on a TV show that never got made, "F00d F1ghts," which was supposed to look at iconic foods whose origins were in doubt. R01 Ch0i was supposed to host that one, and the whole thing got fucked up the night before the pilot was supposed to be filmed. A story for another time.

Then I gotta come up with some market comps. From the last three years. Honestly, I don't know where exactly to get that market data. But one of my comps will be the TV series, "The Gilded Age," on HBO. Those fans want something to read in between episodes and seasons and I have a book with some of the same characters and settings.

So I can throw this thing together pretty quickly this weekend. I'm not going to fuss and agonize over my stupid book proposal. I know what needs to go into it, I know that I can write this better than 99% of other authors who have never worked in media and have never had to sell anything. I've been grinding it out in the trenches for years and I think that selling a book to an agent and then to an editor and then to the public is pretty similar to selling an idea for a magazine story.

It isn't really about the $20 or whatever for the price of the book. It's about whether this is worth the time that they spend reading it, and also maybe about whether saying that they have bought the book or knowing that they have bought it gives them some sense of elevation.

Chernov's book on Hamilton has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. I bet that if you put a $100 bill between pages 500 and 501 of every copy without any way of readers announcing them, 90% of those bills would still be crisply hidden for the next decade.

Not that I want my new book to sit on shelves and coffee tables unread, but selling a book has some weird dimensions.

I want to sell 100,000 copies of this book. I want to set up a readership for the sequel that I am itching to write, and I want it to be my full time job to write it, without worrying about how to pay for gas. I think that I can really do this.

3:09 a.m. - 2023-03-18


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