Part One: The Pitch
"Have you considered writing a book based on your excellent Heart Sisters blog? I would love to explore the possibility with you."
The date was September 9, 2015, and this was the message that was about to change the next two years of my life. It came from Jacqueline Wehmueller, then Executive Editor at Johns Hopkins University Press.
After many subsequent conversations, Jackie asked me to submit a standard proposal package including a sample chapter and a draft outline of a 10-chapter table of contents. She also sent me a multi-page author questionnaire, essentially asking "Why this book? Why now? And why are you the person to write this book?"--to which I answered (but only to myself): "Ahem. You called ME, remember?”
Another important question that Jackie and I had explored was this one: why would anybody buy a book when they could read much of the same content free on my blog?
Luckily, mine wasn’t the first blog-turned-book project that JHUP had taken on. Just a few months before Jackie approached me, JHUP had published The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year based on a popular parenting blog by research scientist and new mother Alice Callahan. Her book was already getting terrific reviews and selling well. There’s something wonderful, we agreed, about holding a real book in your hands.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Alice was soon to become an important resource.
Just preparing my package to submit to JHUP, for example, felt utterly overwhelming. Organizing ten distinct chapter themes suddenly seemed like an impossible assignment. I wondered if Alice Callahan had gone through this, too. I decided to ask her.
Her enthusiastic response reassured me that her original table of contents outline had morphed considerably once she actually began writing. Her best piece of advice: don’t ever lose your writing “voice”--the one that had first attracted JHUP attention to your blog writing in the first place.
The late author Susan Sontag once advised other writers:
“There is a great deal that either has to be given up or be taken away from you if you are going to succeed in writing a body of work.”
I'd been struggling with this reality ever since that first approach from JHUP.
As a heart attack survivor also living with the ongoing and debilitating symptoms of coronary microvascular disease, I’ve had to learn how to carefully pace each day, each event, each outing, each blog article to help minimize cardiac symptoms, buffered by naps or rest or nitro spray. Could I write an entire book while still safeguarding my health? And could I continue at the same time to produce the weekly blog articles that had attracted over 10 million views?
I’d raised these concerns during my initial discussions with Jackie. She reminded me that, with over 700 published blog articles so far, I've basically already written the book. All I needed to do now was to organize each chapter's theme to include a few paragraphs from this post, more from that post, and then write simple transitions between each excerpt. Easy peasy.
The next steps for this project were to have the draft proposal package successfully reviewed by:
- an anonymous Johns Hopkins University cardiologist (it passed!)
- the Editorial Advisory Committee (passed!)
- the Faculty Board (passed again!)
My deadline to submit a 70,000-word draft manuscript was November 1, 2016, with the final book delivery tentatively planned for about a year after that—2017 seemed so far away back then.