Good news, everyone!
I can now officially share that my debut novel DAD CAMP is getting published! It's slated to be out in summer of 2024 from Dutton — look them up, they're real! They're amazing!
It's still surreal. I honestly can't believe it. It seems like just yesterday that I sat down to write this book, blissfully unaware of what I was getting myself into, and now here we are.
But wait... how DID we get here? How did this all happen?
I love reading other people's stories of publication, querying, going on sub, etc. It helped keep me going when I was struggling through this book. So I'm going to share as much as I can about my own journey here.
In part, I want to write it down for future self while it's all fresh. If it helps motivate or inspire or just offer a welcome distraction to anyone currently going through the ups and downs, that's gravy.
So, here we go. From the top.
Writing the book
I think, at some point during the book writing process, I blacked out. It's hard to remember how I managed to start, let alone finish, this thing. There are few things more daunting in the world than a blank page. Somehow I was able to fill about 300 of them by the end.
How? And why?
I wrote a lot more about the process in this post here, but here's a short version.
I've always had a love of stories, and have wanted to write professionally for a long, long time. In my 20s, I got really into screenwriting (don't tell anyone in book-world, but movies are really my first love). I wrote a bunch of scripts — most of which weren't great, some were OK! — and I devoured everything I could about the craft. I learned the bones of good storytelling through all of that trial and error.
Eventually, I became a professional writer!
Well... copywriter. I somehow shouldered my way into a marketing career, which was very exciting at the time. Then journalism/content writing. And then blogging.
After years of that, though, I still had a creative itch that remained unscratched.
So I decided to see if I could write a book. Even if it ended up going nowhere, I'd have a finished product at the end, something I could show people and be proud of. More than anything, it was the process I wanted and needed.
Here's how it went:
- From idea to first draft took about six months (May-November 2021)
- After that, I sat on it for a month and tried not to think about it at all.
- From there, I read it through again in hard-copy. I liked a lot of what was there, but it needed a lot of work. I rewrote probably 60% of it from scratch over the next couple of months.
- In early 2022, I worked with an editor on Reedsy, who gave me an assessment to help my revise further
This was my first time writing a novel.
Though I knew storytelling well, I really had almost no idea what I was doing. I didn't have a network of beta readers or critique partners, and I was too nervous to find any via Internet strangers, so I hired one.
I had no idea what to expect. I didn't think the book was trash, though it was a possibility! And I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be the most brilliant thing this editor had ever read. But the space between those two extremes was vast and I was extremely anxious waiting for that report.
In the end, that editorial assessment was a big part of why I decided to push forward with this book. Overall, it was extremely positive (though with plenty of helpful notes), and one line that really surprised me, in the best way:
I make a point of only being realistic when I advise someone on whether they should submit what they’re working on to agents, and in your case I certainly think you should.
Coming from a pro editor who works in the industry, this was a massive, much-needed boost.
And by late February 2022, after a few more revisions, I felt I had a really strong draft on my hands!
Querying the book
It's late February of 2022, and I've been writing and revising this book for about 10 months.
I'm almost ready to send it out into the world.
Truth be told, I had been doing a TON of querying research, basically from the jump. It wasn't my initial intent, but I couldn't help myself, couldn't help but dream about what might happen with the book when I was finished.
(It also made for a fun distraction when the words just wouldn't come.)
So I had been slowly putting together a list of agents (using QueryTracker, Publisher's Marketplace, MSWL, and Twitter) that might be a good fit. My book is a little unique, genre and audience-wise, but was essentially looking for people who repped commercial or contemporary fiction.
I had also been working on the query letter for a while.
I wish I had some magical advice for writing a good query, but it just takes time and a lot of trial and error.
I'd write a draft of it, work on the book, come back and rewrite it a week later, rinse and repeat. I went through dozens of iterations and drafts, trying to get it just right.
Some helpful resources:
- Format and tips from agent Jane Friedman, for the basic nuts and bolts.
- r/PubTips on Reddit – read dozens of in-progress queries and people's feedback on them. You'll pick up on the common mistakes quickly.
- The Shit No One Tells You About Writing podcast - Two agents and an author read queries every episode and give feedback from an industry POV.
I devoured this stuff and just kept reworking it until it felt right to me. Again, I wish I could tell you I got tons of feedback on it and perfected it through peer-review, but I knew what I wanted it to sound and feel like, and I rewrote it until it did.
The one thing I did do was submit to a query letter contest held by Darling Axe editing — it was about $5 to enter and they promised a couple lines of feedback from their judges (it was the feedback I really wanted – check it out, they still run these contests).
My query got shortlisted in the contest and some very positive feedback. That was good enough for me!
I started sending out queries around mid March of 2022.
I sent a couple at a time, not true batches (as I've seen recommended before. Outdated advice IMO), but I dripped them out, and I iterated the query over time. My original query got shortened and tweaked a bit along the way.
So... you wanna see it?
I read that you’re looking for ... , so I’m hoping I can interest you in a RomCom with a parenting twist: A love story about a dad and his daughter.
DAD CAMP is a work of contemporary commercial fiction complete at 89,000 words. The book will appeal to anyone, especially parents, who grew up loving Judd Apatow-style comedies like I LOVE YOU, MAN, and wishes those movies could grow up (and have kids) like they did. It’s got humor, heart, and adult-child banter in the vein of THE GUNCLE by Steven Rowley. Here’s the pitch:
John Collins used to be, well… a person. After his daughter, Avery, was born, he gave it all up — hobbies, friends, a dream job — to be something more: A Super Dad. Since then, he’s spent nearly every waking second with Avery, who’s his absolute best bud. Or, at least, she was.
When now 11-year-old Avery begins transforming into an eye-rolling, zombie of a preteen who dreads spending time with him, a desperate John whisks her away for a weeklong Daddy-Daughter retreat. Bunking in cabins with other dads and their girls, archery, showering in Crocs — it’s exactly what John thinks he and Avery need to get their relationship back on track.
Still, even in the serene setting of a remote summer camp, John’s attempts to bond only drive his daughter further away. After he accidentally humiliates her during a game of Capture the Flag, Avery holes herself away in her cabin and refuses to come out for the rest of the trip. With camp, and summer break, slipping away fast, John’s determined to fix things with Avery before she starts middle school and permanently demotes him to Embarrassing Father Who Must Be Avoided At All Costs. But his instincts tell him Avery’s hiding something more than just preteen angst.
As for me, I’m a dad to two girls (6 and 1.5) and a writer. I run a parenting blog called XXX and my work has been published in places like Parents Magazine, AskMen, Mindbodygreen, Upworthy, and more. I wrote most of this book during the height of the pandemic when I was absolutely sick to death of my kids, and hating myself for feeling that way. But I do love them deeply, I swear.
That's more or less the query's final form.
So... how did it do?
Full Querying Stats and Timeline to Agent Offer(s)
Querying is really rough.
There are SO many factors that can affect your experience. Some of them, you control — your book's concept, genre, query, quality of opening pages/chapters.
A lot of them, you don't — timing, taste, luck.
I think my experience querying was sort of middle of the road, at least early on. I wasn't getting bombarded with requests, but I wasn't totally striking out either. The query was good — I liked it anyway! But the concept and writing style just weren't going to be the right fit for everyone.
Let's just look at the stats and timeline:
- First queries sent: 3/10/2022
- First rejection: 3/11/2022
- First full request: 5/3/2022 — this is almost two months of silence and rejection!
- Total queries sent: 44
- Query rejections: 21
- No response: 15
- Full requests: 8*
Things got interesting on 5/28 – an agent who had requested my full manuscript wrote back and said he was interested in chatting further about the project on a Zoom call.
Cue screaming. I was sitting at the pool and just about spat out my High Noon when I got the email. At this point, I had received a few full requests that led to passes. Those were heartbreaking, but again — it's not the right book for everyone, it can't be. By now, though, my expectations had been tempered and I hadn't been expecting this kind of email to come through. But here it was.
So we meet a few days later. We talk. He gets the book, gets what I want to do. He wants to take it on. I am extremely nervous and probably visibly shaking on camera. But whatever.
I've got my Yes. End of story. Right?
The protocol here is usually to follow up with all of the other agents who haven't gotten back to you yet. You can either withdraw from their consideration, or you can "nudge," telling them you have an offer of representation and you'd like a decision so you can get back to the offering agent.
I decided to take two weeks (which is standard) and send around nudges. I didn't really expect these notes to move the needle at all, but in a day or two I received a relative flurry of new requests to read before the deadline.
*Four more, to be exact! Including a few agents I had queried way, way in the beginning.
(I also got some of the NICEST passes and step-asides I've ever seen in my life around this stage. Writers, agents really are rooting for you! Here's one email I really liked from someone that ended up reading the whole manuscript...)
There was even a last, last second email from one of the very first agents I reached out to. She wanted to know if there was still time to read. It was Friday afternoon and I had promised the offering agent a response by Wednesday. I said Yes, there was still time, and fired off the manuscript. She promised to get back to me on Monday.
The next couple of days were a bit of a whirlwind.
I got two relatively quick passes. Kind, complimentary, "good luck and congratulations but it's not for me."
One agent hung around until the very last possible second before ultimately, reluctantly passing.
And the other, she emailed me Monday (as promised), writing that she loved the story and wanted to chat further if there was time.
We set up a meeting and completely hit it off. She was SO enthusiastic about the story, had concrete ideas about where it could be improved, had given a lot of thought to how it would be marketed and positioned, and to boot, had a fantastic track record at a terrific agency.
It pained me to decline the first offer of rep, the first person to be willing to take a chance on me and this story, but to me the choice was extremely clear.
And that's how I ended up accepting the offer and being represented by the amazing Andrea Blatt at WME!
One offer was a dream come true. Two would have been absolutely unfathomable at the beginning of all this. But I knew I was in the best hands possible going into the next phase of the journey.
Going on Submission
As much as I wanted to shout about this huge milestone from the rooftops, we ended up deciding to keep things relatively quiet while we got the book into submission shape.
So, after celebrating with the wife and kids, it was back to work on the book!
We got cracking on edits relatively right away (in June 2022), and went through a medium-sized revision and then a couple more small tweaks.
By October 2022, we were about ready to go out on sub.
We had a phone call to talk about strategy and it was here that my agent mentioned she knew an editor she thought would be just about perfect for this book.
A really talented editor who loves heart-warming stories like mine and has done amazing work with books that don't fit neatly into a traditional genre box, again, like mine. The question was — would I want to send it out in an exclusive?
We talked about some of the pros and cons of an exclusive versus sending out to a "round" of editors, and in the end, that's what we decided to do.
First submission sent (exclusive) - 10/12/22
Within just a few days, we had an inkling of positive feedback and a promise that the editor would be back to us by the one-week mark. I had heard stories of people being on submission and hearing nothing at all for months at a time, so I was floored. Whatever happened, I wasn't going to have to wait long.
The day we were supposed to hear back came and went, to my dismay, with no word. Of course, a week is REALLY fast so I figured it was a strong possibility the editor would need a little more time. No big deal.
In the morning, I woke up to an email from my agent, who had forwarded me a late night message from the editor. She loved the book, had sent it around to some readers on her team, and wanted to chat about it.
OK, NOW I'm screaming.
My agent says that, obviously, this is a good sign. Just be friendly and collaborative and be ready to talk about the book, that's all! We set a meeting for first thing Monday morning. The night before, I struggle to get to sleep, my mind spinning with all of the possible outcomes, everything that's about to unfold (or not).
The meeting is great. If possible, I'm even more nervous than I was when meeting with agents, but it's still so much fun. The editor is so friendly and puts me at ease right away — and it's so wonderful to hear a ton of nice things about the book, brainstorm on a few areas where it could be strengthened, how it could be marketed and to who, what the publishing house can bring to the table, all of it.
After the call, we're told we'll hear back in a few days.
I'm so unbelievably excited at this point, convinced this editor and this publisher are 100% the right fit for me and this book. Not getting an offer would be a major heartbreak, though of course, if we don't, my agent reminds me that we still have a whole submission list to turn to.
Now it's Tuesday, and the new word is we'll hear something by end of day Thursday. And then, just a few short hours later...
My phone rings. It's my agent, calling relatively out of the blue. I know it's the offer we've been waiting for...
And it is! We've got our offer, not even two weeks after sending out our first (and only) submission.
The official offer came in at about 4:30 or 5pm on Tuesday afternoon — so pretty late in the day. Though the champagne was ready and calling to me from the fridge, I slept on it. From the initial meeting though, there was no doubt in my mind that Dutton was the right home for my book, so I was absolutely ecstatic to accept the offer the very next day.
And that's how DAD CAMP wound up with the incredible Cassidy Sachs at Dutton!
What's Next for DAD CAMP?
I put the first words of this novel down on paper in May of 2021.
I began working with my literary agent on June 15, 2022.
I agreed to terms on the book deal on October 26, 2022.
If my math is right (*checks the abacus*) that's about 17 months between starting the book and selling it, an unbelievable, dream-like whirlwind. It couldn't have gone any better if I'd made this all up, crafting all the outcomes and timelines into a best-case, fantasy scenario.
But here it is. It's all real, somehow.
(There will be plenty of chances for this, but I wouldn't feel right talking about any of this without a HUGE thank you to my agent, Andrea, who is an absolute superstar — and a massive dose of gratefulness to my editor, Cassidy, for taking a chance on me and this story.)
I just hope I'm up to the challenge, that I can make the most of this incredible opportunity. Because as much as I love this book and this story, I stumbled into a whole lot of good fortune along the way for all of this to happen. It doesn't usually happen like this for most writers! I'm keenly aware of that, of how lucky I am.
My biggest goal in all that's to come is to enjoy the moments and the process and the journey as much as I possibly can.
So... what's next?
First things first... the book can still be strengthened in certain areas to make it pub-ready. So that's the first step – working through more revisions with my editor over the next several months.
At some point, the really fun stuff will come. Cover reveals! Film options! Translation deals! Marketing and PR!
But for now, yet again, it's back to work on the book. That's what I signed up for, right?!