This is the first in a series of posts about how I got my book deal, i.e. how Taxi Gourmet led to Driving Hungry. In Part II, I’ll write about putting together the book proposal and closing the book deal. In Part III, I’ll write about the writing/editing process. In Part IV, I’ll write about anything in this blog-to-book process I haven’t covered.
Meanwhile, if you have any questions, or any feedback based on your own experience, we’d love to read about it in the comments.
How did you find your agent?
The short answer to this question: Belief, persistence, and a willingness to eat a lot of beans. Vague, I know. And not very helpful, either. Let me explain what I mean.
About 18 months after I started my blog and the taxi adventures in Buenos Aires, Taxi Gourmet started to get some media attention.
Before that, more or less every week, I’d been hopping into cabs, asking the taxistas to take me to their favorite places to eat, and writing about it. I got some comments on my posts, but not too many. And I got a few emails from people who weren’t my Mom who liked what I was doing. But all in all, compared to the big blogs, I wasn’t getting much feedback or traffic. Still, I was having fun, becoming a better writer, and learning how to structure a story.
Writing in the Dark
After about a year and a half of taxi adventures, after an unfortunate trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet with a taxista who drove me in circles, I began to wonder if it made sense to continue with Taxi Gourmet. It would take me days to write up a single post. I still wasn’t getting much feedback, except for family and friends and a handful of loyal readers. I was starting to feel like I was writing in the dark. I didn’t know where I was heading with this project.
But then I would meet a cab driver like Walter, or stumble on a sausage sandwich stand that would have taken ages to find on my own, and I’d fall in love with my project all over again, remembering why I’d started doing the taxi adventures in the first place, realizing that I liked what they were doing to me: Every unscripted ride forced me out of my introverted shell and into a conversation with someone with whom I was unlikely to cross paths otherwise.
My first big break
In December, 2008, a journalist from La Nación, one of the Buenos Aires’ biggest newspapers, contacted me, wanting to write a story about Taxi Gourmet. Beyond a few more readers, nothing earth-shaking came of the story, though I was grateful for the exposure, and the sense of validation it brought, and I continued with the taxi adventures.
A year after the La Nación story, The Washington Post wrote about Taxi Gourmet. And Folha de Sao Paolo. And it continued to snowball: Reporters kept contacting me. And I kept saying ‘yes’. Yes, yes, yes. Literary agents and producers got in touch, too, wanting to know if I was interested in writing a book, making a TV show. Yes, yes, yes. I had visions of grandeur. I moved to New York.
And then there were beans
Once in New York, I decided to arrange my life, and other part-time jobs, around Taxi Gourmet. “No,” I explained to the New Yorkers who wanted to know if I was making a living from my taxi adventures, “It’s a passion project.”
I met with agents, and potential sponsors, even teamed up with a producer and made a TV pilot, but nothing took. No one bit. Enter austerity: When I wasn’t doing the taxi adventures, I subsisted on lentils and garbanzos.
I was still saying ‘yes’ to the reporters who contacted me, though I’d begun to lower my expectations about what might result from their stories. By now I’d been written up in The Guardian, Intelligent Life, and Bacanal — but what did all this high-powered media exposure matter? Taxi Gourmet had relatively few repeat visitors — so few that there was no chance anyone would want to advertise on my site. And considering how much buzz my project had generated, I didn’t have so many Twitter followers or Facebook fans, either.
Making like Quixote
Throughout 2009, I continued with the taxi adventures, though I was running out of money, spending more and more of my income on cab fare, unable to resist the promise of wonderful food at the cab drivers’ favorite restaurants in the outer boroughs of New York City. I still loved my project. I couldn’t help it.
At the beginning of 2010, Tasting Table, a publisher of stylish food newsletters in cities around the U.S., contacted me, wanting to do a story about Taxi Gourmet. I said ‘yes’, even though I’d never heard of Tasting Table, even though I expected little to come from sharing my story one more time.
Less than 24 hours after their newsletter went out, I got an email from a literary agent in New York: “I just wanted to write you a quick fan letter. Like many others, I’ve been following your blog with interest and have found myself wondering if you’ve ever considered writing a book…”
To be continued…