I still can’t believe I have a book coming out. Even writing the subject line of this blog post made me laugh out loud alone in my house. Yeah right, self. A book? GOOD ONE. This whole experience is in the same category for me of a weird dream I had last night where a really mean, seemingly untrained nurse took my blood, but I couldn’t call my brother to tell him about it because he was busy taking all our dogs to a movie theater for his dog’s birthday*. By that I mean this all feels kind of real, but kind of bonkers.
But unlike the dream I had last night, my dream of writing and releasing book is very, very, real. It’s happening, y’all.
Since I started writing as Love, Teach, I’ve been taking other people on this journey with me. I’ve taken you into my classroom, into my life as a teacher, into my home (I’m looking at you, macaroni and cheese in fine china) and my heart (the saga of my poor kitty, Hugo). What I want to do in this post is take you on my journey as a writer of this book—how I got here, what it’s about, how much coffee I drank, and exactly which bad words I said when I accidentally deleted a whole chapter in a crowded coffee shop. (Just kidding with that last one–I will not tell you what I said in that coffee shop because my grandma will read this.)
So, *cracks knuckles* let’s start at the very beginning.
One day in 2014—three years into teaching and blogging—I was hanging out with my good friend Alison when she mentioned that she had applied to grad school programs in creative writing. Her top choice was Vermont College of Fine Arts, which has a low-residency program that meets four weeks out of the year—two in winter break and two in summer—and she encouraged me to apply with her. I knew three things: 1. Alison is really fun to be around, 2. I liked writing a lot and wanted to get better at it for blogging purposes, and 3. I knew that having a master’s degree would boost my salary however infinitesimally. Also Vermont! Snow!
Once we got into the program, though, I felt really overwhelmed. Everyone seemed smarter and more well-read than me, AND nearly all the other students were already working on larger pieces such as novel manuscripts or essay collections, where my goal was just, “Making my writing better, I guess?” Blogging seemed kind of frowned upon (I was afraid that I wouldn’t be seen as “literary” enough) so I didn’t tell many people at VCFA about Love, Teach, including my professors. A note on this choice: as much as I advocate always being one’s self, I think not writing about teaching was the right move. I became a better writer by reading and writing way beyond my comfort zone, from World War I poetry to dervish essays to lyrical fiction. By my final semester two years later in January of 2016, I no longer felt like I didn’t belong—I felt like a writer.
Even so, I still didn’t have a “direction” for my writing. I knew I loved making people laugh, but I was learning that it wasn’t enough just to be funny—there needed to be substance behind it. The reason that David Sedaris’s book made me laugh uncontrollably on a plane was not just because he was funny, but because his funny stories were paired with experiences of rejection and loss. “What on earth do I have to write about that is funny, crazy-important to me, and has its moments of darkness and despair?” I wondered as I continued to teach middle school full-time (are you sensing my sarcasm here? Good.)
Every graduating student at VCFA has to do a fifteen-minute reading of one of their pieces, and after I read mine—a fictionalized version of a real dream I had in which my American Girl doll from childhood and I got dim sum—a faculty member I looked up to a lot approached me and said how impressed she was with my writing.
“What kind of project are you working on?” she asked, referring to a book of some kind.
“Oh, no, I’m not really working on anything,” I said. She frowned.
“You’re not working on a memoir or an essay collection?”
“I don’t feel like I have anything to write about,” I whispered, feeling very uncomfortable that I was making an authority figure frown.
She paused for a few moments.
“What is the most important thing you have to say?”
I just stared.
“Write that,” she said, and walked away like a mysterious sage.
The next day on the plane ride from Montpelier back to Houston, I opened my laptop, and, as if in a trance, began typing out the first version of what would later become my book, Love, Teach: Very Real Stories and Honest Advice to Keep Teachers From Crying Under Their Desks. I knew—and I think a part of me had known for a long time—that the most important thing I had to say was the undercurrent of what I’d been blogging for years here, under the persona Love, Teach: that the fight for education is worth it, that we have to speak honestly as educators, and that teachers, students, and everyone in this system deserves better.
So then it turned into a book! Ta-da! Just kidding.
First, I realized that if I wanted a publisher to buy my book, I would have to get an agent who had access to those publishers. Then I learned that in order to get a good agent, I would need a strong query letter (that is, a letter introducing myself and convincing an agent to represent me and my project) and a proposal (that is, a more detailed plan of my book including sample chapters).
That process went a little like this.
- Wrote a really good query letter and a really terrible proposal.
- Sent query letters out to random agents after googling “top literary agencies.”
- Got lots of interest in my query letter, but all flat-out rejections of my proposal. Was so perplexed!
- Talked to Roxanna Elden, another teacher-author, after we both interviewed with NPR about DEVOLSON. She graciously shared with me in so many words that my proposal would need to be way, way, way better.
- Bought books on proposals. Studied successful proposals. Poured all my energy into making my proposal as perfect as possible.
- Rewrote a much better proposal (#2). Pitched my query letter to several new agents that also had impressive bestsellers.
- Got more rejections, but some of these agents sent me little nuggets of wisdom in their reasons for rejecting my project.
- Rewrote my proposal again based on agents’ feedback (#3).
- Pitched to an agent of a very famous author who took the time to write a very detailed response about why she was rejecting me, including that she loved my blog but hated my proposal, and if I was going to get anyone to bite, I needed my personality to come through in my actual proposal as much as it did in my writing.
- Rewrote my proposal again (#4) completely from scratch.
- Decided to not look for agents randomly, but by picking people I would want to be friends with and who might value the same things as me. I looked up Twitter presences. I looked up Spotify accounts. I scoured agent bios. I looked through their trash cans (just kidding).
- The next agent I pitched to loved my proposal and sent me a contract!
I write all this out instead of summarizing it because if you or your students ever want to write, it is so important to know how much rejection is in the process! IT IS EVERYWHERE. You have to be able to embrace critical feedback—both hearing it and using it.
My agent and I worked on polishing up my proposal, and from there she sent it to several people she knew at top tier publishers, and I was lucky enough to get multiple offers. I talked to several amazing editors at various publishing houses, but instantly felt at home with my (darling, wonderful, magician) editor and team at Penguin Random House. They bought my book, and I lost my mind for the next 48 hours.
This next part of the process I will summarize for you, because it was very long:
- I wrote a book.
- I sent it to my editor.
- She sent it back with notes.
- Repeat many times over three years.
- End with a finished product I’m so, so, so proud of.
Lots of feedback. Lots of edits. Lots of caffeine. Lots of crazed laughter at 2 AM reading repeated comments from my sweet editor saying, “Hmm. Not sure this metaphor is working.” (She was right every time, by the way.)
I cannot wait to share this book with you. But before I tell you what it is, let me first tell you what it is not:
- A sugar-coated advice book on how teaching is always awesome and I did it perfectly, and here’s how you, too, can be perfect!!!
- A professional reference text that tends to neglect the underlying systemic issues that make teaching so hard
- Written by someone who was a new teacher 40 billion years ago and is convinced their advice is still relevant
- A murder mystery (although I love a good true crime story)
What this book IS:
- Part memoir, part advice, part critique (of systems and of people in charge of decisions about education who have never taught a day in their lives), and part confessional
- The closest I could get to a three-hour teacher coffee date/happy hour with you followed by a huge hug in book version
- The reply I wish I could provide when a teacher emails me asking for advice on any range of topics
- Stories from my experience that say “You’re not alone” and honest, semi-professional advice that says “You’re not powerless.”
Though the advice part is geared toward newer teachers, the stories can be enjoyed by anyone. There’s a haiku that will make you gasp, a story that will make you cry, and some interview vignettes that will make you very, very glad you’re not me. Parrots are involved. And no, that’s not a typo for “parents.” Parrots. The birds.
And here’s something very real: it feels like we wrote this book together. I would be nothing without the Love, Teach community. I can’t tell you how many times I struggled over a sentence or paragraph and thought, How would a reader encourage me to say this? You have made me a writer, clearly, but also a better teacher and a better leader. I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but your feedback and encouragement over the past ten years are why I believe in my own voice. I’m indebted to you for that.
And now… it’s your turn to read it.
Friends, I’m so honored to share my book with you. You can pre-order it for yourself or a teacher you love by clicking through this link which will take you to a bunch of different vendors.
Once you’ve pre-ordered, please do me a huge favor and:
- Pour yourself a glass or mug of something you love to drink
- Cuddle up on the couch with a blanket, animal(s), or human
- Take a giant deep breath and relax. Now we’re doing the exact same thing. It’s like we’re hanging out!
Are you ready for all of this? I am. I think. But only if you’re with me.
*This particular dream brought to you by allergy medicine + max level exhaustion from hiking
P.S. Here is just a smattering of failed promotional pictures I took before eventually settling on my featured image. What can I say? We tried.