It’s official: The Lost Girls have a book deal! The Girls (Amanda Pressner, Jennifer Baggett and Holly Corbett) are currently hunkered down in New York City writing and perfecting their tome for the masses.
In 2006, the Girls left their jobs, families, boyfriends, and worldly possessions behind to travel the globe on a girls getaway for a year. Their magnificent blog won the 2007 Travvies Best Group-Written Travel Blog award. They have blogged on everything from how to quit your job to travel to tips on starting a travel blog to selecting the best travel bra to interviewing each other about life on the road. The Lost Girls can do it all.
In 2007, they came home and are started putting a book proposal together. HarperCollins bought the book, a movie deal soon followed, and now the Lost Girls are working hard to get everything ready.
They were kind enough to take a few minutes to answer a few questions.
What advice do you have for a traveler who wants to get a book published?
First and foremost, know that it is possible to get a book deal. Someone has to write this generation’s incarnation of On the Road or put a cool new spin on Eat, Pray, Love—why shouldn’t it be you? The thing to keep in mind, however, is that it can take even talented writers several years before they find an agent, and a publisher, willing to take them on. Some of the most famous novelists got doors slammed in their faces (or worse, heard nothing at all) countless times before they finally convinced someone to believe in their ideas, and their talent.
Before going for the big book enchilada, we’d strongly recommend honing your voice and narrative style as much as possible by, well—writing. Keep a journal and jot down notes and ideas everywhere you go. Sign up for your own a travel blog. Contribute pieces to other well-know travel sites like Vagablogging, World Hum, or Brave New Traveler (some will actually pay you to publish your work!) Pick up a copy of the Writer’s Market to find out which travel magazines and newspapers accept queries. Learn how to write an article query by snagging a few more books from Amazon.com on the topic (there are several guides out there to help you get started) or take a class through Mediabistro (locations in cities nationwide). The point is to gain both experience—and collect the clips—that will later show an agent and publisher that you have the chops to write an entire manuscript.
One interesting thing we learned when trying to shop around The Lost Girls: agents and editors have recently been flooded with book ideas from one writer who has visited a single destination. These ideas are often discarded, because they’re not viewed as compelling, or unique enough. Our editor at Harper Collins told us that the reason they liked The Lost Girls was that it presented a unique spin on a travel tale: Three best friends from New York City, who abandoned all of the things that 20-somethings are supposed to want (stable jobs, great guys, a positive bank balance) in order to travel around the world.
Was it difficult to find an agent/publisher?
Not as difficult as we’d anticipated! We were surprised to learn that editors and agents—who receive thousands of book queries every year—actually check out popular blogs to see if they could possibly be translated into print. The reason being, if a blogger has already gained a large following online, her book might also be a popular success.
A few agents and one editor at a major publishing house stumbled across our blog while we were still traveling, and wrote to express interest. Of course, no one actually wanted to meet with us until we’d composed a polished book proposal, so the three of us holed up for an entire month at Holly’s family’s house in Syracuse to put together our 60-page document together. The whole thing sort of felt like we were cramming for a huge test or writing a group term paper—but the process was so much more enjoyable because we had each other around to take the pressure off.
Another thing we learned—writing a proposal is a little like taking the LSATs or SATs. It seems hugely daunting before you sit down to do it, but if you read a few how-guides, figure out what the people reviewing your work are looking for, it’s actually not as scary as it might seem.
Finally—anybody can write a proposal. And it’s amazing how many people you’ll find to help if you just start asking around—talk to friends, write to authors you admire, attend writing workshops. Plus, there is a tremendous number of resources online. You can sign up for an online class at Mediabistro.com to learn exactly how to write a proposal with the help of a professional. Look for agents in places such as publishersmarketplace.com.
How many queries and proposals did you have to send in order to sell your story?
We met with about five agents before we found one who “got” our quirky personalities and understood The Lost Girls’ vision. Once we signed on with an agent, he pitched it around to 18 different publishers, casting a wide net to garnet as many responses as possible. We ended up meeting with six publishers, and finally signed on with one.
Your priority should be to find the right agent—a person who you could imagine working with for years—because he or she will do most of the legwork for you. The agent will guide you toward a publisher who understands your project and agrees on how you want to market the book. We went with HarperCollins because they shared our vision for writing The Lost Girls as a memoir. Other houses wanted us to turn TLG into a how-to tale or guidebook—a setup we didn’t feel as passionate about.
Along the way, we also learned that a winning book proposal has to have a really strong sample chapter. Initially, we’d created an extensive proposal, but decided on blog entries to serve as examples of our writing. Most publishers wouldn’t even look at the proposal until we went back and penned a really solid sample chapter so they could get a sense of our voice and how it might work as a full-length book. It was an important section, because it demonstrated that we could blend our voices in a way that isn’t shown on the blog.
Is it true that The Lost Girls may become a movie?
Yes! Almost as soon as our agent had sold the book rights to The Lost Girls, he worked with the agency’s Hollywood arm to sell the movie rights as well. We knew he might do this at some point, but had no idea that it could happen so quickly.
Warner Brothers optioned to buy the movie, which basically means they have rights to The Lost Girls idea for 18 months. At 18 months they decide whether they want to keep the rights and move forward with a screenplay and producing a movie, or they can give us back the rights and we can try to resell them to another studio.
We feel that the success of films like Sex and the City and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants helped convince studios that movies about friendship (and lead by strong, likeable female characters) can do well at the box office.
Fingers crossed it’s a go!
Where do you find your “Lost Girl of the Week” for your blog?
They generally find us! We started that online feature to turn the spotlight on inspiring women we’d met on the road, or a reader with a compelling story about why she left to travel, and what she learned along the way. And since we know that women aren’t the only ones hitting the road to gain insight, we’ll occasionally feature the tale of a particularly cool Lost Guy.
We fully recognize that getting Lost isn’t a concept that applies just to us. There are young adventurers roaming every pocket of the globe and travelers who have left behind everything comforting and familiar in order to better understand themselves and the world at large. We love reading about their stories, and sharing as many of them possible on our blog—so write and let us know what you’re up to!
What are each of you up to now?
Despite our passion for full-time vagabonding, the three of us accepted desk jobs in order to restock our bank accounts (boring, but necessary!). Amanda is a nutrition editor at a health magazine, Jen does integrated marketing for an independent film/television channel, and Holly now taste-tests chocolates all day for a major candy manufacturer (well, that’s her dream job…she’s actually a freelance writer and editor for several national publications).
Recently, both Jen and Amanda approached their individual bosses about the possibility of going part time in order to focus more attention on book writing. And to their shock—both supervisors agreed to the arrangement! We’ve realized that if you put in the time and hard work to cultivate a successful career, your company/boss is generally more willing to allow time off to travel, or to rearrange your schedule to accommodate special project.
Now, all three of us spend our Fridays together at a coffee shop in Union Square, so we can make the task of book writing a collaborate process—and a fun one, at that.
Are you living in Manhattan?
Yes, Amanda and Jen both live in the Lower East Side, and Holly lives in Brooklyn.
Are you working on the book full-time or do you also have other jobs?
See question above. While we’ve received the first third of our advance (and split it by three!) we realized that we didn’t quite have enough left to quit our day jobs entirely.
Working a few days a week puts enough into our bank accounts to pay for rent and lots of caffeinated beverages while we’re writing the book.
Do you still crave a life on the road?
Absolutely. After living out of a backpack for a year, we found that we craved the stability and comforts of home. But now that we’ve been back in NYC for a while, all three of us find that we miss the freedom and ever-changing nature of life of the road.
Travel brought us rewards in the form of new friends, discoveries, and cultural experiences. It’s kind of fun never knowing where the day will take you, and we can’t wait until our next adventure.
Are there any trips in the works?
When we finished our year-long trip, we vowed to take a Lost Girls Getaway together once a year for the rest of lives. Since returning, we’ve planned a few weekend excursions together in the United States, and have traveled independently to Antarctica, Ecuador and the Bahamas. For the next six months, we’ll be staying close to home in order to write and promote the book. Once we finish the first draft of the memoir in January ’09, we’re planning to return to Argentina, the country that inspired our around-the-world adventure.