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How to Blog Your Way to a Nonfiction Book Contract

What Would You Do with an Email about a Possible Nonfiction Book Contract?

Who knows why I didn’t delete Ginny’s email on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. She asked me if I wanted a nonfiction book contract to write a book about Woodlake, CA. It sounded like a spam email. Did I want to write a nonfiction book? Did I want a successful blog? Did I want 1,000 more readers each month? Did I want to make $100,000  a year with my blog the first year?

Come on! Really?

Everyone Has Advice for New Bloggers – Even Publishers

After two years of blogging, I had received hundreds of email offers to make me a better blogger, writer, and social media queen. It was offer overload. I nearly deleted Ginny’s email asking me if I wanted to nonfiction book contract to write about Woodlake.

My name is Ginny and I am the California acquisitions editor for Arcadia Publishing. We publish local or regional pictorial history books as part of our Images of America series. I’m interested in starting a similar project about Woodlake and came across your blog while researching potential authors. You’ve got a great style and voice and your experience and knowledge of the area would make you an excellent candidate to author the book. Is this something you might be interested in?

Most people would say, “Yeah sure,” and be done with it. I fell for it almost as hard as I did for my first my spammer compliment on WP. She sent some attachments about the company, so I wrote her back.

Hi Ginny,

That would be so fun! Let me look this over, and I’d love to talk to you!

And my friends say I’m shallow!!! haha

How DID someone from South Carolina find me in Woodlake, CA?  Why did she ask ME to write a nonfiction book about the history of the small rodeo town?

Woodlake and I had only a short history. I grew up in Indianapolis, IN, then moved Portland, OR. After I had married, my husband changed jobs which took us to Cottage Grove OR. His school necessitated going to Colorado Springs, CO. When he started pastoring; we relocated to a tiny unincorporated area called Ivanhoe. For a long time, we lived Visalia, the largest town in Tulare County.  Sixteen years ago my second husband and I ended up in Woodlake.

non-fiction book contract

On October 31, 2015, Morris and Leroy Bennett (center) and Virginia Taylor (not pictured) retired from Woodlake Hardware.

How A Publisher from South Carolina Found Me

In 2014 blogging had been a two-year long retirement experiment. One day my neighbor Gary Davis came over, and we started talking about Woodlake and his long association with it. (His great-grandfather was the first white resident of the area.)

As a history consultant, my ears perked up. He brought me pictures. He sent me to the town’s oldest business, Woodlake Hardware. The owner was over 90 and still worked every day. The perfect story dropped in my lap.

The Process from Unpublished  to Under Contract

Ginny called me the day after she emailed me. She had read a post I wrote about Woodlake Hardware. Just as I had, she fell for Morris Bennett, 92 and still working daily in his store, where he had been employed since graduation in 1940. (Pictured above the day after Morris, his son and daughter retired.) Ginny gave me a six-day deadline to complete a 10-page proposal including a book outline with 10-20 sample pictures and captions. Only she forgot to send me the proposal form! On Monday, June 2 she wrote,

Hi Marsha!

I just realized I had not gotten the proposal to you last week as promised! It is attached to this email. The most important sections are the Author Information, Book Information, and Schedule – everything else can come later (including sample images/captions). Please let me know if you have any questions! I look forward to speaking to you soon!

The due date for the nonfiction book contract was still Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Among other details, the project application asked about my background, community involvement, businesses that might carry the book, and dates that might affect the release of the book. Woah! Intensive! I guessed a lot! So I sent her one of Gary’s pictures and wrote a caption for it. I wrote a 200 word summary of what I thought I might write in this imagined book and spent the rest of the day completing the nonfiction book contract.

non-fiction book contract

Gary Davis and his grandfather Images of America Woodlake p. 92

I made my June 4th deadline. On June 12, 2014, I received this reply along with 450 more words and two attachments of instructions.

Hi Marsha,

I hope you are doing well! I am pleased to inform you that your proposal,Woodlake, has been approved. I am delighted to have this opportunity to work with you in adding Woodlake to our Images of America series!

The Process from Under Contract to Manuscript Submission

Right away someone on Facebook asked me, “Why you? You’re not from Woodlake?”

True enough. I had nothing!

Little by little I began to collect pictures.

nonfiction book contractI had my first opportunity to publish history, starting with four scanned photos on my way to receiving over 200 more to fill the book. Images of America: Woodlake became a community project. From having zero pictures of historical Woodlake, I collected well over the required 200 needed for the book.

nonfiction book contractPhoning strangers and asking them for their old family photos became my daily ritual. One person led to another. As my scanner droned, I took notes as my new-found best friends talked. Marcy Miller, Belen Gomez, Ernie Garcia, and Robert Edmiston drove around with me showing me how places had changed. We pieced together a gigantic puzzle of Yesteryear Woodlake, CA.

I collected documents and pictures of documents even though I could not use them in the book because of low print quality.

From knowing less than I thought I knew about my town, I became one of the experts on its history. In Woodlake I am famous.

Obstacles in Writing a Nonfiction Picture Book

Difficulties arose as I compiled the book. One person would tell me about a famous Woodlaker, but they had no pictures. I could not write about them unless I had a picture to attach. Other people gave me pictures but knew only a bit about them. People had moved away from Woodlake a generation before, and we (my sleuths and I) found them as far away as Washington! Many of my contributors became Woodlake detectives as well. Because I worked through word of mouth, many residents who had history to tell, never told it. I did not know all the people to ask. Following all the leads I received, I wrote the stories I got. The time for research and writing came to an end too quickly.

nonfiction book contractI sent my final draft in with all the pictures on Monday, December 8, 2014.

The Process from Submission to Publication

Just like the military, the process was to hurry-up-and-wait. In January 2015, Woodlakers began asking when the book would come out. I told them the publisher had said it would be published in June. June came and went with no word from the publisher. The pressure at home rose. Where was it? I began to wonder if the publisher changed its mind. No books about Woodlake had been written since the 1940s when Grace Pogue published Within the Magic Circle. Woodlakers were getting restless for the next one to come out.

By August people started asking me if I had the book.

“It’s on Amazon, Marsha. Don’t you have ANY?”

I still hadn’t heard from the publisher. I checked on Amazon, and there it was. A few days later my friend Lauri Polly brought me the copy she received in the mail from the publishing company because she was a local business. I received my first copies of the book about a week later August 17th.

The Process After Publication

Images of America Woodlake originated from the community. Without community input, the non-fiction book contract for Woodlake would still be in Ginny’s nonfiction book contract to do pile. Their families held the keys to Woodlake’s history.

nonfiction book contractAfter I had turned in the manuscript, fretting became a way of life. Information kept rolling in after the submission date. Would Woodlakers who contributed to growing the community be upset because I did not contact them? Had I made mistakes that nobody caught. (That answer is yes.) Until invitations to events started, I worried that not every picture made it into the book. 

My husband Vince and I decided to donate the proceeds from the book to the Woodlake High School Foundation where we thought it would do the most good for the community.

Soon, I started attending events all over the town, signing autographs and selling books for the Foundation. Diana Pearcy, from the Woodlake High School Foundation, asked me if it was worth the effort.

It is.

Having a nonfiction book contract fall into my lap changed my life. When I watch people at a dinner thumbing through the book, my heart swells. They find pictures of themselves and their families in a printed book. Their excitement fills the room. They became famous. They don’t know me, but suddenly they want my autograph in their book.

That was one of my dreams – to publish a book. But life has a way of giving more than you ask of it. Tonight Woodlake honors me with one of the greatest honors it bestows on a contributor to the town, Woodlake Woman of the Year. I am humbled to stand on the shoulders of the giant personalities that built and maintain this town.

Thank you lovely people of Woodlake, CA. You are my HUGE family.


37 replies »

  1. We can keep the chats going across the board Marsha, and it means a lot to have connected with you and to have your wonderful support…I feel like we could chat for hours! 🙂


  2. Haha…indeed! And how very chic they always looked too! Great chatting with you Marsha…although, again, I can only apologise for yet another long gap in my replies, I’ve only just caught your comments this morning…some 10 days later. WP must be up to something again…grrrr… always blame WP, right? 😉


    • Spring is still a bit chilly! 🙂 When I first got my first convertible I drove it to my college class in Fresno. I had not figured in the effect of convertible hair. I have thin hair that stuck straight out from my head in all directions, and no comb would tame it. I walked into class and attracted bit of attention. Finally one wise guy said, “New convertible?”


  3. Wow, I had no idea there was an Exeter in California, in all the years I lived there! Where I live now with my hubby in the West Country of England in Somerset, we have our own Exeter an hour away!! Oh I love those Sequoias, what a delightful town Woodlake sounds. I wonder if we might have gone by it when we used to go camping in the National Forest? Oh my gosh, small world! We started off in Los Osos in San Luis Obispo county, so I know Avila very well, just beautiful and how wonderful you have a timeshare there! Then we moved a little further inland to Paso Robles where we lived for 10 years before I returned to England in 2003. Oh Marsha, I love the country there…California Big Country calls to my heart still and always will. I love the coast too, but could never afford to return there. Now I have my English countryside and the coast nearby – 30 minutes away – if I need my fix! But growing up on an island does that to you, ha! A lot of the coastline here down by Cornwall and up along Wales is quite similar to the Pacific coastline, driving up along the Pacific Coast Highway up to Cambria and Big Sur to Monterey and beyond, oh I used to think of home so much but also loved living there and now I long to return oneday and take hubby along that very same drive!


    • It’s a gorgeous drive. We had a convertible for a while. A group of us took a trip over to the coast to drive along the highway in our convertibles. Brrrr! Fortunately we had seat warmers! It wasn’t summer. 🙂


  4. Wow Marsha, what an incredible and amazing story! I found this post when I signed up to follow you on Twitter (I’m not very good with Twitter, so I’m not on there too much!) and I just had to click over…so glad I did, you had me captivated from beginning to end! As I plod on with my memoir revisions (4 years coming up, the same time I’ve been blogging…), I take great inspiration from you to keep going because you never know who is reading and who might find something you’ve written, just one small thing, will open a door so wide you wonder why you never saw it before! I’m so glad to meet you via our lovely friend Debby. I also feel a connection with you because as a Brit, I lived in California for almost 20 years, raising my children on the Central Coast. Their father (my ex-husband) worked in Visalia for a time, but I’ve never heard of Woodlake. Many congratulations on your award dinner, and on your new title, richly deserved. Love this post! 🙂


    • Thank you so much, Sherri. Woodlake is 19 miles northeast of Visalia up Highway 198, then left instead of right to go to Exeter. It is the back way to the Sequoias. We love the Central Coast. It’s been calling my name since My first husband and I moved here over thirty years ago, but our work and friends and the price at the coast kept us here. We bought a timeshare near Avila. My second husband and I love where I live in the country. We could not replicate what we have here for over a million dollars on the coast, and it is very reasonable to live here. Where did you live on the Central Coast?


  5. Welcome, Marsha. I knew Sally wouldn’t want to miss this post. When we put our best into the world, the universe bestows her blessings on us. I have experienced this as well. How fortunate we are… ♥


    • That’s how I feel. When we are in the gloomy times, we think we will never see the end of them. Then the clouds part and the sun blazes through lighting up and warming our lives as though the clouds had never been there. But they were and the sky is cleaner and bluer because they had been there not to long before the sun came out. 🙂 That is my life. 🙂


  6. Wow Marsha! What a fantastic story! What a serendipitous opportunity, and they surely called upon the right person to do that book. You are a wealth of information and know how to search sources well. Congratulations my friend. 🙂 ❤


    • Sally, thank you so much! I am so highly honored once again. My life is so full. The experience of blogging has made such an impact in my world, including my small community. I wish you could all meet the wonderful people in my community because you are all so caring and supportive of each other. It is what makes a community great. I am privileged to belong to two distinctly wonderful and amazing communities that have collided and become aware of each other.


    • Ok, thank you for asking Sally to come read my post. How kind of you! Life’s bounty has opened up and spilled on me. Goodness over and over. Heaped on me hundreds of kind and loving friends. There is no greater joy or wealth than for people to rejoice with you when you rejoice and cry when you cry. I have had the privilege of having both. God has blessed me greatly sending friends like you.


  7. That is a wonderful story in itself! Almost serendipitous! If only that would happen to me. A blogger friend and myself are considering a book project but I really don’t know much about approaching publishers.


    • It is an amazing honor. She just happened to be looking for small towns in CA and AZ. Not much ever pops up about Woodlake, so I was one of one writing about it, I guess. hehehe That’s one thing writers need to remember, a no from a publisher doesn’t necessarily mean the writing is bad. I could just mean that it isn’t the publisher’s focus.

      These days, there are many ways to publish a book yourself. Even with the book publisher I had, there was a lot to do. They sent a template, and gave a lot of direction, but I had to do some of the basic layout, much of the proofreading, all the writing. They had strict quality control of the pictures. But the experience of working with a publisher taught me so much. I later published one book through Lulu Press which I give away to anyone who signs up for my mailing list.

      I’ve been told that Amazon has a good program as well for independent writers who want to self-publish. A friend of mine used to hire a person who designed the book cover.

      The important thing is that indie writers, all writers, need help with editing and layout from a professional, in my opinion. Even on a simple blog post, I miss details, facts, and errors. It’s a hard pill to swallow, to realize that your writing is imperfect, even when you do your best work. But once you face the fact that you need the medicine (a second or third set of eyes), you can concentrate on writing and let the ego go. I say all that to say, there are other routes to consider, and never give up. If you want to write a book, go for it! 🙂


    • Yeah. I think I’ll put together an interview sheet as I move forward with the project. 🙂 If you notice any blogs that mention how their lives have changed since they started blogging, those are the folks I’m looking to find. 🙂


  8. “Congratulations” seems a meager accolade for what I can only imagine you are feeling right now, Marsha. Wow! Geez! or Holy cow! might be more fitting. This is utterly amazing. An experience I had that doesn’t even come close to matching yours was when an author’s agent contacted me to review the author’s book, because the content on my website indicated I was of a similar mindset. I read the book over one long night of sitting with a dying friend. The author’s agent was right. The book had such an impact on me that my review of it was the longest I’ve ever written. And the messages in the book were exactly what I needed to receive as I dealt with my friend’s impending death. The universe always seems to know what we need and when we need it. I can’t tell you how deeply I share your profound satisfaction. Hugs, dear friend ?


    • Tina, what a lovely compliment to write. You made my day. I am so sorry about your friend. It is so hard to lose a close friend – anybody, but the friends we have lost changed our daily lives because we had spent so much time together. Then they dynamics of the group changes. That is quite a compliment whenever anyone from the universe reads our blog and connects with us and it impacts our life. I would love to use your story in my book, Because of Blogging, if I could. 🙂


  9. I had read this post earlier and comments weren’t working (on my end in WordPress). Great job on taking the plunge and having faith! Congrats to you for your Woman of the Year award on Friday! Hope all is well with you 🙂


    • Thank you. I rewrote the post and the other one must have been scheduled to post via Buffer. I deleted it so that I don’t have two of them. I did not have many or any comments on the other post, but it was one of the first ones that I wrote on this blog. Do you have time to chat this week? If so give me a call some time. 🙂


    • Thanks, Dianne. The Awards Ceremony, which followed last night was fabulous. It’s a small town. About 300 people came, and the award winners were so much fun! One opened his notes, looked up and said, “Thank you.” The emcee looked at the notes left on the podium and said, “Yep, that’s what he wrote, ‘Thank you.'” I love Woodlake. 🙂


    • It was so much fun. My friend Elane, the Holocaust survivor, came. She received almost as much attention as I did. I used to take her all over the county to speak to schools. Many of the people in the room had heard her and came up and talked to her. I was a little long winded because I wanted to give credit to so many people. The emcee had to shut me up and I forgot to thank Vincie, who had gotten up to go to the bathroom, and was MIA. Out of sight out of mind when you’re in front of people and your mind is mush! His son said, “You did not even read your notes!” (Which they had gone back to bring me, and had Vincie listed #1.) I forgot I can’t read when I’m in front of a crowd. 🙂 One guy got up and said, “My wife told me I should have prepared something. I guess I should have listened to her.” He went on to deliver the funniest speech of the evening. It was just glorious all the way around.


    • It was so much fun, Helen. Woodlake is the most marvelous place in the world. The people are humble, hardworking, smart, and some are hilarious. We all had a fun time. And no foul-ups. Everyone got the awards they were supposed to get. Woodlake doesn’t surprise anyone. They tell the award winners, so they can invite their friends and family. In my case, mostly friends since my family is so small. You would have had a great time even though you did not know anyone. It’s that friendly! 🙂





Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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