It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but I think it was a day in 2016 when the idea of writing a book popped into my head during a chat with a career coach. I was working as an engineer in oil and gas at the time, and doing a lot of engineering engagement on the side. I was speaking at schools and events, volunteering for science festivals, and writing short articles about engineering for mainstream media outlets. These two sides of my world felt very separate, but I loved them both, especially the writing. I was desperate to unite them, and writing a pop-science book about my experiences as an engineer and the energy sector seemed like a good way to achieve this.
I had no idea where to start with writing a book, so I got in touch with other engineer-authors. They were people I had met through my engineering engagement work, and some were kind enough to take the time to speak to me and share the process of pop-science writing. I was even invited to join a science writing group, where I met even more incredible science writers. Through these contacts, I learned that pop-science books are commissioned based on a book proposal. This is a lengthy document that explains what the book is, contains a full draft chapter and summarises the others, explains who the author is and why they are the right person to write the book, and assesses the market and argues why the book is different to others out there. I also learned that in general, publishers do not deal directly with authors; the selling tends to happen through agents.
My next steps were to simultaneously write a book proposal and find an agent. While it is possible to approach agents directly, I thought I’d have better chances of success if I was introduced to agents by mutual connections. It was 2018 by this point, and the first agent I was introduced to shared some example book proposals which I used as the template to write my own. This was no small task – in the end, I had a fifty-something page document detailing what my book was going to be about, why I should write it, plus the sample chapter and descriptions of the others. It took me a year to put this together, and in the end the agent did not connect with the idea, so we parted ways. Disappointing, but rejection is a very normal part of this process.
Throughout this time, I experienced lulls in my own motivation and drive. I think this was because the book was a self-imposed project I had going on the side while working full time, with no real deadlines or anyone relying on me to do it. I got around this by creating some artificial social pressure - I told everyone I met that I was trying to get a book off the ground; my logic was that next time I saw them, they would ask how the book was going, and I would want to tell them that some progress had been made. I’m not sure how conventional this method was, but it worked for me!
The rejections continued throughout 2019 and 2020. I had a couple of other names of agents, so started to contact them. The months slipped by as I got in touch, waited for a response, sent the proposal, chased for feedback, and was told no thank you. But success came a few days before the end of 2020, mid-pandemic. An agent I had been introduced to liked the proposal, and things moved extremely quickly from there.
My new agent asked me to make a few tweaks to the proposal, before sharing it with publishers. One liked it, I had a video call with them, we got along, and by March 2021 a book deal was done. At last, five years on, I could get on with the thing I wanted to do and actually write the book!