July 30, 2019
Note From Rochelle
I’m excited to announce that I will be teaching my class on How to Blog a Book in August. During the class, you will learn three ways to blog your book:
+Write your book by blogging regularly
+Use your existing blog to create your book
+Use blog posts to market your published book
I’m finally taking some time off. From August 1-12, I’ll be offline for my annual family staycation. I’ll be back in the office on August 13, ready to help you write your book. In the meantime, I have plenty of openings for consultations and sessions in August—so feel free to sign up:
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Richard Ratay to the blog. He’s the author of Don’t Make Me Pull Over! An Informal History of the Family Road Trip? and he talks about how he finally found his agent after sending out over 100 queries!
An Interview with Richard Ratay
By Rochelle Melander
Welcome to the blog! Can you tell us about your book, Don’t Make Me Pull Over! An Informal History of the Family Road Trip? What led you to write this book?
Absolutely. I describe my book as a “pop history memoir” because it’s a combination of fun family stories and the real history behind the Great American Road Trip Experience. One reviewer described it as the book Ralphie from the movie “A Christmas Story” would have written if he had grown up in a family that took road trips throughout the 1970s. I love that because it’s true.
The idea for the book came to me when I was on a family vacation with my own wife and kids. It got me remembering the trips I took with my parents, two older brothers and sister when I was growing up. It occurred to me what a huge impact those long hours of traveling America’s highways really had on me—for a lifetime. But I also realized how little I knew about how that experience came to be. I really had no idea how America’s roads and interstate highways came to be, how we got things like Fuzzbusters, cruise control, rest areas, drive-thru windows, or the answer to that most mystifying question of all—why our family’s Ford Country Squire station wagon had fake wood paneling on its sides. So when I returned from that family trip, I spent a year in libraries and on the internet looking for the answers. When I found them, along with so many other fascinating stories, I knew I had the stuff for a great book.
I know you queried quite a few agents before you found one. Can you talk a bit about the process of getting an agent?
Sure. In short, it was the longest, most excruciatingly soul-testing exercise I’ve ever attempted short of writing a book.
My search began in the library, poring over a dog-eared copy of the Guide to Literary Agents and compiling a list of about 50 agents I felt were right for me based on their interests and past work sold. Little did I know I should have made a longer list. Much longer. Of course, I also wrote a snappy query letter and began sending out emails, almost always with the first 40 pages of my manuscript pasted right below. (Don’t make an agent have to click on an attachment!) I promptly received back rejection after rejection, usually form emails, but occasionally one with a kind comment about the topic or my writing. Over and over again, I read the phrases “not right for my list”, “fun, but I don’t know how I would sell this” and the ever-popular “good luck!”
Soon, I found the internet was better than the library for researching agents, especially for finding young agents and those who had just changed agencies or jobs and were more likely to be open to queries from first-time authors. One great resource in particular was a regular column published at writersdigest.com featuring literary agents seeking new writers. Suddenly, I began to get many more requests for pages and my proposal.
Still, I had just about thrown in the towel after sending out my 150th query. I had basically conceded I would have to go the self-publishing route. That’s when I got the call. As they say, “All it takes is one!”
How did you stay persistent?
It wasn’t easy. But I believed in myself and what I had written. I sent an early version of my manuscript to a select group of friends, including people I knew who would be brutally honest with me, and they absolutely loved it. Every once in a while, I did need a little outside affirmation. I also happen to be married to the most supportive woman in the world. But there were some dark days in there. In the end, it took me a year of almost daily work to find an agent. If you can’t handle rejection, this is not the right gig for you.
What has been the most helpful tool or technique you’ve used to promote your book?
Honestly, I would say it’s the same persistence that I used to write a manuscript, find an agent and ultimately get my book published. These days, authors have to be self-promoters. While I owe a lot of thanks to the terrific publicist assigned to me by my publisher, I also did a ton of my own research and sent out countless emails to bloggers, podcast hosts, show producers and other influencers I thought might be interested in my book. I landed quite a few interviews and presentations entirely on my own. Also, you have to make it easy for these folks to find you. It’s essential to have a simple but compelling website that introduces you and your work.
Do you have another book in the works?
Yes, and I’m feeling guilty right now for not working on it. I don’t want to get into exactly what it’s about, but it’s another breezy non-fiction book on a topic that I think will appeal to even more readers than family road trips.
How do you fit in writing time with your day job and family time?
Well, right now, I’m not doing a very good job of it. I have a lot of interests and they all take time. But I just make writing a priority and fit it in amongst all my other activities and endeavors when I can. I have no secrets to share (at least on this subject!)
What are you reading now?
For starters, a lot of books that provide background for the one I’m about to write. I also just finished Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, a book I highly recommend, especially if the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing has sparked your interest in the heydays of America’s space program. I almost exclusively read nonfiction. I just find the weird, mysterious, crazy and little-known people and events that have actually happened so much more interesting than what somebody can dream up.
About the Author
Richard Ratay was the last of four kids raised by two mostly attentive parents in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism and has worked as an award-winning advertising copywriter for almost thirty years. His book is, Don’t Make Me Pull Over! An Informal History of the Family Road Trip? Ratay lives in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, with his wife, Terri, their two sons, and two very excitable rescue dogs.