Thursday, June 16, 2005

Towers of Gold

For the last two months I’ve been keeping a secret. It’s been tough to be quiet, but necessary, since I couldn’t be sure if negotiations would turn out smoothly. They have and I am happy to announce that I have sold my book.

Wait. I am going to try that again. I HAVE SOLD MY BOOK.

Wait again. Not good enough. I have sold my book.

One more try:

I have sold my book!!!!

You have no idea how good it feels to write that. (Those exclamation marks did the trick). This has been an arduous process, with each step feeling insurmountable. When I started the project about my great great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, I had no idea what form it would take. I spent years researching his life as one of the premier financiers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – he arrived in Los Angeles in 1859 and died in San Francisco in 1920 – and wrote many personal essays about my family and myself.

Then I decided his life was much more interesting than my own, and I should focus on him. After all, he was the first banker in Los Angeles, owned vast swaths of lands, built trolley lines, power lines, water lines, and did business with many iconic names in U.S. history – Levi Strauss, the railroad magnates Henry Huntington and E.H. Harriman, and Harrison Gray Otis, the owner of the Los Angeles Times.

Then came the search for an agent. I met Michael Carlisle of Inkwell Management, and immediately knew I wanted him to represent me. Michael has a keen appreciation for books, particularly non-fiction, (he's represented Dava Sobel, James Gleick, Buzz Bissinger and others) and he liked my project from the start. But he recommended I finish a draft to better understand the structure of the narrative. I did, and many months later he took me on as a client.

Then the 90-page proposal went out into the world, the mysterious world of New York publishing. That part was almost unbearable, knowing editors were reading my work and passing judgment. Happily, Diane Reverand at St. Martin’s Press liked it and bought it. I flew to New York, met with her, and immediately knew I would be lucky to work with her. The deal was done. Towers of Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California will be published in 2007.

This is what was reported in Publisher’s Marketplace:

Non-fiction: Biography

Reporter and blogger Frances Dinkelspiel's TOWERS OF GOLD: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California, a narrative biography of her great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, California's premier banker in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose financial acumen catapulted California into the modern era and laid the groundwork for one of the world's most dynamic economies, to Diane Reverand at St. Martin's, by Michael Carlisle at Inkwell Management.

The sale of the book has already sparked some interest. LA Observed, a great blog about politics, life and culture in Los Angeles, wrote this:

Book notes
Yeah, the photo is familar. I
ran it in March — but it's a great downtown image from 1923, showing the old Farmers and Merchants Bank that still stands at 4th Street and Main (and several other familiar downtown survivors.) And it's in the news. Berkeley author and Ghost Word blogger Frances Dinkelspiel has sold to St. Martin's Press her book about the bank's founder, her great-great grandfather. Towers of Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California will be published in 2007. She writes that Hellman was one of three men who donated the land for USC, was president of the Jewish congregation that became Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and when he died in 1920 was president of Wells Fargo Bank. If you like the photo, check it out full-sized at the LAPL site.

I feel official now. Hopeful. Ready to work hard. And optimistic for all those writers out there. If I can do it, you can, too.


Susan Kitchens said...

Congratulations!!! I saw the LA Observed mention and came here for confirmation thereof yesterday... with no news (I get the free version of Publisher's Lunch, so no mention until next week's Lunch Weekly... where I hope it's part of the Deal News).

I like success stories, including and especially the ones with the "yes, but" or "wait until" parts like yours (agent: write entire draft first). Because I feel as though things are possible for me; those Cinderella author stories (I sneezed and the publisher bought the book) are too far out to provide anything other than incredulity.

daniel olivas said...

frances: you go girl! this is such wonderful news! st. martin's is a fantastic press...i'm grinning ear-to-ear for you! i better get a review copy!

Martha O'Connor said...

MANY congratulations, Frances! And well-deserved. Xx M

guile said...

way to go, bai :)..