The Business of Wellness: How Jolene Hart Got Her First Book Deal
How do you go from beauty writer at a major women’s magazine to a certified health coach and author of a book series about eating for beauty? It’s not always a direct path, let Jolene Hart tell you. Jolene, now one of the clean beauty industry’s experts who’s helping to change cultural perspectives about food and its impact on our skin, began her career in magazines and worked her way into the beauty department of a top women’s magazine before realizing that having access to some of the most lauded traditional beauty products in the world wouldn’t clear her cystic acne, sensitive skin and eczema.
After a particularly revealing facial (we’ll let her tell the story in a minute), Jolene decided she needed a solution beyond the typical acne products, pills and treatments—so she literally wrote the book on how to eat for inner and outer beauty. Her Eat Pretty series, which launched in 2014 and now includes a guided journal and a book for daily inspiration, provides a well-researched foundation to understanding how to eat to feel and look your best.
But how did Jolene know what her next career move should be? When did she make the connection between food and beauty? Who gave her a book deal? Here’s her story, in our Business of Wellness series.
Jolene says that what started it all was a facial with a well-known facialist. “I was quietly hoping that she would give me some insight into my skin as I got on the bed,” Jolene says. “She took off my makeup first, and then was like, ‘Wow, your skin is so much worse than it looks.’ I remember this feeling of complete relief, like, She truly understands what I’m going through!, but also I just wanted to cry.” Acne is an emotional experience, she says, and people just don’t realize how much it affects you on a day-to-day basis.
Drawing from her upbringing around the idea that food is medicine (Jolene’s mother started a co-op in the 80s to bring healthy food to their neighborhood), the trained journalist decided that she’d use her skills to research the discrepancies she saw in the beauty industry. “I knew we were missing something,” she says, “and I was a journalist in this beauty department getting paid to ask questions and interview people—there had to be experts out there who know more than I do, and who had put all this together in a way that we could share with the average woman.”
And that began her journey to Eat Pretty, her first book. She quit her job, followed her now-husband from NYC to Philly and started experimenting on herself— “I tried detoxes, eliminating foods, shifting my sleep and my lifestyle”—all while freelance writing and getting her health coaching certification at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
The First Book: Eat Pretty
Jolene says that as a writer, she always felt a book was in her cards. “I had so many ideas initially, but none of them ever felt right,” she says. Then in 2011, inspiration hit while she was on the Ben Franklin Bridge, on a bus to New York City. “I remember looking out, swirling all of my thoughts about food and beauty in my head, and right then, I had the idea that was exactly what Eat Pretty turned out to be.”
She says she “just knew” this was the book. “It was like the moment you meet the person you’re going to marry, and you just know. It was a divine moment of creativity—this was the right time, the right content and I’m the right person.”
The idea got her so excited that she started spending every Saturday morning developing the proposal. At the same time, one of Jolene’s friends was working on a children’s book with Chronicle Books, a unique publishing house that accepts proposals from writers without agents. They’re also known for their beautiful art direction, something that Jolene was keen on, since she doesn’t consider herself skilled with the visual side (“That’s why I never really considered self-publishing,” she says, “because you have to do all the creative direction, marketing, and distribution on your own.”).
Jolene’s friend gave the completed proposal to a Chronicle lifestyle editor, who happened to be new at the time. She loved the Eat Pretty concept immediately, and it became the first big book she worked on. Says Jolene, “She really got behind me and we could work on the book together in a way that was beneficial for both of us.”
When her contract came in, Jolene had four months to complete the manuscript. She dropped everything else and focused only on the book, its research and telling her story. She says the hardest part was forgetting her role as a journalist and letting her experience be the expert. “I was used to interviewing experts and quoting them on their knowledge,” Jolene says, “but my editor helped me realize that I was an expert and my experience and my voice were what readers would want to hear. To have my editor show me how to reclaim [my voice] and want to hear my personal experience was so freeing and exciting.”
Jolene says that as a new author, her process was collaborative, and she was grateful to be working with an editor who could guide her and give her insight about how to reach new readers. Some of that came in cutting the original manuscript from 400 pages to 200 pages. “If you get a book contract for 208 pages,” she says, “you only get 208 pages to work with, and writing more than that just means you’ll have to edit it!”
Advice for Aspiring Authors
Now the successful author of three books (with a fourth on the way in late 2018/early 2019), Jolene’s experience is one to learn from. Here are a few tips she gave us for aspiring authors.
- Seek advice. “When I first got my contract, I reached out to everyone I knew who had written a book. I wanted to know what to do next and what their experience had been like. I always find people are flattered to offer their advice, especially fellow entrepreneurs who want to support good work.”
- Ask specific questions. “I always want to help and give advice, but it helps me understand what’s beneficial for you if you have some specifics you want to learn about, instead of just hearing my story. Because our journeys are going to be different.”
- Be rigidly persistent. “If THIS is the idea that you feel and trust is the idea you need to write, then keep at it, no matter how many times you get turned down. Authors can have dozens of rejections before finding the right editor and publishing house for the idea that you know is the one you want to pursue.”
- It takes a while for books to become a realistic part of your income. “Now that I have three, I have a foundation for my income, and when I can’t take on as many clients or I have things that come up, I can depend on the money from my book to help out. For me, it was the advances and then the royalties, but book publishing is not where you’re going to make the most money. If I wanted a six-figure income, I’d have to look at doing something else! But my life is working right now, with the hours I work on my coaching, the hours I’m a mom and then hours I work on book related pieces.”
Jolene says she’s a good example of the idea that if you want something enough, you can make it happen. “In the back of my head, I always have the mantra of, ‘Why not me?'” she says. “If it’s your passion, you can make it your career. It’s just a matter of timing and having it all come together in the right way.”