Haley Shapley is a Seattle-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, American Way, The Telegraph, SELF, and many others. She is the author of Strong Like Her: A Celebration of Rule Breakers, History Makers, and Unstoppable Athletes (published by Gallery Books in April 2020).
She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in communication and volunteers with homeless youth in downtown Seattle. She loves roller coasters, word games, and writing by hand. She’s also an ACE-certified group fitness instructor and is always working on a personal goal.
In this post, Shapley shares her experience of juggling freelance work with book writing, what was involved with putting together athlete profiles, why writers should follow their passions, and more.
Name: Haley Shapley
Literary agent: Kate Johnson
Book title: Strong Like Her: A Celebration of Rule Breakers, History Makers, and Unstoppable Athletes
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: April 7, 2020
Genre: Nonfiction/Cultural History
Elevator pitch for the book: Strong Like Her is a cultural history/group biography that pays homage to the formidable muscular women of past and present who’ve made important (and often surprising) contributions to society while pushing the boundaries of what it means to be strong. It also includes portraits of 23 modern-day athletes, shot by celebrity photographer Sophy Holland.
What prompted you to write this book?
Everywhere I looked, I was seeing women who were doing CrossFit, entering powerlifting and weightlifting competitions, and running obstacle course races. It felt like being strong was surging in popularity, and I wanted to know how that had evolved.
At the same time, there were still deeply ingrained ideas about what women should look like and what activities were appropriate for them. I experienced this firsthand when I started training for a bodybuilding competition and received comments from others about not getting too big or not hurting myself by lifting heavy.
While there have been books on the history of fitness, I found they focused largely on men—I wanted to know about the women, from ancient times to today, who put their physical strength to the test.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
About three years. After I got the idea, I immediately wrote the introduction to the proposal—and then I sat on it for another nine months or so. I was extremely busy with freelance writing assignments for magazines and websites, which I was grateful for, but I knew I needed to carve out the time to do the book, even if it meant letting go of some steady work and taking a leap of faith.
In a two-day flurry, I wrote the proposal, and the process of finding an agent and a publisher went relatively smoothly after that. The organization of the book changed throughout the process, but the key themes and concepts remained the same.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
As a first-time author, I learned so much. I knew this going in, but it was still amazing to discover just how much work goes into a book that’s not the writing itself.
In my case, it was identifying athletes for the portraits, hiring a photographer, setting up the photo shoots, offering ideas and feedback on the book’s design, reaching out to influencers, coordinating permissions for historical photos, working closely with a fact-checker, spending a lot of time on social media as part of the book’s marketing campaign, etc.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I was surprised to discover that a lot of the facts I read in other books turned out to be not quite right—quotes in particular seem to get twisted over the years, and when I would consult the primary source for a given quote, I would often find discrepancies.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope it gives them a new lens through which to look at physical strength. It’s not just a luxury for those who have hours to devote to pumping iron but an important part of holistic health. To harness one’s physical power does tremendous things for overall well-being.
I also hope readers learn something new—there are some pretty fabulous stories among the pages that I think people will find really entertaining.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Write what you love, what truly piques your curiosity every day. I’ve met authors who have told me they were sick of the subject matter in their books by the time they came out. I’m so glad I don’t feel this way!
I never tired of learning about the stories of strong women and finding a compelling way to tell those stories. I love to discuss the themes in the book—cultural standards, resilience, overcoming odds, equality, breaking barriers—so even when I’m tired, I’m always energized by the opportunity to have meaningful conversations around this work.
You’re most likely going to spend a long time writing a book, and then more time promoting it, so make it something you’re passionate about so that even when you collapse into bed exhausted at the end of the day (or fall asleep on your couch with your laptop open, as I’m prone to do), you’ll feel fulfilled.
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