Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book publishing 101 or: Riding the Waves of Rejection

A friend told me this week his wife is writing a book.  The topic is “human struggle.”  She is seeking a publisher.

Caused me to hearken back to my own simple, 23-step process to see Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph and Success (EC) through publication.  While cleaning out files recently I found these notes on its history.  Here’s how it went:

Concept for EC emerges during jogging.  I resist,  A still, small voice pushes me on.  Can't shake it, and I start to plow some ground.

Lined up a noted self-help guru as co-author.  Why?  The magic of collaboration.  He already had success in the market, an audience and had a big-time agent.  So I started writing, wrote the first 25 of what would (ultimately) become 700 comeback stories.

My guru, and his agent, renege.  I decide to go it alone.

An editor as Crossing Press expresses interest, then never responds again.  Still, I settle in to write the actual book, it would take more than one year.

Finished principal writing.  For the next 16 months or so, I research, rewrite.

Still believing in the power of celebrity, for better or worse, I seek the support of luminaries for marketing reasons, to provide foreword, blurb or otherwise.  I gain the support of a very major luminary.  He agrees to provide material help, then reneges, and repeats this process twice more.  His paranoid PR people provide me with the shabbiest treatment in memory, accusing me of planning a hatchet job on their media star (!!!);   (my background is in PR, and I am astonished).

Bought Publishers Guide, queried all appropriate tradtional publishers.

A nibble.  An editor at a major independent agrees to see proposal.  Immediately sent.

Editor misplaces, asks for a resend.

Breakthrough:  editor requests the ms.

Editor declines, citing derivative nature of stories.  Very deflating birthday present.  I go jogging to try to shake it off.  I resolve not to quit.

Second effort contact with same editor, but no go, editor declines again.

Same time I recontact major agent who had earlier expressed interest.  He sends one email re ms., never responds again. On follow up, no response.

Extensive review of self-publishers, e.g. Author’s House, and many other such.   Not ready to capitulate.

I go back to independent publisher with proposal on how I would make changes to satisfy them.  This time I write to president as well as editor.  President agrees to reconsider.

Publisher accepts ms. for publication

Date of publishing contract

Editor requires major changes or says 'no publication'; I agree to rewrite every word.  I do.

Publisher sends cover art 'with title Try, Try Again" vs. my working title “364 Great Comebacks.”  They had never bothered to inform me of the change.  I hate "Try, Try Again" on a visceral level.  It seems to me sing-song, exasperated and patronizing.  Title dispute goes on for five weeks.

Publisher  relents, chooses instead a title created by my family member as a compromise:  “Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success”

Publication.  Border's buys large quantity, promotes in stores.  (Remember book stores?)

Publisher arranges successful “media tour,” radio interviews.  Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph, and Success goes on to become a category best-seller on Amazon.

EC2, EC3, EC700 follow in subsequent years, as well as numerous other titles.

In subsequent years, life happens.  Our poster boy for great comebacks, Lance Armstrong, who beat cancer to win the Tour de France seven times, finally confesses to the doping allegations that dogged him for years.  I change my web site, accordingly.

Others of our stars fell from the firmament as well:  Bill Cosby, Paula Deen, most notably.  One notable symbol of male, Olympian athletic prowess switched genders, creating a media firestorm while winning a major award for his/her courage.

Some climbed even bigger mountains, like debt overcomer and now President, Donald Trump.  Some passed into eternity, like we all will some day.

How fragile this thing, life, and how easily a comeback can turn into a comedown.  And how fast the clock goes by.

And how long the steeplechase, littered with rejection hurdles, from concept to printed book, in this case, six and one-half years.

And so it is that we wish all prospective authors like our friend's wife only the best, and to keep their eye on the prize, no matter how serpentine the road becomes, and no matter how many tell you that you are lost on the way.

You are not lost.  You just have farther to go.....

Saturday, March 25, 2017


We wrote this eight years ago, when THE SHACK was a mere book, titled:  THE SHACK:  WHERE TRAGEDY CONFRONTS ETERNITY, not a full-grown movie.  The comeback story of its creation remains of interest.  Thought it might be a propos to repost:

This review is from: 
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity (Paperback)
This is one of those extraordinary comebacks we keep our eye out for. A struggling Wm Paul Young juggles three jobs to make ends meet after going bankrupt, all the while fighting a squadron of demons of rage from sexual abuse as a missionary child, guilt from an extramarital affair as an adult and despair at losing three close family members. He takes solace by writing a short novel that he intends mostly for his children. Finishing it, he makes 15 copies at Office Depot and gives it to them for a Christmas gift. The few extra he passed out to friends. One very fateful copy went to Christian author and pastor Wayne Jacobsen, who, in turn, sends a copy to his co-host on a talk show, Brad Cummings. Seeing publishing potential, the trio reworked the basic story, experienced the rejection of 26! turndowns from established publishers, and then each kicked in $5,000 to publish the fiction themselves (one used 12 credit cards to keep things liquid, wow, take that Suze Orman). But big risks sometimes have big paybacks. THE SHACK goes viral. Giveaways at a trade show result in entire churches ordering enmasse. The June Forbes magazine says that Young is now $4 million richer than when he was sweating over the copier at Office Depot. So as a success story, as a comeback story, this is a dream come true. Hats off to these three who truly 'kept the dream alive.'

What about the book itself? The pain fairly drips off the page; if you've been roughed up or bounced around by life, you're going to connect with this one right away -- that's what accounts for the massive sales, imho. Writing-wise, this is not Cheever, or Hemingway, no, no, but it's more like Basquiat in the visual world, raw, powerful, in your face, fascinating in its oddness. You can't look away, even if you want to. Like Tony Soprano's sidekick Silvio Dante, who in turn was quoting Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in", so, too, does THE SHACK pull you back in whenever you think you're out. Still, having said that, there are parts that rankle (we said this book was odd), that feel like a bone out of joint, notably the gender ambiguity (God is black female at the outset, changes gender later), and the consequent line of dialogue that seems at times, well, odd, and dare we say it, sometimes kind of metrosexual, kind of effeminate. Not in all passages, just occasionally. (Maybe we've spent too much time in the Old Testament and Revelation and have too much of such hyper-masculinity imagery in the brain, who knows?)

Theology-wise, Mr. Young wanders far, far off the reservation into a very strange land, as many have pointed out. Speaking of strange, strange that evangelical churches have bought the book by the semi-truckload for their members, this is not evangelical Christianity, it is universal salvation, open entry for people of all faiths, Islam, Hindu, whatever. Evangelicals have put their own playbook aside, so to speak, in favor of emotion, sentimentality, and story. And so it is that THE SHACK has become a battleground between the emergent church (Rick Warren, Willow Creek, and their ilk who love it), and the discernment movement (beaucoup websites and eager essayists, who are shocked and agitated by it). Who is winning? We think that's pretty clear by the sales figures. It is No. 1 in religious fiction.

So Amazon prospective buyer, what should you do here? The operative word may just be "fiction," after all.

My Rx: Read this book for the experience, to relate to the author's humanity and pain, and how he excises the pain, to stretch you out like a spiritual Pilates workout, but don't read THE SHACK for doctrine. For the strong drink of real truth, go back to the urtext, i.e. the Bible itself. As compelling as Mr. Young's fiction is, the Bible is still itself more powerful and efficacious for problem-solving, and for predicting how the Grand Game of Life actually plays itself out, and how God will actually make himself known to everyone. But that's another story.....

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Craig Sager RIP

So many plaudits in the media for the recently departed Craig Sager.  One story we heard this morning struck us:  after chemo treatments, he would don his colorful sports jacket and head back out to cover an NBA game.  That attitude helped him defeat leukemia in his first bout with it.

He got an ESPY award this summer and said:

“I will never give up, and I will never give in. I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life, as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.”

What courage.  What a comeback.  Nobody gets out of these blues alive, but Craig Sager showed us all how to fight back.  Hats off, RIP.