Monday, October 22, 2007

Stacey Glick on why, "Sometimes it Pays to Not Give Up."

Several years ago, I received material from a mother and daughter who wanted to write a joint memoir about their harrowing experiences involving the daughter’s dramatic emotional breakdown and subsequent recovery at a boot camp-style school in Montana. The mom was a screenwriter; the daughter then a college student at a top university. Their proposal was one of the best I’d ever read. Well-written, commercial, unputdownable. I couldn’t wait to get it out to publishers.

With high hopes, I did a wide submission and received a tremendously positive response from editors whose opinions I valued. They, too, felt it was among the best proposals they’d seen. And yet, no offers came in. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. I was getting a ton of positive feedback. Editors told me over and over how much they loved the project…and how they couldn’t buy it. There were a variety of reasons cited, including lackluster sales on competitive titles and no guarantee of publicity. Publishers are looking for bestsellers, and this wasn’t a guaranteed big seller, despite the quality of the material.

But I refused to give up. I worried that if I couldn’t sell this book, I might not be able to sell anything. I just believed so strongly in the project and that it deserved to be published. So the submissions continued. Fifty-four of them, to be exact. I started to think about throwing in the towel because I just couldn’t come up with anywhere else to go. Then I met the daughter in person for the first time when she was visiting New York. It turned out she was going to be in the city that summer and wanted an internship at our agency. How could I have her working here after all she’d been through when I couldn’t sell her book? She was lovely and it broke my heart.

Then it happened – just a few days after I met this charming young woman, an offer came in. That offer was suddenly followed by two more, all that time after we started the process. Before much longer, we had sold the book to ReganBooks, a then-prominent and commercial division of HarperCollins. Meanwhile, the daughter did work with us that summer, and became one of our favorite interns. She was (and is) smart, articulate, mature, and a very hard worker, and we were all sad to see her go at the end of the summer.

When the book, COME BACK by Claire and Mia Fontaine (you can visit their website at claireandmia.com to learn more about it), was published in hardcover in April 2006, sales were modest, though the authors worked tirelessly to spread the word. Then, the publisher scheduled the paperback release for February, 2007, and we soon learned that the book had been chosen by Target’s book club and that they were taking 40,000 copies. It’s since gone back to press several times, and the book has now sold over 100,000 copies! Claire and Mia and their publisher are working hard to continue promoting the book. We’re hopeful that the Target sales will help get it into other outlets and word of mouth will continue to work its magic to get it into the hands of parents and teens everywhere who will benefit not only from a good read, but from the positive messages the narrative has to offer.

I reflect on this when I get frustrated that a great project isn’t working -- which unfortunately happens more and more in this market -- and it gives me hope. Sometimes, it pays for a publisher to take a chance and for an author and her agent to never, ever give up.

Endnote: One person integral to Mia’s recovery, Mike Linderman, has his own book just out (referred to me by the Fontaines, of course, for which I am grateful) this fall entitled THE TEEN WHISPERER, intended to help parents and teens in need. The authors are very much looking forward to cross-promoting and spreading the word about both titles. Oprah, here they come!

20 comments:

  1. Wanda B. Ontheshelves22/10/07 3:33 PM

    Today is one of my writing days, and as usual before I get started I feel kinda cruddy. How can I possible work on a novel, i.e., hang around the "hotel swimming pool" of my own imagination all day, after that quadruple murder in Detroit, two of the victims aged 9 and 6, and all parties involved black; and then having attended a child's 6th birthday party on Sunday, where every child except one had blond hair? Twelve little girls shooting baskets and running races, counting to 15 in English and Spanish, Barbie ice cream cake, a sofa full of presents. We had a blast! But now the little-girl-birthday-party hangover ... dreadful Monday...

    Stacey Glick's words were just what I needed to hear. 54 submissions! Tireless promotion on the part of a mother-daughter duo! Effort, persistence, success! And healing. Definitely an inspiration. One of my favorite quotes is from Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago. An old friend of his, a radical 60s-style activist, had berated Washington for some deal he made with the opposition. Washington reportedly replied: "Politics is a mean, dirty game. If you don't want to play, then get the f____ out."

    Although the publishing "game" doesn't rise to the level of politics (I pray), I imagine it might start to feel like it...by about the 54th submission - or 7th revision - or 21st agent rejection. So at each point you have to decide, do I want to keep playing? Even if it's not feeling so good right now (and might not ever feel really REALLY good, ever) - do I keep my hand in? Do I pick up the pen, buy the stamps, send the email?

    After I got off the Internet, I took my cats to a meadowy-wooded area full of catnip (and in the process of being turned into condos, natch). I was standing near a tree, watching the leaves drift down, when one of the "leaves" fluttered higher and flew off - a monarch butterfly! I'd never seen a butterfly separate itself out from falling leaves like that before. I thought of that old battle taunt, "Are we boys, or are we men?" And all the warriors start pumping their weapons in the air, yelling "Men!"

    Wouldn't it be great if there never were any such things as battle taunts, and instead what was passed down to us through history were creativity taunts: "Are we falling leaves, or monarch butterflies?" And everyone pumps their pen or brush (or now laptop or cellphone) in the air, yelling, "Monarch butterflies!"

    The day (my late writer's day) begins. Thanks again for the inspiring post.

    Wanda B. Ontheshelves

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  2. You are indeed a dream agent.

    Sounds like a great article for Poets & Writers or The Writer -- more PR, too.

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  3. Thank you for the terrific post- while it is about not giving up at the editor submission level, it is a good reminder for writers not to give up on a valid project too soon.

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  4. Thank you for an inspiring post - and congratulations to all of you for not giving up.

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  5. What a wonderful post and inspiring story! Thanks so much for sharing!

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  6. What a great story. And now I want to read the book, so what a great post.

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  7. Hooray - a Stacey post! This is a fantasic story about a book that truly sounds deserving of the success it continues to accrue. I love the cover for Come Back as well. It caught my eye right away from the shelf.

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  8. Well done - what more can I say.

    It's nice to know that perseverance can pay off.

    Avery nice post.

    My compliments

    Michael

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  9. It's nice to know that while we as writers continue to submit after hearing a "not right for me," on the other side of the desk, agents are doing the same thing. Glad it paid off for you and your client.

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  10. How unpredictable the publishing biz is these days! But thanks for giving us a bit of inspiration.

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  11. Never give up. I cling to those words. Wonderful story. It's great to hear how an agent works so hard for a project they believe in.

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  12. Wow, that's a great story! Very inspirational.

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  13. What an amazing story, on so many levels. That's wonderful! And I agree it's tremendously inspiring!

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  14. Just read this post tonight, when I was feeling very low from a rejection. Thanks. And wanda b.--a special thanks to you. I love the image. I too, wanta be a monarch, and I didn't even know it. I'm going to make a banner of this for above my desk.

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  15. I love Three O'Clock High.

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  16. Perseverance is the key ingredient, if one is patience all things will be accomplished, it is a fact.s7v7

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  17. Usually nice stories takes some time to reach readers, but many people like books based on real stories because they believe that they will feel motivate in some way and sometimes it does and sometimes it's not enough.

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  18. Thank you so much for this post. My agent believes in my story and has submitted to various editors, some of which have come back with similar news from their aquisitions meetings. Not quite stand out enough, too many on their lists etc. Soul destroying for the author. I used Come Back as one of my comparatives and thought the entire book was amazing, informative, well written and compelling. To read this article saying it was rejected by so many before finding success gives me renewed hope.
    My agent is one of the best too so I am sure he is not pertubed by the current rejection.

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