Saturday, November 25, 2006

Never Give Up

Never give up. That’s a mantra my good friend Rob Loughran uses to remind himself and others that you need tenacity when it comes to your writing. He also has the book Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections edited by Bill Henderson and AndrĂ© Bernard that lists some of the rejection letters and horrible reviews received by authors such as the infamous Jack London. Rob leafs through that book whenever he needs a good literary kick in the pants to stop moping when someone else doesn’t appreciate what he has to offer.

William Goldman in his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade is credited for saying no one knows anything in Hollywood. They certainly don’t know what will be a hit movie or which one will flop. They think they do, but really they don’t. So in other words don’t be discouraged when you get rejected, because your passion might be right but the person saying “no” might be the wrong one to work on your project.

The same thing goes for publishing. A friend of mine recently recommended a novel I had never heard of before: Richard Zimler’s The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon. As I looked at the author’s website I came across an article he had written for Poets and Writers magazine detailing the difficulties he had in getting that novel published. He was a journalist, an established writer of short stories and had a literary agent. He spent about two years writing the novel and then the real fun began. Over the next two years his story was turned down by 24 major American publishers. Some were complimentary about his writing, but said their marketing department was pessimistic about a book set in 16th century Portugal thinking that it might as well have been set on the planet Mars. One even went so far as to tell him that they had already purchased their “Jewish book” for the year. He became depressed, developed insomnia, and began doubting his own writing ability. It was suggested to him to give up and move on, except he couldn’t. He still believed in the strength of the story. He did decide to give up approaching American publishers and decided to approach Portuguese publishers instead.

Zimler asked several of his friends in the writing community in Portugal for advice and contacted a publisher they recommended. The head of the publishing house read his manuscript and bought it. The story was translated into Portuguese, received wonderful reviews and within a short time of its publication was ranked as number one on Portugal’s best sellers list. He is now the author of six published novels and has a seventh on the way and his work has been published in at least fourteen languages. Moral of the story? Never give up.

Another anecdote about persistence is Donna Woolfolk Cross and her successful marketing of the novel Pope Joan. Originally it was published in hardcover in 1996 by Crown Books, but they did very little to promote it and subsequently it had only a modest print run of 13,000 that quickly went “out of print.”

Cross vowed the paperback by Ballantine would have a different fate. In the back of that version was a set of discussion questions as well as a the address of her website and an invitation to speak with reading groups by telephone. People send requests via the website and arrange to have her call their book clubs and answer questions via speakerphone. She has spoken to over 1500 groups; each one being a potential source of word-of-mouth recommendations and future sales. This has been far more lucrative to the continued success of her novel than traditional signings at bookstores. This successful marketing strategy has caused the paperback version of her book to be in its seventeenth printing. She spent seven long years of writing and researching and did not want her story passing quickly into oblivion by entrusting things to the standard marketing treatment by publishers. This demonstrates that if you must be dedicated and passionate about your work. Moral of the story: never give up.

Never give up when you have difficulty finding an agent or publisher. And never give up when the publisher’s marketing department does not give your work the emphasis and attention that you feel it deserves. If your work is important and you feel passionate enough about it, you can find an audience for it. That is if you never give up.


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