Never, Never, Never Give In ~ Pt. 1
Time to get off the beaten path
It was December 1998 and my book was caught in a holding pattern. Circling. Circling. Circling.
Most New York agents had closed their offices for the holidays and the members of my Forest for the Trees group needed more time to finish reading my manuscript.
The questions were these:
Would I get an agent?
Or would I be rewriting the entire thing?
Spencer, Steve, and I trimmed the tree and settled in for our son’s second season of decorations and gifts, but the goal to find literary representation remained at the top of my mind.
Two walls of my office were papered with rejections and I sat there and looked at them every day.
What am I not seeing? What unique approach can I try? How do I thread this needle and turn these walls of no into a yes?
I believe it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never, never, never give in,” or “Never give in. Never give in. Never give in.” (Historians debate this back and forth). The point is that Churchill was a man of determination when it came to standing up and fighting German tyranny in World War II.
While actual bombs weren’t dropping around me, mental ones were.
Get it done! BANG. 💣
💣 Make it happen. BOOM.
Don’t give up. BAM. 💣
The New Year rolled in and a new idea finally landed. It was both simple and elegant and required a Rolodex, a telephone, and a couple of quiet hours. With Steve at work and Spencer off to the park with Slokva, I went into the living room, sat down, and told myself: Do not get up from this sofa until you have three New York editors willing to read your manuscript. Three YESES.
The well-trod path a writer is expected to take toward publication goes like this:
Seek and acquire an agent.
Let said agent approach editors at publishing houses.
A publisher can reach out to a writer as they did my friend Cheryl Strayed who published an essay titled “The Love of my Life” in The Sun. And agents can reach out to a writer too, as was the case when Julie Powell wrote her blog titled Julie & Julia, 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.
But writers are not allowed to make direct contact with editors.
Screw that rule, I thought that day on the sofa. I’m going to give it a try.
With my feet up on the plush eggplant ottoman, my first call was to the PR department of Penguin and a lovely woman who headed that department.
“Jennifer, great to hear from you,” she said. “How’s life?”
“Good. Good. Great. I got married. Fixed up a house. Had a baby.”
“Wow. So many changes,” she said and off we went reminiscing and catching up.
Years earlier, Penguin had published a book for a PR client of mine named Victoria Johnson. The book was titled Victoria Johnson’s Attitude. The woman on the line with me that day had been a daily contact for a couple of years as we brought Attitude to publication and promoted.
Soon the conversation moved to my memoir and without hesitation, she said she knew exactly who to give it to in the editorial department.
“Memoir is on fire around here,” she said. “I’ll hand-deliver it for you.”
I hung up and felt…stunned. It’s one thing to be rebellious in your mind and another to see that rebel-spirit bear a bit of fruit. Sure, it was just an agreement to deliver a manuscript but that was better than a flat-out “NO!”
One down, I told myself. Two more to go.
The next call went to Crown. A woman there, in the editorial department, had talked with me about another book I had promoted titled The Messengers. This one was written by a real estate developer named Nick Bunick who claimed to be visited by enormous angels who told him he was the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul.
While Crown did not buy The Messengers in the end, this particular editor had read it and we shared a few pleasant conversations.
“Jennifer! How are you? Long time…” she said and as before, we made small talk, reminisced about Bunick who ended up with a huge money deal over at Pocket Books, and caught up on our lives. Babies, promotions, marriages. A half an hour later, she agreed to read my book too.
Hanging up this time, I was more than stunned now. I was amazed. All that staring and believing and looking for a way to get a yes—and this was it.
I did not consider myself a particularly faithful person at the time. I didn’t have a sense of the Divine or a practice that led me into the heart of the mystery of being. But that day, I had a sense I was being guided by something greater than myself. These responses, both positive, were a gift and I felt humbled and blessed.
Spinning my Rolodex, I came to the third contact from my PR past and took up the phone…
Unless you are extraordinarily blessed and have all you want at your fingertips, you know overcoming obstacles is part of life. In many ways, it is the best part. When we can persevere, we grow in confidence. But when it comes to our creative life, it can be hard, even debilitating, to be told there is only one way to get what we want.
This is not true.
There are many, many ways to be in this game. Our work is to find those ways and share them. No, you may not choose the path I’ve taken to get published but my shared experience can get you thinking in new and unique ways.
Has there been a time when you wanted something quite badly, especially something centered around your creative life, and you faced and overcame obstacles? What was this heart desire? How many different approaches did you take? And how did you push through?
Like reading this post can be helpful, sharing your stories with others can be helpful, too. Think about this for a bit. Write a comment. Inspire!
As always, thank you for being here.
~ Jennifer, 🍎
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