Sometimes this whole crazy business of publishing works: the stars align, the players remember their words, and the right person wins. Here’s an example of when things go right.
About three years ago, I was contacted by Robert Kopecky, a writer and illustrator. He lived in the neighborhood and was looking for a publisher for a book he’d written on near-death experiences (NDEs). He wondered if he might come by and talk to me about it. I’m a little leery of such requests, since, although I don’t like the wall that keeps would-be authors from potential editors and publishers, one wants to protect oneself from being forced into making promises or commitments you can’t keep. Nonetheless, I said yes, and we met, discovered we had more friends and interests in common, and I agreed to take a look at his manuscript.
Robert wasn’t wrong to try Lantern. We’ve published some books by esoteric authors and had brought out in 2001 a book on NDEs by Gracia Fay Ellwood, entitled The Uttermost Deep. What impressed me about Ellwood’s work was that it catalogued NDEs that hadn’t been a welcoming into the light before a turning back into one’s revived body, but had been fraught with terror and alienation, some accompanied by an experience not of heaven but of hell. Perhaps overly influenced by Ellwood’s work and its poor sales, I told Robert that I was going to reject his work. Lantern, I said, hadn’t really done well with its “New Age” titles (more a perception in the marketplace than the quality of the works themselves). Furthermore, I felt that his manuscript—charming, engaging, and resolutely upbeat as it was about his own NDEs—failed to acknowledge that some people’s end of life experiences involved distress, discomfort, and great physical suffering, and Robert needed to honor that.
Robert took this advice in stride, amended his manuscript, and sent it to me again. I admired his commitment but said that, as much as I saw the marketability of this book (Robert had illustrated the work delightfully), he needed to find a publisher that would be able to fit the title comfortably into its stable. I thought about it for a while, and then recommended that he send the manuscript to Jan Johnson, the publisher at Conari Red Wheel Weiser, based in San Francisco. I’d known Jan and Conari for a while; Lantern had even maintained their website. Conari (which focused on human potential books), Red Wheel (a Buddhist concern), and Weiser (the granddaddy of American esoteric publishing) had combined a few years back, and offered a kind of three-in-one perfect alignment for Robert’s book.
On Robert’s behalf I wrote to Jan and told her that I thought How to Survive Life (and Death) would be perfect for Conari, and that she should take a look. She demurred in the way that most publishers do: she loved the book, she admitted, but she was concerned that Robert didn’t have enough of a “platform.” I insisted that she think some more about it. To cut a long story short, Conari eventually came to their senses and published it, and now it’s available from a publisher that will know exactly how to promote it to an audience that understands what to expect from a Conari book.
There are several lessons to take away from this particular story:
- Rejection is not the end of everything. I could see that Robert’s book had potential; it simply wasn’t right for our company. He didn’t take my no personally; he took it professionally. That kept him focused and helped move him forward.
- Your task as an author is to find the right publisher for your book: not someone in the neighborhood, or a friend or acquaintance. You need to make sure your book fits the publisher’s program, and that the team will know how to promote the book and place it in the marketplace.
- Listen to your editor. Robert took my observations to heart, and made the manuscript much more honest, much tighter, and much more saleable. Reputation to the contrary, editors and publishers actually want you to succeed. Sometimes it’s appropriate to listen to them.
- Your book will eventually find its way to the right publisher as long as you’re both persistent and flexible. One without the other will usually mean failure.