The Book’s going to Be Published When?
It’s been nearly three years since I accepted the challenge of ghostwriting a life story for a client. Now, with numerous revisions and versions and one failed publication deal under my belt, I realize three grave mistakes that, had I avoided them, would have made my experience a little easier.
I wrote on my previous blog Memoir Crafter of an early difficulty I encountered in developing the structure of the story, that being the differing expectations of my client and his wife. My client simply wanted his “story to be heard.” His wife wanted a “legacy for the family.” So, what was this book going to be, autobiography or memoir?
With such a basic compass, by late 2013 I had produced a 97,000-word manuscript that my client was pleased with. It told his life story in a straightforward, chronological fashion, from postwar refugee to immigrant to renowned spinal neurosurgeon. I did a short (four months) agent search, got a dozen respectable rejections and one good bite from a New York agent, who also passed on it. All along, I kept hearing similar comments about the book’s genre being amorphous, and about the difficulty of publishing what was essentially an autobiography.
With a Little Help from My Friends (Sigh)
In stepped a good friend, a dear friend, a friend whose generosity knows no bounds. She suggested she push the book with the independent publisher for whom she edited mostly YA fiction, and with whom she had developed a close friendship. It wasn’t exactly the right kind of publisher, but it was one with a decent stable of authors. Time was passing. My client hungered for that physical manifestation of his story. On his approval, I relayed his acceptance of the publisher’s offer mid- 2014 and off we went. We were all set to hold book in hand by late 2014 or the spring of 2015.
While we were finalizing the contract and working with a designer on the cover of the book, the publisher recommended my client find a publicist. That was a ball out of left field, but I did a search and found what looked like a good one in New York. The publicist and I clicked over the phone. She read the entire manuscript (on her own time), provided suggestions for some broad edits, sketched out a proposal for a promotional campaign, and came to an agreement with my client. All that remained was to put the publicist in contact with whomever was going to handle promotion at the publisher. That, it turned out, would be my friend.
We’re Friends, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Things seemed to be moving along, but I was a little concerned. I had never even talked to the publisher, who, from the stories I had heard, seemed mercurial at times regarding her business. All I knew about her was that my friend had fallen into editing for her when my friend’s own book got picked up some years earlier. At various stages along the way my friend even seemed to be in a kind of mentoring relationship with this woman who was paying her to edit all submissions.
And, though she knew a great deal about “grassroots” efforts, promotion was not exactly a specialty of my friend’s. She had been feeding me guidelines for months on what to do for my client: set up readings at public libraries; contact local media and newspapers for interviews; hawk the book at book fairs, and a dozen other labor-intensive activities. But did she know how to work with a professional publicist? It was the publisher, after all, who recommended my client go that route. At any rate, I was relieved that my client was willing to invest in a publicist. The emails my friend was sending me about the process were so long they made my head spin.
At the end of the year, I decided it was time to offload this piece of the project to the two parties concerned: the publicist and the publisher. I provided email addresses and phone numbers to all concerned: the publicist, the owner/publisher and my friend the editor.
Stop the Presses!
A few days later, I received a frantic voice mail from the publicist followed by an equally frantic email. Who was this publisher, she wanted to know. Who exactly was in charge of book promotion? She deemed the publisher a backwater start-up not far removed from a Print-On-Demand operation. She resented my poor friend’s suggestions, in the form of mammoth emails; she deemed them geared for do-it-yourself authors and entirely unsuitable for the professional she was . She felt my client’s book warranted something better. She could not work with this publisher. She highly recommended my client and I back out of the contract.
Of course I had to relay this happy news to my client. And to my friend. My client was gracious about it, though he had to pay a fee for breaking the contract. My friend was gracious too, but had to deal with the disappointment of the publisher. The two of them eventually parted ways over it.
That took place at the end of 2014. It was a setback, but now we were free to move the whole process to a new, hopefully more commercial level. That began in earnest when the publicist recommended a professional editor to my client, who approved the next step. I began to work with this editor in February.
So, where is the book at this point? In transition. That very first problem with genre never did go away. The editor sees an entirely different kind of book from the one I originally wrote. She wants to sell a straight medical memoir, not some hybrid of immigrant story cum medical memoir. The prospect of deconstructing the existing manuscript and, Frankenstein-like, creating a new creature from the necessary dismemberment, is both disheartening and galvanizing.
Stay tuned for notes and lessons learned from the major operation now underway!