Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why You Should Never Give Up

While relaxing at the beach this weekend, I took the opportunity of delving into my stack of waiting-to-be-read magazines. One of these was the May/June issue of Poets and Writers, a magazine which is well worth every penny of a subscription.

I came across the following article by Eryn Loeb. I had heard about Karl Marlantes in The Oregonian, but Loeb's piece was much more thorough. Briefly, the story is this: In 1968, Marlantes was shipped off to Vietnam to serve in the Marine Corps. While there he kept a journal of his experiences and used said journal to help him start a novel called Matterhorn. That was in 1975. He began shopping the novel around in 1977, but the general reaction was distaste about the subject. People wanted to forget about Vietnam. Marlantes stopped querying and got a job as a lumber salesman in Portland.

Fast-forward ten years. Marlantes once again started studying the market and sent out queries. Once again, the subject of Vietnam was a deal-breaker. He kept revising his manuscript. Another ten years went by. He queried again. This time, people responded by asking him to set the story in the Gulf War.

In 2007, Marlantes got a lucky break. He sent the manuscript to a friend to read and that friend mentioned it to another friend, a person called Tom Farber who was both a professor at Berkeley and the founder of a small non-profit publishing house called El Leon. It was El Leon's senior editor, Kit Duane, who fell in love with the novel. El Leon made an offer to print 1200 copies.

I guess Fate decided that such extraordinary patience should be rewarded because Marlantes sent several advance copies to book stores such as Annie Bloom's (yay! my local indie bookstore)and got a favorable response. That's when his story was picked up by the Oregonian. El Leon also submitted the novel to Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers program. The folks at B & N loved it too and one of them brought it to the attention of Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic. El Leon and Grove/Atlantic came to an agreement, Marlantes found an agent (funny how that happens!) and the first print run of Matterhorn was set at 60,000 copies.

The moral: Write a good book; never give up believing that it will be published. You never know when that old friend will set the ball rolling and someone will fall in love with your work!

That's my feel-good story for the month. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

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