Note: the real names of the author and her publisher are used with their permission.
“Mr. Hays, I really loved your book, Search For Peace. I spent all weekend reading it, and I just couldn’t put it down. I’d like to talk to you about publishing it.” Those are thrilling words for a writer to hear from a publisher. It was hard to breathe, and I thought I was overwhelmed by the good news. Later I would come to realize I was terrified.
It had started when I began attending 12 step meetings for people who had grown up with alcoholism in 1983. The meetings helped me put words on much of what had been plaguing me for years, and I had realized that I didn’t escape from the alcoholic family without any scars. After several years of attending, I began to write a book called Search For Peace about my experience. I guess I would call it my autobiography of an alcoholic home. It wasn’t a very long book, but I spoke as honestly as I could about the problems I had faced, and the solutions I had used to work through the problems.
I submitted the book to traditional publishers early in 1986, got no response, and experienced an odd sensation – I was curiously relieved.
The main resource being used by the 12 step meetings during that time was a book entitled It Will Never Happen to Me by a therapist, Dr. Claudia Black. In the book she described the effects of growing up in a family where alcoholism was present. At the suggestion of a friend, I contacted her publishing company, and at their recommendation sent a copy of Search For Peace to them, on Saturday August 17th.
On Monday, August 19, 1986, early in the morning, I got the phone call.
“Mr. Hays, my name is Jack Fahey. I represent Mac Publishing, the publisher for Dr. Claudia Black. I love your manuscript, and I am very interested. I have read the first 29 pages, and I plan to finish it this afternoon, and will give it to Claudia.”
“Oh, OK,” I replied casually, as if this was an everyday occurrence. I was numb with shock – some part of me realizing that this was a big deal if he was calling me after only having the manuscript for a day.
He continued. “My marketing strategy is very specialized. I will publish within six months. The first year, I will emphasize the therapeutic community and treatment centers. I will put the books in a catalogue, take them to all of Claudia’s presentations. The second year I will begin to emphasize the bookstores and let demand pull it through. Claudia’s book is now coming up on 400,000 sales. We publish very selectively – three books in 1986, three books scheduled for 1987.
As I said, I’m very excited, but I’m also impulsive, so I want to slow down a bit, and I’d like for you to call me tomorrow morning and talk it over. I’d also like to give you the name and number of a fellow to contact there in Houston who knows me personally, and can give you some perspective about me.”
“Mr. Fahey, I like your style and marketing concept, and I like to go slow as well. I just want to let you know I’ve submitted the manuscript to several other recovery publishers.”
“I’m glad you’re doing that, Mr. Hays. It’s always good to check out several options. Like I said, check with the gentleman who knows me, and let’s talk again tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mr. Fahey, I’ll do that.”
I got off the phone and sat for a minute, trying to let the whole thing sink in. At least in Houston, Dr. Claudia Black was considered one of the pioneers of the ACA movement. I didn’t know about other parts of the country, but I suspected she might have that nationwide reputation. As far as I had been able to find out, there were no books about growing up in an alcoholic family by someone who went through it – the few I had been able to find on that topic were by therapists. So the book I had written was a new sort of thing in a community that it appeared to me was growing and needed resources like this. And I had just been approached by one of the leaders in the industry, wanting to use all their reputation to promote and back my book.
It was shocking in the enormity of what this could mean. My words could go out to where people like me would hear them. People who had been as lost as I was when I walked into my first 12 step meeting. Wow! I wished I had been able to find a similar book when I was struggling to pin down these problems and issues – it would have given me great comfort when I felt like I was the only one who was suffering from these problems.
I sat for a while, realizing that this was fantastic news, and that it would take a while for it to sink in. I got on the phone and called the contact Jack Fahey had given me. He said Jack was a straight shooter, a very gifted and astute businessman. Jack had lots of good marketing background in the therapeutic community. After I hung up from talking with him, I realized this was only further confirmation of the power of what I was being presented.
I called Kate, a good friend in the program, because I just had to talk it over with someone. I told her all about Jack Fahey’s call. She was very excited for me. She said she felt like I would also hit the speaker circuit. I told her I had a talk scheduled for a Sunday School class next week, and had already started the public speaking some. Yes, I agreed, I could see that being part of this whole experience as well. Kate was thrilled!
Wednesday, August 20th. I called Jack Fahey back. He said he had finished the book, was still excited, and that anything he really got excited about was publishable. He said some of it was way way beyond good, and he pointed out some passages. He actually had the manuscript in his hand and was reading specific passages to me. I was in awe of how powerfully this book was obviously affecting him. He said about 15% of it would need some work for the market to which he thought it would appeal, especially the God part – the Bible references and intimacy with God. He felt it might need a preface for “God as I Understand Him”, so not to scare off the 12 step folks. I agreed with that.
“Thanks for the insight; I need it. I’ve lost objectivity, and I can’t see the blind spots. Also, this book was originally slanted for the religious market, so I have no problem softening that aspect.”
Jack went on to say that their financial arrangement was 15% of gross sales. On a shorter book like mine, it would likely be a paperback, $3.95 or $4.95 per copy, which would be less financial reward.
“I would prefer a paperback so more people could afford it.”
“Dan, that’s the market I could deal in.”
“For this book, monetary reward is not my primary objective. I’d rather get it to the people who might benefit from reading it – people who felt as lost as I did when I was first realizing the alcoholic family issues.”
“I like your style. I’m still very interested. Why don’t you call me next week, and we’ll see where we are.”
“I can do that.” We ended the call.
So there it was – the opportunity every writer would love to experience. A publisher, with a firm backing in the target market, who is excited and enthusiastic about my book, a solid businessman, and with a definite marketing plan.
So why was part of me shaking inside? And it didn’t feel like excitement – it made my stomach queasy, like I felt when I came home from school as a teenager, wondering what mood Dad would be in. I should really be thrilled, but deep in my soul, there was a blackness, a dread, that I was hardly aware of on a conscious level.
What was that all about? I knew I had to find out, and suspected the answer lay in the past. I thought I knew when the fear had started. As it turned out, I was wrong.
“In Written Memories” Mutasim Billah @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.