You know that old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again,” that we heard from our parents over and over again? I can recall my mother’s voice, delivering the mantra in that annoying sing-songy way, to this day. Ugh. Well, as a kid I couldn’t stand it. I remember mimicking it – twisting my face and whining it, oh so winningly. I thought it was something grown-ups just spouted at kids to a) shut us up and b) get us out of their hair while we kept trying.
Now I have something to confess. There’s truth to that adage, much as it pains me to admit it, particularly when it comes to books.
In the past few years, I have had a few prospective clients come to me with ideas. I’d take a look at their background, their credentials, their writing and think, there’s something here. But when it came time to do the proposal, it just didn’t click. There was no real content in the Table of Contents, or the Sample Chapter lacked that zing. So I asked them to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new hook. Sure enough, once they did, everything starting humming along. Before you knew it, we had a proposal, and then a book deal, and then a book. It just took some trying (ugh, that word) before it all came together.
Katie Hurley is the best example of this I know. She did a fantastic proposal for me on the subject of infertility. It was well-written and scoped out, and had a little celebrity sizzle as she talked about the difficulties of conceiving when your husband was on tour with a rock band or doing session work with Idina Menzel. Yet it didn’t sell. Infertility is a tough arena – one woman’s story (primary infertility, difficulty staying pregnant) is so different from another’s (secondary infertility, can’t get pregnant at all) so it’s hard for one memoir to cover the range.
Try two: the thorny subject of moms competing with one another, with stories illustrating just how nasty moms can get when playing the my kid is better than your kid game, and advice on how to rise above it all. Katie had great stories, and good advice, but the reality here is that mothers prefer to buy books about their kids, not about the machinations of their peers. Editors just didn’t bite on a book they didn’t think would sell.
Were we really going for number three? Many new authors at this point would concede defeat, go back to magazine and blog writing, and figure that perhaps this book thing wasn’t for them. Not Katie. About two months after the last rejection, I got an email in my inbox.
“I have the perfect new idea,” she wrote. “What about how to raise happy kids?” Now Katie is a therapist and brought much of her expertise to the earlier two projects, but they weren’t exactly therapy-related books. This one was. Great that it was right in her wheelhouse. Even greater that she was fired up about it.
“I know exactly the angle I’m taking – I’m tired of Helicopter moms and Tiger moms using up all the air space. All I hear about is succeeding in this or avoiding that. What ever happened to happy? Isn’t that what we most want our kids to be?”
I couldn’t have agreed more. The very next day there was a completed 70-page proposal in my inbox. Turns out she had been working on it all along, and there it was. The book she was meant to write. After a little back and forth and refinements, it went out. And got universally positive feedback. Eventually we had an auction with multiple houses bidding on The Happy Kid Handbook, and were thrilled when it found a very happy home with Sara Carder at Tarcher Penguin.
There it was. Try and try again. And it worked. Boy, did it work. I couldn’t be so snarky anymore and whine about it.
But there are caveats here. Aren’t there always? The big one being that if you don’t have credentials, like Katie did, or a platform, like Lauren Slayton and Stefanie Sacks have, you’re going to run into problems. No matter how hard you try with a different concept, it won’t get you too far.
That said, perhaps you had the great idea all along but because of your platform, it couldn’t get noticed. Perhaps the trying you need to do is take a year off from your fantastic idea and work on that platform so that by the time you go out again with that great book, you have the publicity necessary to support it. Try, try again.
Who knew our mothers were right all along? Who knew that childhood adage – as annoying as it was – would come in handy? Now the real question is, how many years of torturing my children with this will it take before they actually get it? I sure hope a lot quicker than the 30 years it took me!