Thanks, Mark, for setting me up. I really appreciate the favor, as I’m hamstrung in promoting my book due to my new job. I’ll be sure to put the new bioStories Volume 9, Issue One on my social media and website. I’m happy and proud that my story, “Senior-Citizen Discount,” made it into the best of 2019 edition.
I’m working as an assistant carrier with the United States Postal Service, the lowest, most overworked position in mail carrying. The promise is that after a year and a half or two, a regular career-carrier position will open and I’ll get my own route. But for the time being, it’s six-day, 50- to 60-hour weeks, a different route or pieces of routes every day, depending on who’s got the day off, who’s called in sick, and who’s on vacation—and who’s behind on their route. I never know when my day off will be or when I’ll get to go home at the end of the day. The pay’s not so great for a guy with my experience and education, but with overtime, we’ve been able to eat and save a little.
I come to the job only reluctantly and with reservation. In the end, we needed to keep the lights on and hundreds of cover letters, resumes, and applications produced only one serious interview for a job I didn’t get. I think I’ve learned that being 57 and having a Ph.D. are serious obstacles to gainful employment. I don’t hate carrying and, in the end, it’s responsible for losing me 50 pounds.
It’s the only job I’ve ever had whose worries end when I punch the clock. No cares wake me in the dead of night. Every day’s a new start. It a complicated job that demands I be in the moment all the time, which is more stressful than I ever imagined. It’s not just a long walk every day. I’m not very good at it but am getting better, I think, though the last week handed me my ass with complicated, difficult routes in rough weather. I’ve never felt more incompetent in my whole life. But the mail needs to be delivered, and I survived to carry another day. Hopefully, by the time we get to the “season,” which begins in late-September and lasts into February, I’ll be adept enough to handle the increase in mail and packages that everyone uses the Postal Service for around the holidays.
The office is also the most socially diverse place I’ve ever worked. We have plenty of white guys among carriers and clerks, but also immigrants (Somali, Korean, Pakistani, Indian, Mexican), African Americans, and women. African Americans hold supervisory positions. It’s a place I find myself comfortable.
To get to your question the long way around: My Skyhorse experience began as a coincidence. I had floated Ferment: A Memoir of Mental Illness, Redemption, and Winemaking in the Mosel to 220 agents over the course of two summers. I received what I’ve read is the average amount of responses, about 3 percent, or seven agents asking for pages. Of these, four contacted me to say that they either thought they couldn’t sell it or it wasn’t for them. All four said how much they liked the writing—little comfort, however, given my efforts.
I had reached the point where I thought the book would have to sit in the computer for another couple of years. Then, I went to a travel writers’ panel at one of the local public libraries. Two of the speakers were friends of mine. One had written a personal account of travel to the last wild places in Kansas. Another wrote about an exploration of the much-abused Arkansas River through Colorado and Kansas. The third man, Jon, who I didn’t know, wrote about his journey on foot through the French Alps.
The four of us spent some time together after the presentation at a local restaurant. Jon and I hit it off well. It turns out that he’s widely read in travel memoirs and had read both of mine. He thought my second book, Canoeing the Great Plains, was a classic of the genre, even if it didn’t sell widely. He also revealed that he had edited books for Skyhorse in New York and now did freelance work for them from his parents’ house here in a Kansas City suburb. (He keeps his overhead low so he can travel about six months a year.)
He asked if we could meet for coffee, and during our discussion at a neighborhood coffeehouse, he asked me what I was working on. I told him and he wanted to see it. He read through my menuscript and made suggestions, which I thought were insightful and incorporated them in another draft of the book. He took that to his publisher, who we didn’t hear from for months. I thought, well, that’s it. I’ll have to start another round of agent queries.
But Jon returned from one of his trips and told me that Ferment had been gnawing at him. He wanted to give it another push. We wrote an elevator speech about the book, which has essentially become the cover copy for the new book. He ran it past his publisher again, and the next day, they were drawing up a contract. I proceeded to rewrite the manuscript again, slimming it by over 10,000 words and tightening up the narrative.
The contract is pretty standard and there was almost no room for negotiation. But they put in the work getting it in front of the public and actively seek secondary outlets for the work—magazine excerpts, serial rights, movies, and so on. It’s not great, but if a book sells well, it’s something I can live with. Plus, if it sells, they will consider further efforts on my part, fiction or nonfiction.
I was, of course, very happy to have a home for my book. On the other hand, I was disappointed that after 220 agent queries, at least 25 proposals to independent publishers, and at least three years of work to find the book a publisher, publication came down to knowing a guy.
So, with all that in mind, I know Jon is always looking for new books to build his list. I can hook you up, but your friend should have a solid proposal. Here is a good place to start: https://www.janefriedman.com/start-here-how-to-write-a-book-proposal/. With a good proposal—which includes market analysis, comparable titles, bio, platform, and writing sample—he can approach Jon to see if he’s interested. If he does take interest, hopefully your friend’s experience will be as good as mine, a true editor/writer interaction that shaped something that was already good into something stellar, much like the relationship you and I built around the stories you published in bioStories.
So, when your friend is ready, I will get in touch with Jon and set you up. Just let me know. In the meantime, thanks for buying my book. I hope it keeps you interested until the end.
For my readers:
Make sure you check out my story, “Senior-Citizen Discount,” in bioStories, 2019: Volume 9, Issue One, along with all the other great stories from Steven Beckwith, J. Malcolm Garcia, Jay Bush, Gary Fincke, Barbara Altamirano , Tracy Youngblom, Zach Reichert, Devorah Uriel, Chris Davis, Kirk Boys, Mario Loprete, Dennis “Suge” Thompson, Flo Gelo, Peyton Vance, Susan D. Bernstein, Rosanne Trost, J.D. Scrimgeour, Sara Birch, Robert D. Kirvel, and John Donaghy.
My new book, Ferment: A Memoir of Mental Illness, Redemption, and Winemaking in the Mosel will be released from Skyhorse Publishing on June 16. It would be a great favor to me if you would pre-order the book. This way, when you receive it and give it a read, you will can then write a review on Amazon. Every review helps to build the book’s credibility and drives sales.