Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Publishing Circus

July 2004: I begin writing a book. I was a good writer in the third grade when my mom signed me up for an after-school creative writing class. I wrote a great story about Scottie Pippen complete with an illustration. I haven’t written much since. I read one or two books a year. My vocabulary has steadily gone down since age eight.

October 2004: I am 8,000 words into my book, and expect to complete it within a few months. I envision fame, fortune and girls. Lots and lots of girls.

December 2004: PingPongGirl agrees to help me with my book. She is ecstatic and honored that I asked for her assistance. PingPongGirl got 1380 on her first try on the SATs and reads above a third-grade level, though that was not a requirement for reading my rough draft, which belonged in a kindergartener’s marble composition book.

Later December 2004: PingPongGirl regrets getting involved after reading my first section. “Crap, crap, crap…um, okay…Let’s start with this,” is her initial reaction, probably referring to the first sentence which I’m sure was fucked up in some way.

Summer 2005: I forgo a summer job to work on my book. I make huge gains with PingPongGirl helping along the way.

Fall semester 2005: I skip classes, friendly get-togethers and even sports to write (I chose work over sports!) I get my lowest semester-GPA of my college career, 1.97. I am proud of this because it is about as close as one can get to academic probation without actually getting it.

December 2005: I finish the first draft of my book. It was originally titled, “At Least I Still Have Both My Nuts.” PingPongGirl and I met at one of UVA’s many libraries to discuss the title, all having something to do with my testicles. Other students must’ve thought we were in erotic film production. We decided on “I’ve Still Got Both My Nuts,” which says more with less. PingPongGirl tells me she loves the ending. If the bulk of my book is un-extraordinary, I am hopeful most readers suffer from the “recency effect.” The ending kicks fucking ass.

February 2006: I cut my book down from 142,000 words to 130,000. This is extremely long for a memoir. PingPongGirl has her work cut out.

March 2006: PingPongGirl edits the entire book in whole. I speak to my cousin who is an agent at William Morris Agency in L.A. He connects me with his assistant, who used to work for a book publishing company. She reads my first three chapters and offers suggestions. She suggests a few literary agents I should submit to, and even allows me to use her name in the query letters. My mom rewards her kindness with a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. We are all extremely excited, and nervous.

Later March 2006: I submit to more than a dozen literary agents. I may not hear back for six months, or more. One agent will send me his rejection letter nine months later, which will make me wonder, “What’s the fucking point?”

April 2006: Rejection letters come in. “The market is saturated with cancer memoirs,” one agent responds. “I had a great survivor book that I just wasn’t able to sell. Good luck.”

Later April 2006: I get an email response asking for a copy of the manuscript. I leave two messages on PingPongGirl’s voicemail screaming, giddy, jumping up and down. She is in class, but phones me after I call for the second time within ten minutes to make sure I’m OK. The person asking to read my manuscript is an agent’s assistant at one of the largest literary agencies in the country. We can’t believe it. I meet some friends for dinner at Qdoba and make them address me as Author Ben.

Later Later April 2006: The agent’s assistant, K, informs me that M, the agent from the huge agency, wants to officially represent me. I sign a contract. I can’t remember if I poop my pants before or after. Since I am with the largest agency in the country, the biggest publishers will want me. I will let them bid over me, jacking up my price in the free market of book publishing… I try harder this semester and learn some economics.

May 2006: I work exclusively with K, the agent’s assistant. She spends significant time going through my book, cutting stuff out. “I’m going to remove up to 25%,” she warns me. She tells me she loves my book, has never read anything like it. We are planning to submit to publishers in June.

June 2006: Publishing houses basically shut down during the summer, and we missed our chance because editing took a long time. We are targeting the fall.

Later June 2006: K informs me that she’s leaving the company to be her own agent at a different firm. This is a big career move for her. She asks me to join her. I am confused. Doesn’t M still want me as his client? You really expect me to leave the largest agency in the country for you? I have never spoken to M, not even in writing. His signature is on my contract. It looks like a squiggly line. I don’t want to make K mad at me, but I must know my options. K tries to explain in a polite way that M doesn’t want to represent me. I ask her to explain this without the subtleties, no bullshit, straight up. M never even read my book. M doesn’t want anything to do with me, never has. K had asked him to allow her to bring me onboard essentially as her client. She went out on the limb for me. I join K at her new agency.

July 2006: I ask Hamburgers to go through my book. He obliges. His editing style is a bit different than PingPongGirl’s.

August 2006: K sends my book to Jerry Seinfeld to hopefully get a blurb. “My agency is so in-tune with celebrities that we can ship it directly to his home address,” she says. My literary agency represents some very big name celebrities, like Britney Spears, Alicia Keys and Shaq. Jerry doesn’t respond.

Early September 2006: K has been buttering up editors at publishing companies about my book. Word spreads fast. K tells me that 20th Century Fox contacted her about my book. My friend, Dirty-D, tells me he expects Tyrese Gibson to play his character. Dirty-D is not black.

Labor Day 2006: K tells me her plan is to send a wide submission to include most large publishing houses. “Fingers crossed,” she says.

Fall semester 2006: I check my email every day, the second I get home from being out, every hour I’m home, every ten minutes. I can’t stand the waiting, anticipation, not knowing. I want this all to be over. Every day that goes by I get more disappointed. The news coming from K isn’t great. Some editors passed on it. Some are hanging on to it. Many don’t know how to categorize my book, and for this reason they won’t be able to sell it to their editorial board. It’s the same as in professional sports—Tim Tebow is an exceptional athlete, and may have the ability to play multiple positions in the NFL, some of them very well, but because he doesn’t fit the mold of a pocket quarterback, he will not be a high draft pick. Teams will be scared to pick him, consider him risky. The best way for general managers to keep their jobs is to be conventional.

December 2006: K says it is time to rethink our strategy because everyone passed on my book. I reached the editorial board of Kensington Books, a very large publisher. That is the final step before the company buys the book. The editor loved it, and tried to convince his board that they could sell my book. But I am Tim Tebow.

February 2007: I begin this blog in hopes of garnering attention from the book world. My mom contacts New York Times bestselling author, Jonathan Kellerman, about my blog. Mr. Kellerman practices Orthodox Judaism, and I believe he is a cancer survivor. I tell my mom she is out of her mind, that he is a millionaire and would never help out some nobody like me. Mr. Kellerman replies to my mom one day later. He read a few stories and “…found the combination of rage, humor, and unique experience attention-grabbing.” He allows me to use the blurb on my blog. I will never take it down. With the help of Tweekerchick, many stories get published on Netscape. My parents click on my blog many times a day in order to increase the stats. They are probably responsible for 20% of my 44,000+ hits. But there are upwards of 100 million blogs on the internet, and my efforts are not enough. I shall continue this blog because I enjoy it, knowing it will never reach [redacted]-status. I get to make fun of people and celebrities, and use fake names for friends. “The Stumbler” is my crowning achievement.

July 2007: A small British publisher contacts me about my book. They ask to read the manuscript. In case I get a book deal, K gets ready to bring my book to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, in October, where she can sell foreign language rights. K seems to be an expert at this, having sold the foreign rights to The Da Vinci Code, one of the best-selling novels of all time. The British company lollygags and ultimately bullshits me. They say they want to “go through” with it. When I hear from them two months later they pass.

February 2008: I quit my temp job to work on my book 10-12, sometimes 13, hours a day. I am as focused as I’ve ever been, and thoroughly enjoy it. I am a far better writer than I was 3.5 years ago. Bu I may never again attain the skills I had when I wrote about Scottie Pippen.

March 2008: As a late graduation gift, my parents purchase the services of a “book doctor.” He significantly improves my book and makes it more marketable. He changes my book’s subtitle from “A True Cancer Story” to “How I Became a Two-Time Cancer-Slaying Superman.” See what I mean?

May 2008: Uncle Joker puts me in touch with a friend of his, an author and creative writing professor. She agrees to edit my first 60 pages. “Editors will often decide if they like it or not based on the first 30-60 pages,” she says.

Summer 2008: I search a 1,000+ listing of most American publishers looking for potential buyers. I find 30 small publishing houses. K submits to some, I submit to most. Submission Round II begins.

August 2008: One very small west coast publisher loves it, but it is not for him. He refers me to a friend of his, another small west coast publisher. At first glance she thinks it is exactly what she is looking for. Ultimately she passes. Both publishers give me good advice.

Winter 2009: I decide that I will self-publish. My patience has evaporated. My book has become a weight on my shoulders, a burden. It smothers me.

Now: My story is widely considered mainstream-worthy. But I am not a professional writer. When I first began writing my book, I didn’t know basic grammar rules. Now, I have learned about concrete details, flashbacks, and omniscience. I know about external and internal conflict and the present action and the transition of internal monologue. I refuse to squander this opportunity, no matter how suffocating it gets. I hope my loyal fans have more patience than I do. But to those few who still read this blog and have been looking forward to reading my book, I ask that you wait a bit longer. I just may have a trick up my sleeve.


jennrubenstein said...

a friend of mine in california just recently self-published his second book. he was somewhat well-known prior to the first one, thanks to having been in a band that was signed to wind-up records for a time. his name is eric victorino - google him if you're curious and have some time to kill. (the first book was "coma therapy," and the new one, "trading shadows for sunshine.") good luck with the process, it sounds like it's been equal parts frustrating and satisfying... i'll see you in a few weeks right?!

Kate Burton said...

Keep your chin up, anyone who has spent this much of his young life on a book will eventually get published. Let me know when it does so I can write about it over on my blog. Good luck!

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

I expect each of you to buy 300 copies to get the ball rolling.

Jennifer, I'm going to eat the shit out of noodle koogle at the Passover Seder.

Rem' said...

Word, i'll be looking for it... Don't know about 300, I might be able to afford 3...

Duane said...

Hey buddy,

It has been awhile. I'm so glad to see that things are well and that you're pursuing that book. You're going to get it! I think you're an amazing, gifted writer. I know many out there who would be interested in your story.

I promise to check in more often and oh, I don't know about 300 copies but I'll try for a more modest 50 or so. :D

Medical Billing Software said...

It is very sad to hear your story .I have a friend suffering from lung cancer so I can understand how it feels like but life keep going so never give up . said...

hi ben,

glad to see you haven't given up!
just wondering if it is OK to post a link to your blog on


Michelle said...

Hey dude I would love to read your book!!

Keep going strong!!

Ask a Nurse said...

This disease has claimed too many of our near and dear's high time we find some cure for it through advanced medical science.My sympathies for all lost by it.