Too often, new writers and comic artists working on their first project become disillusioned and give up when they can’t find a publisher.
If you need inspiration to keep plugging ahead, I have two stories that might help motivate you — the story behind the novel Tinkers, which was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and to a lesser extent (but perhaps more likely to apply more broadly), a new book I edited and contributed to called Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection.
Last week, I read an article in Publishers Weekly Book Expo America edition about the story behind Tinkers, a novel about the deathbed memories of a clock repairer. The author, Paul Harding, had tried for years to find a publisher for the book and even sought an agent, to no avail. He tabled his efforts for a while, until an acquaintance who had some work published inquired about Harding’s manuscript during a night out with friends. Harding gave a draft of the book to his friend, who relayed it to his publisher — who passed on it. However, the publisher did recommend sending it to a small independent publisher, Bellevue Literary Press, which did publish the book.
In April, Tinkers received the 2010 Pulitzer for fiction, which prompted the sale of tens of thousands of copies. A few days later, Harding received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. In addition, Harding now has a two-book deal with Random House (he had signed with the giant publisher late last year, but, hey, you have to roll it into the parade).
The story behind Trickster isn’t as dramatic, but it does show to a lesser extent that persistence pays off.
Initially, Trickster was going to be published by a small independent comics publisher. That publisher folded as the project was about half done, but another potential opportunity opened up. National Geographic was going to launch a new graphic novel line as part of its children’s book division, and the venerable publisher expressed interest in Trickster and another one of my books that had a nature focus.
Then, the economy tanked. And along with it, the publishing world imploded. National Geographic not only nixed the graphic novel line, but it also laid off the children’s book editor who was my contact there. In a truly altruistic response, the editor — even though she'd lost her job — put me in contact with one of her friends who is a well-known literary agent specializing in young adult and children’s books.
The agent agreed to send a PDF of the book to some contacts among the larger publishers. She reported that they liked the book but had two problems: First, they weren’t buying any new projects because they were freaked out about the spiraling economy. Second, they weren’t sure how they would market it.
So that was it. The news wasn’t promising. I had also sent copies of the book to a few independent comics publishers, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t fit it with their catalogs of books. Sure enough, I got a lot of nice compliments on the book, but they passed.
However, I wasn’t quite ready to call it quits. I had two more options: find a small press publisher or a university publisher. I researched which publishers in these two areas would be best to approach. I found Fulcrum Publishing in Golden, Colorado, which specializes in Native American, regionally focused, and quirky books. It seemed like it would be a good fit, so I sent a copy of the book and they indeed were interested. I also found two university press publishers interested in the book.
I opted to go with Fulcrum for a variety of reasons, mainly because of the types of books they published, their distribution, and the wonderful energy they conveyed.
Finding a publisher didn’t happen overnight, and there were plenty of opportunities for me to quit. I’m glad I didn’t, though. It’s been well worth the effort.