This Book Took 10 Years to Publish!!!

Do you want to write a book some day? Start yesterday, and be prepared to wait. I’ll tell this long-winded story so, hopefully, you won’t have to experience anything so extreme.

QCM took ten years to get to the bookstores. Why? It’s only 38 pages long and not a huge novel!

Step one: In the 1990s, I sent out the Quite Contrary story with stamped return envelopes to dozens of publishers and found one editor who said she wanted it (tah-dah!), so I should stop submitting it anywhere else. But before she’d buy it, she wanted to tinker and change the order and characters around, leaving the author (me) dangling for more than a year, but in the end not buying it, saying, “Guess it’s not right for us.” Thanks a lot and boo-hoo, but I wouldn’t give up. I’d learned how to be contrary. I loved this cantankerous true story more than ever.

So next, I sent the book to an agent (someone you pay to sell stories for you; that way you have more time to write), and that agent quickly sold Quite Contrary Man to an enthusiastic young editor at Dutton Publishing. The date was September 10, 2001. Terrorists with beards attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon the next day. Would people want to read a book about a bearded American? Would my contract be cancelled?

Even more complications: My editor took a responsible new job at a different publisher. She asked me to decide whether to stay with the first publisher or to move with her to Abrams Books for Young Readers, a new start-up division for Abrams Publishing, then known worldwide for its fine catalog of Arts books.

What to do? Stay with the first publisher who might assign me to an editor who wouldn’t feel any particular loyalty to Beard Palmer’s story? Or move with the first editor to a different publisher with no track record yet for children’s books?

I chose to move with the first editor who bought the story. And I crossed my fingers. Then contracts had to be cancelled and signed again with the new publisher. The red tape took almost another year of back and forth.

The new publisher, founded as an art book house, was very particular about illustrators. My editor approached and came close to signing 3 or 4 other artists ( a couple of them had appeared on New Yorker magazine covers). Imagine months and months passing.  Then word came that Kathryn Brown, a fine artist who lives in Massachusetts, was very interested, and had signed on to illustrate the story.  That was five years ago! (Can you believe I’ve never met or spoken with Kathryn? The reason is because publishers keep artists and writers apart so they don’t spoil each other’s ideas.)

So my family and friends all grew long beards waiting year after year for Beard Palmer’s story to see light of day. I researched and wrote 5 other stories and a play while waiting. When the artist’s delightful proofs for QCM arrived, we almost fainted at the mailbox.  Kathryn’s watercolors captured the 1830s American setting and characters beautifully, and with such a happy energy.

So more than ten years have gone by. If the Guinness Book of World Records has a longer record for years passing between contract signing and publication of a book, both my agent and I would like to know about it!


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