Here we are at the fourth installment in this month’s series of WRITERS AT WORK. My turn.
Please send us, in care of me (firstname.lastname@example.org) any of your own experiences with delayed successes so I can include you in next Tuesday’s final post of the group. Here’s the link again for the collected series of WRITERS AT WORK. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com
October 24, 2017
Writers at Work: Wait for It
Part 4: David
Today I thought I’d share a couple of experiences in which filed ideas came back to life, one as a book and one as a magazine article. I’ll begin with the book.
In 1979 I wrote a story about a little boy who keeps hearing and seeing things in his bedroom one night when he is trying to go to sleep. His patient father comes in each time he yelps for help and explains that sometimes furnace pipes can make noises and limbs in the wind can scratch against the window and toys left on carpets can indeed resemble a face. I called the story THE SNORING MONSTER and confidently fired it off to an editor right away.
In due course the editor confidently fired it back. My records don’t show why I neglected to send it anywhere else that year or during the entire year that followed. For some reason I didn’t send the story out to a second editor for eighteen months. Not that it made the outcome any different. It was “no” again the second time as well as another five times after that.
The last time I submitted THE SNORING MONSTER was to an editor at Western Publishing on August 15, 1981. She passed on it. I gave up and filed it away. Sixteen months later the same editor sent me a query. She was planning a series of spooky books and wondered if I might want to submit something. Without comment I sent her the story she’d rejected the year before. She loved it. I loved that. The book was published in 1986, almost seven years after I wrote it.
Sandy, this second example may not fit the mold exactly, but I’m going to talk about it anyway because goodness knows when or whether another opportunity will come along! This one started with a phone call. At the time I was the editor for children’s cards at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. The caller identified himself as a psychiatrist whose specialty was working with children. Someone had recommended me to him. He wanted to meet to discuss the potential for publishing some of his experiences in magazines. He wondered if I would be interested in ghost writing the articles.
We met over lunch while he outlined his plan. He would provide me all the information I needed after first deleting or changing names and removing all other clues about true identities. My articles would focus on examples, not on individuals involved. I explained that anything I wrote would include my byline and we would divide the money 50/50. He agreed.
Weeks passed without further word. Eventually we visited a second time and he spoke about the difficulties of treating two or more siblings in the same family alike. No matter how hard parents might try to deal with each child fairly and equally, changing conditions always make it impossible for their children to have the same experiences. Income changes. Health changes. Jobs change. And so on. I jotted some notes and told him that as soon as he provided the specific examples, I could start writing. He wondered how much money we were going to make from this project. When I told him the going rates, he was clearly disappointed.
He also stopped corresponding with me. By now I had invested quite a bit of time and thought in this doctor’s brainchild. His silence became a roadblock. I moved on to other work. Most obsolete materials in my files are stories and proposals I haven’t sold. This was the first time an undeveloped idea for an article had found its way into the never-never file.
Then one night some time later I pulled out my notes and asked myself a pertinent question: How much did it matter if I didn’t have specific case histories to prove the point of the article? After all, the names and other key information would be changed anyway if the doctor ever got around to sending them. Rather than give up on the idea, I would write a draft and send it to him for a response.
Based on common sense, a little research, and a few key points in my notes, I wrote the article and called it, “Are We Treating Our Children Fairly?” I mailed it to the psychiatrist to see if he liked the approach and asked again for some case histories. I figured he would be unhappy that I had gone ahead without him. Low and behold, he liked my effort. He tweaked it a bit and mailed it back within two weeks, still without the promised examples. I submitted the piece to Parents Magazine and it was rejected. I was in too deep to quit now. I sent it to five magazines at once: Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Redbook, and Woman’s Day. Family Circle published it. That was in 1971. We divided $150 and called it quits.
So this isn’t really about a story that was resuscitated and found a market after all. It’s about a basic idea that almost didn’t get written. And that, friends, is why sometimes we simply have to WAIT FOR IT.
Remember that Part 5 will appear on the last Tuesday of this month and will be anecdotes you have shared with us by then. Again, my e-mail is email@example.com.