A Remarkable History Lesson

Normally there is no mail on President’s Day—but I got a single package. I had been watching for this book and it finally arrived.  A beautiful hardcover book called Simon & Schuster, The First Seventy-Five Years (follow this link and you will see that you can find a copy).  This short 160–page book covers the years from 1924–1999 and the remarkable past of Simon and Schuster. S-&-S-cover

In a wide sweeping format, the book shows the continual changes in publishing and the surprise publications which become huge hits. Here’s one example in a book loaded with these stories. One of the first three employees of Simon and Schuster was Leon Shimkin who was the office manager, bookkeeper and business manager. “Self-improvement was an integral part of Shimkin’s personal and business philosophy, so he enrolled in a fourteen-week course of [Dale] Carnegie’s inspirational lectures. He was so impressed he suggested to Carnegie that he expand them into a book. Carnegie was hesitant, but Shimkin won him over. The book became the number one bestseller in 1937 and remained on the list at number six in 1938. Still in print today in every country in the world where it has been published, the book has sold more than 30 million copies.”

The name of this little book? How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Notice how reluctant Carnegie was about the idea of a book. He was probably comfortable in his teaching environment but wondered how those ideas would translate into print. Yet Leon Shimkin visualized the book in print and how it could help people. Shimkin made his idea happen and it found it’s audience.

It’s the same opportunity today for you and your book idea. First, you have to gain a hearing. One of the best ways to gain a hearing with a literary agent or an editor is through an excellent book proposal. Over the last few days, I’ve been sorting through the stacks of submissions for Howard Publishing. It continually amazes me at the unskilled pitches from writers. Each of them see the potential in their idea yet that potential will not resonate with the editor unless it is pitched in the right way.

Because I’ve been a writer, some times I do more than send a form letter. It’s harder and takes more time and energy to craft a little postscript to the author. It’s why many editors never bother to do it. It also involves risk. I’ve seen writers snap back at my postscript and cause even more correspondence (not what the editor wants to happen). Or some writers want to use that postscript to start an argument (again not the purpose). 

Other times you get a response of appreciation from the author.  Like today I received a pitch addressed “To Whom It May Concern” yet it was sent to my personal Howard Publishing email address. I wrote the author and gently encouraged him to look at his letter through the eyes of an editor. Was that email sent to thousands or only to me? I recommended a couple of how-to books to help the author. He wrote back a brief note of appreciation. Apparently that submission was his first attempt at a submission.

I commend this writer for being willing to learn the ropes. It’s my hope for each of us—to learn the expected system, then pitch great ideas.

4 Responses to “A Remarkable History Lesson”

  1. Cathy West Says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the encouragement you provide to the writing world. You have a real ministry here and your advice is always timely.

  2. Heather Gemmen Wilson Says:

    You’re right that most of us editors don’t send a personal rejection letter. I admire you for taking the time to do it. You’re an inspiration to editors and authors alike.

  3. Sam Pakan Says:

    If this means you’re the new Maxwell Perkins, I’d be more than happy to move to Paris and write for you. Give me a call before you come to make revisions and I’ll scout out the best restaurants.

    Seriously, I really appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge. I’ve actually set up a Terry Whalin file to go through before sending anything out. Thanks.

  4. Heather Ivester Says:

    I’ve learned so much in the past year from reading your blog. It’s been interesting lately to see things from a “blog editor’s” point of view.

    People are starting to write and ask if I’ll interview them or publish their articles on my site. My first thought is, “What’s in this for my readers?” It’s almost like reading query letters — the ones I like are the ones who make their topic irresistible. And I only have room for one a week. So I’m getting a little editorial practice!

    P.S. I enjoyed hearing Heather Gemmen speak at Glorieta.

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