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My book Who Says I Can't? finally on track to be published

Posted Jun 02 2009 12:00am
The book, after which this blog was named, which I have been working on since 2005 is finally on its way to being published. Here on this blog I now plan to document the final steps of that journey which will culminate in a day in the not too distant future when I will get to announce its availability. I am going to start describing the journey this book has taken now.

For years I told stories, mostly funny, of things that had happened to me because of the loss of a leg, or because of surviving cancer, or both. They got a lot of laughs so I kept telling them. Finally in 2004, my prosthetist Arthur Graham said, quite innocently, you should write these down and share them. Sometimes when people suggest something I really absorb and internalize the suggestion. I chewed and chewed on that idea for a while.

The Boston Globe, on a suggestion from the Pan Mass Challenge PR firm headed by Jackie Herskovitz, sent Bella English who writes for their Living section out to my house with a photographer to write an article about me just days before that year's edition of the PMC 192-mile fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The article and the photo they took were fantastic. I was beginning to see that this kind of publicity could be really helpful to my interest in getting people in similar situations to mine to see there was a lot more they could do -- like biking 192 miles for charity -- then they may ever have imagined.

When I agreed to the most ridiculous job situation -- commuting 2700 miles each way to Portland, Oregon every two weeks -- the chewing on Arthur's suggestion stopped and I had the time and inclination to do what he had suggested. I started writing these stories down as little vignettes. Each one was independent. Each one had a funny name or a tongue in cheek title many of which survive today as chapter titles. Even back then the idea of meaningful quotes that captured the essence of the story or point was evident and each vignette had such a quote to lead off.

I had agreed to the dumb commute for just a year. While in Portland I would work long hours for 5 days and would take the weekend off. I would try to get in a bike ride on the weekend if the weather was nice enough. Because I stayed in Oregon for two full weeks at a time I always had a weekend to kill out there. I had a little apartment provided by the company and many a weekend I would stay indoors except for a pool swim and I would write and write. By now it was clear this was becoming a book and I filled in the whole story and linked all the vignettes up into a cohesive framework.

early 2007
I felt like I had a complete manuscript and asked my friend Jackie Herskovitz to read it. I wanted an outside opinion first even before my wife Carole read it. Unfortunately this version had in it a lot of catharsis that I have since learned is both very common and very damaging of memoir writers to do. I took a lot of frustrations out on a few people that did not belong in the book. When Carole read it next that stuff got expunged quickly with Carole getting very upset at some of the things I was thinking of writing about. As always her anger was very short lived especially I quickly agreed with her and cleaned up the manuscript. Meanwhile, a writer for my college alumni magazine wrote an article about me and named it A Leg Up. I decided after getting her permission that this was a good title for the book.

Apr 2007
After Newsweek published an issue with a Livestrong band on the cover written by Jonathan Alter about his bout with cancer and chemotherapy I felt compelled to write them a letter. I wrote a long letter to the editor but they immediately forwarded it directly to Jon and he wrote me back. He said he got over 1000 letters but mine stood out because I had an over 30-year perspective and that was pretty rare. He followed up by saying he intended on doing a Today Show piece on me. I assumed he was kidding and when I told Carole she too assumed nothing would come of this.

mid 2007
I did some basic research on publishing and quickly found out with this kind of book you do not go direct to publishers as I had done with my technical books in 1996 and again in 2004. I also read very clearly that self-publishing was a total dead end. People who did might get the book into 500 people's hands if they were wildly successful and then no real publisher would take your work seriously. So I took on the task of researching literary agents which was the correct approach to attacking this business. I found 54 agents who fit the bill and I carefully followed the instructions of each one as to what they wanted a submission to look like. Some wanted it in email only. Most said no email. Some wanted a sample chapter. Others just wanted a synopsis. I proceeded to get 53 nicely worded rejections. One never was heard from. This was a set back for sure. I sat on things for a while wondering what I had done wrong. I got a book called the 84 Reasons Your Book Will Never Get Published and 10 Why It Might. I had done almost all the things wrong the author described. But it was prescriptive of what I could do to get it out there. I needed more of a plan for how I would market it and a better sense of who the market was for the book and how big it was. I still needed an agent. In most of my other business dealings I had learned connections meant a lot. But how could I find a connection to an agent as this was a business very far from where I spent all my time.

Aug-Oct 2007
Just before this year's PMC ride, the Today Show people really did show up. Jon Alter in fact intended on participating in the ride himself and would be the person doing the interview of me in our house. He also interviewed Carole. Steve McCarthy was the producer and the camera guy and he took hours of footage of me riding the next day. The whole thing got edited down to 2 minutes and didn't make it on air until October. This gave me a lot of fuel for the fire of how I might market the book. If I could get on the Today Show with just a letter to Newsweek, I felt I had the ability to really get some visibility for the book (if I could ever get it out there) especially since I was now determined to have a portion of any proceeds from the book go right back to the PMC for cancer research.

late 2007
Finally I had an epiphany and realized I did know a serious author and he must have an agent. I reached out to Dan Kindlon of Harvard who I had met when we both gave talks to kids about self-esteem and who then went on to write a book in which one chapter highlighted my story. Dan said he was not so sure about my book idea but would introduce me to his agent. His agent naturally started out pretty skeptical but then asked for a sample. I sent it to him and he called right back and said he would be my agent! First we had to do a lot of work on a single chapter which would be the sample chapter sent to publishers as part of an overall very professional book proposal. A book proposal is like a business plan for a book. It describes the audience, how big that market it, how we would market the book to them, what promotional vehicles I could use and who we could get commitments to buy advance copies of the book from. We actually did get a few of those like from the people who make my prosthesis and who sell and fit those devices.

Feb 2008
After months of work and $10,000 for "book doctoring" Kenny took the book out to publishers. He would only talk to one or two at a time so that each one felt they had exclusive access. Most said it was just not right for them. Some said it was in a category that was saturated. Some had issues with the writing. But most said I did not have enough of a platform for the marketing of the book to be successful. A platform means someone who is a star athlete, a national politician or a movie star. So since I was not Lance Armstrong, Barak Obama or Michael J. Fox, I could not go forward with this book.

Feb 2009
After trying to sell the book to a publisher for over a year. Kenny gave up. In fact he is moving into video as he sees big problems with the publishing industry from his perspective. As he and I were cordially parting ways I asked if he thought the fortunes of those who self-publish were any better now that a few years previous. He said things had changed dramatically with respect to self publishing. Besides, he said, at this point it should be all about just getting the book out there so it can do some people some good. I wholeheartedly agreed and set off on a course of self-publication.

More later.
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