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- Teaching in the Midst of the Corona Crisis - March 18, 2020
- Five OUTRAGEOUSLY OUTDATED Things in Modern Education - October 4, 2019
- It’s Time to Replace the Fourth of July (Kind Of) - September 17, 2019
- “SHOCKING STUDY: 40% of Modern Men & Women Are Unhappy. Here’s How Teachers Can Help” - July 30, 2019
- Chasing the Sands of Time: Why Teachers Stand High in the Stream of History - July 12, 2019
- Here’s What the Beginning of Teacher Decline Feels Like - April 9, 2019
- Three Life Lessons for Young Americans on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 86th Birthday - March 15, 2019
- FIVE Ways Modern Teachers Are Being Set Up For Failure - November 8, 2018
- THREE LIFE LESSONS On John Adams’s 283rd Birthday - October 30, 2018
The following is the second piece of a four-part series entitled “TeacherEdprenur” and will follow the journey of how a simple idea about teaching became the subject of a new book, The Secrets of Timeless Teachers: Instruction that Works in Every Generation, published by Rowman & Littlefield next month (May 2016).
A steady drumbeat of defeat.
Any human being who has ever aspired to publish a book can manufacture an endless parade of euphemisms, metaphors, and illustrations about the mental and emotional toll it can take to climb the mountain of winning a national book contract.
Or, as one of the greatest characters in cinematic history, Jerry Maguire, once exclaimed, “It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?”
In many ways the process is embodied in the Greek myth of Sisyphus: “For a crime against the gods – the specifics of which are variously reported – he was condemned to an eternity at hard labor. And frustrating labor at that. For his assignment was to roll a great boulder to the top of a hill. Only every time Sisyphus, by the greatest of exertion and toil, attained the summit, the darn thing rolled back down again.”
For those of us who have witnessed the boulder roll down the mountain again and again it truly does feel like a curse of the gods, or the Fates, or a deity who seems to have control of the cosmic strings. An idea is hatched (which a writer takes to be clever, or insightful, or imaginative—after all, it is powerful enough to germinate into a commitment to write a book length manuscript.)
We dedicate months or years or decades to write in the belief that our book will add to the corpus of human knowledge (or at least be mildly entertaining or gently uplifting to someone somewhere). We revise and refine. We strain the patience of our friends and loved ones by pleading with them to read our masterpiece and tell us what they think.
And yet…this is the easy part.
Once the book is done (or in my case, a very long proposal) it goes out into the world, ready for accolades aplenty—or so we hope and fantasize. We write our query letters and our proposals. We ask agents to take us on as clients or we go directly to the publisher hoping they will want to publish it or give us a contract to transform our proposal into a book.
And then we wait.
We check our email obsessively, or at least more than we like to admit. We think about ourselves and our project on a level that is unhealthy and maybe even a bit narcissistic, but at least we try not to tell anybody about it.
Most of the time we get a mass-produced, utterly blasé vanilla reply:
“I have so many clients already…I can only take projects I feel passionately about.”
“This isn’t quite what we publish. I am sure you will find luck elsewhere.”
“It was a close call. I tell you this as a form of encouragement. Really.”
But even this does not rise to the level of Sisyphian rejection. No, that comes after an agent or publisher admits to liking what they have read thus far, asks for more, and then decides, in the end, to reject the project. And it is during this moment that our inner- Sisyphus is kindled—because getting close to publishing a book is not like losing weight or giving back some winning to the casino. At this moment you are no closer to success than you were before you wrote your first word. We feel the journey has been completely in vain. And trust me-it is demoralizing in excelsis.
Anyone who is as fortunate as I am to have finally found a major publisher must admit to a decent—if not Herculean—amount of dumb luck.
My serpentine adventure towards publication looks like this: five years ago I was contacted by someone who knew a colleague of mine at the university where I work, California State University, Bakersfield. He was transitioning from publishing a literary magazine to creating a small, boutique press that would publish one or two books a year. He knew I had written a series of long essays detailing my first decade as a high school teacher, something that could easily be edited into a teacher memoir.
And edit we did, resulting in the publication of Full Classrooms, Empty Selves: Reflections on a Decade of Teaching in an American High School. The book did very well locally (selling more books in 2012 than any other except for The Fifty Shades and Hunger Games Trilogies) but with no publicity and marketing, the book never found a sizeable audience beyond my home town. Again, the publisher was a one-man operation so it wasn’t just boutique, it was very boutique.
To my great fortune, a book seller got a hold of my book and passed it on to the president of a major educational publisher. He contacted me and asked if I would be interesting in writing a book proposal for them.
I thought this was my moon shot.
A year later, I submitted an in-depth proposal and waited for months before finding out that the project I had in mind wasn’t close enough to the types of books they published (which, deep down, I knew the whole time to be true). I was told they loved my idea and what I had written but it just wasn’t their exact brand of publishing. At the time who knew if he was being honest or just softening the blow of rejection?
The rejection was nothing less than crushing. However, in the midst of the rejection the publisher offered a kernel of hope: “I think I know a wonderful publisher who this book is perfect for. Let me pass it on…”
I thought he was just being kind. Still, I submitted it again to a different publisher. Within a few weeks it was enthusiastically accepted by the publishers of Rowman & Littlefield.
I printed out the acceptance letter which began with the words: “I’m delighted by what I see in your proposal…Excellent!…sending you a contract…”
And finally, at long last, the boulder was pushed over the mountain top onto the other side.
Little did I know that the work was just beginning…
NEXT WEEK PART III: WHEN THE GODS PUNISH YOU THEY GIVE YOU WHAT YOU WANT!