The story of my first book, “Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I Do, by God” (as told to John Shore), is so unbelievable that you’d swear I made it up. It involves, for instance:
A Christian agent stealing the idea for the book, giving it to a more established Christian author, and that author—knowing the book’s origins—gladly running with the idea (and ultimately using it to create a truly awful book published and heavily promoted by a huge Christian publisher who was only too happy to substitute it for my book, which they had been considering publishing, but were hesitant about since I wasn’t a known author).
Christian publishers reading the manuscript, declaring that no Christian publisher would ever publish a book written in the voice of God (and also that it was, as one leading Christian publishing executive wrote to tell me, “sheer blasphemy” to suggest that God has a sense of humor)—and then rushing to print books by name-authors, written in the voice of God.
My learning just how true it is that publishers prefer an author with a recognizable name. (And also that many in the Christian publishing industry aren’t, to say the least, exactly burdened by the sort of ethical constraints one would hope they would be—a lesson that I’m sad to say in the years between then and now has been too often reinforced.)
The book being picked up for representation by Deborah Schneider, of Gelfman Schneider, one of the most successful and respected “mainstream” literary agents in the world.
The heads of the largest American publishing houses all responding to the manuscript in the exact same way, which is, “We personally love this book, and would love to publish it. But we can’t, because: A. We have no idea how to market to Christians, and B. We’re afraid this book might anger Christians—and no publisher wants that kind of headache.”
How I—the tireless and imminently honorable Deborah having done virtually all she could—ended up selling the book to its publisher (for more money than they’d ever paid for a book in their 100-plus year history).
How the newly-hired, Big Deal Christian Book Marketing woman who acquired my book for its publisher quit the publisher three weeks later.
How its publisher so mishandled the book (that was their lead title for its season) that … well, for instance, when I received in the mail the large envelope from the publisher that was supposed to contain the book’s pre-press publicity materials, what I found inside was actual garbage: expired coupons, balled up newspapers, broken CD covers, a smashed styrofoam cup, etc.
And that’s just some of the stuff that I can tell you.
But the big news—the massively good and big news to me and my wife—is that, as of yesterday, I once again own the rights to this book! After literally years of trying to get it back, I finally own my book again! I now have in my garage the 1,500 remaining copies of Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang, and hold in my hands a contract that reverts all rights to Penguins from the publisher back to me.
Ahhhh. Feel the joy.
One day this book is going to make me a ridiculous amount of money. (Which is hardly why I wrote it; but there it is.) I know it like I know my name. And now I’m back in control of that.
Oh, but yayeth.