Saturday, March 6, 2010
My friend and fellow B-CC high schooler Sarah Pekkanen is a gifted writer, a funny gal, and extremely generous with advice about the publishing world. Sarah has a group blog, The Debutante Ball, with four other first-time authors who have books coming out soon. Please be on the lookout for Sarah’s book, The Opposite of Me, which comes out Tuesday, March 9, 2010. Below is a guest blog I wrote today for The Debutante Ball about my path to publication.
The Debs are all excited to welcome debut author Laurie Strongin to the Ball today. Laurie’s memoir, Saving Henry, describes her family’s incredible fight for her son, Henry, who was born with a rare illness – and how, through it all, they learned to live every day with laughter and joy. Here’s what Lisa Belkin, a New York Times reporter, had to say: “Henry’s story is important and newsworthy; a testament to how the debate over medical technology and stem cell research is not just an academic argument, but also a searingly personal one. Mostly, though, it’s an intimate love story. We should all learn from Henry what his family has learned–to live well and laugh hard.”
Laurie is the founder and executive director of the Hope for Henry Foundation, which brings entertainment, laughter, and smiles to seriously ill children. She also acts as a family advocate in the national discussion of ethics and genetics. She is a regular panelist on Clear Channel’s Sunday radio program Women Talk and lives with her family in Washington, D.C. Please visit her website for more information.
Welcome, Laurie, and thanks for telling us about your path to publication!
I think there is a correlation between the time it takes to get a book published and how good it feels to hold it when the very first copy arrives at your door. Yesterday afternoon I found two cardboard boxes on my porch secured tightly with tape advertising in bright red, NEW RELEASES, NEW RELEASES, NEW RELEASES. The boxes were imprinted with the following beautiful words, “Strongin/Saving Henry.” After taking photographs of the tape, the boxes, along with a close-up of the words, I carefully opened a box, and pulled a book out. I hugged the book. I posed for more pictures with the book. I kissed the book. I watched the Olympics with the book by my side. I slept with it on my night table. It was still there when I woke up this morning.
In the end, it took less than a week to secure a publisher for my first book, Saving Henry (Hyperion, March 2, 2010). That delightful development in the summer of 2008 was preceded by five years of hard work, a good mix of persistence and patience, and a tolerance for seemingly relentless rejections which were only made better by reminding myself that JK Rowling got 12 rejections before Harry Potter was accepted by one wise and talented (and probably rich by now) publisher. JK Rowling’s was “too long and complex” for the children’s market; Saving Henry was “too sad.”
I first started writing the book that became Saving Henry while my husband and I were engaged in a battle to disassociate the word “fatal” from the disease that threatened to steal my firstborn son Henry. We had the good fortune of being among the first in the world to use genetic testing to knowingly get pregnant with a baby who would be healthy and whose umbilical cord stem cells could save Henry’s life. Being first meant that there was little to no information, no one to talk to, and no success rate in which to take comfort. Writing gave me an outlet for my combined feelings of gratitude for having something we could do to help Henry, fear for his life, and growing concern as we came to learn what now seems obvious and inevitable – new scientific discoveries rarely work for the first people who try them.
Shortly after Henry died, I decided to write a book about Henry’s valiant fight and magnificent but far-too-short life; and our experience on the medical frontlines. In the spring of 2003, I wrote a query letter, proposal, and sample chapter which I sent to a list of agents who represented all the authors I knew. The reaction was consistent, flattering, and ultimately totally disappointing. That the story was “compelling,” and the writing was “beautiful” was unanimous, as was the decision to pass.
I received each rejection with a mix of disappointment and determination. There had to be someone in the publishing world who shared my belief that Henry’s story is inspiring and energizing. For a time, it looked like that someone might have been behind a desk at Kinko’s where I was looking for self-publishing options. It was February of 2008 and I had beyond exhausted all my leads. By August, I had finished the book. I loved the book. I even decided that it would be just fine to print a few copies so my husband Allen and I, and even more importantly, my sons Jack and Joe would always remember Henry. Somehow I think that letting go of the need to find a publisher was just what I needed to ready myself for finding one. Within one week of completing the first draft of Saving Henry – and nearly five-and-a-half years after setting out to write it – I shared dinner with a colleague interested in Hope for Henry, the nonprofit Allen and I founded to bring smiles and laughter to seriously-ill kids who spend too much time in the hospital. He asked about Henry and as I told him of Henry’s courage, sense of humor and spark and all we had done to ensure he’d be in our lives forever, my friend paused and said, “That would be a great book.” I sent him a copy the following day which he in turn shared with his colleague who happened to be Hyperion’s publisher. Within days, I had an agent and a publishing contract. You can read Saving Henry, one of Hyperion’s Inspirational Memoirs, beginning on March 2.