Ethical Holiday Feasting
For over twenty years, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has fought for animal rights using creative tactics that have included media stunts, shocking footage, and numerous celebrity endorsements. Such stars as Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson and many others have made a commitment to a cruelty-free lifestyle and a compassionate diet.Now PETA has gathered all the fun and simple recipes of its celebrity sponsors into one book. You can enjoy Alicia Silverstone's Artichoke Dip, dig into hip-hop king Russell Simmons' Mama's Mock "Meatloaf," savor Fabio's Risotto, and chow down on Fiona Apple's Sweet and Sour "Cheatmeatballs."
TOO STRONG: The Book They Didn't Want to Publish
Persistence births a book to "shake us awake like a blow to the skull."Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, was published after having been rejected by 83 publishers. I think that must be some kind of record, but there are probably other writers out there who can top that. The book's title comes from "The Letter Writer," a story by the Yiddish writer and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-91): "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."
A book about the "Nazi" way we treat animals is sure to be controversial, and a book that discusses both the Holocaust and the exploitation and slaughter of animals will hardly be a leading candidate for this summer's beach reading. Still, why should that have stood in the way of the book getting published? After all, doesn't a bold, controversial book often generate publicity that translates into sales? True, but for a book to be controversial and sell, it first has get published. That was my problem.
I began my search for a publisher in 1996, even before I began writing the book. First, I wrote to the ASPCA, PETA, and other animal protection groups and collected from them more than twenty letters of support (the letters were meant to show agents and publishers that there would be an audience for the book). When I found an agent willing to send out my book proposal to publishers, I began writing the book in earnest.
In all, the book had three agents. The second agent stressed the importance of a promotion, or marketing, plan. In today's publishing climate, he said, publishers are less interested in the content of a book than they are in how it's going to be marketed. I spent several weeks writing up an extensive promotion plan that included the considerable support I was already collecting for the book.
The agent told me I needed to have as the very first sentence of the promotion plan the following: "I will match the publisher's consumer promotion budget up to $_______." I was uncomfortable with the idea of spending my own money to market the book, but the agent said that this was essential. Hey, I thought, if a little bribery is what it takes to get my book published, so be it. When the agent also urged me to commit myself a national book tour, I got out my atlas and wrote down a list of 92 American and Canadian cities I was supposedly going to visit after the book was published. Only after I finished writing up my extensive promotion plan, did the agent ask to see the book proposal itself and a sample chapter.
In the covering letter he submitted to publishers with the proposal and promotion plan, the agent wrote that "Eternal Treblinka has the potential to be a big book of enduring importance. Why? The growing concern for animals, the controversy about the subject, Charles's excellent proposal, the support he has already gotten for the book, and the strongest promotion plan we've ever seen." I was elated. With an enthusiastic, successful agent submitting my proposed book to major New York publishers, how could I go wrong? I was on my way to literary and commercial success, or so I thought.
The agent submitted my book proposal and its extensive promotion plan to the major New York houses, not once, not twice, but for three successive publishing seasons. Since I gave him a new sample chapter each time he embarked on another round of submissions, the book was getting written at the same time it was getting rejected. A couple of the publishers told the agent the book was "too strong."
One evening at a PEN social event in New York City I told some people about the lengths to which I was going to find a publisher, including the work I did to put together a promotion plan. The cartoonist Stan Mack was so amused by my account that he asked me if he could use my story as material for a panel of cartoons, of course disguising the source. I said, sure. After he called and we talked further about it on the phone, he did his drawings and some months later a panel of nine cartoons appeared in the summer issue of the New York Times Book Review. They showed two men lounging in chairs at the beach. One of them is telling his friend all the things he is doing to get an agent for his book--collecting support from celebrities, endorsements from famous writers, etc. The final panel shows the writer slumped in his chair. "I'm so tired from writing my marketing plan," he tells his friend, "I don't think I have enough energy to write the book."
After the second agent gave up, I tried to find a publisher on my own. I sent scores of query letters to medium and small publishers and university presses and set up a book website to publicize my book-in-progress. As a new wave of rejections arrived, I took solace from the desert proverb taped to the wall above my desk: "The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on."
After I finished writing the book and sent it to several readers for their feedback, I decided to go the agent route one more time. A veteran New York literary agent, who read the complete manuscript and was impressed, submitted it, with a cover letter, to three publishers at a time. Some of the publishers took several months to return it, and one house never did because they lost it!
In January 2001, I brought my book to Albert Kaplan, a financial adviser for an international investment banking firm in New York. I had interviewed him and included his profile in the book. When I told him about my publishing woes, he told me that a book like Eternal Treblinka needed to be submitted at the very highest levels of publishing. He asked for the names of the top people at the largest New York publishers so that he could call them up and talk to them personally (in his work he's used to talking to people in the upper echelons of international finance). He told me to get him the names of the CEOs and Chairmen of the Board, not mere editors. After he read the book ("I couldn't put it down," he said), he was all the more determined to tout its merits on Publishers' Row.
I got the names of the top people at Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper & Row, Viking Penguin, Norton, and St. Martin's Press from Literary Market Place and emailed them to Kaplan. He called each one of them and told them about the book, saying, "This book's going to change the world." All six said they wanted to see it. So for the next few days my spirits soared as I darted around Manhattan hand-delivering copies of Eternal Treblinka to publishers. I was full of hope. It was my best chance yet.
In the weeks and months that followed one, two, three, four, five, all six manuscripts were returned to me. I was devastated. I had now tried just about everybody in the world, and they all said the same thing--NO! I felt stymied and frustrated. Nobody wanted to publish the book I had spent four years writing.
I tried to take comfort from the words of Franz Kafka: "I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So it can make us happy? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all....A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us." The problem was that before Eternal Treblinka could be an ax for anything, it had to get published. A couple of times along the way I had told myself that if all else failed, I could always publish the book myself. However, the idea of having to learn a new business from scratch and invest money I didn't have was not an inviting prospect. Besides, investing time and money to publish a book that nobody wanted seemed like an admission of failure. However, I had to face up to the truth. I had run out of options. I had no other choice.
I reluctantly bought a book about self-publishing and took another one out of the library. With the earlier books I had written, I had turned my manuscript in to an editor and months later received it back metamorphosed into a book. I had little idea of what had happened during the tunnel period when the book was in production. Although the self-publishing books I read described what went on behind the scenes in fascinating detail--everything from how to get an ISBN and Library of Congress catalogue number to the intricacies of book and cover design, typesetting, paper selection, printing, and sending out review copies--I found what I would have to do overwhelming and intimidating.
In the meantime, Martin Rowe and a colleague had left Continuum Publishers in New York to start their own publishing venture--Booklight, Inc. and its publishing arm, Lantern Books. Continuum had been one of the places where I had sent my book proposal, so Rowe knew about my book and about the substantial support I had collected for it from various humane, animal protection, vegetarian, and environmental groups. To self-publish my book, I knew I would need lots of advice and help, preferably a book shepherd who could guide me through the process. And who better to do this than Rowe? He had been the production manager at Continuum, and, as the founding editor of Satya (a magazine promoting vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice), he was in tune with my book's point of view.
I asked him if he would be open to some sort of publishing partnership whereby Lantern Books would help me publish Eternal Treblinka in return for a share of the profits. He said he would distribute the book, but I would be responsible for the editing, cover design, typesetting, proofing, printing, etc. The company that printed Lantern's books could print mine, but I would have to pay for it. This was good news. It meant that with Rowe's help I would not have to go out there and flail about on my own, wasting a lot of time because I didn't know what I was doing.
So I agreed--gladly--and we signed a contract that made Lantern Books the book's distributor. Lantern guided me through the production process and even paid my paper and printing bills until I could raise the funds to pay them back. I don't think I could have published my book without them, although I certainly would have tried.
Needless to say, now that Eternal Treblinka is published, it's a great source of satisfaction--a dream come true really--for me finally to see it taking its place in the world of books and ideas and having its worth recognized, including its submission as a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and National Jewish Book Award.
One lesson from all this is that while it's certainly not easy to get a bold, controversial book published, it's not impossible. Fortunately, the self-publishing option gives authors, not publishers, the final word about whether or not a manuscript becomes a book. Another lesson is one that writers already know as they struggle to write their books and make their voices heard: there is no substitute for perseverance.
* * * * *
Charles Patterson is the author of ten books. His most recent ones are Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust and From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall (co-authored with Mr. Marian Filar).
Patterson is a graduate of Amherst College, Columbia University (Ph.D.), and the Yad Vashem Institute for Holocaust Education in Jerusalem. For 17 years he has reviewed major histories of the Holocaust by Yehuda Bauer and Martin Gilbert and films such as "The Partisans of Vilna" and "The Wannsee Conference." Patterson's review essay--"Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka"--was included in A Legacy Recorded: An Anthology of Martyrdom and Resistance (Harvey Rosenfeld and Eli Zborowski, editors), which was dedicated to "the survivors of the Holocaust, whose Spirit and Soul are embodied in this book."