The 30-Year Overnight Sensation

You will never have to worry about a steady income.

–an unwittingly prophetic message I received in a fortune cookie that’s as accurate for  writers as it is for literary agents

Last weekend, Elizabeth and I spoke at the Central Valley Writers’ Conference in Oakhurst. Selden Edwards, a 67-year-old retired schoolmaster, told the remarkable story of how his literary first novel, The Little Book, went from nowhere to the New York Times bestseller list.

The book is a  time-travel story set in San Francisco in 1988 and Vienna  in 1897. What’s remarkable about it is that Selden worked on it for more than thirty years, the longest period of time I’ve ever heard someone working on a novel. Blessed with a steady income, Selden keep rewriting it and submitting it, but couldn’t get an agent or publisher interested. He couldn’t even get feedback on the novel.

But then, luck and four linked relationships led to bestsellerdom. Through publicist Milt Kahn, a friend in Santa Barbara with whom Selden plays basketball, he found out about freelance editor and publishing veteran Patrick Lo Brutto. Selden said the manuscript was 80% done when it got to Lo Brutto. Pat and Selden worked on it for a year, and by the end of it, Selden said it was 90%.

Pat is a scout for the Trident Media Group, a literary agency in New York. He suggested that Selden send the manuscript to Scott Miller at Trident. Less than a week later, Miller called saying that he had to represent the book. Scott submitted it to senior editor Ben Sevier at Dutton, and four days later, received an offer in the “high six figures.”

Ben and Selwen worked on the manuscript for six more months to get it to 100%. With a significant promotional commitment from Dutton, The Little Book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. The second book, in what will be a trilogy, is in the works.

Selden’s story is proof that if you keep learning from your mistakes, find the help you need, and persevere, you will succeed. One thing’s for sure: It won’t take you as long as it took him. So keep at it and keep in mind the words of the sage who said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

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