I got found. And I wasn’t even trying.
For two years, self-publishing on Amazon had been good enough. Stories from the Stoop was selling. Positive reviews plus, of course, a few stinkers. I was done trying to get an agent. I was done trying to get a publisher. I was content.
Then in September 2019, an e-mail showed up in my inbox with the subject line: “Partnering with a traditional publisher for Stories from the Stoop.” I read the e-mail three times to make sure I understood what this editor was offering me and that it wasn’t just another book deal scam.
The editor wrote, “We want to offer you a contract. My boss, the owner of Skyhorse Publishing, found your book on Amazon, read it and fell in love with it. You have such a rich story to tell and we want to see your book in Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Costco and beyond. Can you come down to the city to meet with us?”
Immediately I Googled Skyhorse Publishing. They were legit. Best-selling imprints. Not chopped liver. I was fighting the feeling that this was just too damned good to be true.
Two weeks later, I found myself on Amtrak train #471, the Valley Flyer, from Northampton, Massachusetts on my way to New York City. I was prepared and excited. I was even going to arrive on time.
In my backpack, as usual, I had four paperback copies of my book and a fine tip Sharpie to inscribe the title page–you never know who you’re going to meet on Amtrak. In fact, I arrived at Penn Station with one less book plus a full-color pamphlet about a Baptist church conference to support LGBQT youth. It was given to me by a very nice woman who sat down next to me in Springfield. Once she was settled into her seat, she looked over, noticed that I was reading my book and asked, “Does that book say ‘stoop’ on the cover? I know all about stoops. I’m from Brooklyn.” We got to talking about stoops which, of course, led to sharing stories about our neighborhoods, our families and growing up in the city in the 1960’s. We talked for three hours and seventeen minutes, all the way from Springfield, Massachusetts to New York City.
For this special occasion of meeting my publisher, I also had with me a tin of Linzer cookies. My partner baked them and had insisted I bring them. So, the woman from Brooklyn not only got a copy of my book, she also got a home baked Linzer cookie.
As we approached the city, the train passed through all the familiar Bronx sights: public housing projects, tenements, graffiti, bodegas, abogados, parks, basketball courts, check cashing storefronts, used car lots and burnt out cars resting on cinder blocks. It was still the Bronx, my Bronx.
As a kid growing up in the Bronx fifty years ago, I never guessed that at the age of sixty-five I would be on an Amtrak train on my way to negotiate a contract with a major publisher for my memoir about growing up on these same streets in the 1960’s.
When I arrived at Penn Station, I walked the few blocks to West 36th Street and took the elevator up to the 11th floor. The elevator door opened to the entire floor filled with walls of books, nothing but books.
My new editor greeted me warmly and led me to a glass-walled conference room. By the time the boss arrived fifteen minutes later, there were only a few Linzer cookies left. He popped a cookie into his mouth as he picked up my book from the conference table. He thumbed through the book and held it up to me: “This book, your stories, brought me back to my childhood growing up in Manhattan.”
He began to tell me about the street games he played as a kid, though they had slightly different names and rules. For example, in my Bronx neighborhood we had a bottle cap game called Skelly but in his neighborhood, they called it Skully. I love when my stories spark other people to share their stories. With all the New York stories we swapped, we barely had time to talk shop.
Two weeks later, I signed the contract and a few weeks after that I got a check in the mail. I sure liked looking at that check and holding it in my hand. After a month, I finally deposited it. Skyhorse will launch the book this August.
So, a kid from the 1960’s Bronx becomes a plumber; gets married three times; gets divorced twice; starts four businesses and loses a few of them; teaches disco dancing; runs a bingo hall; starts two non-profits and five animal rights groups; gets a bachelor’s and a master’s degree; becomes a special education teacher and a humane educator; and then, at the age of sixty-two, decides to write a memoir. Makes perfect sense, right?
What doesn’t make sense is the unexpected publishing contract. I got found.