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Apr. 19 2010 - 4:17 pm | 93 views | 1 recommendation | 2 comments

One Writer’s Trajectory — Multiple Rejections, A $1,000 Advance — And Now A Pulitzer And A Guggenheim

HALLATROW, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12:  Book...

Wanna be here, too? Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The life of a writer. So glamorous! Not.

Here’s today’s New York Times profile of author Paul Harding, whose novel “Tinkers”, recently won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction:

His manuscript languished in a desk drawer for nearly three years. But in perhaps the most dramatic literary Cinderella story of recent memory, Mr. Harding, 42, not only eventually found a publisher — the tiny Bellevue Literary Press — for the novel, “Tinkers,” he also went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week. Within an hour of the Pulitzer announcement, Random House sent out a news release boasting of the two-book deal it had signed with Mr. Harding late in 2009. A few days later the Guggenheim Foundation announced he had received one of its prestigious fellowships.

The early rejection “was funny at the time,” Mr. Harding said. “And even funnier now.” Mr. Harding, a onetime drummer for a rock band, is far too discreet to name any of the agents or editors who wouldn’t touch his work a few years ago.

But he is quick to praise those who helped “Tinkers” become a darling of the independent bookstore circuit…

Although “Tinkers” sunk under the radar in some quarters (including The New York Times, which did not review it), it made several year-end best lists, including NPR’s best debut fiction and The New Yorker magazine’s list of reviewers’ favorites. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, “Tinkers” sold 7,000 copies before the Pulitzer announcement.

So many people are dying to write a book and the widespread belief is that “everyone has a book in them.” We all have a spleen and an appendix, but they, too are maybe not best shared with the world, either. Writing programs and classes are perpetually jammed with would-be writers, many of whom will suffer similar fates to Harding, without the Cinderella finale. Fiction writers, except for a tiny few, must write the entire book on their own time and dime, then try to sell it.

My first book, (sent out as most non-fiction is in proposal form only), received 25 rejections before being bought by Pocket Books. So did my second, before an editor at Portfolio, a Penguin imprint, liked it at once. You need a soul of Teflon to play this game, and a tough, smart, strategic determined agent when you can find one, at least for non-fiction, who is your work’s fearless, clear-eyed advocate.

It’s a lovely, happy ending for Harding, and will surely spur thousands of others to believe, “Me, too!

Cross your fingers. And toes.


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  1. collapse expand

    I think “Gone With the Wind” had 49 rejections! Ya never know.

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    About Me

    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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    I’m writing my second book, a memoir for Portfolio/Penguin, of working retail in a suburban mall for more than two years. My 11 Reporting Tips from daily newspaper veterans appears in the May issue of The Writer magazine.

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