Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'd like to buy your book. I can't sell it to you.

Facing launch day for Three Daughters got me to thinking of the days of being trad pubbed when I had the great Michael Korda as my editor. Michael was the nephew of Hollywood royalty, Alexander Korda, the movie director who married Merle Oberon (the Angelina of her day). I had been summoned to see him on the basis of an Op-ed piece I had written for the New York Times.

Michael is a small man and, as a child, he claims to have been pudgy.  Lord have mercy (it's fitting to borrow from the old South here) if there was anywhere a small, pudgy child should not go it is to that bs lockjawed citadel in Switzerland, Institut Le Rosay, where the uber rich park their children.  You know Switzerland, right? It's small, neutral, icy and unforgiving.  Remember Switzerland is the place where a salesclerk threw shade at Oprah.

Michael survived. He read history at Oxford, served in the Royal Air Force and ultimately landed at Simon and Schuster, where he worked for over forty years, a good part of that as editor-in-chief. (The only part I don't quite believe is 'the Royal Air Force.)

Besides me, he edited both Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and a long list of celebrities and best-selling authors.   I was not his usual charge - a homemaker from Long Island recovering from four pregnancies and three children under five.  What the pregnancies hadn't sucked out of me, the suburbs had taken.   I had no reference for the slick hushed offices of Simon and Schuster much less it's already famous editor in chief. 

Michael was not only the top editor, he wrote at least a dozen best sellers including POWER, what it is and how to get it.  One of the tips on "how to get it" was putting your desk on a platform so that no matter who came to your office you where above them.  The day I walked into his office he was lying on the floor.  "This is for my back," he said.  "I horseback ride every day in Central Park and I've hurt my back." He could have been hanging on a tree by one arm and eating a banana.  I was already on overload and my five year old was waiting in the lobby probably playing with the elevator and yelling all aboard when the doors opened.

Here's part of the dialogue.
Michael: Would you like to go out to lunch?
Me: No, thank you.  (I had one kid going bonkers in the lobby and two waiting at home with 14 year old Tara who let them eat frozen berries in my bed.) 
Michael: I'd like to buy your book.
Me: I haven't written it yet.
Michael: I want to buy it on the basis of the Op-ed piece 
Me:  I can't sell it to you.
Michael: Why not?
Me: Suppose I write it and you don't like it.  That will be devastating.  Why don't I write fifty pages and then re-submit it. 
He agreed, got up off the floor and ushered me out. 
I collected my five year old and left for the chaos at home.

I did sell the book to Michael Korda about a month later and it was mildly successful.  It was my start down this long road.


  1. Just finished Three Daughters.Stayed up till 3a.m. and was crabby the next day. Keep up the great work!!

    1. Not sure I responded to this great e-mail. In case I didn't, thank you. Sorry it kept you up but delighted you liked it, Paula. I see you have a daycare business. Bravo. Needed.