- “[This] made me quite teary. [I]t’s a beautiful [story], and very nicely told”
- “A great conversation piece, and I think boys would particularly like it”
- “I have to say, I think the story is fantastic”
- “Not only is [the] story an interesting, little-known slice of history, but the writing is quite lovely as well”
- “We all had very positive reactions to it overall. What we all really loved, and what I am sure appeals to you, is that it is a war story but it’s one about reconciliation. That’s really both a lovely and unusual notion”
- “I have read the story several times, and it is an unusual one with lots of good themes and excitement”
- “[A] lovely paean to peace coming out of war”
- “I was very moved”
- “Compelling and well told”
- “I was fascinated by this story of forgiveness and redemption. It’s so touching!”
- “There’s no question this has some compelling marketing hooks—and it’s a pretty unbelievable story in the first place”
Here is what they’re referring to:
But this is not the cover.
Rather not the only cover.
It’s one of seven covers, all as stellar as this one and all below, courtesy of the following illustrators:
Multiple covers by multiple artists would be unusual for most any book, but particularly for this book.
That’s because this book is not yet a book.
Each reaction above is from a different children’s book editor. Despite the fact that these reactions are positive, no publisher has acquired this picture book manuscript. The most recurring reason I’m told is because nonfiction—especially nonfiction about someone who is not a household name—doesn’t sell.
I understand that concern. I’ve seen the nonfiction picture book section at Barnes & Noble; it can make a grown biographer openly weep.
But I don’t rely primarily on the Last Chain Standing—or anyone else—to promote my books. The person, place, or thing I hold most responsible for that is me. These days, so much of a book’s fate depends on what an author is willing to do to spread the word.
I take very seriously the goal of keeping my books in print so I am in a perpetual state of conversation-starting both online and on stage; most venues that hire me to speak (from schools to conferences to JCCs to business luncheons to the Guam IRA Council) sell my books in conjunction.
I am still promoting books that are several notches past infancy. A recent result: this year, both NBC and PBS requested on-camera interviews about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman—which came out in 2008.
Somewhat conversely, and also in 2008, I began promoting a book that is coming out in 2012 (but at the time, I did not know when—if—it would come out).
You’ve likely never heard of Nobuo Fujita, the person at the center of Thirty Minutes Over Oregon—which only made me more eager to write about him. As I noted earlier this year, readers who like nonfiction tend to gravitate to stories they do not already know.
I am not a war buff, Japanophile, or Oregon native, yet this is one of the most personal stories I’ve written. And in terms of stories I feel should be available for younger readers (any readers, really), this is one of the most important I’ve written.
So this summer, in reflecting on the rejections for Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, I found myself wanting a new way to try to assure editors that this project is not only vital but viable.
(Perhaps an omen: shortly after, I stumbled upon this quotation in a Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interview with Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade: “Who wouldn’t rather be a trendsetter than a trend-follower? It’s way more satisfying, right? And though it’s riskier, all of us in publishing know that the up side is way greater, too.”)
In this transition period we’re in, many are worried about the future of print. Yet in pursuing the idea that struck me to try to turn this manuscript into a book, I would not surrender to the web but rather take advantage of it.
Problem was, that idea would require me to also take advantage of my fellow man, woman, and child. In particular, man, woman, and child illustrators.
How? Well, I shared most of the above with a select group of illustrators. Then I asked if they would create a mock cover for Thirty Minutes Over Oregon.
That’s not a big favor.
That’s a hubigge (a big wrapped in a huge) favor.
And yet—and to my surprise, actually—pro and kid alike graciously answered the call. You saw one pro contribution above. The rest are below, as are the covers created by kids…
I gave no parameters, set no firm deadline, needed no preliminary sketches, made no revision requests. I didn’t even expect a polished final piece—I told the artists I would happily welcome whatever kind of draft they could allocate time to.
If I had not received the reactions I did on the manuscript, I would not have entertained this idea. But when people like what you’ve done yet still say no, it can intensify your determination to see the project realized.
Mike Rex wrote, “This idea of doing covers before a sale reminds me of how some low-budget studios would make up movie posters to get investors interested.” (These days all they’d have to do is say “It’s in 3D.” Or “It has penguins.” Preferably both.)
The mother of two of the young artists wrote, “The kids and I both found the story so interesting. [Also], as a special education teacher, this type of story is terrific for my classroom. I teach middle school students with low reading skills. I always love to come across work like yours—compelling, not too long, and easy to read.”
Considering I wrote a nonfiction picture book about Superman and one on Batman due in 2012, it may seem I am typecasting myself, but I am interested in more than superheroes. In fact, I'm even more partial to real-life heroes.
Except in real life, heroism is not always as easy to classify.
Cue flap copy:
Thirty Minutes Over Oregon
Hiroshima. Dresden. London. Brookings?
Americans know the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as one of the most infamous events of WWII. However, few on either side know that the next year, the Japanese also bombed mainland America—twice. Navy pilot Nobuo Fujita launched his two-seater seaplane off a submarine and hit the woods outside tiny Brookings, Oregon. He was the first (and still only) wartime enemy to complete an aerial attack on American soil.
None were hurt, but all involved were changed. Twenty years later, amid a blaze of controversy, Brookings invited Nobuo back. Though nervous, he felt an obligation to say yes. He brought his family's 400-year-old samurai sword, the same he had taken on every war mission. Always a man of honor and now a man of peace, he planned to gift it to the town. He would be devastated if his onetime targets did not forgive him...
The New York Times devoted a half-page to his obituary (which is how I learned of him).
Finally, here are all of the covers I’ve received to date.
My favorite is all of them. And of course, all rights to all mock covers remain with the artists. (Mocklifters will be prosecuted!)
Busy established artists would not have humored me with this unless they believed in the story. Kids would not have bothered with this (especially over summer vacation) unless they liked the story.
A parade of thank-yous to this dazzlingly talented group who donated time; people in high demand can be among the most generous. It’s been an honor “working” with each of you. Thank you also to the additional artists, pro and kid, who were game, but for whom the timing wasn’t right.
I make no secret of this: whatever else this public experiment is, ultimately, it’s a pitch. (Also available upon request: Thirty Reasons to Acquire Thirty Minutes.)
So in closing…
Librarians: Is this a book you can see adding to your collection?
Editors: Is this a book you can see?
10/6/11 addendum: See what happened next.