THE HELP needed lots of help to get started

There were a number of things I found interesting in yesterday’s New York Times piece about Kathryn Stockett’s first novel, The Help.

It was Amy Einhorn’s first book for her new imprint; it’s sold almost 500,000 copies in hardcover, amazing numbers for a literary first novel; and it’s a book written by a Southern white author that has two black protagonists. It’s been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. But what really struck the agent in me was that the novel was initially rejected by almost 50 agents before it was picked up. That is a stat that should be inspiring to aspiring authors and probably a little frustrating for us agents who work so hard to find great material and wonder how we missed something that then goes on to be so successful. But that’s the way the game is played: you win some, you lose some, and the take-away for me from this story for authors is that confidence in your work, persistence, and of course a good dose of luck and timing, can make all the difference. It’s a great success story, and in a time where there are so many grim reports about book publishing, it’s refreshing to see a story about a book that got it all right, even if it had some stumbling blocks along the way.


9 Responses to THE HELP needed lots of help to get started

  1. Jm Diaz says:

    This does make us First Timers feel better. Moreover, it reinforces my belief that persistence in the work and the quality of work will ultimately decide a novel's success.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Marty Ison says:

    As with any business for profit, both agents and publishers must look first for marketable manuscripts. Unfortunately, this focus causes some first readers, many whom have specific instructions and limited time and experience, to miss the remarkable while looking for the marketable.

    I doubt that 50 agents actually read the manuscript. More likely, it never made it that far. If it did then that would be a disturbing fact.

    This case, as with J K Rowling’s, should encourage us to believe in our projects but it should also reinforce the importance of an effective and concise query, strong first pages, great characters and story, and fantastic writing to the end. For these skills, there are no substitutes.

    I caution any martyr to the pine that believes otherwise to prepare for despair. One in a million chances is just that.

  3. Valerie Geary says:

    Great post! Thank you for the encouragement!

  4. Susan at Stony River says:

    I love such stories; they keep me going when I'm about to give up on a story. Thanks for passing it on!

  5. Amy Sue Nathan says:

    I saw this yesterday and immediately posted it to my Facebook page. It gave me warm fuzzies — to know that persistence was, in the end, what led to Ms. Stockett's success and two, I loved the book so much I was happy to know a bit of the behind the scenes "action." I think that's what aspiring authors yearn for…the inside scoop.

  6. Malanie Wolfe says:

    I am learning that the selling a manuscript is very much like selling anything else in the corporate world. When someone says no don't get discouraged just move on to the next person.

  7. Alli says:

    Stacey, thanks for posting such an uplifting story. And thank you very much for bringing this book to our attention – it's wil be on my TBR pile very soon!

  8. Alice Anderson says:

    Stories like that are always good news for writers. Your book may get rejected 50 times, but if you're persistent, work on your craft, develop your network, you can prevail in this business. Now to keep reminding myself of that…

  9. Glynis says:

    That made this hopeful smile :) Thanks!

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