And while I don’t consider the question to be a nuisance or a waste of my time, it is a very difficult question for me to answer. Because honestly, there is no right or wrong answer, no formulas that will guarantee you success and no secrets that only published authors share while trying to keep the next best writers locked out of the literary world.
What I can share with you is that becoming published requires more patience than your mother had to have with you not to beat you at the dinner table every time you refused to eat your vegetables – which for me, was every single time I sat at the table – right up to present day.
That’s right, I’ve never eaten a vegetable and I’m damn proud of that little known fact.
However, what I lacked in the taste buds department I more than made up for in the patience to someday see my story – in black and white – in some type of binding for a broad audience, preferably the entire world, to read.
It took me almost five years to become published, and even then I was only discovered by a friend of a friend who knew someone (Max Nomad) who owned a very small publishing company in Virginia Beach called Bohemian Griot Publishing.
I still recall the first phone conversation I had with Max when he said into the phone something to the effect of, “I don’t know how to market a book like this… but I know this story needs to be shared with the world… let’s meet…”
And the rest as they say is Latino literary history.
Prior to that fateful call though, I recollect taking the last $300.00 out of the bank to drive to New York to attend the BEA Conference at the Jacob K. Javits Center. The promise of the Book Expo of America and this particular conference was that you’d get to have your manuscript reviewed by a real publisher, literary agent or editor.
There I stood with a nearly completed manuscript titled, “Next Stop: Growing up in the Kingsbridge Section of the Bronx,” – the name would later be changed by Nomad – and a firm belief that the stories of my old neighborhood deserved a grand platform.
I believed in the deepest part of my soul that the stories of survival and the memoriam to those who didn’t make it out deserved to be documented for an eternity. And no one could tell me that my gut instinct was wrong.
These were the unwritten stories of our lives… and I wanted them to be cemented in the concrete of literary greatness for generations to come.
My hands shook when I handed the manuscript to the first editor and after browsing through the first few pages he promptly closed it and said, “I can’t market this,” and sent me on my way.
I quickly got into line number two to hear virtually the same thing… and as I walked up to Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management on my third and final try, my spirits had already been crushed and my hopes of finding anyone to publish me that afternoon had completely vanished.
And while Sharlene didn’t provide me with a publishing deal that afternoon, she did provide me with one thing the others did not… she provided me with kinds words of hope when she said, “Your stories seem to have potential, just polish up the manuscript and don’t give up.”
But that’s what I did at that very moment… I gave up… I quit… I accepted my fate as a failed writer.
While I sat on the sidewalk outside the Javits Center, for what seemed like an eternity, eating the only thing I could afford to eat – a dirty water dog – before trekking back to Virginia Beach, the only feelings I could muster were those of defeat.
I’d let everyone down… but at least I had the courage to try, right?
I tried to look at the bright side of Sharlene’s words, but the fact that I’d spent my families last few dollars trying to “make it,” was enough to cloud the bright side of anything in a wall of tears.
The manuscript for “Next Stop,” sat collecting dust for an entire year before a friend of Nomad’s overheard me talking about the forgotten tales I’d written at a beach party and offered to pass it on for review.
So you see… there is no great secret to being published… In my case, I still believe it was fate. And to this day I still believe that the lives of my friends who died on the streets of New York deserved to be shared with the world, if for no other reason, than to prove that they existed in some time or space.
And so if I had to give you just one bit of advice, I’d tell you to write a manuscript that is so honest it will literally hurt you to write it.
Moreover, that even if you’re writing a novel, take all of the pain and pleasure you’ve ever experienced in life and pour it onto the pages as if your only hope of survival is to confess the truths for what they are… the truth… the sad, lonely, happy, funny, unapologetic truths of life. Because I for one don’t want to read anything less than that.
Understand that your life, the lives of those around you deserve to be documented… deserve to be written… deserve to be told by us for future generations to experience.
“Next Stop: Growing up Wild Style in the Bronx,” was never a marketable book. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an important book.
And for the last year I’ve blamed everyone and their mother for not supporting and purchasing the book. Only to come to the realization through conversations with filmmakers like Franc Reyes and Mr. Moe that it was never the audiences fault.
How can you buy a book that you don’t even know exists?
And so in that regard we are still very much invisible to the mainstream markets of America.
Only this time, there is no need to give up… but instead to write more books and document more stories in hopes that eventually the market will find us.
Next Stop is officially going out of print on May 27, 2010.
But the book has its place in history as the first memoir by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx to be published by a major publishing house. And though Simon & Schuster never really pushed this book, my editor Sulay Hernandez fought hard to allow it to see the light of day on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and Borders.
I was fortunate enough to count amongst my fans people like Casper Martinez, Luis Guzman, Rosie Perez, Ramon Rodriguez, Luis Antonio Ramos and Urban Latino Magazine’s founder Jorge Cano-Moreno. But more importantly teens across America that saw themselves in the pages and questioned the paths they were traveling in life…
A few even altered their paths to find their own success in life.
Doors opened, friendships were built and new legacies were secured. In the end, my gut instinct was right… Our unwritten lives… deserved to be written.
To Be Continued
"It's the raw and brutally honest portrayal of a violent youth who walks through fire in order to find himself." -- Linda Nieves-Powell, author of Free Style
Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.