So I went to this writers’ conference called “Western Writers of America” in 1996. To tell the truth I was feeling a bit out of place, but I was actually NOT the only black person there. A black woman attended also. More about her in a moment…
Well, I’m a networking kinda guy, so I went around the main rooms and introduced myself to maybe half of the 300+ attendees, including two elder authors named Norman Zollinger and Elmer Kelton – who just happened to be the biggest Western writers in the universe at the time.
So let’s go back to that woman. She was the only other black person in the whole conference and she was just standing there sipping orange juice, so – you know me – I went over there and introduced myself. It went something like this:
“Hi, I’m Jeffrey and I’m an author.”
“I’m Jacqueline Johnson with Walker and Company.”
“You’re a publisher?” I said. “Wow! I have a book I’m trying to get published.”
“What’s it about?”
Well, I floundered for a while (because I didn’t have a 30-second pitch ready) until she finally gave me a business card and told me to send her my manuscript.
And… BLAM! Just like that I got my second book published by the first and only publisher I pitched. In hardcover. By a New York publisher. By a black author. Featuring a black hero. To my knowledge that has never happened before or since in the history of the galaxy.
By the way, I later wrote to those world-renowned authors, Zollinger and Kelton, to ask them to blurb my new book. At first they didn’t remember me, but when I described myself – brown skin, no hair, big smile (this became my marketing tagline over the years) – they both remembered me instantly out of the hundreds of conference attendees. Both graciously agreed to help an aspiring author get on the charts.
If you think this was a crazy get-published story, wait until you hear how I got my third and fourth books published. And if you have a story on how you “accidentally” got published, send me 300 words and your byline and let’s tell aspiring writers there are many paths to the goal line.