For the next year and a half, I failed to land another book project, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Amidst the magazine writing and the part-time gig, three other well-developed ideas failed to launch. I was working through one of them with my agent’s then-assistant, Farley Chase, growing increasingly frustrated – with the idea, not with Farley – when I swore, “Dude, you’re not going to like hearing this, but this isn’t the book I really want to write. I want to write one about the C.N.A.C. Hump fliers. I think about that story every day. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that it didn’t sell.”
Rather than telling me to get stuffed for wasting so much of his time, Farley asked me to send him the rejected proposal.
I hadn’t looked at it in 18 months, not quite being able to face the failure, but I attached it to an email and sent it east regardless.
Farley took it home and read it and called me the next day: “Two things. One, you’re right, it’s a great story. Two, your proposal doesn’t do it justice. Read it again and we’ll talk.”
I swallowed my ego and did as I was told and lo! Farley was right. The first China’s Wings proposal hadn’t sold because it wasn’t any good.
Sure, I’d included great anecdotes, but as the next six years of research and writing would teach me, there’s no end of phenomenal anecdotes about the China National Aviation Corporation. I just hadn’t given the proposal any structure. I’d tossed good meat in front of my potential editors, but I hadn’t given them any skeleton from which to hang it. Without that skeleton, they couldn’t envision a finished book, and if a book proposal has one single overriding mission, it’s to make an editor clearly see the finished book.
In that, I’d definitely failed.
With Farley’s guidance, I invested another six weeks in revising the China’s Wings proposal yet again. However, much as I loved the story, I was also full of dread. I really was clinging to the end of the rope. As a writer, another rejection would drop me into free fall.
I fedexed the finished proposal on a Wednesday, scheduled to hit editors’ desks on Friday. (Which is neat to ponder from my current perspective, considering what I now know about the strong C.N.A.C./Fedex connection — I doubt many Fedex employees know about it, and it’s a fascinating aspect of their company’s heritage.) Editors do their reading over weekends. Monday was silent, and I suffered. Tuesday was not. My agent, Ronald Goldfarb, fielded offers from several publishing houses. Wednesday afternoon, Bantam Dell bought it for a handsome fee.
I’d stepped out of my apartment to take Ronald’s call and heard the news on the white concrete around the complex’s pool. I staggered upstairs, collapsed on my bed, pulled a blanket over my head, and sobbed tears of relief.
I flew to New York to ink the contract and meet my “acquiring editor”, John Flicker.