What are you gonna do with it?

Publishing Chronicles of 2012: Donít give up on your dream!

For forty years Iíve written manuscripts, in various states of completion. I submitted a few and in 1981 made it all the way to initial acceptance by Peregrine-Smith, a noteworthy publisher. That manuscript was Oregon Country Fair, an interactive novella. (Iíve lost all copies, so if any of you have one, please let me know. In 2001 I self-published a huge e-book, Thirty Years On the Road, which has also disappeared, unless anyone out there has a copy.)

Since 1987 Iíve practiced Soul Level Astrology, my method of using the birth chart as a window to the core nature of human beings. Iíve given readings to thousands of people all over the world by phone and in person. In that time Iíve striven to craft a new language to bring cosmic concepts down to earth, making celestial mechanics accessible to mass consciousness.

Many times in the last twenty years I sought to tell the story of how I met my teacher, Ellias Lonsdale, visionary astrologer and mystic. I wanted to tell how we created a mystery school under the redwoods of northern California, where we studied the hidden meanings of our time. I yearned for a way to make these spirit teachings relevant to the current need for world change. Beneath everything I did this tale nagged at me, refusing to go away until I committed it to paper.

In 2001 in Vermont I set out to craft the tale. I wrote for a year in my laborious style, generating hundreds of pages to boil down to book size. When I read the results I was disappointed, because the inner spirit of the material failed to make it through. I tossed it and let go of the project.

Two years later on Vashon Island, Washington, I began anew, taking a different slant, personalizing the story with more of my own presence as a character, less focus on my teacher. I wrote for five months, boiling hundreds of new pages down to something readable. I polished the first chapter and submitted it to North Atlantic Books in Berkeley, (parent company of Frog Books) a well-known mid-size publisher of quality metaphysics. I had a slight ďinĒ with them because they published my teacherís astrology book in the mid-90s, and Iíd written the preface. I always kept it in the back of my head that if I had an appropriate book idea to submit it to them.

To my astonishment (after decades of generating book proposals that didnít go anywhere) they accepted (!)and sent me a contract, which I signed, (high as a kite.) The agreement was contingent upon me finishing the book into something they could actually publish.

I bent back to work and finished that manuscript, turned it in in late 2005 feeling hopeful but wary — my publishing non-history had left the bitter taint of decades of disappointment in the back of my mouth.

Upon receiving the work, Richard, the publisher, said my underlying vision was unique and powerful, but my treatment failed to do it justice. ďAbout eighty percent or more of what youíve written has to go. Youíre not living up to your own material,Ē he told me point-blank (being a straight-shooting ex-New Yorker who pulls no punches.) He perceived a huge gap between what Iíd said and what I wanted to say. He then spent two months helping me analyze the manuscript. He line-by-line edited a quarter of the book, and outlined detailed notes on the Big Picture of what he felt I was trying to say with the rest of it. He pointed me in the right direction and then left me alone to either come up with a new book or not. Impelling me to get much further inside the soul, or core vision, of my own material, his parting words to me were ďAstonish us.Ē

The more I reviewed Richardís notes, the more I realized he really did seem uninterested in changing my vision, only kicking my ass to clear away everything that obscured it. The more I came to look at it through his eyes, the more I saw my manuscript was still riddled with ego, superficiality, puffery and all kinds of claptrap that obscured the central idea and cluttered my vision. What a colossal piece of crap, I felt in my darker moments, how could I have ever expected anybody to buy this tripe?

Still, beneath my writerís insecurity and lifelong artistic demons, I recognized I was being offered an invaluable crash course in book writing that could scarcely have been bought for any amount of money. I mean, if the head of a publishing house takes months to critique an unknown writerís manuscript, it can only be because he senses potential in it — right? Publishers are not in the profession of taking on charity cases — they rather tend to be in the habit of making money.

Soon after, my ex- and I split, and it took me nine months to bounce back and learn to co-parent our boy, who wasnít yet three. At the end of those nine months, surfacing from the gloom, I took stock of my situation. All my life Iíd been driven to be a writer. At nine I envisioned myself as an author. I was first published at fourteen. Iíve read thousands of books, written poetry, articles, songs, stories, ad copy, comic books, plays, movies and books. Some of this was published, performed or sold — most of it lingered on my shelves, eventually dissolving back to compost.

I knew this contract with North Atlantic was my first true break, my first real opening into the success Iíd craved since childhood. I didnít want to write an astrology book, though, which would have a limited audience, and be mostly preaching to the choir. I wanted to spin a page-turning adventure, driven by mystical forces, which addressed the current worldwide hunger for powerful transformation, connected to the year 2012. I wanted to do for our time what Carlos Castaneda did in the Seventies, weave spiritual insight into a true-life sorcererís-apprentice story.

Knowing I might never get another publisher interested in the work of an unknown writer, I told myself this could be my one shot at fulfilling my lifelong vision. So after nine months I reappraised the work in the sober light of autumn. Could this project actually be salvageable?

I made a vow to write every single day until I turned in this endless manuscript. I also made an accompanying vow to turn that earlier version into a bestseller. I didnít know if this was possible, I only knew that if there was any way in Creation to do this, I was committed to finding it.

So I took out Richardís notes and began reworking the material. That first day it felt mechanical, uninspired, painstaking, almost hopeless. But there soon appeared glimpses of jewels glittering in the muck, hidden gems of phrasing or ideas that, bit by bit, I strove to free from the detritus. It felt like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle that had gotten all mixed up with other puzzles in a gigantic box, which I had to sort through. Bit by bit I did it.

Even though at first I only managed to spend an hour or two at the keyboard, I wrote seven days a week. When life got hectic with astrology readings, daily chores, island-wide winter power outages, and child care, I pushed myself to get out of bed at 3 am and put in time before going back to sleep. It actually didnít turn out to take as much as Iíd thought. Approaching the final month of writing I upped my window to four hours a day. In the final weeks I upped it again, and the last days I spent twenty hours a day piecing it into shape. I knew the work wasnít perfect, but sensed it was the perfect moment to turn it in. Itís better to give a book to an editor when youíve put a lot in but are not yet complete, because when you feel complete youíre less open to suggestion and revision.

I kept my vow. In January, 2007, my boy, Sky, who had tracked this whole process, said he wanted to go with me to mail it to the publisher. This is it, I thought on the ride down, Iíve really done it. The vision came to me then that this book, after forty years of writing, six years of revision, countless drafts and counter-drafts, was actually taking shape in the world, and I was stunned. I took Sky into the post office and sealed the manuscript with my heart pounding. The packing took so long that by the time I was done I realized Sky was missing. I found him on the linoleum floor, scrunched way back underneath the counter, where a line-up of patrons had no idea he was snoozing inches behind their feet.

I sent off the book and emailed Richard to that effect. He sent a cursory reply saying donít get my hopes up — after all, the last version was totally unpublishable, their entire 2007 line-up was full, and there were other businessy concerns, economics, restructuring the company blah blah blah. I replied that I understood his message but had incorporated all his suggestions and felt this was an entirely different book than before. Perhaps he doesnít know how great a teacher he is, I told myself, bolstering my hopes.

The next day Richard emailed me that the package arrived, and at first glance he could tell it was a HUGE improvement. That got my attention. The following day he said it was a very good book — he wanted to publish it, call him right away. That floored me, as I put down the computer and picked up the phone.

Richard told me he was surprised I was able to turn the former version into the current manuscript, which he felt could be a very popular book, even a bestseller (if the fickle gods of the marketplace smiled on us.) My eyes began to tear as my lifelong dream finally came true.

But wait — there was more: six months earlier North Atlantic had joined in partnership with Random House, which meant my book now had an enormous publicity machine behind it that the earlier version would never have had. To top these revelations, Richard offered me a potential job, based on the fact that if I could turn the earlier mess into such a good manuscript, I might be able to do that with another of their writers who was dealing with vaguely similar material. He saw my prowess as an editor.

So, on January 13, 2007 after writing tens of thousands of pages since childhood, my age-old dream came true, and my book was accepted. Little did I know that thirteen tedious months of revision lay ahead, in which I was to labor exhaustively, with the help of two additional editors, to polish the work. After thousands more hours of pushing myself into a whole new realm of my craft, and after learning that Barnes & Noble was to feature my title on a special table in the front of their stores, in February, 2008, I turned my book in to hearty congratulations of my project editor.

Moral: Donít give up on your dream, because someday it may come true.

Mark Borax, author of 2012: Crossing the Bridge to the Future
April 2008, Frog Books

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