This September will see the release of my first book, Winter in the Wilderness. It’s been a long time coming. Success in writing, I’ve found, takes three things: persistence, luck, and persistence. I feel like I’ve won the lottery. In a way, I have.
Not many people know this about me, but I graduated high school by taking a summer course. I failed Economics my senior year with a grade of 62—three points short of the finish line—and wasn’t handed my diploma until August. Few gave me any chance for success. I know I didn’t.
Like many authors, my achievements in the time since have hinged on a marriage of determination and serendipity. I’d still be an unpublished writer if not for fate dealing me a good hand. But it’s what I’ve done with that hand that’s made all the difference.
My coauthor, Dave Hall, and I were colleagues when we worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension nearly a decade ago. Dave’s still there, but I left after the birth of my first child. He and I didn’t see each other, except in passing, until six years later when I wrote a feature about the youth program he founded, Primitive Pursuits, for an issue of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.
After the article hit newsstands, Dave left a cryptic message on my answering machine.
Fueled by curiosity, I dialed his number. He picked up on the third ring.
“Hi, Dave,” I said. “It’s Jon. I got your message. What’s up?”
“Well,” he said, pausing for emphasis, “I’d like you to help me write a book.”
He’d had an idea knocking around for a few years about a field guide on winter preparedness and survival that hadn’t gotten off the ground. I didn’t need much time to make a decision.
“Sure,” I said. And like that, the journey began.
I dusted off my dog-eared copy of Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal and worked with Dave over the next few months on crafting our pitch. I mailed a query to Peter J. Potter, Editor in Chief of Cornell University Press, on June 19, 2013. Eight weeks later Dave and I were sitting in his office discussing a contract.
I was nervous. It took every ounce of restraint I could muster to avoid getting down on my knees and begging Peter for the opportunity to publish. Then his Associate Editor, Kitty, asked us a question.
“It’s not often that we have two authors collaborating on the same project,” she said. “What brought you together?”
“Well, I have a lot of experience and knowledge to share, and I needed someone to help me get that on the page,” Dave said. “Besides,” he added, “I don’t even like writing.” I almost reached across the table and strangled him.
Being the affable goofball that he is, Dave delivered this last statement with an air of absurdity. It broke the ice and paved the way for a successful book deal.
I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from Kitty telling us that we had 1,500 copies of the book on backorder. I asked her if that was a good number. She said that, yes, for two unknown authors, it was a good number. I never thought I’d publish a book, let alone one people would pay money to read. Must be all that supply and demand stuff I never paid attention to in high school.
And now, on the eve of its release, we have a second proposal up for academic review.
So I guess things turned out all right.
Winter in the Wilderness: A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills will be released on September 22, 2015 by Comstock Publishing, an imprint of Cornell University Press. For more information about the book, please visit