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A Story of a Second Chance: How One Writer Fought to Have His Memoir Reissued

Bertelsmann didn’t want to return my rights, even though my book, Heartbreaker, had lain dormant for over twenty years. Doubleday, the original publisher, had been swallowed by this German conglomerate, and of course they wanted to hang on to any book in their catalogue, even if it hadn’t sold a copy in years. But Oh, no no, they said, this book isn’t dormant; anyone who wants it can order it through print-on-demand. I finally had to enlist the help of a lawyer and then The Author’s Guild counsel, Kay Murray. Kay told Bertelsmann she would make my book, Heartbreaker, a test case of the issue for any author who wanted his/her rights back, and would pursue it all the way to the Supreme Court. (Go, Kay!) Threatened with this tough talk, Bertelsmann knuckled and sent a letter of release. Now I owned my book and was free to pursue a reissue.

This guest column by John Meyer,
author of Heartbreaker.

 

I spent a year querying agents. No one wanted it. But I knew I had something salable—a memoir of the time I tried to rescue Judy Garland from her demons, shortly before the end of her life. In 1968, I had been an idealistic young composer who met Garland to show her a song. Meeting her, I was entranced. Foolishly, I undertook to “save” her from her unhealthy lifestyle of pills and liquor. I thought I could succeed where everyone else had despaired. I was blinded with a Messianic fervor, and spent eight excruciating, emotionally draining weeks with her, acting as her manager, booker, escort, chauffeur, general factotum and boyfriend. I wore myself out with the effort and eventually fell, exhausted. But my obsession had granted me an up-close, detailed look at this amazing woman, with all her fascinating idiosyncrasies.

THE FIRST RELEASE

Finally, after years, I felt I’d gained enough objectivity to put down the story in a fashion the general reader would find palatable. In 1983, Lisa Drew, then an editor at Doubleday, snapped up the manuscript. Now, of course, the agents came flocking. It’s not hard to get an agent when you’ve already made the sale. (By the way, this is a good way to go; if you know an editor, you can place the book yourself—then have an agent negotiate terms. You don’t want to accept the publishing house’s first offer). In its initial release, the book sold eleven thousand copies. Not bad.

A SECOND LIFE

Now, in 2005, what made the book re-printable, I thought, was the CD that new technology now allowed to be bundled within the book, inside the back cover. It was a forty-minute rehearsal I’d taped with Judy around the piano, singing and telling stories, unself-conscious, impromptu. But even the promise of this rare window into the life of a legendary entertainer couldn’t convince the current crop of agents. Everyone was running scared—the publishing “climate” was getting more and more difficult to surmount. But I forced myself to remember: To Kill a Mockingbird went through fifty rejections.

After two years, discouraged, I was about to give up and go the self-publishing route. Ironically, this would have amounted virtually to Bertelsmann’s POD method.  But an acquaintance offered to introduce me to June Clark, an agent at Peter Rubie (Now FinePrint Literary). June took the book to an editor named Bob Shuman, who was thrilled at the possibility of grabbing the new Heartbreaker for Kensington. He went to bat for the book in an editorial meeting, and Kensington reissued the book in 2006. It came out in a glamorous new edition, with the inclusion not only of the CD, but an eight-page photo section with shots of Sid Luft, Kay Thompson, and … my parents! So, whaddaya know –a story with a happy ending.

Heartbreaker


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