Skip to main content

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. This guest column by John Meyer, author of Heartbreaker.

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.

Image placeholder title

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.

Image placeholder title

Heartbreaker


A Master Class in Failure (To Find Writing Success)

A Master Class in Failure (To Find Writing Success)

Failure is often a step in finding success but navigating the treacherous terrain of rejection can be burdensome. Here, international bestselling author Marcia DeSanctis shares a master class in coming back from failure.

Telling My Story: How to Work Through Painful Feelings While Writing a Memoir

Telling My Story: How to Work Through Painful Feelings While Writing a Memoir

When revisiting your past means unearthing painful memories, it’s important to find solitude somewhere. Here, author Laura L. Engel discusses how to work through painful feelings while writing a memoir.

Podcasting Tips | Brendan O'Meara

The Writer’s Guide to Being a Great Podcast Guest

More writers than ever are appearing on or even hosting podcasts related to their writing. Host of the "Creative Nonfiction Podcast" Brendan O'Meara shares how to make it an enjoyable and successful experience.

T.M. Blanchet: On Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back

T.M. Blanchet: On Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back

Author T.M. Blanchet discusses the unforeseen element of surprise in publishing her debut YA fantasy, Herrick’s End.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 608

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a mom poem.

How I Went From No Book to Book Deal in Under a Year

How I Went From No Book to Book Deal in Under a Year

From picking up a reading habit to navigating daily word counts, award-winning journalist Carley Fortune shares how she went from no book to a book deal in less than a year.

Stay Thirsty, My Friends: On Freeing Writing From the Weight of Perfection

Stay Thirsty, My Friends: On Freeing Writing From the Weight of Perfection

Internationally bestselling author Sarah McCoy reclaims the necessary messiness that comes with the writing process and discusses why writers strive for perfection when perfection doesn’t exist.

Guardian

Guardian

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character is guardian of an unnatural lake.

Amy Lea: On People-Watching Inspiring Romance

Amy Lea: On People-Watching Inspiring Romance

Author and bureaucrat Amy Lea discusses writing meet-cutes and meet-not-so-cutes in her debut romantic comedy novel, Set On You.