Years back, I submitted my first manuscript Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques to a number of commercial publishers. All the major publishers responded that they did not review manuscripts that were not represented by agents. When I approached the major agents, I was told that they not represent anyone who was not published. It was a classic Catch-22.
I regarded this as simply another challenge to be overcome. I thought about the creative thinking techniques of Leonardo da Vinci that I researched and wrote about in my book. He believed that it is impossible for the human mind to deliberate on two separate ideas or objects, no matter how dissimilar, without eventually forming a connection between the two. These connections excite the mind and lead to creative ideas that you cannot get using your usual way of thinking.
Leonardo called this technique “connecting the unconnected.” Accordingly, I took out a deck of Tarot cards (Gypsy fortune-telling cards) that I played with from time to time. I shuffled the deck, closed my eyes, and randomly pulled out a card. The card I pulled was the “Death” card. Intrigued, I began to wonder what connections could I force between death and getting a publisher to read my manuscript. What does death have to do with publishers reviewing manuscripts?
I thought of death: the causes, grieving, burials, how animals and birds die, how fish die, rituals, memorial services, the undertakers, decomposition, cultural attitudes, wakes, preparations for burial, epitaphs, gravestones, eulogies, obituaries, and so on. I spent a lot of time wondering about the essence of death. What does death mean?
Then one day as I walked leisurely through the woods not thinking of anything in particular, a thought came to me out of the blue. I thought death means leaving one’s loved ones and friends behind. Suddenly, I had my idea. I thought of people leaving one publisher for a better job with another publisher. Thus, leaving one’s friends and colleagues behind.
I went to the library and looked up Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry journal. Inside I found a section titled “People on the Move.” It described people’s movement in the industry. I discovered that one of the editors (I’ll call him Tom) who refused to review my manuscript had moved on to become editor-in-chief for a competing publisher. I became interested in the people he left behind at his former publisher.
My idea was to write a letter to Tom’s former editor-in-chief where he worked before he left to work for a competitor. My letter read as follows:
My manuscript that your editor Tom was so excited about is finally finished. I promised Tom that he would be the first publisher to review and evaluate it. I would not submit it to other publishers until he made a decision to publish or not to publish.
However, I cannot locate Tom. Your company’s receptionist told me he is no longer employed by your company and was not able to advise me who to contact for his current location. If you know, I would very much appreciate it if you would please let me know how and where I can contact him so I can deliver my promised manuscript.
I sent this letter to three different publishers about three different editors who had accepted better jobs with other publishers. All three publishers demanded the manuscript immediately. One called and threatened me with a lawsuit unless I delivered the manuscript to them ASAP. All three wanted the publishing rights and got into a bidding war for the contract. I received a lucrative advance from the high bidder. All offers were from companies who claimed they would not review manuscripts not represented by agents.
Thank you, Leonardo da Vinci, for showing me once again how to get the unconventional idea by connecting the unconnected.
(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://www.creativethinking.net)