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Dismissing the advice of experts can put you at a real competitive disadvantage. Take it from someone who didn’t listen to a chorus of experienced pros telling him the same thing and got burned for spurning their better judgment.
Here’s what happened to me. For years I have been a book critic and writer about literary topics for top publications like the New York Times, Playboy magazine, Chicago Tribune and Village Voice. And, like many book critics, I wanted to make the jump from writing about books to writing books themselves.
In book publishing, if you want to get published, first you have to find an agent. That’s not an easy task, but I eventually found one with a great client roster who was willing to represent me.
Then I had to come up with a killer idea. For years I had been thinking about writing a non-fiction book about the cultural history of saliva. I thought it was a fascinating topic because of its incredible yin/yang qualities – it is essential to life and part of human intimacy through kissing, but spitting on someone is seen as an incredible insult.
So I took that idea, and wrote an introduction and two sample chapters – one on saliva in the history of sports and one on saliva’s role in health and wellness. Those are the elements that your agent needs when publishers are pitched.
It took a couple of months before my agent thought my intro and sample chapters were ready, but once they were in solid shape the package was sent to all of the major publishers in the business.
Then the rejections started coming in. And they almost all said the exact same thing – the idea is very clever, the writing is excellent, but it won’t sell and we’ll take a pass. After all of the major commercial publishers had weighed in, my agent went to the university publishers, who are sometimes more open to more obscure ideas. They basically weighed in the same way, and I ended up without a publisher.
So I decided to finish the book and publish it myself, dismissing what so many experienced publishing house editors had said.
It took months to complete the book. And then I licensed a photo for the cover (at substantial expense), and then I had the cover designed (at substantial expense) and then I had the book reviewed by the well-regarded publication Kirkus (at substantial expense), and then I published it online on Amazon (“Great Expectorations: The Cultural History of Saliva from Jesus Christ to Iggy Pop”).
Even with a solid review from Kirkus and many mentions of the book in my bio at the end of articles I wrote for prominent publications, it didn’t sell. And I mean it really didn’t sell. Currently, there are 1,270,941 titles on Amazon that are selling better than my book. I didn’t even know there were that many books ever published!
So, in the end, I spent a lot of time and a substantial amount of my own money on a project that, while I am proud of it, did not pay off.
Many of the publishing experts who weighed in on my proposal liked my work so much that they encouraged me to find a more mainstream project that they could get behind. Which is what I am doing now – writing a proposal for a book on the biggest rules changes in the history of sports.
And if I would have listened to them in the first place, I might be on a book tour right now instead of writing this blog post.
John D. Thomas, the former long-time editor of Playboy.com, is a writer and editor based in Chicago.

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