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The Road to Publication

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 16th, 2019

Blog post by Lemley Mullett, Program Assistant

Marc Harshman, the poet laureate of West Virginia since 2012 and an author from Marshall County, donated his life’s work collection to the WVRHC’s Distinguished West Virginians project. His collection reflects his dedication to both his craft and to Appalachia: not only do we have many of his rustic poem collections such as Believe What You Can, and Green-Silver and Silent, but many letters to and from publishers about his children’s books also are part of the collection–plus many manuscript drafts enclosed therein.

Publishing writing has always meant facing a lot of rejections. Marc Harshman is no exception, as evidenced by the dozens of rejection letters kept in his correspondence folders. His children’s book All The Way To Morning, published in 1999, went through many rejections and revisions from different publishing houses for nearly ten years beforehand, and its journey can be tracked through the archived correspondence. Under All The Way To Morning’s original title, Falling Asleep, the piece was rejected in 1990 by Clarion Books and in 1991 by Hyperion with little fanfare. However, the publisher Simon & Schuster saw promise in the tale, even if they could not immediately accept it, and worked with Harshman over the course of two years to fine-tune it. Here is one example from 1993:

A scanned letter from the Simon & Schuster publishing house, written by Joanna Guinther to Marc Harshman. It praises Harshman’s work and suggests continuing edits, such as organizing the book’s multicultural locations. Transcription:  "Dear Marc Harshman, I’m sorry to have held onto ALL THE WAY TO MORNING for so long. I’ve now had a chance to discuss it with our new President and Publisher, Willa Perlman, and we feel it needs a little more fine tuning. The multicultural aspect needs to be more even-handed; the choices of country feel too random. You have three entries from the US, and you’ve left out one continent (Oceania) altogether. Why not substitute Australia and maybe an African country for the two rural U.S. entries (especially since the narrator is probably camping in yet another rural part of the U.S.)? We also thought it  might be nice to provide a sort of subtle logic by putting the countries in geographical order. We could start on the West Coast of the U.S., go around the world to the west (Australia, Japan, Cambodia, Egypt, Italy, Norway, Brazil), and end up in an East Coast city. We might even be able to put a map on the endpapers so readers could follow along. There’s a bit of a problem with the initial set-up. You imply that kids are going to sleep at the same moment all around the world. Can you reword the second paragraph on p. 1 so as not to suggest that bedtime happens simultaneously everywhere? We’d like to see more representative sounds for each place; not stereotypes, but something evocative."

But ultimately it was rejected from that company as well due to employee changes (and a very regretful letter from the editor who had been so enthusiastic in the first place).

Harshman continued to send the edited story around, only to face more rejections. Hyperion Books again rejected it in 1997, this time with slightly more detail but no less pickiness:

A scanned letter from Hyperion Books for children, written by Katherine Tegen. Rejects two of Harshman’s manuscripts, citing poor visual elements. Transcription: "Dear Mr. Harshman:  Thank you for sending When Heaven Sends Hail and All the Way to Morning. I'm sorry to say that I don't feel we could publish these successfully.  Although When Heaven Sends Hail has some nice moments, I don't feel that the story has enough visual possibilities to make a compelling picture book. All the Way to Morning has a lovely read-aloud quality to it, but I didn't find that the images particularly evoke the country they are meant to -- many of the sounds can be found in many of these places. It's an interesting concept, but a difficult one to execute.  Thank you for thinking of me, however, and good luck with finding the right home for these projects.  Sincerely, Katherine Tegen Executive Editor"

So many years of rejections could get disheartening for anyone! But on his website, Marc writes about All The Way To Morning‘s journey briefly, which finally brings us to its successful end:

Like ONLY ONE I believe this book, too, came as a gift, although I actually do not recall its inception. Unlike the earlier book, however, this one was not immediately accepted by my editor. But I always liked the idea, worked it through some significant revisions, and just kept sending it around. Then Judith Whipple at Cavendish read it and loved it at first sight.
So had I.

Harshman clearly had a vision for this work, and saw it through to the end.

The Marc Harshman papers, once processed, will be available as part of the Distinguished West Virginians collection.

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