Breeds Apart: The Writer’s Way, the Publisher

November 2003
by Ralph Keyes

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After spending three years writing The Blessing Way, Albuquerque’s Tony Hillerman sent this novel to his agent in New York. The agent sent it back. Why? Because she wouldn’t dare risk her reputation by showing his manuscript to editors there. She knew they would be put off by Hillerman’s depiction of Navajo ways. “If you insist on rewriting this,” the author said she told him, “get rid of all that Indian stuff.” Instead, he got rid of her. Hillerman’s Navajo-based novels went on to become one of the most successful mystery series of all time.

Peer Fear

Why didn’t Hillerman’s agent recognize his book’s potential? Because she was a product of her social milieu. We all are. We’re all mindful of the attitudes of those whom we see regularly. Concern about our peers’ opinions and a fine appreciation of their tastes make it difficult to consider anything that might deviate from those tastes. When Tony Hillerman sent The Blessing Way, the notion of mingling Navajo spirituality with soft-boiled detective fiction seemed absurd to those toiling in the vineyards of publishing in New York. Hillerman might as well have asked his agent to join him for lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant wearing a lime-colored polyester pants suit.

Hillerman’s experience illustrates why so many writers feel as though they’re not exactly in with publishing’s in-crowd. If this sounds sophomoric, that’s no…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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