Monday, December 31, 2012

My New Year's Resolution: More No's Faster

My father-in-law, Randy Boyer, is a successful computer software salesman. He has an expression: More no's faster. Meaning, the more times he hears no, the closer he is to a yes. What this really highlights is an unwillingness to give up no matter how many times he's rejected.

In my professional life, the person who personifies this attitude the most is my literary agent, Barney Karpfinger. He never gave up! In November 2010, we had a slew of meetings with publishers for Dancers Among Us (which at the time was set exclusively in Manhattan). The result was always the same- they loved the photos but didn't think a book would sell.

"A dance photography book set in New York City? They'll never buy it in Kansas."

As the no's were pouring in, Barney was upbeat and reassuring. "My most successful books were always the hardest to sell. Don't worry, we will find a home for this book."

After all the publishers passed, most agents would have moved on. Instead, Barney asked me to meet him at the High Line in Chelsea on a winter afternoon. The High Line is a park built on an old elevated subway line, so it is high above the streets of Manhattan and nestled in between apartment complexes.

The Highline. Photo on Instagram- @jordanmatter

"These buildings are privately owned," he told me. "Let's approach all of the owners and convince them to hang huge Dancers Among Us banners on their facades. We need to do something to create a buzz, and an art installation adjacent to one of the world's most popular parks will generate media interest. Then we can approach the publishers again."

Rather than backing down and accepting the popular opinion, Barney was ready to go the distance. He was not going to accept no for an answer.

A month later, the amazing Workman Publishing unexpectedly called us in for a meeting. Barney's positivity had an impact on me. As Workman expressed similar concerns about the New York setting, I decided I had heard enough no's for one book-

"Actually, I'm planning to shoot Dancers Among Us all around the country this summer," I lied. I didn't mention that those plans were about five seconds old; I just couldn't hear another no.

Workman was interested in this concept, and I started booking airplane tickets. The rest, as they say, is history. Dancers Among Us has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the past six weeks, and was chosen by Oprah Magazine, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble as one of the best books of 2012. It has sold out in bookstores across the country, and has already been reprinted twice. 

When Barney finds himself reassuring future clients who are tired of hearing no, he now has one more book to use as an example. And when I'm doubtful about the prospects of any future projects, I will remember his tenacity and keep moving forward, looking for more no's faster.

Barney with my son, Hudson, on Thanksgiving Day 2012