Letter from the Publisher: WALK
Categories: Health & Healing Letter from the Publisher
Walking or rolling the road to yes often involves navigating at least one “Do Not Pass” sign.
Such was the case with Jonathon Stalls and his revelatory book, WALK: Slow Down, Wake Up, and Connect at 1-3 Miles Per Hour, which hits stores this week.
Jonathon had first contacted me through a mutual colleague, Adam Brock, whose book Change Here Now we had published in 2017. Jonathon was in the early stages of writing a book on the power of walking (or rolling) to transform ourselves and our communities. He shared a detailed proposal with me tentatively entitled “Walking as Wisdom,” and there was much to love in it.
Given that we receive hundreds of submissions every year and publish only 38 of them, however, the hard truth is that we sometimes have to say no to authors and projects. The book as presented intrigued us but did not quite cohere as a project we would be able to support. And so we passed.
As I’ve come to learn from communicating with Jonathon, he took the news graciously and said he was aware of the limitations of what he had sent us.
He wondered if we would be open to taking another look at a revamped proposal, one that stepped more assertively into the role that walking played in his own journey as a gay man and one that provided an inspiration and road map to rediscovering walking and rolling as a portal for personal growth and community transformation. I told him we were open to that, knowing that it is rare that a no turns into a yes.
Almost a full two years later, Jonathon sent along a new proposal, one that also included Jonathon’s spectacular and evocative line drawings. After reading the revised proposal and sharing it with my colleagues, I wrote Jonathon with interest and a few development notes on ways I thought the book could be stronger. He replied that he was a few clicks away from self-publishing the book, but that receiving my enthusiastic response and feedback pushed him to pause and further pursue a collaboration with us. As he put it in his email, “To be honest, I would deeply prefer a more collaborative team process. I definitely do not have 100% clarity on how this book should live in the hands and hearts of others. Having a team like yours nurturing and co-guiding the process would actually be water for me.”
Frankly it is quite rare to encounter an author who understands their own limitations in birthing a book into the complex world of publishing and who is actually deeply interested in, and committed to, having a partner in the process. At times, an author wants access to the distribution channels we animate through our relationship with Penguin Random House but is not deeply interested in our feedback and guidance in shaping the book. In all of his dealings with our dedicated staff, Jonathon seemed to embody the rare combination of authority and receptivity.
One week later Jonathon provided a third draft of the book that truly sang. Two months later, after running the book through our acquisitions group and our staff-wide acquisitions meeting, I was overjoyed to tell Jonathon that his book had the entire organization’s support and that we would love to publish it. It only took two and a half years from our first contact; sometimes the best things do move at 1-3 miles per hour!
Over the next eighteen months, Jonathon and our team worked together on the various aspects of book birthing: from contract through manuscript development to titling to cover creation to overall design to copyediting to marketing and publicity. At every step of the way, Jonathon continued to hold his vision while simultaneously and authentically hearing ways we thought it could best be conveyed in the final book. There were street signs and uneven sidewalks to navigate along the way: we accommodated Jonathon’s clear desire to hold his book with a Creative Commons copyright, for instance, and together we considered multiple cover possibilities.
In the end, when Jonathon received the final finished book in his hands, he wrote our entire staff to say, “I am in love with how the book turned out. The art. The audiobook. The way the cover feels. The formatting. The way the text flows with and around the practices. The way my ink art lands inside the pages… team… DAMN… this book is… fire. I am so grateful for all the time each of you spent editing, proofing, iterating, artmaking, and promoting. I have been holding it non-stop and will be proudly showing it, sharing it, gifting it and moving with it for weeks and years to come.Thank you for your trust. Thank you for taking risks with me. Thank you for all the marketing and outreach support. Thank you for all of your ongoing affirmation and enthusiasm. Every single step of this process has been a gift.”
As it has for us. I can’t picture a more authentic person to be on this journey with. I can only imagine what it’s like to roll or stroll the streets and trails of the world with Jonathon, as many people do. That more people will be able to ponder and metabolize the world’s splendors and struggles through walking and rolling along the pages of the book is the kind of manna that gets me through hard days. May WALK open thousands of people’s eyes to the wonder of walking through the guidance of Jonathon’s hard-earned wisdom and generous spirit.
—Tim McKee, publisher of North Atlantic Books