Publishing From Prison
- The first step would be to write a book proposal.
- Then I would need to write sample chapters.
- Next, I would need to write a cover letter and begin sending self-addressed-stamped envelopes to literary agents.
My research showed that if I could persuade a literary agent to represent me, the literary agent would connect with publishing houses. If editors who worked at the publishing house liked my book, the editor would issue a contract to bring my book to market. It wouldn’t be easy. But prison had conditioned me to deal with rejection.
The book proposal itself required about 30 pages of writing. Sample chapters added another 30 pages. Postage and copy costs would be too high if I were to send the entire package to scores of publishers. I needed a more economical way.
Instead of sending the full book-proposal package, I leveraged off of my earlier work. First, I identified 100 literary agents. Then I wrote a query letter that described my background, my educational credentials, my publishing credentials, and a few sentences about the type of book that I wanted to write. I sent that one-page letter, along with a self-addressed-stamped envelope to the agents. With postage costs and copying, I’d say the total cash outlay was less than $2 an envelope—or $200.
Was the investment in my future worth $200? You be the judge.
That mailing resulted in my securing a relationship with a literary agent. I sent him the full proposal. Within two weeks he secured a publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press. The contract came with compensation that brought more than 1,000 times the initial investment I made in postage. More importantly, libraries and book stores across the country carried my book Inside: Life Behind Bars in America.
St. Martin’s Press published Inside in 2006. The investment of time and energy continues to bear fruit and pay dividends. Many opportunities opened through books I wrote. The books persuaded people to believe that I didn’t just “talk” about wanting to live a life of meaning, relevance, and contribution. Those people had tangible proof. They wanted to invest in me, help me, believe in me.
You too can begin creating credentials that will lead to your success. It’s never too late and it’s never too early to begin preparing for a life of success.
Remember I wrote that my adjustment plan had three components.
- My avatars would expect me to educate myself.
- They would expect me to contribute to society.
- They would expect me to build a support network.
But see how each of those components work together? By educating myself I could create more opportunities to contribute to society. By contributing to society, more people became aware of my work. The more people who became aware of my work, the more people came into my life and offered support. The cycle of success was awesome and empowering. It feeds on itself.
As a consequence of the strategy, I met Carole. We married in 2003. At the time I was locked in a low-security prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey and we married inside the visiting room. Carole became my liaison to the world. I’d write by hand and send my manuscripts to her. She’d interact with publishers or work to bring my projects to life. If I hadn’t sown seeds early in my journey, Carole never would’ve come into my life. Yet together, we created a quasi business. My writing generated revenues that supported my wife. We paid taxes. As a consequence of revenues generated by my writing projects, Carole could return to school and earn a nursing degree. All of our efforts were part of a strategic plan, a plan that would allow Carole to live a sustainable life while I prepared for a meaningful career upon release.
In addition to writing books under my own name, I began writing books for other people. Every effort I made began with a single question:
Would this decision advance my prospects for success upon release?
That strategy empowered me through the journey. It dictated the books that I read while I was inside. It dictated the people with whom I associated. It dictated the jobs I tried to secure in prison. It dictated efforts I made to be assigned to the right bunk.
In later chapters, you’ll see how that strategy led to my income opportunities upon release. And you’ll see how those income opportunities allowed me to build an asset portfolio that would contribute to my financial security. Within 28 months of my release from prison, I controlled more than $1 million worth of assets and had equity of more than $500,000. I’d like others to experience even more success. They can do it by learning to ask the right questions.
By asking Socratic questions throughout the journey, I could stay focused on the end result. I wanted to emerge successfully more than anything. So every decision had to relate to success. When reading a book, for example, I’d read with a purpose. When I finished reading the book, I’d write a report in accordance with the following format:
- Date I read the book:
- Why did I choose to read this book?
- What did I learn from reading this book?
- How will this book contribute to my prospects for success upon release?