It all began with a failed job opportunity in Hong Kong in October 2013. Part of me was disappointed when I realized I wasn’t going to be the production manager of a prestigious events management company after all. Mostly, however, I rejoiced and immediately thought, “This is it. I can finally write my memoir.” For years, I had dreamt of doing just that.
So, while my wife and I remained on the quiet and idyllic Lamma Island, I finally took the time, made the commitment, and began writing. Five days a week, eight to ten hours a day.
While my book steadily took shape, I also spent an enormous amount of time on networking and writing proposals to publishers and literary agents. Memoirs are a hard sell because they cater to a relatively narrow audience. Unless you are John Lennon or Steve Jobs, no one really wants to read about you… or, at least that’s what the literary business world assumes.
I thought, “To hell with that. I’ll just do it anyway and focus on writing my story in a way I’d enjoy reading.”
Amazingly, I found a small publisher early on. We began discussing timelines and strategies… then the owner of the publishing house had a massive stroke… and died. “I’m so sorry Mr Klenk,” his secretary informed me on the phone, “We won’t be able to represent your book after all. Mr Mendes passed away last week. His publishing house will, unfortunately, be closed.” I was thunderstruck, then decided to dedicate even more time to finish writing my book and getting it published – for myself, and also in honour of the late Mr Mendes.
During the following months, I sent out dozens of proposals. Since my life story is amongst other things the odyssey of a transgender man, I managed to pique the interest of three small LGBTQI niche publishers from the US.
They all offered to take me on. I researched their internet presence and, must admit, was appalled by their badly-designed book covers and gaudy pink social media pages. I became scared of losing myself in exactly the kind of labels and stereotypes I had rebelled against all my life. So I decided to have faith that something better, more mainstream, would come along.
I said “no” to all of them.
Two months later, another publisher, who at first glance seemed to be the ideal fit, ended up in prison halfway through our contract negotiations. She was incarcerated for fraud. As it turned out, she had taken financial advantage of many hopeful authors.
Almost a year passed. Following my initial experiences, I decided to steer clear of publishers for a while and instead invest all my energy into finishing my book. I found a brilliant Canadian editor who helped fine-tune what I had written. Eighteen drafts and 450 pages later, I was done and felt I had created something good and important that might just make a tiny bit of difference in some people’s lives.
By then it was early spring of 2015. My wife and I had moved to Central Europe a couple of months earlier and, for the time being, lived in a small vacation home on the shores of Lake Constance. That April, I became aware of the London Book Fair and decided to throw myself into the fray to see if I could charm an agent or publisher into having a look at my book. I arrived at the venue early, like an overexcited student on his first day of school. The official “Liam Klenk, Author” nametag was proudly pinned to my shirt. Full of enthusiasm, I walked through the monolithic exhibition halls, my eyes sparkling with hope at seeing all my favourite, large publishing houses. I enthusiastically approached counters and was turned away everywhere.
“You need to book a time slot with one of our representatives far in advance. We are not interested in engaging with authors otherwise,” the reception lady told me at Hachette Books.
At Harper Collins, the guardians of the gate looked exasperated the second they saw “author” on my badge. At least Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon Schuster were so kind to usher me out more kindly by handing me A4-Leaflets on how to potentially pitch my book to them in the future.
On the second day of the book fair, I went up to the second floor where hidden in a separate hall, all literary agencies had set up their booths.
The moment I approached any of them, eyebrows and hands shot up, as I was told to get lost.
After only half an hour of this self-inflicted torture, I felt like the outcast on the playground whom everyone hates. I was about ready to curl up in a corner and cry. All these people made a living based on books written by authors such as myself. Yet none of them seemed to actually want to talk with an author if they could help it.
Heading back to Germany a couple days later, I began working defiantly and passionately on details like the book’s blurb and a professional cover layout. While in London, I had at least been able to have a chat with the production manager of a British self-publishing company. It was an expensive option since I would have to pay for the entire publishing process myself. But I liked this company. Their books were of excellent quality.
They didn’t look self-published at all. They picked and chose their authors carefully, refusing to publish just any book. I liked that, too. Furthermore, their name was Matador, which fitted my state of mind perfectly. I was not going to be stopped. I was going to take the bull by the horns and get my creation out there no matter what.
It took another year, a gargantuan amount of time, energy, tenacity, and my entire life savings to get the book on the shelves of virtual bookstores. Like anything meaningful you want to create, you can’t let inconveniences stop you. No matter how tough it gets, you need to hold on to your vision and push forward.
Paralian launched in May 2016. It hasn’t sold particularly well so far, but it received good reviews and five literary awards. Many readers wrote me heartfelt letters and I am glad to have touched their lives with my tale. It is the best kind of success any author could wish for.
Now the odyssey continues… At the moment, I am working on my second book. Writing for writing’s sake, but also with bold dreams in mind. I am hoping to find a literary agent this time around… to maybe, over the years, be represented by a traditional publisher and to one day, in the not too distant future, see my paperbacks on the physical shelves of bookstores around the world.
Follow @paralianissimo on Instagram
More from Liam Klenk:
Join TheatreArtLife to access unlimited articles, our global career center, discussion forums, and professional development resource guide. Your investment will help us continue to ignite connections across the globe in live entertainment and build this community for industry professionals. Learn more about our subscription plans.
Love to write or have something to say? Become a contributor with TheatreArtLife. Join our community of industry leaders working in artistic, creative, and technical roles across the globe. Visit our CONTRIBUTE page to learn more or submit an article.