A while back I wrote about the Law of Left Field, which describes how things and events of great value come to you suddenly and from places you never expected. “Out of left field,” as the expression goes.
Here is an example of that, and of how powerful it can be when you visualize something — and dare to believe in that vision:
If you’ve browsed my site, you’ve probably seen that there are more than a dozen titles on my Books page; at current count, nineteen. Ten years ago, there were none.
This is the story of what happened to turn zero into nineteen.
In late 2004, I was contacted (out of left field) by an old friend named Gary, whom I hadn’t talked to in many years. Gary and his wife were working on a book idea. They had an agent and strong interest in some publishers, but needed help. Would I be able to work on a proposal with them? And what would it cost?
I named them a price. Gary made a counter-offer: What if they paid me a down payment of, um, nothing … but brought me in as a partner in the book itself?
I started working on the proposal.
On February 1, 2005, exactly ten years ago this coming Sunday, I finished our book proposal. I sent it off to Gary, who gave it to the agent, who sent it to editors in New York … and then we waited.
And waited. Months went by. So far, no nibbles.
Meanwhile, I asked Gary for a favor. He had promised that he would make me an introduction to his agent. While we waited for something to happen with the book, I asked, could he do that?
The thing was, I had a manuscript of my own, a little book I’d written with a friend. Neither of us had an agent, and I had no connections to any New York publisher. In terms of getting our book published, we were out in the middle of the lake in a sailboat, no wind in sight.
We could self-publish, but that wasn’t our plan. We wanted a real publisher.
We knew what we were after (a big New York publisher to buy our book), but we had no idea how to go about making that happen, and no direct avenues to get there. But we both knew how to picture exactly what we saw happening, and to believe wholeheartedly in that picture.
So we did.
We made up a mock cover for the book, imagining what it would look like when it was published and had become a huge bestseller.
We put across the top, “The Surprise #1 New York Times Bestseller … Over 5 Million Copies Sold in 24 Languages!” We made up an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey that said, “This little book will change your life. Read it—then give copies to everyone you know!” And we added underneath the title, “Foreword by Spencer Johnson, coauthor of The One Minute Manager” — because The One Minute Manager was a book we both greatly admired.
My coauthor friend and I both kept copies of that mock cover and looked at it often.
Flash forward a few months.
Gary gave an introduction to his agent. I sent her our manuscript.
As it turned out, she was Spencer Johnson’s agent.
The one who originally sold Spencer Johnson’s and Ken Blanchard’s book, The One Minute Manager, to its publisher a quarter-century earlier.
(Wait: it gets better.)
Gary’s book never did sell. In fact, after that summer I never heard from Gary again. Messages unreturned, emails bounced back; the dude just vanished. (Gary, if you’re out there and reading this: get in touch, man!)
I almost started wondering if he’d been real … or an apparition sent from Left Field, purely to make the connection.
Gary’s agent, Margret McBride, signed on with us and sold the book to New York, although it took a year and twenty-three tries to do it. The friend was Bob Burg, and the book was The Go-Giver. And here is that mock cover we pictured and I put together on my computer a decade ago:
So, how did that picture work out?
The book has not (at least as of this date) been a #1 New York Times bestseller, and it has not sold 5 million copies in 24 languages.
However, it has been a Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller and sold nearly half a million copies in 22 languages.
So, two languages to go.
Oprah has not endorsed the book saying “This little book will change your life. Give copies to everyone you know!”
But the book was reviewed in the Huffington Post by a reviewer who wrote, “There are very few books that make you want to buy a copy for every single person you know. The Go-Giver is one of those rare books.” This past Christmas, Glenn Beck wrote, “The Go-Giver is a must-read for anyone who wants to change the world” — and gave a copy to every one of his 300 employees.
(I think these people must have hacked into my computer and sneaked a peek at our mock cover. What other explanation could there be?)
And that foreword by Spencer Johnson? Didn’t happen. But look at this. A few years later, we wrote a follow-up book titled Go-Givers Sell More — and you’ll never guess who turned up on the cover with an endorsement.
Yep. Spencer Johnson. (Click on the cover at left, and you’ll be able to read his endorsement and name.)
Remember this, in times of trial: When you visualize something, and dare to believe in it wholeheartedly, you have the Law of Left Field on your side.
P.S. That 5 million copies, New York Times bestseller thing? It’s on its way. The picture is still in the darkroom; it hasn’t fully finished developing yet.
Love it. What a great story. We live in such a quick fix society that most of us are not willing to wait for anything.
So true. Some of the greatest blessings in my life have occurred when I really, really, really, really wanted something — and didn’t get it. (Or at least, not right then.)
I L-O-V-E this story, John. I’ve heard it several times, from both you and Bob. And it never gets old; it never loses the magic. And it always feels like the first time I’m hearing it.
You are such an incredible storyteller, that I would enjoy hearing it again and again. Maybe one of your next books will be “Stories from Left Field,” because you’ve got a million. This blog is a great place for us to learn that about you 🙂
It Came from Left Field: Tales from the Bright Side. I like it!
Orrrrrrr…… It Came from Left Field: Tales from the Mann. Ohhhhhhh I really like it!
Very inspiring story, John! — thank you for sharing it!
Thanks, Michael — always so great to hear from you! (Note to other readers: Michael was a student of my father’s and a great teaching assistant and companion in his final years. You’ll find some of his notes on my dad in this blog if you put “Dodds” in the search box!)
Speaking of good coffee … that Mann can really tell a story. The fact that it’s true (not The Go-Giver — that’s actually fiction — but the above account) makes it even that much “more better-er.” Really, just reading the post reminds me how much gratitude I have for the opportunity to work with such an amazing person/author … and fantastic agents and publishing team.
Yes, fiction … or is it? (Mwah-hahahahaaaa!)
As always, very inspiring, John (and Bob!). I am truly grateful that you persevered in sharing your “Go Giver” message, and that I get to share it with others. And I love Linda’s suggestion!
Your and Bob’s book made such a difference in my life. All my children have it and every client I have had in real estate in the last five years has it too. The entire staff and leadership of our Realtor Association got a copy when I served as president. It is the best gift anyone can receive.
It is an idea that is like the idea of America. It, too, will change the world.
Joe, that has to be just about the most humbling and inspiring compliment this book has ever received. (And you have proved once again that reality way out imagines fiction: that there is J. Mann out there promoting this book — and his name is the same as the book’s hero? Who could make that up!)
And I give away copies all the time to people who then give it out all the time!
Thanks to both message-sharing Lauras, Newman and Steward!
I love the Go-Giver and Go-Givers Sell More. Just finished reading the last one. Took many notes.