Behind every book is a publishing story. Some good, some bad. Some hackneyed and familiar. We've all heard about the short story collection that was rejected by 30 publishing houses before finally becoming a bestseller, or the debut novel that sold for a bundle, flopped commercially, and ruined the author's career.
But the story behind The Midnight Special: A Novel About Leadbelly—recently self-published by Edmond G. Addeo—is perhaps as unusual as the musician it chronicles.
Nearly 40 years ago, Addeo, along with his coauthor, the late Richard M. Garvin, sold The Midnight Special to Bernard Geis Associates. The book—a biographical novel about the life of American blues and folk icon Huddie William Ledbetter—received rave reviews from publications like the San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Publishers Weekly. It was praised by the New York Times Book Review. It was even featured on The Today Show.
"It was just fabulous," Addeo says. "It was really headed for the bestseller list."
But then Bernard Geis Associates filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After that, "no one would have anything to do with the book," Addeo says. "No one would reorder it.... The book was kind of stillborn."
During the decades that followed, Addeo—a former engineer who went on to publish 11 other books—was often encouraged to republish The Midnight Special. But no houses seemed to understand—let alone want to take a chance on—a biographical novel about a musician. Even if that musician was Leadbelly, a man twice sentenced to life in prison for murder and twice pardoned after performing for the governor. According to Addeo, most publishers thought The Midnight Special was a straight biography and asked him to add new information.
"I kept telling them there is no new information, because Leadbelly is dead," Addeo says. "All the people around him are dead. And I'm probably the world's greatest authority on the life of Leadbelly right now."
Still committed to the book, Addeo decided to take matters into his own hands. In 2009, he chose to self-publish—he prefers the term independently publish—The Midnight Special.
"With the miracle of digital publishing, I finally decided to publish it independently and give it a second chance at life," Addeo says.
While that decision allowed Addeo to again see his book in print and helped him find an agent—Paul Levine of the Paul Levine Literary Agency—to represent the title, he is frustrated by the self-publishing experience.
Since producing The Midnight Special via AuthorHouse—an endeavor he describes as relatively simple but more expensive than anticipated—Addeo has been unable to get the book reviewed, unable to persuade bookstores to stock the title, and says most of his promotional efforts have "run into a brick wall."
He has done a few radio interviews and a successful appearance at a local bookstore, but Addeo says most publications and retailers "just won't handle [The Midnight Special], because it's not coming from a main-line publisher."
Part of the problem, he says, is the ongoing stigma of self-publishing. And while that stigma may be changing, Addeo cautions writers—particularly those who want to sell books, get reviewed, and be recognized for their work—that self-publishing is not a safe bet. "The best way to go is still to find an agent to represent you and get it published by a main-line publisher," he says.
Addeo went the print-on-demand route—and is currently working on several other projects, including a historical novel and a mystery thriller—and Levine is currently sending The Midnight Special out to publishers. Decades after it was first published, the ultimate fate of The Midnight Special is still to be determined.
Pleased the book is being reviewed—for a second time—by Publishers Weekly, Addeo is hoping that publishing houses take notice.