It has been almost a decade since I decided to write the story of my tumultuous years as the father of a teenager and my experience after his death in a car crash, and also how I rebuilt our relationship in the aftermath. I had hoped for a traditional publishing route, but I have learned that tradition is not always the most expeditious path.
Reid was a rambunctious, sometimes rebellious teenager. Midway through his senior year in high school, in 2006, he was accused by his school of misconduct, which he vehemently denied. Several days later, while the situation was still unfolding, he died, the driver in a one-car crash.
In the months following Reid’s passing, I devoured every book I could find about grief and recovery. But the books I plowed through were less than helpful, because they focused on bereavement, not my continued responsibilities as his father or my accelerated need to evaluate whether I had struck the right balance between exposing Reid to life’s risks while protecting him from its dangers.
So I began to write. I noted the challenges—the memoir market is saturated, and parenting is a tough sell—but resolved to write a different book, a disarming account of my family’s truths, my unanticipated parenting obligations, and how, from a flood of condolence messages as well as posts on something new called Facebook, there emerged a portrait of Reid that was barely known to me when he was alive, and which became the basis of our new bond.
Within a year, I had a manuscript, His Father Still. I hired a highly regarded freelance editor to evaluate my draft. She affirmed its quality and recommended agents, one of whom said that my project was one of the most moving she had ever read. She was cautious, however, warning that reviewing editors might be parents for whom the book’s tragic opening and painful vignettes would hit too close to home.
Although the publishing business in 2009 was convulsed by the economic downturn and the emerging e-book market, we lodged proposals with both major and niche publishers. In response came rejections whose consistency nearly smothered my hope: “Beautifully written, but a first-time author, sad story.”
Yet giving up never crossed my mind: I was writing for my son.
My agent and I regrouped, devising a plan to build my visibility by publishing a prescriptive book about safe teen driving, which had become my avocation. In 2013, I published Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving (Chicago Review Press). For that work, I garnered national public service awards and media exposure.
We repositioned my memoir as a cautionary tale for parents about balancing freedom (“letting out the tether”) with protection, and not letting the challenges of raising a teen camouflage a young adult’s true character. Wiser, and armed with my experience as an author, we resubmitted.
Rejections came again, this time more varied and less pointed. The question arose, what avenues are available for a manuscript that has not been embraced by traditional publishers but has the encouragement of publishing professionals and an emotional impetus? My agent and I settled on Argo Navis, part of Perseus Books, which offers to agented authors national e-book distribution and print-on-demand paperbacks. I swallowed my misgivings about the prefix self and embraced the hybrid format. With Argo Navis, we have devised a promotional campaign rooted in social media, radio, and leveraging every personal connection I can muster.
As we stand on the cusp of the release of His Father Still, we have propitious national media buzzes. My mind-set is a mix of gratitude for the hybrid option that timely presented itself, and an abiding faith in the usefulness of my story for parents. We shall see if my perseverance was warranted.
Tim Hollister is the author of the forthcoming book His Father Still: A Parenting Memoir (Argo Navis, Sept.) and Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving (Chicago Review, 2013). Since the death of his 17-year-old son Reid in a car crash in 2006, Hollister has become a public advocate for safer teen driving.