How Nowhere Man Became a Bestseller by Robert Rosen

Author Robert Rosen
Photo by Mary Lyn Maiscott

How did my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, a book that was originally rejected by everybody and then published by a tiny upstart indie that operated out of a tenement basement on New York City’s Lower East Side, become a bestseller in five countries? Luck had a lot to do with it—terrible luck for the 18 years that the manuscript languished in limbo. And then, I don’t know what happened. Maybe the stars lined up. Whatever the case, my luck changed: A friend of a friend introduced me to a hungry agent who’d just left his job as an editor at a major publishing house. He recognized Nowhere Man’s potential and signed me as his first client.

My agent was shrewd enough to sell U.S. rights to Soft Skull Press for a small advance, knowing that foreign rights and serial rights would be a gold mine—which is exactly what happened. And Soft Skull, which no longer exists as an independent, was very good at one thing: They knew how to publicize a book.

The publicity campaign began almost a year before Nowhere Man was published. In October 1999, Entertainment Weekly mentioned the book in their publishing news column, and that was all it took to ignite a conflagration of global publicity. By the time Nowhere Man was published, in August 2000, pent-up demand was so great, there weren’t enough books available to fill all the orders.

As the publicity exploded and the first printing sold out, I learned the two most important lessons about book promotion:

1) Talk to every journalist who wants to talk to you about your book, no matter how obscure their website or publication. And treat them all as if they were Oprah. Because you just never know where it’s going to lead or who’s going to find out about your book.

2) Accept the invitation to participate in any promotional event, no matter where it is. When the first Spanish-language edition of Nowhere Man was published in Mexico, in March 2003, something about the book appeared in the Mexican media virtually every day, whether an excerpt, review, thought piece, or interview. Who knew that Mexico had such an extensive network of lively, independent media, who all seemed to be fascinated by John Lennon?

In October of that year, as Random House Mondadori, my Spanish-language publisher, was preparing to bring out an international edition of Nowhere Man, they invited me to Mexico City to meet press. I had serious reservations about making a promotional trip to this teeming megalopolis of 20 million people, but my visit proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. I felt as if I’d entered an alternate universe where everything I’d been working for, for 25 years, had come to pass in a language I didn’t understand. The media treated me as if I’d written Harry Potter.

And now, twelve years and some 300 interviews later, the foreign-language editions continue to come out; the latest was an Italian translation, published in 2011.

But none of this would have happened if Nowhere Man weren’t a “good read.” And the reason it is a good read is because one of my graduate professors at the City College of New York, Francine du Plessix Gray, gave me the best piece of writing advice anybody has ever given me. “Keep a notebook,” she said, “and write in it every day.”

Having done so religiously for 35 years, I’ve made writing as natural a process as breathing.

Robert Rosen is the author of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, an international bestseller that’s been translated into six languages. His investigative memoir, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, was published by Headpress in the U.K. in 2011 and in the U.S. in 2012. Rosen’s work has appeared in publications all over the world, including Uncut (U.K.), Mother Jones, The Soho Weekly News, La Repubblica (Italy), VSD (France), Proceso (Mexico), Reforma (Mexico), and El Heraldo (Colombia). Learn more about author Robert Rosen from his website and his Amazon author page. You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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8 thoughts on “How Nowhere Man Became a Bestseller by Robert Rosen”

  1. Congratulations – an inspiring story indeed that I’m sure will lift many a spirit. And yes, I fully understand the ‘natural a process as breathing’ sentiment; I’m sure I would curl up and die if I ever stopped writing. It’s not a choice. Thanks.

  2. Congratulations. I’m surprised no one took it up before then, considering that John Lennon has always had a huge following and curiosity about him still has not waned.

    Good advice on the publicity end.

  3. Congratulations. I have had the pleasure of reading your book and i’m also a massive John Lennon fan. An amazing story of your journey to publication. A reader would never dream of the trials and tribulations an author has gone through to publish their work. My eyes have been opened to it lately and I have even more respect for for the effort that goes into it. A great post and really useful advice. 🙂

  4. Congratulations!
    You are a truly a gifted writer. Every word a finely tuned to create a unique experience for any reader, I say this about Beaver Street or Nowhere Man.
    I wait impatiently for the next book. I might add that I plan on making purchases of these books to give as gifts during the holiday season.

  5. Thank you all for your kind words. Glad I could offer some useful advice and a little inspiration. Yvonne, I lost count of the number of publishers who passed on Nowhere Man because, in their infinite wisdom, they said, “Not enough interest in John Lennon.”

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