by Steve Simon


Last week I talked about persevering with your projects. Continuing last week's post, after getting a flurry of rejection letters from publishers about my proposed book, Empty Sky: The Pilgrimage To Ground Zero, I tried a different way of approaching my publishing problem. The late Susan Sontag lived in my building. She was connected to photography through her seminal volume entitled: On Photography. She was also an opinionated and well-known New Yorker. I thought that if she would agree to write a forward for this project, then maybe book publishers would take more notice of the work.

So I got the doorman Ralph Garcia to get my book dummy to her, which he did. The very next day I got a call from her assistant telling me how busy she was and it might take a few months for her to even look at it. I mentioned that I had extra copies and no expectations; I really just wanted her to see the work, and he promised me that Ms. Sontag would see the book dummy. That was that.

Months passed, I continued to seek a publishing deal, but kept getting rejection letters. I never heard back from Susan Sontag or her assistant. But one day I did get a call out of the blue from a photographer named Andy Levin, who told me he was looking at my work from Ground Zero, and that he liked it very much. He told me that he had purchased a book dummy of my work from a guy who sold it to him on Seventh Avenue in New York, for four dollars.

"What? Who are you?" I asked.

He went on to tell me that the guy who sold him the book dummy, plucked it from Susan Sontag's garbage! I don't use explanation marks often, but this was a lot to take in. Andy Levin told me about his friend at Life Magazine (Barbara Burrows) who was publishing a commemorative volume of images post 9/11 that would be published on the one-year anniversary and asked if he could show her the work. To make a long story shorter, Life's book, The American Spirit, with an introduction by George W. Bush--published 8 pages of my work from Ground Zero. I got my biggest paycheck since moving to New York in 2000, and with the credibility of the Life Book, I was able to find a small publisher in Montreal who published Empty Sky-The Pilgrimage to Ground Zero.

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I don't know if Susan Sontag ever actually saw the book dummy, but that's okay. In my acknowledgements I thanked all the players in this story, including a fellow named Steve in my building, who often sets up a stand on Seventh Avenue to sell the stuff that people throw away. I had done all the right things in trying to find a publisher, but it was a recycling bin in my building that lead to my biggest success in publishing to that time. The moral of the story for me was that if you truly believe in what you are doing, things will work out. You never know where your next success will come from, so don't give up. Get the word out, and keep the faith.

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Susan Sontag's Recycling Basket

A new book: Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV and Africa by Steve Simon
(Designed in Aperture)

Book Launch & Lecture, December 1, World Aids Day
7pm, Barnes and Noble, Chelsea, 675 6th Avenue, New York City (Corner 21 Street)
Heroines on the site


Karen Buckland
2006-12-01 12:05:16
That's a great story. Thanks for sharing. I love it how life works out in such unexpected ways like that way sometimes.
Richard Clark
2006-12-03 13:53:10
That is so cool to read as I am challenged by my own project, keep the faith indeed, I will print that out and stick it up all over the house. I lived in Tribeca and am working on a video essay regarding my experiences of 9/11.
Paul Treacy
2006-12-20 12:47:08
That was brilliant. Just brilliant. After reading that my faith is restored. Thank you Steve and thank you Andy.
Wayne E. Yang
2006-12-20 18:03:51
Steve Simon tells the funny story about how one of his photography projects was rescued.
2007-04-22 15:54:05
That was totally awesome!

Thanks for such a cool story!

alain baƱon
2007-05-04 18:21:51
Amazing!! Just amazing!!
I'm actually fighting to get my book about Dominican Republic published and really...this story just restored my faith in a very very difficult moment of my life...
I truely thank you.