Years back, I submitted my first manuscript Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques to commercial publishers. All the major publishers responded that they did not review manuscripts that were not represented by agents. When I approached the major agents, I was told that they not represent anyone who was not published. It was a classic Catch-22.

I regarded this as simply another challenge to be overcome. I thought about the creative thinking techniques used by Leonardo da Vinci that I researched and wrote about in my book Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius). He believed that it is impossible for the human mind to deliberate on two separate ideas or objects, no matter how dissimilar, without eventually forming a connection between the two. These connections give you a different way to focus on the information and a different way to interpret what you are focusing on which leads to creative ideas that you cannot get using your usual way of thinking.

Leonardo called this technique “connecting the unconnected.” A blueprint for how to use this technique is in my book and includes several different ways on how to find random subjects that are unrelated to your challenge. One way uses a visual picture or illustration that you randomly select.

Accordingly, I took out a deck of Tarot cards (Gypsy fortune-telling cards). The cards are beautifully illustrated and titled such as “Tower,” “the Moon, “the Fool,” and so on. I shuffled the deck, closed my eyes, and randomly pulled out a card. The card I pulled was the “Death” card. Intrigued, I began to wonder what connections there were between death and getting a publisher to read my manuscript. What does death have to do with publishers reviewing manuscripts?

I thought of death: the causes, grieving, burials, rituals, memorial services, the undertakers, decomposition, cultural attitudes, wakes, preparations for burial, epitaphs, gravestones, eulogies, obituaries, and so on. The card also displayed death wearing a suit of armor and appearing majestically powerful to the people he approached.

The two thoughts I had that I made connections with getting published were:

  1. Death means leaving one’s loved ones and friends behind.
  2. Death appears in the picture as a knight wearing shining armor facing people who are fearful.

Leaving one’s friends behind made me think of editors leaving one publisher for a better position with a competing publisher. I also assumed the editors who left for more prestigious jobs with other companies were highly valued by their previous companies.  Human nature being what it is, perhaps, the departing editor left his former boss and co-workers jealous and resentful. Perhaps they were not willing to help or assist him succeed at his new company.

Then I got my idea. I went to the library and looked up Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry journal. Inside I found a section titled “People on the Move.” It described people’s movement in the industry. I discovered that one of the editors (I’ll refer to him as Tom) at Random House had moved on to become publisher for a competing company. I became interested in the people he left behind at his former publisher.

My idea was to write a letter to Tom’s former editor-in-chief where he worked before he left to work for a competitor. My letter read as follows:

Dear Editor-in-Chief:

My manuscript that your editor Tom X was so excited about is finally finished. I promised Tom that I would submit the manuscript to him as soon as I finished it.

However, I cannot locate Tom X. Your company’s receptionist told me he is no longer employed by your company and was not able to give me his current address. I would very much appreciate it if you would please let me know how and where I can contact him so I can deliver my promised manuscript.

Michael Michalko

I sent this letter to three different publishers about three different editors who had accepted better jobs with other publishers. All three publishers demanded the manuscript immediately. One called and threatened me with a lawsuit unless I delivered the manuscript to them ASAP. All three wanted the publishing rights and got into a bidding war for the contract. I received a lucrative advance from the high bidder. All offers were from companies who claimed they would not review manuscripts not represented by agents. They all ended up bidding against each other for a manuscript that was not represented by an agent.

Thank you, Leonardo da Vinci, for showing me once again how to get the unconventional idea by connecting the unconnected.

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