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Bad News Into Benefit: Book Promotion Success

By M. LaVora Perry
Posted Sunday, October 24, 2004

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In the early Fall of 2003 I asked the head children’s room librarian in a Cleveland suburb “Why did you decide not to carry my book, Taneesha’s Treasures of the Heart, in your library system?” She answered, “It has awkward sentence structure, is too preachy and has too much going on between Buddhism and diabetes. Children won't like it. We don't carry those kinds of books."

With each of her words my stomach knotted into a tighter ball. In less than a minute the librarian had precisely articulated my worst fear about myself as a writer—I'm no good.

All the people who told me they loved my story and that reading it uplifted them and their children were either lying to keep from hurting my feelings or didn't know quality writing from junk. That's what I told myself.
Although I had appeared on the Tavis Smiley Show on National Public Radio to discuss Taneesha’s Treasures of the Heart only weeks after it was published, although the largest school and librarian systems in Ohio (Cleveland) both picked up the book with high praise, and although the Cleveland Municipal School District put the book on their reading list, the rejection by the suburban children's room librarian bummed me out.

Maybe I was especially bummed because one of the things I'd been praying for over the previous several months was for Taneesha's Treasures of the Heart to be in libraries across the United States.

So I prayed and sought guidance. My biggest obstacle was how could I have the heart to tell folks to read my story if it stank? I self-published my book using the services of a co-publisher. I had poured my life into getting the book noticed. After speaking to the librarian I wondered, “Have I blown my retirement money and invested hours of time and energy for nothing?”

I called Cindy Carlson of Chicago, who is an appointed leader in the Buddhist organization to which I belong—Soka Gakkai International (SGI)-USA. “Cindy, the librarian said this and she said that,” I moaned. “What if she’s right? What if my book’s no good?”

Cindy reminded me that Taneesha's Treasures of the Heart gave people a positive feeling. So the question was not was it good, but did it create value? She said it definitely did so based on readers’ reactions to it. She said the book didn't have to be perfect to be value creative.

Then I called my friend here in Cleveland, Barb Jenkins, who is an appointed SGI-USA leader as well. “Barb,” I told her, “I feel like a fake. I feel like I have no business even trying to be a writer.” She said, “LaVora, why are you letting one negative voice drown out a chorus of positive ones?”

Barb asked me to face my funky inner demons. She helped me see that the librarian was showing me my weakness/doubt/lack of faith in my Buddha nature—my highest self. It was that self-doubt that I needed to defeat.

Through prayer and the words of those two wise women, I came to realize that as a writer I certainly hope Taneesha's Treasures of the Heart is the worst book I ever write. Goodness knows I plan on writing until the day I drop; so if I've hit my peak with my first book, I'm in trouble.

That's not my plan. I aim to continuously develop and learn my craft. So Taneesha—as well and widely as she is being received—is just the beginning. Not only that, but the simple truth is not everybody is going to like what I write. Big deal. I don't like everything I read of other folks' writing either. I need to become so wise and strong that neither praise nor criticism sway me from my original goal.

My intention from the start was to sell millions of books, and to thereby inspire all kinds of people. So I renewed my determination and offered this prayer: “I will do what I came into this world to do—no matter what.” Then I stepped on and continued hold nothing back in my efforts to get my book recognized and read.

Since my bout with the librarian blues there have been other disappointments. But I will keep turning every circumstance into a benefit based on my deep prayer to be the best writer I can and to thereby help people believe in and go for their deepest, biggest, wildest dreams. So here's been what's happening on the up side after I quit singing my sad song:

1.) I was invited to New York City to appear at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Corona Queens soon after it was awarded a SGI-USA Liberty Award for its efforts to foster multicultural awareness. The head librarian who invited me had no idea I was affiliated with the SGI-USA until after he asked me to visit. Straight out of the "There Are No Coincidences in Life" bag.

2.) A school librarian in a different Cleveland suburb, raved about my book and my appearance at her school. She posted her comments on and

3.) Zambian schools (yes, Africa) will be carrying the book!

4.) Children in an online G.R.I.T.S kids' book club (“Girls & Guys Raised in the South”) voted to interview me and feature me and Taneesha’s Treasures… on their Web site. The club’s founder is a Texan librarian.

5.) Taneesha’s Treaures… was listed in the October newsletter of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

6.) Taneesha’s Treasures… was prominently displayed as a holiday stocking-stuffer in the nationally distributed November-December, 2003 issue of Black Issue Book Review.

7.) Taneesha’s Treasures… was featured in the Fall 2003 SGI Quarterly—an international Buddhist publication.

8.) Children’s groups in Zambia, Kenya, South Africa and Malaysia are reading the book.

9.) The Poet’s & Writers League of Greater Cleveland selected Taneesha’s Treasures…to be included as part of their Writers & Their Friends program in which the story will transcribed into a play and performed onstage at the Cleveland Playhouse in a highly publicized event—only 25 written works are chosen to be featured in this way.

10.) I've been nominated for inclusion in Who's Who in America, 2005.
Recently, I went back to the suburban library to find out if, in light of my recent successes, the librarian had changed her mind. Turns out she hadn’t, but that was okay, because I had totally transformed mine. I could tell this was so, because when an assistant librarian said, "The person who has your book is out today; so give me your address and we'll mail it back to you," my heart beat stayed steady and stomach was knot-free. I wrote my address on a slip of paper. Then, instead of needed to fight the urge to slink out of the nearest exit in disgrace, I casually checked out a couple of books for my kids before leaving with my held and sprits high.

Later, when I received my book in the
mail from the librarian I did not take it as tangible proof of some personal or literary defect. Instead I understood that Taneesha’s Treasures of the Heart was not the book for that library at that time. And I was grateful to have the book back, because the Louis Stokes branch—the main branch—of the Cleveland Public Library had me down as a featured author for a Kwaanza event and my sales had been so great I was running low on inventory and more books were being printed. I needed my book returned to me so that it could get it into the hands of someone who would appreciate it. And with the gift of hindsight I saw that I had also needed the librarian’s initial rejection of my work—it was the push that set me on my journey to a higher state of mind.

About the Author
In 1995 M. LaVora Perry became the first African-American staff card writer in the world’s largest publicly-owned greeting card company—American Greetings. As such, her words have appeared on gift items on three continents. Taneesha’s Treasures o the Heart is her first book. She lives in Ohio with her husband and three children. Visit M. LaVora Perry online at (


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