Dr Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel) was 32 when he wrote his first book And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street.
It didn’t come easily.
He questioned every word and rewrote draft after draft, obsessed with finding the perfect combination of text and illustrations. He wrote in pencil on yellow sheets of paper and asked his wife, Helen, to discuss every page.
After 6 months he was finally satisfied and began to show his work to publishers under the title A Story That No One Can Beat.
The response wasn’t good.
In one year (winter 1936-37) he was rejected by dozens of publishing houses…because his work was “too different” to other children’s books.
He began to think his style would never be right and he gloomily considered going back to his previous career as a political cartoonist and illustrator for advertising campaigns.
One day, after receiving his 27th rejection, he snapped. He walked out of the publishers with his manuscript under his arm and vowed to ceremonially burn the thing when he got home.
And this is where fate stepped in.
Because as he walked grimly down Madison Avenue he bumped into Mike McClintock, who had been in the year below him at college. Mike asked “What’s that under your arm?”
Ted replied, “That’s a book that no one will publish. I am lugging it home to burn.”
It just so happened that three hours earlier, McClintock had become Children’s Editor at Vanguard Publishing…and they were standing right outside his new office. It also happens that the president of Vanguard Publishing, James Henle, was developing quite a reputation as a publisher who would publish writers other prominent publishers had rejected
Half an hour later, Henle agreed to publish Ted’s book, with one proviso: “you’ve got to give me a snappier title.”
Within six years of its publication, And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street sold just 31,600 copes and netted Ted the grand total of $3,500 in royalties.
But it was the start of something quite spectacular.
Today Dr Seuss is ranked 9th in the world’s bestselling fiction authors with an estimated 500 million sales.
Reflecting back on the stroke of good fortune that changed his life, he said, “if I had been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today.”