August 20th – Jacqueline Susann

“As a writer no one’s gonna tell me how to write. I’m gonna write the way I wanna write!”

Jacqueline Susann

Born August 20, 1918 in Philadelphia PA, Jacqueline Susann was an only child. After graduating from high school she moved to New York to become an actress. She appeared in multiple shows on Broadway, and in the late 1940s transitioned to television. 

She was discouraged that her acting did not amount to much more than being recognized for commercials. Highly intelligent and a talented writer, she wrote some Broadway shows and commercials, and then in the mid-1950s she penned a science-fiction novel (published posthumously as Yargo). 

In 1939 she married press agent Irving Mansfield. They had one son, Guy Hildy Mansfield, born December 6th, 1946. Her son was diagnosed as severely autistic at the age of three and was institutionalized. 

In 1962, at the age of 44, Susann was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. With the diagnosis she felt an urgent need to make money to ensure her son was cared for. During her recovery she made a pact with God that if she were given ten more years of life, she would prove herself to be the best-selling writer in the world. 

Her first published book, Every Night, Josephine! (1963), was a book about her poodle. It sold 35,000 copies in hardcover, and by 1973 had sold 1.7 million paperbacks. Susann and Josephine even went on a book tour, wearing matching outfits, to promote the book.

Her next book, the novel Valley of the Dolls (1966), was one of the best-selling books in publishing history. She followed that up with The Love Machine (1969) and Once is Not Enough (1973), which both hit the best seller list, making her the first author to have three novels top The New York Times bestseller list consecutively. The 1967 film based on Valley of the Dolls received scathing reviews, but was the sixth highest grossing film of that year. 

She is considered to be the first “brand-name” novelist, her works selling independent of critical acclaim. Along with her husband, she revolutionized book promotion. She toured extensively with each book, and made show business-like appearances, not only in bookstores, but on television and radio. She advertised in magazines, and brought thank you notes and copies of her novels for the bookstore employees that would be selling them, and donuts and coffee to the truck drivers delivering them. 

Susann died on September 21, 1974, at the age of 56. She remains a pop culture and publishing industry icon. Valley of the Dolls has sold 31 million copies in 30 languages.

Lesson from Susann:

Considered a failed actress, Susann used her experiences in Hollywood to gain success writing best-selling books. She was in her late forties when she began publishing, and hustled like crazy to promote her books, breaking the mold on marketing, and paving a road to success that authors and publishers still follow today. 

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