Inspirational Stories III : John Grisham & His Books

By Ellesse

Out of John Grisham‘s many books, sad to say, I’ve only read The Rainmaker. But that book alone is enough to make a good impression on me because as far as I can remember, he’s a very compelling writer. The way he wrote the plot was so captivating that I almost finished it in one day. Yes, it’s that good.

Much as I like his writing, I’m pleasantly surprised to know that he took an accounting major in college (like me!) before he went on to law school and later into full time writing! For those of you who’re having qualms whether to make a career switch and set goals for that, perhaps John Grisham’s story can bring you some inspiration.

Remember, if he can do it, so can you.

Baseball, Accounting or Law?

Born to a construction worker and housewife in Jonesboro Arkansas on 8 February 1955, it was never John Grisham’s ambition to be a writer. Instead, like every other boy in his neighbourhood, John was fascinated with baseball. In fact, he was so intrigued with the game that he wanted to be a professional baseball player. To help him fulfill his childhood ambition, when there was an opportunity to play baseball at college level in Mississippi State University, he took it up earnestly.

However, after reconsidering his prospects, he finally decided that he may not have the necessary attributes to play professional baseball and settled down to focus on his studies. He majored in accounting to prepare for a career as a tax lawyer, although midway, his interest shifted from tax law to criminal law and litigation. After graduating from University of Mississippi Law School, John Grisham practiced law in the town of Southhaven, in a firm that brought in small time criminal defendants and personal injury cases, for almost a decade before being elected into the House of Representatives in 1983, in which he served until 1990.

Letting His Imagination Run Wild

As part of the practice in Mississippi, private attorneys are sometimes called to defend clients who are too poor to engage lawyers of their own. It was one of those cases that gave John Grisham’s his break into a writing career. One day, during the trial of a 12-year-old rape victim, John Grisham started to find himself wondering what would happened if the child’s father decided to take the law into his hands and took revenge by killing her assailants? Using that as a basis, John began writing the plot, juggling his writing in between a 60 – 80 hour work week. Getting up at 5am every morning, he would work on his amateurish writing for at least an hour before attending to his other official business. After 3 long years of hard work, his first novel A Time to Kill was finally completed in 1987.

Like every other new budding writer, John Grisham faced tremendous challenge when it came to engaging a suitable publisher. Many of the publishers, even “thirty-something” publishing houses and “thirty-something” editors rejected his application. Sending one application after another, John Grisham was rejected by 16 publishers before 1 agent finally signed a contract with him. That agent however, sent him on a wild goose chase by subsequently rejecting his manuscript again. Eventually, it took 1 editor to give him the exposure that he very much needed. It was none other than Bill Thompson from Wynwood Press, the same editor who discovered Stephen King. He helped John Grisham publish 5,000 copies of his novel and gave him a $15,000 advance.

With the help of the advance, John Grisham bought 1,000 copies of his book and ran a tour in mid South to conduct book signings. Even though the self financed book tour did not manage to move the title up the best selling charts, that did not dampen his spirit, as he continued to exhibit strong enthusiasm in his writing hobby.

The Much Awaited Break

John Grisham went on to write his second book, about an up and coming young lawyer who joined a superb Memphis law firm that didn’t appear to be what it was. It was titled The Firm. A short while after he submitted the manuscript to his publisher, he finally got his big break. Paramount pictures quoted $600,000 for the rights to make the plot into a movie! The deal brought strong interest in John Grisham’s novel and one of New York’s most prestigious publishing house, Doubleday paid the same amount to purchase the publishing rights for his book. Amazingly, The Firm did well to top the New York times best seller charts and became the best selling novel in 1991.

Subsequently, John Grisham went on to publish other famous international best sellers such as The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, The Summons, The King of Torts, Bleachers, The Last Juror, and The Broker.

With the income from the sales of his books, John Grisham is now a full time writer and has put his law career on the side. However, John has never regretted his decision to be a lawyer. Because he believed he owed it to his law career for the inspiration of his many thrilling stories that forms the fundament of his success as a writer today.

What Did I Learn From This Story?

That life may be full of twists and turns and sometimes you’ll never know what it may lead you to, but if you learn to equip yourself with the right mindset, you’ll be ready when the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you’ve been waiting for manifests. Yes, you too can create your own inspirational story! Here’s my learnings :

(1) Be Committal to Your Choices

If you’ve decided to give up pursuing a dream you no longer have the passion for, give it up totally. Don’t harbour any regrets nor broad about it. In the case of John Grisham, he gave up a childhood professional baseball player ambition to concentrate on being a tax lawyer before deciding that criminal litigation law was more suitable for him. Despite all those, he was fully committal in his new choices. He would dedicate himself to his new options and fully explore it before moving on to the next. It was that same sense of commitment that allowed him to fork out the extra hours in the midst of his tight work schedule to write the novel.

For someone who’s not committed in his decision, he’ll likely find himself dwelling in the past. Any difficulty experienced after that can easily make him waver. He may end up reverting back to the original position where he started from.

For example, when I first made the career switch from an auditor to an IT business analyst, there were instances when thoughts of going back to the audit line cropped back. I was glad I eventually came to terms with it, loving it and stuck with it till the end. And it certainly helped to know that no matter what decisions I made, they were meant for me to grow and not to feel regretful.

(2) Don’t Wait for the Break, Create it

When John Grisham was given a opportunity to sell his film rights to Paramount Pictures, a few people may think he’s plain lucky.

But I beg to differ. If he didn’t plod his way through writing every single page of his first book over the course of 3 years, he wouldn’t have the experience of writing, publishing and marketing a book. It was that same experience and his many years of working as a lawyer that laid the foundation for his 2nd book which matched Paramount Pictures’ expectations of a blockbuster script.

In my opinion, he didn’t wait for that amazing break. His little actions over the years built up to create it.

Many people keep thinking that they always need a big break in order to achieve something remarkable in their lives. So they spent their lifetimes waiting. Waiting for that golden opportunity when their dreams will be accomplished. Little do they know that the more they wait, the more time they lose. If they have used this time to polish their acting skills before acing that movie role audition, hone their sales techniques before landing that multi-million dollar contract, improve their public speaking presence before making that earth shattering speech, they would have achieved much more than what waiting would give them.

WAIT looks like an acronym for What Am I Thinking, isn’t it? So, the next time you caught yourself waiting again, ask yourself the same question. And remember this wonderful John Grisham inspiration!


5 Responses to “Inspirational Stories III : John Grisham & His Books”

  1. Karen Lynch at 5:39 pm

    I love John Grisham and I have read every single one of his books! I still think that “A Time to Kill” (his first) was the best he’s written with the most heart!
    Thanks for this inspiration!

  2. Ellesse at 6:49 am

    Hey Karen, that’s incredible. You must be an ardent Grisham fan. It’s a shame that I managed to read ‘The Rainmaker’ only but with so many personal development books in my reading list, I’ll have to put those great Grisham books on hold first!

  3. Richard at 7:11 am

    I’ve read the broker and it really touch my heart.At first, i thought that it would be boring to read that kind of book but after reading ,i found it good and fantastic.I learn a lot especially when Backman speaks italian and the other characters.

  4. kate at 5:39 pm

    Am just publishing my first book. Knowing John Grisham self-published, is what it amounts to, and then conducted a book tour of the southern states around Miss., and sold a good many copies, is heartening. I know I can do well now, too.

  5. Ellesse at 1:57 am

    @Richard Thanks for sharing! I’ve been reading less fictional books these days. Shame on me!

    @KateYes, you can definitely do it. With strong determination, a clear vision (persistent action) & strong faith, you can do whatever your mind conceives!


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