Q: I have followed your blog and read your comments about beating knee pain at sites including KneeGuru, and am curious about your story. I would like to read "Saving My Knees." But why is it available only as an electronic book? Why can't I buy a paperback version? Couldn't you find a publisher? If not, why not, if this book is really any good?
Okay, that's an invented question. But it's a good one. If I had knee pain and was about to lay down a ten spot for a book that exists only in bits and bytes, that I can't carry to the park on a warm, sunny afternoon, I'd sure as heck want to know the answer.
After all, you may be thinking, here's a guy who's well-educated (I attended Harvard, then New York University for a master's degree), who is a veteran journalist working for a leading global news organization, who undertook a closely observed and unprecedented experiment to save his knees, whose extensive research into knees and cartilage is reflected in a Select Bibliography that spans three single-spaced pages -- and he can't manage to sell a book about how he beat knee pain, in a world where there are tens of millions of knee pain sufferers?
Something doesn't make sense here. Something must be wrong with this book, right?
At this point, I'm going to turn the tables and engage you, the reader, for a moment. Because when I was hurting all the time, I very badly wanted to buy a smart, sensible book written by someone who conquered knee pain. I desperately sought hope. I wanted an inspiring story to lift my spirits. And I bet you've probably looked for the same thing.
Now here's my question: How many books fitting that description have you found on the shelves of your local bookstore? Go ahead. List all the titles.
I'll give you a minute. Okay, a few minutes ... still waiting ...
I'm guessing that your list looks about the same as mine would've, four years ago. Zero. No books. Nada. We don't really need another knee book written by a medical doctor (sometimes paired with a physical therapist), full of stiff writing and photos of exercises and rather dull anatomy lessons. We've got plenty of those. But we don't have any first-person accounts that speak more personally to a knee pain sufferer: I was there, I hurt all the time too, and I beat this thing, dammit, and here's my story. So there clearly is a profitable niche, just waiting to be filled.
Now brace yourself: This niche is not going to be filled. And now I'm going to tell you exactly why.
When I began approaching literary agents with my manuscript, very excited -- I had written and extensively rewritten "Saving My Knees" and even hired four perfect strangers, for a small sum of money, to review this manuscript and make suggestions, which led to further changes and improvements -- I soon slammed hard into a brick wall. It became clear to me no agent would agree to represent my book to publishers, and no publisher would ever agree to buy it.
Why? As an agent told me bluntly, I'm not a doctor. I'm not an authority about knees who possesses a medical degree. Of course there's a rich irony here. Had my supposedly qualified doctors written a book about me several years ago, the title would have been something like, "Why Richard Bedard's Knees Won't Heal: A Look at Why Knees Afflicted by Chronic Pain, That Don't Respond to Treatment, Never Get Better." And of course that book would have been dead wrong.
I find it curious that it's not considered valid for me to write this book, even though journalists have a long history of writing about things that they're not degreed experts in. Examples could fill up pages. What makes a book about one's bad knees different? My guess is publishers would identify two main things: (1) This is a health-related book, and a different standard applies. (2) This is my personal story of how I healed, so there may be a presumption that I'm offering advice, a la a doctor.
Now when you read my book (assuming you do), you'll find the advice I do give isn't all that radical. For instance, one of my four golden rules for bad knees is "lose weight." Simple. But while the doctor wags a finger in your face and says, "Lose weight and that will help your knees," I don't wag a finger in your face. I show you -- through my experience and studies I have read -- why you need to lose weight. You can wag your own finger in your face. :)
So my not being a doctor (or physical therapist) was a big obstacle to getting this book published. But I also realized that, even if I surmounted that obstacle, another one just as big awaited me.
Let me take a moment to show you what that was. I'll do so by presenting you with the following hypothetical, that takes us on a little historical journey:
It's two hundred years ago. You're a journalist. You have asthma. You go to a doctor, describe your asthma symptoms, and he recommends a controlled bleeding from your arm into a bowl (Google "bleeding bowl" to see what I mean) to correct your breathing difficulties. You think to yourself, "Okay, I'm not a doctor. I do know that doctors often prescribe this bleeding into a bowl thing. I'll submit to whatever he thinks is best because he's the expert."
But a week after the procedure, you still have asthma, just as severe. You return to the doctor. He tries another controlled bleed. You go home, find yourself still struggling with asthma, then begin to wonder, "Hmm, why are they bleeding me into a bowl? How does that really help cure my asthma?" So you do a lot of research. You run some experiments on yourself. And surprise: you find that bleeding people into a bowl doesn't seem to make much sense for treating asthma. You finally find a way to heal, sans bleeding therapy.
So you write a book, hoping to inspire other asthma sufferers who think there is no hope. You title it: "Saving My Bronchial Passages: How I Healed My Asthma and Why Bleeding People Into a Bowl Isn't Smart Medicine for Asthma Sufferers." You get your manuscript in tip-top shape, then go out to try to sell it to major publishing houses, and they ...
Shut their doors in your face.
The problem is, they would need your book to be reviewed by medical professionals. And the state-of-the-art thinking in the medical community is that bleeding people into a bowl is an appropriate treatment for asthma. And you -- just an ordinary journalist without a medical degree -- are challenging this well-entrenched medical wisdom. Forget about finding a publisher.
Two hundred years ago, that would have been the end of the story, and you would have died clutching your unpublished manuscript -- frustrated, then vindicated later by medical progress.
Today, the Internet has democratized access to information. Sure, there's a lot of bad info to wade through. But for an optimist about knowledge, and about the contagion-like property of good knowledge, as I am, it's clear that a smart book about healing knees just might take on a viral property and spread to help millions -- even if the publishing establishment rejects it.
I can be a bit of a renegade, you'll find in "Saving My Knees." But that's not really my nature. I started out as a perfect patient. I became a renegade only after doctors and physical therapists failed to help me heal. You'll see that much of the advice and information I was given -- that I had a condition called patellofemoral pain syndrome, that I should focus on strengthening my quads, that taking glucosamine would help my cartilage heal, that stretching the iliotibial band was important to get better, and so on -- was most likely wrong or useless.
Following the advice of doctors and physical therapists got me stuck in an endless rut where I never got better (and even got worse, following a physical therapist's advice!), where I was constantly frustrated and depressed. I didn't start healing until after doing a major rethink of everything. The major rethink didn't involve me staring at my navel and thinking big thoughts. I went to Knee School 101, Self-Directed Study. I pored over many clinical studies and medical textbooks -- and stumbled upon the writings of an incredible physical therapist, Doug Kelsey.
So that's my long-winded answer why you should trust a guy peddling an e-book. "Saving My Knees" is my story, certainly. I don't pretend that you need to do exactly what I did, to save your knees. But I think that I discovered a framework for healing -- and I'd be surprised if my observations don't help you in some way. Or at least give you hope -- and that may be just as important as anything for a knee pain sufferer.