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Mark Malatesta Review and Interview – John Stansifer

Photo of former literary agent Mark Malatesta wearing glasses

This Mark Malatesta review was provided by John Stansifer, author of No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun (Harper Collins). Mark is a former literary agent turned author coach and consultant who helped John improve his manuscript, platform, book proposal, and query letter.. John then got an offer of representation from Mel Berger with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, The review of Mark Malatesta below is followed by an interview in which John talks about his experience, and his best advice for authors.

Review of Mark Malatesta by John Stansifer

Head shot photo of author John Stansifer smiling and wearing glasses for Mark Malatesta ReviewMel Berger with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment responded to my query in five minutes! After he started shopping the book he said, “You’ve got a bite.” Then, “You have two more, one from Random House and another from Harper Collins. Bidding war.”

It’s every writer’s dream.

Photo of Father Emil Kapaun in military medic gear with helmet holding pipe on book cover for Mark Malatesta ReviewHarper Collins/Hanover Square Press expressed the most interest, and they committed to publishing the book hardcover, so I went with them. Their distribution is enormous, everywhere, including Walmart and Target.

My literary agent is a giant in the industry, and he was my number one pick. Other agents were interested, but as soon as I got on the phone with Mel, that was it. I wanted someone like him and a big agency like William Morris Endeavor Entertainment that handles film and foreign rights.

Mark Malatesta Review – Pt 2

Trimax Media has since acquired the film rights, with Stephen Campanelli—who’s worked with Clint Eastwood on many films—to direct. Harper Collins is now planning a second edition with a movie tie-in. They pushed back the release date to accommodate a larger press run and more time for marketing.

My head is spinning.

I worked on this project for more than ten years, and I queried people before I met you, but I never got an offer. The query letter and proposal you helped me create were dynamite, as was the agent list—and your encouragement.

Thank you for your support.

JOHN STANSIFER is the auhtor of No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun (Harper Collins / Hanover Square Press)

Wraparound book dust jacket with photo of Father Kapaun and author John Stansifer for Mark Malatesta Review

John Stansifer Interview with Former Literary Agent Mark Malatesta

During this 59-minute interview and Mark Malatesta review, nonfiction author John Stansifer talks about how he got a top literary agent, Mel Berger with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, to represent him. John then got multiple offers for his book, No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun, which was published by Harper Collins. During this interview (available as audio and text),

Mark Malatesta: John Stansifer is the author of No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun, published in hardcover by Hanover Square Press, an imprint of Harper Collins. The book chronicles the story of the most decorated chaplain in U.S. military history, and his path to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. No man in the United States has ever received this honor.

John Stansifer is represented by Mel Berger with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Trimax Media has acquired the film rights to his book, with Stephen Campanelli—who’s worked with Clint Eastwood on many films—to direct. Harper Collins is now planning a second edition with a movie tie-in. They pushed back the release date to accommodate a larger press run and more time for marketing.

Jim DeFelice, co-author of American Sniper, which Campanelli worked on with Eastwood says, “Father Kapaun’s story is one of the great war stories of all time, combining courage under fire, faith, and tremendous sacrifice and endurance. John Stansifer was born to tell it.”

Father Kapaun, a humble priest, went far beyond the call of duty during WWII and the Korean War. Often found with combat medics on the front lines, unarmed, ministering to the wounded—and known for his intense devotion to the soldiers whom he called “my boys,”—Kapaun was awarded a Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Legion of Merit.

John spent years interviewing veterans and ex-POWs to research and write this book. Coupled with interviews or self-published war experiences, as well as material from the National Archives and rare access to thousands of unseen documents, No Bullet Got Me Yet unveils the most complete history of the life of Father Kapaun as related by his friends, family and fellow soldiers, as well as in his own words from the numerous letters he wrote.

So welcome, John!

Mark Malatesta Interview and Review with John Stansifer – Pt 2

John Stansifer: Happy to be here.

Mark Malatesta: Okay, it’s been a long road. I know you’re going to talk about that. But a long journey that ended with a wonderful destination.

John Stansifer: Absolutely, it’s unbelievable!

Mark Malatesta: Alright, so let’s dive in, first the manuscript. I know I told people briefly what the book’s about. But the author, I feel, can always do a little bit better than me. Maybe a lot better than me. Please take a few minutes to tell everyone more about the story. I know everybody listening is going to want your advice for writers, but many people will also take a personal interest in the book and want to read it, buy it, hopefully review it. So, talk a little bit more about the story.

John Stansifer: Absolutely! First and foremost, it is a biography of Emil Kapaun, who is better known as Father Kapaun. He was a small-town priest in Pilsen, Kansas, a very small town, no stoplights, etc. And like a lot of people when the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened in 1941, he immediately wanted to serve his country, and was already ordained as a priest. To become a chaplain, he had to get permission from his bishop who wouldn’t give it to him at first. We think he was trying to protect him because a lot of chaplains were getting killed.

So, he became an auxiliary chaplain in Kansas for a couple years and then finally wrote to his bishop and said, “I can’t take it anymore. I feel God is calling me to serve my country over the local parish.” His bishop finally agreed to let him go to chaplain school in 1945. Then he was commissioned to Captain and served in the CBI Theatre, China, Burma, and India in 1945 and ’46. After the war he got a master’s degree in education at a Catholic University.

The rise of communism in the late 40s really alarmed him. He rejoined the military, was sent to Japan and while there the Korean War broke out and he once again became a chaplain in the First Cavalry division. He went through relentless combat from one tip of Korea to the next, unprecedented stories. And he wrote a lot of letters in his free time telling his folks back home what was going on and his letters are incredible.

In his last letter home he wrote, “No bullet got me yet, though a machine gunner sprayed us with bullets. the prayers of our loved ones helped us escape.” When I read that I knew No Bullet Got Me Yet was going to be the title of the book, because to me it represents a brave philosophy of the soldier that keeps soldiering on. As long as you don’t kill him, he’s going to keep going. It’s important.

Mark Malatesta: And his faith.

John Stansifer: Absolutely. That’s why it’s important to explain the title of the book. I would call it a simple Kansas phrase. To me that’s one of the driving philosophies or phrases that makes me so proud to be involved in this. And inspired by Father Kapaun I know it’s going to inspire a lot of other people. He’s already been inspiring thousands and thousands of lives over the years.

Mark Malatesta: Did your agent or the publisher push back or question the title in any way, or did they just accept it? They usually want to change it.

John Stansifer: Nope, no serious discussion came on that.

Mark Malatesta: You didn’t have to fight for that, good.

John Stansifer: On certain things, I can be pretty forceful, and I was. Because the thought that went into it beforehand. I feel anointed by Kapaun to tell this story, as weird as that sounds. So, I always feel like I am speaking on his behalf, never for myself. It’s not about my ego. It’s about what Kapaun would have appreciated being told about him, certainly a lot of the truth. So, they accepted the title right away. And the other thing that you usually argue I guess with publishers on is the cover of the book.

Mark Malatesta: Yes.

John Stansifer: And I knew that the photo of him holding the broken pipe…

Mark Malatesta: It’s money.

John Stansifer: You can’t see it very well in black and white, so I had it colorized and it came out perfect.

Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with John Stansifer – Pt 3

Mark Malatesta: Right, right.

John Stansifer: I fought with them for seven months to get that cover on there because they were concerned maybe that somebody held a copyright on it. They didn’t. It was in the public domain. At one point they said, “Well, do you have another picture for the cover?”

Mark Malatesta: (laughing)

John Stansifer: I said, “No way! No way, that is the cover of the book. It goes with the title, No Bullet Got Me Yet. He’s holding a broken pipe, just when you look at the cover and you can see medic’s tape wrapped on it because that pipe was shot out of his mouth by a sniper’s bullet.”

Mark Malatesta: Oh, man.

John Stansifer: It’s perfect. When you understand the story of the sniper bullet and the title, you’ll know that’s the cover, and I stuck with it.

Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I love it. I mean, I know this will sound strange until people look at it, but it’s friendly and a charming photo, even though it’s in the middle of all that, right?

John Stansifer: He’s grinning ear to ear in the middle of a war. Incredible.

Mark Malatesta: Right, and it doesn’t scream at the reader, “Oh, this is a super religious, serious book” either.

John Stansifer: Absolutely. He looks like he’s saying, “You missed me, you missed me.” He got shot at probably 10,000 times during the war. He went through a lot of combat.

Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk about the journey a little bit. I’m going to do a little bit of wind up on this because you’ve been down a long road. So, I just want to start at the end when everything started getting good. So, you’ve been querying, and now you have what seems like maybe serious interest and how that turns into an offer… Just share your short story of how that happened and then that turned into you going with Mel, and how that turned into publisher interest and what you’ve done to celebrate, if anything, along the way all the way…up to now where we have the movie stuff going on. Whatever you’re comfortable with or allowed to say about that.

John Stansifer: Well, first and foremost, I know exactly when the journey started, and that’s April 11, 2013. I literally turned on the TV and Father Kapaun’s medal of honor ceremony was airing live. I saw the whole thing.

Mark Malatesta: Wow!

John Stansifer: My jaw was on the floor. President Obama told his story. There wasn’t a dry in the house, it was absolutely incredible. I was floored. And then when I heard he was from Kansas, my home state, I was even more intrigued. I knew immediately that I was going to write a movie about him, and it was going to be bigger than myself. I actually said that out loud. I mean who talks like that, “It’s going to be bigger than myself?” That’s why I say I feel I was anointed to tell the story.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: So, I first wrote a biopic Korean War movie screenplay about him called Father Kapaun’s Valley, immediately after learning who he was and returning to Kansas and starting my research. I’ve pitched many scripts over the years, expensive and not, and been optioned many times, but never had anything made. So, this was 2014, moving forward, and it was quite apparent because Kapaun wasn’t famous enough I wasn’t going to find a budget for a huge war movie.

So, since I’d already started all this research, my father passed away, I received some inheritance and I moved to Wichita, Kansas where my parents and grandparents are from to collect further research from the Father Kapaun guild and the Catholic diocese of Wichita. They provided me everything. It was thousands of documents, more than enough to write a book. They basically asked, “Well, why don’t you write a biography on him?” I thought it was one of the greatest stories I’d ever heard. Of course I’ll do it. But this was for free, I had no book deal.

Mark Malatesta Interview and Review with John Stansifer – Pt 4

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: So, I invested a lot of money in the travel in the time period, and I did come up with a book proposal and had just met you. The initial book proposal was way too long, but I really didn’t have anybody to submit it to. Editors would say, “Well, wait until Kapaun becomes canonized and then we’ll be interested.” I thought, “What, the story is already incredible now, we don’t need to add on to it, whatever.” So, I write the script, then moved to Florida and tried to finish the book and I did, about five hundred pages. But again, even working with you, we had no way to get it to an editor that would care because his name just wasn’t big enough, and my name certainly was nothing. That all changed in March 2021 when the remains were discovered and positively identified through DNA testing. He had been at the Punch Bowl Hawaii National Cemetery since 1954 and was buried in an unmarked grave, or a grave marked X217 and they didn’t DNA test him until 2019. So, in 2021 when his remains were positively identified he had been MIA for over seventy years. Unbelievable.

Mark Malatesta: Wow!       

John Stansifer: You can imagine the family, who never thought they would see him again, their reaction to the news. Then an old man in a doctor’s office in Tampa, Florida was waiting in the waiting room, and he saw a magazine with Father Kapaun’s picture on the cover and there was a story about his remains being positively identified. He took the magazine, went home, and called the Catholic diocese of Wichita. He told them, “I am the one that buried Father Kapaun in the POW camp.” Unbelievable!

Mark Malatesta: I get goosebumps.

John Stansifer: He had never connected with the Kapaun story since the Korean War, and as an old man in his nineties…

Mark Malatesta: In the doctor’s office.

John Stansifer: He says, “I’m the one who buried Kapaun.” So, they interviewed him extensively and he gave testimony to declare he was martyred by the Chinese. Behind the death house at this POW camp there were a thousand sets of remains, a thousand bodies in a mass grave. Well, these POWs knew Father Kapaun was special. This guy went out of his way to bury him deep and separately from the others so that when he was disinterred in 1954 by an excavation team and taken to Japan and then to Hawaii for identification… They didn’t have DNA at the time, so when they did identify him, his remains were ninety-five percent intact, which is unbelievable. They had a funeral service for him in Wichita, Kansas and packed a hockey arena. 10,000 people attended. It was livestreamed on TV, more national news coverage.

Mark Malatesta: Wasn’t that around the time we were starting to pitch agents?

John Stansifer: That’s when you and I decided to, because Mel Berger had said to wait until after his funeral before submitting when it would make more national news.

Mark Malatesta: Right, more media.

John Stansifer: So, we did that. We had already crafted the query letter to get Mel Berger’s attention before the funeral. That’s when he said yes, but he didn’t want to send out the book proposal until it was tweaked a little bit. So, we worked on that. And the book proposal goes into a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about. Just how the big story is and the market for the story is there. So, Mel Berger was patient, and our first book proposal went out. It was pitched more as an oral history rather than a narrative non-fiction. And this is very important for your listeners to understand. Nobody wanted an oral history; something called an oral history. It was dead. But a couple of people, including the current editor said, “If you change it to narrative nonfiction we’ll be interested.” I had already written in that style before. I was just pitching it differently.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: So, I did a quick re-write within a few days. I mean I already knew all the stories. So, I said sure I’m just going to change the chapters up here and make it more traditional, and not call it an oral history. Even though it’s partly that anyway, but as a genre it doesn’t appeal for somebody not famous. So, with the new proposal I would say within days we had a bidding war between multiple publishers within Random House and Harper Collins. One of them even said that I would get a bigger advance if Kapaun got canonized. Like they’re going to put Vegas odds on when he gets canonized.

Mark Malatesta: Make it contingent on that…

John Stansifer: With a contingency, yes. We both laughed at that and said, “No way, man!”

Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with John Stansifer – Pt 5

Mark Malatesta: No thanks.

John Stansifer: So, we ended up with Harper Collins with what I can only describe as a record advance for an unpublished first-time author that’s not a celebrity. My marketing plan and the book proposal were so dynamite, appealing to the faith-based market and the veteran war heroes and the military market that the advance became two to three times. And that’s when I knew that they knew this was a big story. (laughing)

Mark Malatesta: Right, and we got three things: general audience, faith audience, and military audience. It’s a lot.

John Stansifer: That happened all because the power of Kapaun’s story. It’s as simple as that. This book in conjunction with the movie or even without the movie, we have a very real possibility, in conjunction with the church, to make Father Kapaun a household name. Worldwide. And, by the way, I am actually expecting my first copy of the book tomorrow. It’s been quite a journey. I would have had it sooner, but of course they sent it ground shipping instead of FedEx.

Mark Malatesta: Right, the galley, the review copy.

John Stansifer: Right. You were asking about what kind of celebration I’ve been having with me and my girlfriend. I have to say the process has taken longer than I expected, with the dates changing on the release. But every day has been a celebration because basically I could quit my day job and say I am a professional writer. I mean that’s been a dream since, you know, for years, obviously. And the story is so powerful and the potential for success is so great that I can write whatever I want going into the future.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: Then to be doubly blessed with a movie in the making, possibly in production very soon, I feel like there’s no time to celebrate. Like I’m stepping into my real job now. I’m the producer and the sole credit to the screenwriter on the movie and obviously the author of this book, both ongoing at the same time. Obviously, my phone is blowing up and I’m getting a lot of details, but I feel an obligation to Father Kapaun, a responsibility to do this right. If I can’t do it right, I wouldn’t do it at all.

Mark Malatesta: So, we talked about when you got the idea for the book. Is there anything you want to talk about like other things you wrote that you think maybe helped shape you as a writer, or when you thought you might be a writer that way?

John Stansifer: First and foremost, I’ve written a lot of screenplays, serious biopics, a lot of research and I never got them through production. I had interest, but nothing. I never had a big agent, I couldn’t break through, and despite all these screenplays for years that I have, and I wrote them out by hand, by the way, on a legal pad before typing them into the computer… I took on Father Kapaun’s Valley in 2013, more than ten years ago. And I did it again. It’s called a spec screenplay where you’re writing on the speculation that you’ll sell it. I did it again because I knew the power of the story was so great that I could do it. And here’s the thing that I look back on all my screenwriting and other writing that I did before…I view that as the experience given to me in order to write the Father Kapaun’s Valley screenplay, and ultimately the book. So, I don’t look back with regret at all those scripts that didn’t get made, which I like a lot of them still, and now the potential is for several of them to get made.

Mark Malatesta: I was going to say, some of those might get made now.

John Stansifer: I’d like to think that writing was not in vain. I don’t want to die an unknown, unpublished, unproduced writer, but at the same time I had never sold out to write something stupid or strictly for money. I have always wanted to write something important that could move the world one inch, something people would care about. I got that in spades with the Kapaun story, and so I feel like I’m in this like robotic mode of, like I said, it’s not about my ego it’s about telling Kapaun’s story right. And then, as you can imagine, going into a movie, there are all sorts of issues with creative control, and I had opportunities to maybe sell the script to somebody who would take me off as screenwriter and they would hire somebody else.

Mark Malatesta Interview and Review with John Stansifer – Pt 6

Mark Malatesta: Yep.

John Stansifer: No way I was going to let that happen. I would turn down, well I don’t want to name the names, but I would turn down the biggest of the big because a lot of people, especially when it comes to Catholic faith and other faith-based stories, they can have an agenda. And there is the term people Hollywood-ize movies and “make it Hollywood” or whatever. It’s very important to me that Father Kapaun’s Valley be a true story and that the biography be representative of the best facts we can get. That’s what drives me every single day, the responsibility to live up to that truth of who he was. And it’s not just the truth. It’s the message and lessons learned from him that are so inspiring. I mean you said from Jim DeFelice’s words, “It’s one of the most incredible stories of faith in war…you couldn’t script something like this.”

Mark Malatesta: Let’s segue into your best advice for authors and start with writing a book. You can split it up, like share some advice for if someone is going to write narrative nonfiction or a biography, something specific to that or it can be general. And it doesn’t matter if it’s how they might find the idea for their book or if they’re far along trying to finish their book. Just absolutely anything that has been helpful to you personally that could be helpful to everyone else.

John Stansifer: Well, my story is, was, all about reading, particularly in high school and then in college. It was the reading of the plays of Sam Shepherd, Tennessee Williams and my cousin William Inge. William was a playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for “Picnic” and he won a best Oscar screenplay in 1962 for writing the movie “Splendor in the Grass” directed by Eliah Kazan and numerous authors, you name it. Edgar Allan Poe, Hemingway, etc. totally influenced me. But in the 90s, and I think this is important for any writer to have, is I had not only two great mentors, but they were also good friends.

They were Allen Greenberg, who wrote a great screenplay called “Love in Vain” which actually got published as literature with a foreword by Martin Scorsese even though the movie was never made. And I was also fortunate enough to live in the same town as William S. Burroughs, who was one of the most famous beat authors of all time. His biographies are my favorite books, and his story is beyond anything. He published many, many, many books. He’s very famous. And in fact, when I first met him, his manager introduced me and said, “William, this is John, he’s also a writer.” He turned to me and sneered, “But do you NEED to write?”

Mark Malatesta: (laughing)

John Stansifer: He called my bluff right to my face. I was flabbergasted to hear that from him, do you need to write? That’s the crux of what a real artist is of any kind. As Nietzsche said, a true artist only needs two things: bread and his art. That’s kind of what came out of that meeting with William Burroughs. I think you learn more from people than you do from books. But at the same time, what you learn from different people, especially when you’re younger, is very important. I would say I learned more from my mentors, William S. Burroughs and Allen Greenburg, in one summer than ten years of college could ever teach me.

That and a lot of traveling, but at the same time, read and avoid Facebook. I can’t imagine having social media back in the 80s and 90s, it probably would have ruined everything. So, how you’re influenced is what you choose, but if you choose to be a writer, or you know that’s what you’re going to be, I say don’t ever hold back from writing anything because you think that you don’t know enough or that the format scares you. I believe every one of us has a story to tell, and you don’t know what that is until you get it out. That’s one of my favorite quotes from Ernest Hemingway. Nobody knows what’s in them until they get it out.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: There’s nothing wrong with going to writers’ conferences or reading books on screenplay writing or how to be a writer, etc., but you can’t study them like the Bible. You’ve got to learn quickly from them and move on to the next if it hasn’t motivated you enough. And when it comes to reading books on writing, I’d say read books on the people who made it. Because there are plenty of those that I’ve read by writers with advice on writing. Stephen King, he wrote a book on writing. Obviously, his advice would be way more pertinent than somebody who is professor somewhere.

And Ray Bradbury has a great book on writing. I saw him speak in person, too. He said if you want to be a writer, just get a pad and a pen. He was completely serious. And Hemingway and Poe had great advice on writing, not in books on writing, but in quotes about writing. Hemingway is famous for his iceberg theory where you don’t spoon-feed the audience. You tell them just enough to be intrigued by the story, but you don’t blatantly hit them on the head with it.

Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with John Stansifer – Pt 7

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: And also, the influence of Kansas University, I can’t overstate that enough because my father was a professor of history there for fifty years. They have a vast library. It’s not some Podunk hick town like people might imagine. Far from it. It is one of the biggest libraries in the college system, huge. Their institution is truly inspiring. So how I would characterize just becoming a writer is it evolved over a long period of time. And I may have to thank the people that said no to me because if I had achieved success early, who knows? I might have petered out or gotten celebrated too much or done something. All that rejection only inspired me more to prove people wrong.

And here we are. My favorite books to read, if you want to talk about a genre, is biographies. I mean I read 700-page biographies of you know, all the Hemingway ones and everyone you can imagine, especially Edgar Allan Poe and many others, not just writers. They’ve always fascinated me and that’s what led to my interest in biopics. Keep in mind, all the screenplays I wrote that I didn’t make money on, I wrote several comedies, but I wrote biopics of Cary Grant, Edgar Allan Poe, Johnny Appleseed, The Naturalist John Muir, Jimi Hendrix, and Ernest Hemingway biopics. Epic lives and epic stories, but without the right agent or connections or…

Mark Malatesta: Yep.

John Stansifer: …fame myself, it’s sad to say they’re collecting dust on the shelf. And I wrote two epic Vietnam war stories, absolute great subject matter, but again expensive to make. This leads up to all those scripts I just mentioned. I always wanted to write a great war story about World War II. Since childhood I think I’ve wanted to do this. I always thought it would be the Battle of the Bulge or some epic thing in World War II, but I was hesitant to go into it knowing again that this would be super expensive, and nobody would listen to me. So, imagine, I’m watching a medal of honor ceremony on TV about a chaplain in the Korean War and I thought, “I don’t know anything about the Korean War.” (laughing) And it was so, it was so huge, I knew that they called it the forgotten war and I knew it was 1950 to 1953, but it’s still ongoing today. It’s a stand-off. The Korean border is the most militarized border in the world, and the ramifications of the Korean War are still in place today. So I forgot everything I wanted to do and just chucked it aside and said it’s Kapaun full-time for me. And I’ve proven that for more than ten years now.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: Another important thing is the use of photography. It depends on what story you have, but in my case I had numerous historical photographs. Of all the pictures taken of Kapaun during the Korean War, three of them are the most iconic photos of a chaplain in history. Two of them are the most iconic chaplain photos of the Korean War by far. And just by this wild coincidence he was celebrating Mass on the hood of his jeep on the border of North and South Korea right before the first cav went over the border in October of 1950. A doctor, a surgeon, a battalion surgeon had a camera and took a color photograph of Kapaun with his hands up celebrating Mass, and it’s the most iconic chaplain photo of all time, in brilliant color. His previous pictures of Kapaun were all in black and white.

It’s just weird how they switched film, and then as we mentioned in the color photo. That is one of the most iconic pictures of all time. You notice the pipe, there’s a grin on his face, and the prominent white cross in the middle of his helmet, the chaplain insignia. And so, when I say the use of photography for a book, if I’m rebooting Father Kapaun’s story, I have three great pictures of Kapaun colorized. And a lot of people say, “Oh, don’t colorize black and white photos. You’re spitting into history.” The ability of Photoshop and AI even to clean an old black and white grainy photo up so that it actually looks like a digital image from the 1950s, 1945… When you get that clean version of it and then you colorize it, and in the case of the Kapaun cover, I popped the cover with an animated filter. I was blessed by Harper Collins to give me a thirty-two-page color insert for the book, which is very expensive to do on a book. Thirty-two pages is quite a generous offer.

Mark Malatesta: Wow!

John Stansifer: I have more than sixty photos in black and white throughout the book and then a thirty-two-page color insert in the middle. And two of the photos of Kapaun have been colorized and they are perfect. They are so beautiful I can’t even tell you. And then when I posted them online, Kapaun fans foam at the mouth over them. “Oh wow, I can look into his eyes. I feel like I know him. I feel like I can talk to him.” It humanized him. And so, rebooting his story seventy years after the Korean War, I furthered that reboot by adding these pictures that have never been seen before. So that’s people looking at history through new eyes.

Mark Malatesta Interview and Review with John Stansifer – Pt 8

Mark Malatesta: Now what about publishing, traditional verses self-publishing? What was your process? Did you even think about self-publishing or go straight to traditional. What was your thinking there?

John Stansifer: That is a great question because, as you know, I almost came to a deal with a self-publishing group that was very, very small. And I was sad to work with them because, first of all, Kapaun’s remains had not been discovered yet. So Kapaun was not famous again. And honestly, I thought well he’s probably never going to be discovered. So better to self-publish than not publish at all. The more I worked with these people they turned out to be such sleazeballs it’s not even funny. It’s sad that I got very close to signing with them. They wanted to make a movie too, but they wanted to make it really low budget. I was like, “How is that going to work?” (laughing) “You’re not going to make a war movie for a million dollars. I mean, come on.” So, I realized they were full of it and not worth it, so I backed out. The reality is when it comes to deciding whether a story goes self-published or becomes a major book, I had to understand. Look, I’m not just being endorsed and blessed by the Roman Catholic Church. They’re actually collaborating with me. They’re providing things including the introduction and the foreword by the Chief of Chaplains of the Army. This is a big story that has to have a major publisher, otherwise stories might be doubted in there.

Mark Malatesta: Right, right.

John Stansifer: Because there are three previous biographies of Kapaun and they’re small-time, very dated and so the Catholic Church, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, views my new research and my citing stuff even from the past with permission from the Father Kapaun Guild, to reboot his story, and I mean to get it back out there.

Mark Malatesta: Well, yes, your book is the big one in the category. So, let’s talk marketing. You’ve already talked somewhat about marketing in different ways, but any advice for writers as far as what they should be thinking about or doing early in their process, late in their process when they’re thinking about their profile or their platform or their marketing things where you talked about that dynamite marketing plan? Some of that is just capturing if something is timely, like your story. But what else can an author do and what do you remember doing or are you doing now that you think would be helpful?

John Stansifer: Absolutely. Soon after I started the screenplay, I started a Facebook page, and here I just said to avoid Facebook. But when it comes to marketing and the social media sites, be disciplined. Don’t turn it into personal opinions or whatever. You’re promoting your work. So, I created a Facebook page under the name of the book years ago, and Father Kapaun’s Valley. If you scroll through the page, I’ve got thousands of posts that show how obsessed I was with the story. Nobody who goes on the Facebook page today is going to scroll back six years ago and see all these detailed things I was writing.

And that’s another thing about photography, I took photographs. I took selfies with all the authors, the veterans that I met that had books. They all had books, many of them self-published. Some of them were bigger publishers and, sadly, most of them have passed away. I’m glad I recorded it, I have them on video during our interviews and such. But I was promoting the story I didn’t have the book to actually sell. So, years ago the Facebook page…

Mark Malatesta: You can do that, and people don’t realize that. How do I do anything, I don’t have a book yet? Well, you just explained it.

John Stansifer: Right. You can start blogs, podcasts and figure out a way to go viral in certain ways. Like a medal of honor recipient. I mean you just post a picture of a medal of honor, and you get a million likes. That is a cool medal.

Mark Malatesta: (laughing)

John Stansifer: It’s just a reality of the patriotic market. There’s a certain respect that comes with a medal of honor recipient. You can post that somebody received a purple heart or the bronze star and they wouldn’t even know what you were talking about. But the medal of honor is the universal recognition of above and beyond.

Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with John Stansifer – Pt 9

Mark Malatesta: And you’re starting to do articles now, like with Guidepost. You certainly reached out to some influential people prior to going to publishers to see if they might agree to accept a review copy of the book and things like that, right?

John Stansifer: Big time! I’m bending over backwards, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to…you have to come to an understanding of what the publisher views the galley for. When it comes to reviewers, we haven’t advanced far enough to know what exactly they’re going to do. But, as I understand it, they seek out New York Times reviews of books, whatever the magazine or source is.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: But for niche markets, like small time presses, the author is the one chasing them down, getting them the book to read and review it. So, honestly, right now I feel like I’m a one-man show marketing of this book because Harper Collins is just getting started.

Mark Malatesta: Right, it’s just getting going.

John Stansifer: I’m going to go ahead and say I have confidence in them that they’re going to handle this right. But I have a tremendous, tremendous advantage with this particular story because of the canonization process. I can report that the Catholic Diocese of Wichita has already forwarded my book to the Vatican. It’s possible the information in there, and the build-up of the audience and the hype around it while it’s being marketed, could quite possibly influence the Congregation for the Saints, which is forty theologians who read all the material on someone up for canonization. Then they present it to the Holy Father to advance somebody’s canonization. There is no timeline for canonization, but it seems as if March, again, ironically, the month the book is being released, it seems like that’s probably when they’re going to announce enhancement in canonization, probably announce martyrdom, which would take him straight to Sainthood.

 And that is said, from Saint Peter’s Square in a Mass delivered by the Holy Father with a full crowd (laughing) in front, and in the Vatican news service and it becomes worldwide news. Two billion people, easily one billion, will learn of Kapaun’s name because sainthood is so rare. Sainthood is even more rare in the United States because it’s never happened before. So, imagine the ramifications of the first male Saint actually born in the US. It’s unreal. You can’t buy that kind of marketing. That would immediately lead to a second edition of the book with the updates on the canonization process in there, which could be easily add a few pages. It’s potentially a global phenomenon. I’m not saying that’s what it is now, but the potential is there because just the market is so wide.

Mark Malatesta: Yes, that’s not overstating it.

John Stansifer: William Morris was the first offer for the book and other big agents had contacted me after Mel Berger. But their agency wasn’t as big as the William Morris agency. They have the motion picture rights division and the foreign rights. The foreign rights to the book, which leads to translations in multiple languages, was I knew from the start very important for this particular story.

Mark Malatesta: For this book.

John Stansifer: That’s why we settled on Mel Berger immediately, going straight to the top. If you want to sell foreign rights in multiple countries and make translations into three dozen languages…the Catholic Church is obviously throughout the world. And in particular, South Korea where American war heroes are national heroes. The English version is going to do well there, and so is the Korean version. I mean it’s going to go through the roof. And you know ninety percent of Latin America is Roman Catholic and then of course there is Italy, and France and Europe. And Kapaun’s ancestry goes back to Czechoslovakia, so the interest around the world has the potential to be very great. I’m also interested to see what the distribution numbers worldwide could be. They could be bigger than the domestic numbers.

Mark Malatesta: Absolutely could do that.

John Stansifer: Potentially, so you have to have a big agency handle that. There are just so many people that contact you that you can’t keep track of it.

Mark Malatesta: Right/ So, with our work together it’s hard, because this has been a long time in the making and I’m not going to remember all the details. But we can try to remember together. When we met and started working on this, did you have a query letter? I think you had a draft proposal. But how did those things change, like in layman’s terms so people can understand what we did? And anything else we did, like top couple or few things you think were most valuable, so people can understand what that process might be like, even though it’s different for everybody and every book.

John Stansifer: Absolutely. Before we met, I had sent out queries. I was targeting some specific people, specific agents on a whim. And that’s where I got some comments that, well, call us when he’s canonized. Including William Morris that told me that, a different agent at the time, years and years ago.

Mark Malatesta Interview and Review with John Stansifer – Pt 10

Mark Malatesta: Years earlier. Right.

John Stansifer: So, it was on my own, I was doing the research that you do with your agents lists. I was just you know looking at stuff on the Internet trying to figure out who to submit to. And I had a very long, 140-page book proposal. Wow, this was a long time ago, and I did have a connection to Macmillan. A top editor there who had discovered The Walking Dead series, who was doing pretty well on those books, he showed interest. I mailed him the actual book proposal with trinkets of Kapaun and stuff in this big box.

Mark Malatesta: Right, I remember this now. Go ahead.

John Stansifer: We were in contact over eleven months, and I said, “What’s going on?” Finally, I’d had enough. He kept saying he would get back to me and he never did. So I got ahold of him and said, “Can you make a decision here? What’s going on?” He goes, “Can you give me the five-minute elevator pitch again?” After all those months of him sitting on it he says give me the…

Mark Malatesta: Wow.

John Stansifer: So, I knew he hadn’t even looked at it.

Mark Malatesta: He’d done nothing.

John Stansifer: And so, I gave a reluctant description of the Kapaun story again. But again, he hadn’t been, you know, his remains hadn’t been discovered yet, he hadn’t been returned home. So, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s a pass.” He led me on for a long time. We had friendly email exchanges over other things sometimes. So that was an unprofessional experience, trying to get where I am today without having the gravitas of the story being complete.

Mel Berger put it best, he said the funeral helped, his return home represents the closure of the story, closure for the family. And the word closure is the difference between what I was doing back then and then what we got going in 2021. You know, this just doesn’t happen to anybody. It’s so rare the circumstances of what lead to this. Had I taken a deal with Macmillan back then, I mean it would have just been dumped and not promoted.

Mark Malatesta: Yes, small book that no one would have read.

John Stansifer: And certainly no movie deal. I can’t say enough about Stephen Campanelli because he’s been primed to be a big director for a long time working with Clint Eastwood as long as he has, almost thirty years. And he’s Catholic. He got into the story a long time ago, years and years. I probably told you about him soon after we first met when I was telling you about the advancing of the movie or whatever.

Mark Malatesta: Yep.

John Stansifer: I’ve got this big director, but he never attached officially because he didn’t want to embarrass himself that we never raised the money for the movie, it didn’t get going. He didn’t want to look like a fool, and I don’t blame him. So, when Kapaun’s remains were found and the funeral was held, I actually got Campanelli on the phone and he said, “I’m in.” But he still didn’t attach (Mark laughing), but he said, “I’m still here. Now that this news has happened, maybe you’ll get the money for the movie.” Well, that was two years ago. Then the book getting closer to production, to being published, that news is what when he officially said he was in and led to this incredible story on Deadline Hollywood that everyone saw. His phone rang off the hook because certain people in his circle saw it. “Oh, this is your next movie.” We’re talking the best of the best cinematographers, camera people, and crews in the world. They made “American Sniper”, they made “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” They made “Sully.” You can name all of the great Eastwood films.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: Hollywood is a very tight circle and so when you announce as director on a major feature film, the studios are eyeing it, the top agents, the film funds and the financiers. That just doesn’t happen to people’s books. Let’s say you’re Laura Hillenbrand and you write Unbroken. Well, she’s never been involved in movies. So, after the book was released and was a number one bestseller, they hired five screenwriters to muck it up into what the movie became. Angelina Jolie directed it, and that’s typically how a big book gets made into a film.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: The Boys in the Boat is now coming out as a movie directed by George Clooney. The Boys in the Boatis similar in genre to No Bullet Got Me Yet. So, it never ever happens that a screenwriter writes a movie and then writes a book with a different title. The book gets published, but the movie is not an adaptation of the book. So, absolutely I learned a lot from you, probably more than you realize. First and foremost, would be your dogged perseverance and sheer loyalty and commitment through thick and thin. That’s what I got out of being with you that was important for the long term. You always reminded me that the story was so great, I have to keep going and rewriting year after year until boom, the timing was right and a story about relentless faith got made because of our relentless faith. Which is kind of a true story.

And your process is very specific and very universally applied to writers no matter what the genre is. I learned to listen to all that you had to say, because your process of teaching someone to get it all out: the steps, the procedure, how to contact agents, etc. I had blown off or skipped some things you were instructing me on. I may have just given up. So, you were there for me when the chips were down. I’ll never forget that. I knew your coaching was what was right for me basically if I could just cut right to the chase. When I learned of your website, I immediately saw the story of Daniel Cohen and the other success story you had with his book, Single Handed: The Story of Tibor Rubin, who just happens to be the other medal of honor recipient from the Battle of Unsan.

Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with John Stansifer – Pt 11

Mark Malatesta: (laughing) Such a coincidence.

John Stansifer: That was too much of a coincidence for me to overlook. That’s when I immediately knew that I wanted to hear what Daniel Cohen had to say, and I became friends with him. What happened to me after over three decades of writing and not making sh** was one in a billion. The lesson of how I landed a simultaneous book and movie deal is quite simple. They say luck is what happens when perseverance meets opportunity. That’s absolutely true, but when someone wishes me luck, I always reply, “It’s all skill, baby, all skill. Learn your craft and write and don’t stop.” You have to have the discernment, not just the belief in yourself or what you’re writing. You have to be able to discern what the genre is, what you want to do. And without that discernment, your ability to recognize your market and your genre or whatever you want to write in, you’re making excuses to hold back. And I always tell writers, don’t edit yourself, just write. You can always come back to it later. It’s the passion that matters. Talent can be made from experience. And experience from writing, writing, writing. Hemingway would tell you the same thing: writers write. What else do you want to know? (laughing)

Mark Malatesta: That’s good. I don’t know if I’ve heard that quite like that before. There’s a good quote in there somewhere, you can create your talent, you know, through the persistence in writing, right? You don’t have to be born with the gift necessarily.

John Stansifer: And writing is re-writing. I have thousands of pages of rewrites of No Bullet Got Me Yet that I ended up putting in the recycling bin because there were so many pages it was taking up too much space. Thousands of pages. Luckily, I took a picture of it. And I look back at that picture and I think that is insane. Because I didn’t have a book deal at the time.

Mark Malatesta: Right, right.

John Stansifer: This was all just a few years ago, and so when it came for us to change the book proposal to narrative nonfiction, I was like are you kidding me? I’ve got 500 pages sitting here. And what was so great about ending up with Hanover Square Press and Peter Joseph as the editor, is that it was re-writing and cutting and trimming over and over until you get it right. The book is much better at 350 pages than 500. That’s the value of an editor.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: And he didn’t tell me what to do he just gave broad sweeping suggestions. One rule of thumb is you’ll know it when you see it. And so, Peter is the same way. I’ll know it when I see it. You give me a draft and it’s too thick and weighty, I’m not going to tell you what to cut but you need to cut something. (laughing)

Mark Malatesta: (laughing) That sounds like me. I mean sometimes we’ll be real specific and granular and other times it’s just broad strokes.

John Stansifer: Absolutely.

Mark Malatesta: By the way, how could I give up on you when you have that passion for the project, and you’ve put in the time? You know you did all that you could, I mean…that’s infectious. And that’s, well, if you’re working with the right kind of people that’s going to impact them, right? Deepen their commitment, too, so, that’s all. I’m deflecting a little bit putting it back on you and saying that you created that, our dynamic.

John Stansifer: Yes, but when someone doesn’t give up on you, it’s meaningful.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

John Stansifer: You elevated me at times when there seemed to be no future for a book or the movie for quite some time. I’ll leave it with this. People prayed with Father Kapaun, an intercession of prayers to save their lives, to help them with their medical ailments, etc. That’s what sainthood is. You have to have alleged miracles confirmed. And so the faith that I have in Kapaun and also the faith in myself and it’s a universal story of faith. Because we stuck with it long enough and then, I don’t know what else to call it, but a miracle occurred and the Department of Defense said, “Hey, we identified Father Kapaun after seventy years.” Like, what? That’s unbelievable! (laughing)

Mark Malatesta: (laughing)

John Stansifer: Hey, now you can get your movie made and a book too.

Mark Malatesta: Yep, and it definitely feels like a miracle. Most, not every time, sometimes, it seems like slam dunks. But when you’re behind the scenes like we’ve been, and you’re doing the work and it happens, it sure feels like a miracle when a book deal happens, right?

John Stansifer: Absolutely, and even though we have to wrap this up, I know that we’re going to have future conversations coming up because this is just getting started.

Mark Malatesta: Oh yeah, we’re going to be doing a couple of things together, like some cross-promotional win/win things. So you’re just seeing the beginning of it with me too. It’s coming. Thank you for doing this, and I’ll do the little outro here now.

This interview and review of Mark Malatesta were provided by John Stansifer, author of No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun (Harper Collins). John worked with the former literary agent turned author coach and consultant to improve his manuscript, platform, book proposal, and query letter.

Mark Malatesta is the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this guide on How to Get a Literary Agent. His articles have appeared in the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. He answers author questions (no cost) at Ask a Literary Agent, and has spoken at 100+ writers conferences and events. 

As founder of Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author, Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. His writers have gotten book deals with traditional publishers such as Harper Collins, Random House, and Thomas Nelson. They’ve been on the New York Times bestseller list; had their books optioned for TV, stage, and feature film; won countless awards; and had their work licensed in more than 40 countries.

Writers of all Book Genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books) have used Mark’s Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on his List of Literary Agents.

Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta.

More Literary Agent Undercover and Mark Malatesta Reviews

Here you can see Mark Malatesta reviews from more authors he has worked with. You can also see reviews of Mark Malatesta from publishing industry professionals he’s met and worked with over the years. These reviews of former literary Mark Malatesta include his time as an author coach and consultant, literary agent, and Marketing & Licensing Manager for the well-known book/gift publisher Blue Mountain Arts.