Sunday, January 31, 2010

Questions, answers, thoughts ...

It's Sunday. We've made it through another week virtually unscathed.

I thought I'd post a bit early tonight, since I plan to spend the evening flipping between the Grammys and the Pro Bowl. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it!

I've been a bit down this weekend, and it took me a while to figure out why. And then it hit me. I had been scoping out literary agent Nathan Bransford's awesome blog yesterday, and someone in his forums wondered whether the dream of getting published is really worth all of the hard work and stress.

This poster then mentioned that dreaded number that always brings me down: .01 percent.

That's right. Of all novelists who actually finish their book (most don't), only .01 percent actually get published. Now this doesn't count vanity presses or self-publishing. It refers instead to the gold standard -- you know, where a publishing house pays you for the right to publish your work, not the other way around.

Think about that for a moment. One one-hundredth of one percent of finished novels are actually published! My God, it makes playing the lottery seem low risk by comparison.

These are bleak odds, people. Very bleak. There's really nothing I can write here to sugar coat it. Those odds suck, plain and simple.

That said, I plan on beating them. Really, I do. Because if I didn't honestly believe that, I would have quit writing, editing and revising a long time ago. No, that's not accurate. I would have quit writing in the hopes of being published, and instead would just write for myself. And get a job. A real one.

On to more upbeat things. I am really bad at answering people's questions on this blog, so I thought I would grab a handful of them and try to answer them as best as I can.

Here we go:

Anonymous: Do you think your 12-year-old son can relate to 1980s movies as we did at the time? Or do those movies seem "dated" to him?

Me: For those of you (and that's quite a few, I realize) who don't follow this blog regularly, we have Family Movie Night every Friday evening, and lately I've been pushing an '80's movie theme. Okay, Fine. I'll admit it. I've been pushing a Molly Ringwald theme.

But only lately. We also watched Adventures in Babysitting and Ferris Buehler's Day Off, too. Not only does the kid relate to them, he wishes he actually lived in the 1980s! I know! I don't have the courage to tell him that the real 1980s were far different than John Hughes' version. I mean, does anyone remember the Cold War? Reagan? Alf? Mr. T? Hair bands? Rehab? (Oh, wait. That was just me). Wham!?


Anyway, they hold up well as fantasies go; as for real life, not so much. But the kid loves them, especially the music and the fashions. Go figure.

Anonymous: Do you have a side job? If not, I'd be curious to hear how you were able to "take the plunge" into full-time writing while still being able to make ends meet.

Me: Hey. Is this my wife? Come on, honey. Fess up!

No? Okay, then I'll try to answer as best I can, without going too much into my personal finances. First, my wife has a great job. She's an editor at my former newspaper. And I have a couple of side jobs: I am a vice president and director of communications for RS Operations, a global marine salvage company (we hunt for sunken Spanish galleons!). I also do some free-lance journalism gigs (including working for the Associated Press and Bloomberg News). I also took eight months off from writing the novel in 2008 to run a U.S. Congressional campaign that, while not exactly like hitting the lottery, paid pretty well.

Of course, when I left the newspaper, I had a fairly large 401k and my pension, which I was able to tap because the corporation I worked for had a 25 and out policy. So I have been able to write pretty much full time with the exception of most of 2008, and still live comfortably.

It's been a blessing, trust me. And it won't last forever. The moment of truth is somewhere down the road (see the couple of paragraphs on those damned odds above). Gulp.

Marty: Have you written a book proposal for the novel?

Me: Marty, a friend of mine who moved to New York City and became a big-time writer and radio personality, has had a couple of non-fiction books published. When you write non-fiction, you are required to submit a book proposal to a prospective agent or publisher.

Fiction writers do not submit a proposal, but instead must submit a query letter. It's essentially the same thing in that its main purpose is to entice someone (an agent, editor or publisher) to want to read and publish your work.

Yes, I have written a query. An early version of it can be found somewhere on this blog. It has been polished even more since then, and is almost ready to go! Now if I can just get that manuscript revised ...

Gina: I am a huge 80's fan, but I've never seen Broadcast News. Will I be shunned?

Me: Yes. ;)

Although you can remedy that by running out and renting it right now. It's that good!

Andy: So what's with the fuzzy, geeky photo of you on the blog?

Me: No one likes a smart ass, Andy. Well, okay, I do. So I'll answer your question (which was asked in real life, not on the blog).

Yes, I realize the photo is not flattering. I know I look tired, worn out, exhausted. You know why? Because I was.

Each year, usually in January or February, I join a group of a dozen or so wonderful people and we travel to the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula for a weeklong mission trip. We live in the little Mexican village of Leona Vicario and travel about 100 kilometers each day to a very small Mayan village called Tres Reyes. We do this every day for a week, and we build a small church and school for them. It's the most incredible, awesome week of the year for me. I love it.

It's also brutal work, in hot, humid conditions with the most primitive of tools. The photo I chose for this blog was taken in the tiny Mayan village on the last day of work last year. It was about 95 degrees and the humidity felt like a hot, wet blanket. We were tired, hungry, sore and ready to come home.

We were also happy. Very, very happy. We leave again in less than three weeks, and this year I'm taking my 19-year-old son for the very first time. I cannot wait.

And that's it for today. A long post, I know. But I enjoyed it. Hope you did too.

Have a wonderful evening, and a great Monday!


  1. Terry, I stalked you from Nathan's website.

    "Of all novelists who actually finish their book (most don't), only .01 percent actually get published."

    You know what? You just can't worry about that. Just write the absolute best story you can write, get smart, honest people to read the manuscript, revise, revise, revise, and put it out there.

    A friend told me this: when you walk in a bookstore and see the debut novels, most of them were written by people who were willing to go through 60-70 rejections.

    Good luck!

  2. Well, if nothing else, you have a full life with adventure and politics. How many people can say that? ;-)

    As far as the numbers at Nathan's (and elsewhere) go, just remember the manner of queries that are being sent in to query shark, and know that a large percent are uninformed people. MAYBE we're only competing with about 20% of the submitters, because 80% are doing it wrong. (okay, Nathan said 50%, but I think he was just being nice)

  3. You both just nailed exactly why I still believe! I've read the queries on the Shark, and I've seen a lot of writing samples online. I know it's awful to say, but many of them, um, aren't so good ...

    Ours is. So we hang in there. Nathan also says that if you are good enough, you WILL get published eventually. I believe that.

  4. I know you and you're much better looking than that picture. :)

  5. Terry, you'll get published. Enough of this fear crap. But, maybe you wanna buy a lottery ticket anyway. ;)
    By the way, I like that picture, leave it alone.

  6. I didn't know that fiction doesn't require a book proposal. Thanks for answering the question and don't think about the odds. You're going to beat them!

  7. Meh. Ignore the .01% stuff. It's misleading. COnsidering that 98% of those finished books are literally unreadable or illegal to publish (fanfic,etc.), the odds aren't that high.

    Remember, odds mean nothing to the one who wins.