Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some perspective

First, thanks to everyone who cheered me on while I was at the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City last weekend. You'll never know how much your support meant to me.

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post since getting home. I've been crazy busy with both writing stuff and non-writing stuff. It's funny how, once things start to pop, things start popping all over the place.

But in all honesty, there's another, even stranger reason I haven't posted.

I'm superstitious. I don't want to do or say or write anything that might screw things up. For reals.

Anyway, here's my conference story. It's going to be brutally honest and somewhat long, so hang with me if you can.

I had some really bad moments in NYC. Like when I realized my pitch was all wrong and that I was going to bomb horribly and come home embarrassed and unable to face my wife and kids (who had such faith in me).

And, frankly, I was fearing facing all of you here on this blog. Because you have all been so supportive, so confident that I would do well.

So when things went horribly awry, I was terrified. I remember sitting in my hotel room less than two hours before the pitch slam -- with more than 50 literary agents already arriving at the hotel -- and calmly telling my wife on the phone that I was going to skip the pitch and just "soak up all the good writing advice here."

She wasn't buying it, of course. Instead, she offered to help me. So between the two of us (and my 13-year-old), we went back and forth trying to come up with a pitch that would accomplish two things: Do the book justice and not put the agents to sleep.

A word about my wife. She believes in me. No, that's not accurate. She BELIEVES in me. Period. She refuses to accept that I will fail at getting my book published. In fact, I have several friends like that, people who are so absolutely certain that I will succeed wildly at this book-writing thing that to do anything less would be a complete failure on my part. There were people at the conference, important people who I have been lucky enough to become friends with, who believe in me, who spent several minutes talking me down from the ledge when I was ready to jump.

While I love and appreciate their utter support, it has sometimes weighed heavily on my shoulders. Mainly because I know that the vast majority of writers DO NOT GET PUBLISHED. Most DO NOT GET AN AGENT.

I know the odds. You know the odds. And they aren't good.

Now don't get me wrong. I, too, can be very confident of my abilities. And I understand that their support is heartfelt and genuine. And it's appreciated.

But it also, to be brutally honest with you, scares me to death sometimes.

It scares me because sometimes I start to believe it. I start to believe that I am going to succeed. That I am going to snag an agent, snag a big-time book deal and spend the rest of my life doing what I love most. Writing. And making money at it.

I understand that being confident is a good thing. I am confident. But I know from experience that being overconfident is almost always a bad thing. Because it sets us up for major disappointment. And frankly, I've pretty much had my share of those in life.

I've always preferred to remain a realist. A slightly optimistic pessimist.

I didn't realize sitting in that NYC hotel room how important having family and friends who believe in me really is.

Back to the conference: We finally came up with a pitch that worked. Or so we thought. When I sat down across from the first agent, she stopped me seconds into my pitch and said something like, "I don't like that. Why in the world would I root for a protagonist like that?"

I stopped, blinked once, and swallowed hard. Shit. This was not going to go well. We spent all of this money to send my worthless ass to New York, and I AM GOING TO BOMB.

My life flashed before my eyes in the space of about five seconds. And then something happened, something amazing.

I started to talk to the agent. I more or less tossed the prepared pitch away and just told her about my book, about me, why I'm the perfect person to write this book. I even got her to smile and, memorably, to laugh a couple of times. And this is an agent who is not known as a nice person.

My nerves disappeared. I forgot all about the pressure to succeed. Suddenly, connecting with this agent was the most important thing in my life. I made eye contact and kept it. I smiled. I cracked a joke or two. And I pitched that goddamned book live I've never done anything else in my life.

She asked for a partial. And so did the next one.

I connected beautifully with the third agent. By then, I was cooking. She seemed to get my book. Her eyes widened at the exact right moment when I was telling her what it was about and how I had come to write it.

She asked for a full manuscript on the spot.

I walked away to the next agent line with tears in my eyes. I nearly pulled a John Boehner and started bawling on the spot.

Holy crap. I was going to do this! I really was. An hour before, I was ready to quit, and now I had won over a New York agent. It's hard for me to put into words the gratitude I felt at that moment -- gratitude for all of those people who hadn't given up on me even after I had given up on myself. Gratitude that I have the best wife, kids and friends in the world. Gratitude for my friends on this blog, those of you who comment and exhort and just generally care about another writer they don't even know in real life.

Gratitude. It's the only word I can think of to describe what I was feeling.

The final agent I pitched asked for a partial and just like that, the bell rang and the two hours were over.

I could have gone on forever.

But now, after a few days have passed, I look back on it with some perspective. And I can feel the old me coming back. A slightly optimistic pessimist once again.

Because I know the odds. And so do you. They aren't good.

But I'm also convinced that as long as we have each other, and our families, we can do this. One way or another.

We can do this.


  1. you most certainly can terry!!! we're all so extremely excited for you!!

  2. Told ya so ;-)

    You've got too much love for TDYDT and enthusiasm for the process you went through to get it done not to have struck a chord with the people you spoke to. Next thing you know, you'll be making one of those "It took me XXX amount of time to get an agent and now I'm a mega-seller" posts.

    Congrats. And good luck.

  3. I'm so proud of you. I know in my heart you'll do well. I know the pressure sucks (I feel it, too) and the odds are stacked against us, but I have to believe it'll pay off in the end.

    I just hope 'the end' for me isn't a couple months shy of my 75th birthday. I don't have that kind of patience.

  4. congrats on the requests, and the courage that got you through one of the most important moments in your writing career. So much awesome there.

    I hear you on the fears. Its a gamble Terry, but so is everything in life. I'm glad thhis worked out so well, and I hope it gets you an agent, a contract, a publisher and a book deal. Good work.


  5. Optimistic pessimist or pessimistic optimist -- I'm not quite sure which one I am. I do believe I can get published, but not so sure it will be with my first book. I also think it will become harder and harder for any of us to get picked up in a manner that allows us to write full-time for a living. I am really happy at how your experience went at the conference, because it sure could have been far worse. Try not to take it too hard if none of these particular partials and full get you picked up. You are on the right road.

  6. I'll bet you a pizza, root beer and a big fat cigar the agent who raised her eyebrows at the right place offers you representation.

    And I know all about being superstious. I have 'lucky' talismans all over my house, desk, computer.

    I knew when I first read the book it was going to be big. And no matter how many times you change it, I know what kind of writer you are so it will still be big.

    So here's to you Terry! I know you won't forget us when you're famous. How could you when we show up for pizza.

  7. It makes a world of difference to have someone who believes in you, supports you, encourages you and can help you along the way.

    With your talent and all the support you have, you'll make it. It can't be any other way as long as you just keep showing up.

    Just don't forget about us little people when you get published. ;)

  8. Your story is inspiring. One of my goals this year is to attend a writing conference for the first time. Your words are inspiring. Glad I found your blog!:)

  9. Thanks everyone. I wish I could share your unbridled optimism. I just hope to find that one agent who loves my book as much as I do. That's really all I ask. It's what we all ask.

    Pam: Thanks and welcome. I wish you much good luck in your journey toward publication.

  10. We know the odds. We know them well. They aren't good. They aren't good at all. But we all try. I know it's such a cliche to say this, but it's all about the journey, isn't it? It was wonderful to meet you at the conference, and thanks again for listening to my pitch, and helping me shape it. Hope to read your book one day. Maryam ps, still don't have a blog, so hope I can post this.