September was a whirlwind month. I had a book deal, and then I lost it. I experienced the highest of publishing highs, only to immediately experience the lowest of publishing lows (non-James Patterson edition). And I’m left, despite receiving a deluge of answers, with nothing but questions. And here I am, wearing my Minnesota Timberwolves breakaway pants having not showered yet for the day, trying to make sense of it all.
Now, it’s a long story, so I couldn’t possibly tell you all—
What’s that? You want to hear it because this is a column I write with the explicit purpose of telling you stories such as this? Aw, shucks, I simply couldn’t, but if you insist…[Note: Nobody was speaking.]
So, many moons ago—12 moons—I met up with a comedian who wanted help in writing her memoir. I think I mentioned this in a previous column. In any case, the project got placed on the back burner for a while, due to her being busy and whatnot, and I went about my normal routine of wearing Minnesota Timberwolves breakaway pants and reviewing video games. Then, last week on a Sunday, I got a call from her. “We have a deal,” she said. Apparently a publisher saw her stand-up set, and bought her book right then and there. No proposal necessary.
Naturally, I was excited. Not only because our hard work was finally paying off, but because she said the words, “We have a deal.” Which to me means, we had a deal. There was no “but” inserted into there. We had a deal. Holy crap. I was going to be a (co)author, working with my friend! Plus, given the publisher bought the book sans proposal, there was probably going to be a hefty advance. I started mentally preparing myself for the influx of work coming my way. I couldn’t wait.
My friend and I met up Monday, the next day. She assured me that this was real, that she’d make sure I got a good deal, and we got to work. It was really fun.
Friday, I got a call from her lit agent. Apparently, this publisher has had bad luck with comedians who bring on their own co-writers, and they gave my friend a shitty ultimatum: Lose Steve, or lose the deal. She stuck up for me. They came back and insisted she give me up. Her agent told her it’d be dumb to pass on this golden opportunity.
I was out.
Now, it’s important to note that I don’t blame my friend in the slightest. I don’t blame the publisher, either. I don’t even blame this other lit agent, who was only trying to do her job—which is to get a payday for her client.
But man, that sucks, right? It’s like modern-day scholar Heidi Klum says on Project Runway: One minute you’re in, the next you’re out. Auf wiedersehen.
I went through a wide range of emotions when I found out this book, a secret desire of mine, was going on without me. Wait. That’s not exactly true, I just skipped to the end of the grieving process, so to speak, and found acceptance. This was happening, and there was nothing at all I could do about it.
Wait. That’s not exactly true either. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this situation is precisely the situation I never wanted to find myself in. See, while I was working on my own ideas, I was waiting around for my comedian friend to sell a book and carry me up with her. I was holding on to the hope that somebody else would dictate the future of my career for me. That’s the essence of mainstream publishing, I suppose, that there are entities more knowledgeable and connected than I, who can make things happen and tell me what to do. And while I loved the idea of someone, or something, spelling out the steps I needed to take to conquer the nebulous publishing void, I loathed the idea that my success could be dashed for reasons I couldn’t fathom, even if I tried.
It sounds an awful lot like typical Los Angeles bullshit, even though this happened in New York. I’ve heard countless stories about people who sell pilots to TV networks, only to have the directors of development step down, a new person take over, and the project shelved. There are far more of those stories than there are stories of people who sell something and then make it. I mean, if you’re a consumer of media, you read about the successes, but for every one of those there are thousands of failures, at all levels. Even the highest ones. There is not really a second place in Hollywood.
But there will be, very soon. The rise of self-produced content, be it a podcast or a videocast, has given wonderful ideas with no other home a place to find a following. Chris Gethard, one of my favorite comedians, does a public access show and live streams it on his website because he was unable to find a TV network willing to gamble on a live call-in show. And he’s a genius for seeking it out.
I learned a big lesson with this whole flip-flop debacle. I can’t sit around and wait for somebody to come a-callin’. It’s up to me to make things happen, be it in the mainstream publishing world or even the independent one, should I decide to venture there. It’s a stern reminder that saying no to somebody is a lot easier when you have nothing to show for yourself. So I’m going to work harder, write more, and hope to someday tear off these Minnesota Timberwolves breakaway pants, revealing the boxer-wearing literary champion below.