By Richard Goulding
We began writing our story about the time that Washington was crossing the Delaware. At least it seems that way.
It was a long, slow process, but my brother and I had finished our novel.
Ready to be published.
Or so we thought.
But the process of obtaining an agent was more arduous and frustrating than writing the book in the first place.
We were encouraged along the way—enough to keep us going. People read our work and told us how much they liked it. But they were friends, family, and some unbiased strangers. Not agents.
We did our research, checked the lists of literary agents, sent queries by email and snail mail, and said our prayers at night.
We’d labored forever, collaborated, argued, edited, revised and rewritten. And now it seemed it had all been a colossal waste of time.
We were ready to give up.
Until I met Elizabeth Berry. She explained that she ran something called, “Thrillerfest,” a New York City event.
“Why?” I asked.
She told me that it was a chance to meet face to face with important people in the business and a speed dating session for agents and authors. I had been through the slow dating process and that hadn’t worked out. And I wasn’t getting any younger, so the speed thing sounded interesting.
“But there’s more,” she said, “lots of craft.”
I gave her a look. “What’s craft?” I asked, not afraid to sound stupid. (I have a talent for that according to my wife.)
“It’s what you need to know to write and sell a book, what makes it a thriller.”
And that was my moment, my epiphany, when I suddenly realized that maybe I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Could that be? After all these years?
But I wasn’t alone.
Elizabeth read some of our stuff…not all of it. She told me we had talent, but could use some help.
So I went to New York City during a heat wave and spent some money on very good food…and an incredible education, and I realized where I’d gone wrong.
And I had gone wrong.
I met world-famous authors, newly published authors and would-be authors. I socialized with them, drank with them, ate with them. I made new friends, got different viewpoints. Met a lot of interesting characters—some great, some scary. It was hot, busy, confusing at times and jam-packed with information that I couldn’t assimilate all at once. The more I learned, the more I realized where we’d screwed up, and the more I wanted to get back and fix things.
Then came the dilemma: I had to pitch work that wasn’t ready. For once, I’d done too good a job with the pitch and had 22 agents requesting the first few chapters.
These were top agents, too. The best of the best. I’d selected them ahead of time, making sure they were appropriate for my genre before I approached them.
So my brother and I struggled for two weeks, managing to work and rework our first chapters to comply with what I learned would sell. This didn’t come easy. The whole framework of the book had to be changed, points of view scrubbed, characters restructured. There was simply no time. But if we didn’t at least try, then once more, I felt like I would have failed. That wasn’t going to happen.
So we wrote and rewrote and two weeks went by. Two weeks since the material had been requested. We felt that to take any more time would dampen any enthusiasm the agents had mustered, so we sent out the first three chapters and prayed that no one would respond….because the rest of the book wasn’t ready!
And then the nightmare came true. Within 48 hrs, the top agent on our list, Bob Diforio responded favorably. He’d already sent our first thirty pages to his associate, who also loved what she’d read and wanted more!
We were a month away from completion…and I asked him for a little time…ten days tops. We were enthused by all we’d learned and lied that the book was ready, and that we just wanted it in top condition.
He was disappointed that he had to wait!
And so we worked day and night, and crafted the book almost the way it was supposed to be crafted, packed with information gleaned from the conference that changed our writers’ skills forever. And we sent it in.
He loved it and sent us a contract.
We’ve since written back to the other agents, explaining that we had signed and thanking them for their interest.
We’re not published yet, but we are just starting in this process. We’re hopeful. More hopeful than before, and so is Bob.
But we’d never have landed an agent, let alone our top pick without Thrillerfest.
It’s difficult to explain the transformation of our work, the ultimate understanding of all that we had previously thought we knew, the change in our appreciation of what’s out there.
And even if we never publish, I’ll have treasured my experience in New York, the famous authors I’d met, the words of wisdom that I can never forget, and the delight of getting that big agent onboard.