Fear is a Four Letter Word

The 30th Annual Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, is just a few hours away from its conclusion. A series of masterfully taught workshops have me salivating at the pen to sit down and write. There’s nothing like a great conference to instill motivation.

And there’s nothing like agent pitch sessions to instill crises of self-esteem.

The Pennwriters event is terrific, and they often have a remarkable number of NYC’s finest word-vendors on hand, hoping to commandeer 10-15% of the next JK Rowling, Lee Child, or Suzanne Collins’ paydays.

On Friday I decided I would meet as many of the literary agents and editors as I could wrangle. You see, while many of the authors whose works I edit have decided to indie publish, there are still several with aspirations to query their manuscripts traditionally. So I stalked the “pitch session” sign-up desk on their behalf, waiting for cancellations while making copious notes about whose stories would best fit each agent’s preferred genres. (Surprise, surprise… everybody’s shopping for YA this season.)

You might wonder how I could feel assured of garnering pitch time, but this wasn’t my first book rodeo. While it’s easy to sign up to pitch your story to a NY agent—months ahead from the safe space of your recliner—it’s another thing entirely to contemplate speaking polysyllabic words inside “that room” without Xanax and a defibrillator. I just knew there would be no-shows.

Sure enough I secured time with 5 out of 6 attending big-wigs. The first was not as tough as I thought, the second may have thought I was deranged, the third knew I was deranged, and by the fourth I was ready to check myself into the asylum. And that’s even with getting two full manuscript requests for different authors.

In essence, I’d batted 50%, and still felt devastated. If I’d been pitching my own work I would have vomited on their NY shoes.

But a dose of Catholic guilt (unmerited by my religious proclivities) kept me from running away.

In other words… YOU kept me from running away.

Each week you let me climb into your inbox to proclaim that you’ve gotta keep writing, you’ve gotta keep believing in yourself, and above all, you’ve gotta keep showing up. And sometimes I even drop the f-bomb… “You’ve gotta do it, despite the FEAR.”

So I rutched up my big-girl panties (aka pantyhose), sat myself back down in the waiting area next to nervous multi-published authors, and in a matter of hours that took no more than 10 minutes, followed them in for my final pitch session.

The moral of this story is that fear and vulnerability are universal traits. Sometimes we are rewarded for our actions but mostly it’s like walking out of the public toilet only to realize you’ve just come from the wrong gender’s bathroom. (I was wondering why there was no faucet in that “sink”…)

There’s no EZ button and the path to publication has just two seasons—winter and road construction. Right now you may be driving in a literary blizzard, and all you need to do is keep your eyes on the tail lights of someone in front of you leading the way. It’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to go slow, and it’s even okay to fail (since indeed that’s the only way to ultimately succeed). But it’s a cop-out to play too small.

Fear is just a 4-letter word.

And you’re a wordsmith.

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