I recently hopped on the train into Manhattan for the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’m a longtime member of ASJA as well as a volunteer on the contracts committee, and the conference is always a bonanza of networking opportunities and publishing insights. This year, I was especially eager to attend because my book Little Boy Blue was being named one of the best general nonfiction books of 2012. Little Boy Blue was among four books that earned honorable mentions in the category, with the winner being Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day.
The awards ceremony is held in a banquet hall where everyone is mingling, sipping wine, and snacking on hors d’oeuvres. At some point, the host asked us all to quiet down and take a seat at one of the small, round tables in the hall. Each table is meant for four, maybe five people. There probably were at least 50 of the tables scattered about the place, as randomly as could be. I grabbed a chair and watched as a few men I’d never met sat down around me. One was grinning even wider than I was, so I reached out to shake his hand and introduce myself.
It turns out that he was smiling because he was Peter Zuckerman, the author of Buried in the Sky.
“Oh!” I said with a laugh. “You’re the guy who beat me for first place. Congratulations!”
“Which book was yours?” he asked.
“I wrote Little Boy Blue,” I said. “It’s a book about a rescue dog.”
“I blogged about your book!” he gushed. “It sounded so much more interesting than mine…”
We then had to stop chitchatting as the awards ceremony began. The honorable mentions were called first, and when the host announced my name, Peter Zuckerman cheered for me even louder than my own mother might have. Then his name got called, and I cheered just as loudly for him. I even took a photo of him at the podium so that he could use it for his online marketing.
It’s of course a huge honor to receive such a prestigious award from ASJA, but I must say that my experience that night at the ceremony was the definition of rewarding. Writers face enormous pressures these days when producing serious books, and that pressure can lead to some ugly competitive behavior. Here you had two head-to-head competitors not just congratulating each other, but also supporting each other—at top decibel levels. It was a moment in the publishing industry that nobody would ever know about, but that for me served as a reminder about why I am so proud to be a member of an organization like ASJA, and to call people like Peter Zuckerman my colleagues.
When you put yourself alongside the best of the best, you truly do become better in lots of ways.