The Route to Publication

Last spring, after I finished writing my memoir Forty Years Stoned, I pitched it to 120 New York literary agents.  Then I sat back to await their unanimous confirmation that this was the finest piece of storytelling since Hamlet.

Eighty of the 120 didn’t bother to reply.

Thirty replied with a no.

Ten asked to see the manuscript.

Of those, my favorite reply was this one:

“Hi Tom.  Man, we loved it!  Fantastic writing, unique story, powerful message, hilarious encounters with celebs (we loved the Brokaw story) and some great adventures.  But sorry to say, we’ll have to take a pass…”


“We’re a small agency,” he explained, “and can only take on projects that we know will sell.”

Even if they love something, they can’t take a chance on it?  What a soul-numbing job that must be.

Without an agent, I found my angel: a small New York press, Heliotrope Books, which had published a weed memoir, Just Say Yes, by Catherine Hiller, among its many fiction and nonfiction titles.

In October, I flew to New York to seal the deal.  First I had lunch with Catherine Hiller, the only other known member of the Marijuana Memoirists’ Association of America.  She was younger than I was, but had been smoking for FIFTY years, so I felt humbled and overmatched.  Sure enough, at her suggestion, we strolled down Fifth Avenue to Madison Square Park and sat on a bench in plain view and smoked her joint to the end, burning our arthritic fingers.

This new literary niche, Grandpa Stoner, was suiting me just fine.

I met Heliotrope’s publisher, Naomi Rosenblatt, and we hit it off right away.  She was a contrarian, like me, but easy to work with, like me.  She was an artist.  She took the lead in designing the book.

Catherine came up with the cover idea–an Annie Leibovitz photo of my wife Holly and me in Costa Rica in 1994, at the height of our earthly good fortunes.  An archive company wanted $5,000 for the right to that image. Annie granted it for free.  This was a big deal for me.  And it was a big deal when Willie Nelson agreed to write the foreword.

No, wait…that part’s not true.

I’m having fun putting this book together with Naomi and my editor Marla Miller.  It’s coming out this spring on that auspicious stoner day of 4/20, with a launching party at the Boulder Bookstore.

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