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Interview with Thomas Waite, Author of Terminal Value

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Thomas Waite has had his work appear in publications such as the Harvard Business Review and The New York Times and has also been featured on a number of cable news programs, including CNN Money. As an entrepreneur, he founded and co-founded two companies, including one that was sold to an Internet firm. He currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Interestingly I think the hardest part of my book to write was also the easiest. Without giving away the plot, writing about grief and making it convincing and authentic was difficult, but given the loss of my parents, it also came somewhat naturally – though it reminded me of the sadness associated with my own loss.

More generally, I think that seeking criticism from others is very important, even if it can be deflating at times. I certainly received some great advice that I took to heart. However, at the same time, I found that opinions varied widely, making it difficult in some cases to know what advice to follow. In the end, you need to be true to yourself and produce the novel you believe in.

The other difficult things about writing a book is to finally “let go” and declare the novel finished. Even when you receive the proofs before the book is printed, you still want to change it. However, overall I am happy with the novel.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I read a lot as a child and used to make up stories that I would either describe verbally or jot down. In high school my favorite classes were always literature – and besides the classics, other authors, such as Kurt Vonnegut that were considered avant-garde at the time, captivated me. But my interest really accelerated when I took creative writing courses in college.

As for Terminal Value, the truth is that while I have published a lot of non-fiction, I always wanted to write a novel but never seemed to have the time. After I sold my company, time became more available and I decided to take the plunge. Terminal Value is inspired by my experience in business. While the story is completely fictional, I could never have written it had I not personally experienced some of the events that occur in the novel (of course excluding, among other things, murder!). The characters are basically composites of people I have encountered in business, though again it is completely fictional. I finished it in the fall of 2011.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (if any)?

Where do I start? Having published in the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, and other well-know publications, I suppose I wasn’t prepared for just how hard it would be to publish a novel. Once I had completed the manuscript and the editing was completed, I reached out through my network to find a literary agent who would be willing to represent me. Even though I was an established author of non-fiction, I had no credibility as an author of fiction. One literary agent I spoke with told me that no one would be interested in this subject matter. After contacting many agents, I gave up and moved on to find a publisher. I soon discovered that my first publisher really didn’t seem to understand the e-book market well – which, of course, has become critical today – so I decided not to proceed with them. Then when my novel was published, I quickly realized that I would have to do an enormous amount of work myself if I wanted to have any chance of succeeding.

Overall, I would say that I learned that you really have to believe in yourself, overcome obstacles such as agents who aren’t interested or publishers who aren’t likely to serve you well, and find a few great people you trust to help you see it through to completion.

Have you written a book that you have not been able to get published? If so, can you share a little about it with us?

Actually I did write another novel years ago. It was called Dot-Con and it was a murder mystery set near the end of the Internet bubble in 1999. I couldn’t get anyone interested in it. I’d like to think it was because no one wanted to be reminded of the financial pain of that time period (after all, there really has never been a blockbuster movie or novel about those dark days), but it probably just wasn’t a good book.

How did you come up with the title Terminal Value?

That’s an interesting question. I am told that most authors don’t settle on a title until the book is finished. Honestly, I came up with the title when I started the novel. I’m not sure if that is good or bad. The title is a double-entendre because this thriller both takes place in business and is a murder mystery. “Terminal value” is a financial term that means the value of an asset at the end of its useful life. You’ll have to read my novel to determine what the “terminal value” of the victim is. I also found the juxtaposition of the words “terminal” and “value” intriguing – probably because it sounds vaguely sinister.

I thought it was funny that when we were designing the cover, I was told I should add “A Novel.” But if you Google “terminal value” – even at Amazon – you will understand why it was good advice.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

For writers, I would say that the most important thing I learned was to follow your instincts. I shared some of the manuscript with others and their opinions varied widely. In the end, you need to be true to yourself and produce the novel you believe in. For readers, I would urge you to consider trying out new authors and genres – they may just surprise you.

Finally, thank you for inviting me to participate in this interview and I hope the readers out there will read my novel and let me know what they think!

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