Sterling Lord, 1920-2022

Sterling Lord (that’s his real name) was the literary agent who sold my first work of fiction, The Legend of Bagger Vance, in 1994, and my most recent, A Man at Arms, in 2021. He also sold Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1954, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962, and so many others it’s impossible to count. 

Sterling died on Monday, his 102nd birthday. I once asked him what his philosophy of agenting was. He said, “I try to get my clients what they want.” He meant that creatively and spiritually as well as financially.

Obituaries will say, “He was the last of a breed.” He really was. 

Lunch with Sterling, 2018. Photo by Kate Snow.

Here’s a story:

Sterling was a tennis player and a damn good one. Immediately after WWII, he happened to be in France when the French sports establishment, wanting to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, was organizing the first post-war French Open. The event was to be held, as it is today, at Roland Garros Stadium outside Paris.

Sterling was invited to play. He knew his game was not of international championship caliber, but he plunged in and gave it everything he had. He actually won a couple of matches and didn’t fall until he took the eventual champion to five sets. It was the tennis pinnacle of his life.

On his keychain, to his final day, Sterling kept a much-worn bronze disc, about one inch in diameter.

                                                ROLAND GARROS     

                                                              5

Sterling’s locker disc from that Open.

In 2020, at 99 years (or maybe 100), he was still manhandling himself out of a transport van (aided by his stalwart attendant Marla) at 15 degrees Fahrenheit in an icy New York February to help me make a deal with Star Lawrence at W.W. Norton for A Man at Arms

I asked him that day if he ever thought about retiring. He laughed. “This,” he said, “is what keeps me alive.”

God bless you, Sterling, wherever you are. Truly, we will not see your like again. 

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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"PUT YOUR ASS WHERE YOUR HEART WANTS TO BE"

Available for pre-order in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

30 Comments

  1. Tolis Alexopoulos on September 7, 2022 at 2:15 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve, and I send you from here too my sadness and my awe for the great man.

    We all need those men, don’t we? Those exceptional and elegant explorers of world and life, who will reach out and catch us and take us not to hell (like most others do) but to the path of the Elysian Fields. We wouldn’t make it, -most of us, maybe all- without them. Not even if they are 100 years old men!

    One of my first mentors was mister Jim Rohn. He was an entrepreneur-philosopher who talked about life in general. He was almost of the same generation as mr. Sterling Lord. I would listen to his audios like music for years, when I still had zero control over life. His words would sound like the most beautiful songs, I actually needed no more actual music thereafter. He died before I could say hello or thank you.

    Continuing to the concept of people helping people and being unique, I must add that a few days ago I accidentally opened a book that I had ordered a long time ago, mr. Tim Grahl’s “Running down a dream”. God, how much I needed to open that! And it was there with many other books at my library, but I didn’t even touch it for many months. He reminded me that I don’t work although I sit down to work and what to do about it, that my work is full of inefficiencies and what to do about it, that I must create Systems (I read about that concept and thought I’d died and gone to heaven), and he gave me knowledge that I started implementing immediately. I encourage all friends here to find it -it is a thoroughly practical guide to the War of Art and it gives answers on the details of the road of our success that we all must go through, just like the War of Art gives us the answers to the big picture. Imagine someone reading the War of Art, having all the problems we have, going through all the war-zone to make it, making it, and then he gathers and writes down for us all the lessons that he learned from his very practical orientation.

    When we’ll stand on the pedestal holding the golden cup, we will not stand alone. There will be on our sides the spirits of all those men who guided and helped us, holding that cup with us. Like the ghosts of Darth Vader and Obi One Kenobi at the ending of the original Star Wars trilogy. End of story.

    • Kelly on September 7, 2022 at 5:39 pm

      Oh, wow. Long but wonderful story.

      • Tolis Alexopoulos on September 8, 2022 at 4:27 am

        Thank you so much, Kelly! Steven’s blog brings forth aspects of the team’s best selves 😉 I wish you a workful and meaningful week.

  2. Joe on September 7, 2022 at 4:48 am

    Those words are a nice tribute, Steve.

  3. Chuck DeBettignies on September 7, 2022 at 5:23 am

    We appreciate you sharing this with us Steve. And (of course) sorry to learn of your loss.

  4. Jackie on September 7, 2022 at 6:17 am

    Steve, thank you for sharing this story. This world feels the loss. Heart felt condolences.

  5. Brian Nelson on September 7, 2022 at 6:46 am

    I haven’t ever really thought about the role of agents, until I read this tribute. I only know the name Sterling Lord from War of Art. What a great name. Without Sterling’s keen sense of literature, and his willingness to fight for Steve–no one would be here. The world may have never read Bagger Vance, and the rest may have never been written.

    He fights for the unseen to make them seen. That is powerful. We are all richer from him, and appropriately saddened today. Thank you Sterling for fighting for Steven Pressfield–and thank you Steve for bringing this great man to our attention.
    bsn

  6. Scott Lemieux on September 7, 2022 at 8:21 am

    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing man and a life well lived.

  7. Brad Graft on September 7, 2022 at 8:40 am

    R.I.P. Sterling Lord.

    Steve’s fine tribute might serve as a reminder (an opportunity) for us all to reach out in “thanks” to those in own our professional/writing lives, who have made a huge impact.

    • Maureen Anderson on September 7, 2022 at 10:04 am

      Great idea, Brad.

      I’ll never be able to thank Steve, for example, enough for the wisdom he shares here. But I’d like to think the encouragement we offer each other in the comments is one way to pay it forward.

    • Joe on September 10, 2022 at 7:16 am

      That’s a good take on it, Bull.

  8. Sam Luna on September 7, 2022 at 9:08 am

    From his Goodreads page:

    “Most—but not all—of the writers I knew then were young men who cherished their independence, were unconcerned about job security, and were serious about their writing. They didn’t want to be anyone’s employee if it interfered with their writing. They were halfway or all the way outside the mainstream and were often not interested in becoming part of the burgeoning corporate society. They had more freedom than your average American.”
    ― Sterling Lord, Lord of Publishing: A Memoir

    • Maureen Anderson on September 7, 2022 at 10:05 am

      A description to aspire to, for sure! Thanks, Sam.

    • Tolis on September 7, 2022 at 12:03 pm

      Thank you so much Sam!

  9. Daniel J. Stutzman on September 7, 2022 at 9:17 am

    I’m sorry for your loss, Steve. He was truly a legend.

  10. Lin Keeling on September 7, 2022 at 9:18 am

    My condolences, Steve.
    So many people from that generation are now gone. There was something special about so many of them. As we remember them we should also try to emulate them for the generations that come after us.

  11. David Hendler on September 7, 2022 at 9:55 am

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend and agent, Steve. You have always spoke of Sterling in the most generous ways, so I can assume he treated you in like kind. We can all only hope to have someone looking out for our creative interests as you had. Thank you for sharing your kind words.

  12. Jeffrey Gitomer on September 7, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Beautiful, heart felt (and well written) tribute

  13. Bing on September 7, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Dear Steve, this must be an enormous lost for you. This site feels like family to me. Tim Grahl once said,’The running wasn’t about the race or the finish line, it was about the joy of the gift of having something to run after.’ I love this!

    • Kate Stanton on September 7, 2022 at 11:03 am

      What a lovely tribute to Sterling Lord’s lasting influence in your life, Steve. The memories keep us going…

      We should all ask ourselves how we want to be remembered because as Maya Angelou said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

      Based on Steve’s poignant post and the photo above, I think it’s pretty clear how Sterling made him feel.

  14. Don Jung on September 7, 2022 at 11:16 am

    Steve – what a fine tribute about Sterling Lord.

  15. Laura on September 7, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    Thank you for those lovingly shared words. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  16. Michele Olender on September 7, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss. What a tribute.

  17. Nick Shanagher on September 8, 2022 at 3:10 am

    Thank you for sharing. An inspirational man.

  18. Omwow on September 8, 2022 at 4:37 am

    How fortunate you’ve been to not only meet him, but also work with him and become friends. Blessed be his soul!

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  20. Bill D. on September 10, 2022 at 5:42 am

    Steve-

    While I never met the man, I have been blessed many times over through the literary works he helped you introduce to the World! Sterling Lord lives on…

  21. harryjordan on September 15, 2022 at 3:48 am

    n September 2, 2022, Sterling Lord passed away at the age of 102. One of New York’s top literary agents, Lord represented works such as On the Road, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Wise Guys (which would be adapted by Martin Scorsese into Goodfellas), and countless more listing copywriting service over his career.
    In 2013, Lord’s client Joe McGinnis’s told The New York Times that “Sterling’s career encapsulated the rise and fall of literary nonfiction in post-World War II America. He was the last link to what we can now see not so much as a Golden Age, but as a brief, shining moment when long-form journalism mattered in a way it no longer does and may never again.”

  22. Edgar van Asselt on September 19, 2022 at 6:04 am

    Hi Steve,

    First of all, sorry for your loss.

    Yes, the elders are leaving us, but their spirit wails around and I still feel inspired by them. I hope you don’t mind bringing up my story of someone I feel is of the same category as Lord Sterling. Just to point out the incredible importance people like this can have on artist’s life and careers.

    Your story makes me remember my former classical piano teacher, her name was Anny Coronel. She completely qualifies as the ‘special breed’ you mention. I went to her when I was having technical difficulties playing the piano, She lovingly turned the thumbscrews on me, getting me back to the complete basics. At that time, she was 93 and still teaching 3 days a week, and taking care of her husband, who’s health was in bad shape. He was a holocaust survivor and they had both survived WWII. She always called it a miracle they were still together.

    There was something very special about her, that I rarely find in people nowadays.. (no pun intended, though). She had a depth of love for music and an unbelievable stamina for teaching and she was ‘never complaining’ (her motto in life 🙂

    By the time she was teaching me, I was in a difficult period in my life. I wasn’t having much succes in music, was in a not-so-good relationship and not making much money. After she was teaching me for a year, I told her I had to quit the lessons cause I couldn’t afford them anymore. She told me ‘then I’ll teach you for free’. She didn’t want to bail out of my learning process for the sake of money…I never forget this generous gesture she made. For me it was a sign of deep thrust in my musicality when virtually nobody bothered to listen.

    Every time I think of her, I think of her with a smile on my face. I recently found the picture when I visited her years after I was her student. We had coffee in her Amsterdam apartment and shared many good stories about music and life.

    I guess i’m just sharing my story to point out your agent and my piano teacher share a value that’s very rare in toady’s world: a sincere interest and support of the work an artist is producing , for the sake of the quality of the art’s work itself, and nothing else.

    Bless the elders, may they Rest In Peace.

  23. Neol Naan on September 20, 2022 at 3:24 am

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