Tuesday, June 08, 2010

With a little bit of luck

Get three writers together, and pretty soon, you'll have a full-on conversation of craft and POV and their To Be Read piles. Keep them there five more minutes, and they'll drag out their current WIPs.

Five minutes after that?

They are so gonna be talking about luck.

Usually it's luck that they don't have. You know, the Sparks kind of luck or the TWILIGHT sort of luck. The-I-was-plucked-out-of-obscurity kind of luck.

In front of unpubbeds, of course, we published authors are not supposed to talk about luck. It's not specifically spoken, no oath we're given once we're members of RWA's PAN. But nonetheless, it's a sort of general expectation: We're supposed to toe the party line that hard work is all that it takes to get you The Call.


Yes, craft and mechanics are important. Anyone who writes unintentional sentence fragment upon sentence fragment, loaded down with adverbs and a whole lotta of telling, well, she's a far piece from inking a deal.

To ignore the importance of luck, however, is to only examine one side of a coin. Maybe it would be more acceptable if we referred to luck as opportunity, but I call it as I see it.

For instance, Tawna Fenske had about the worst luck in the world when it came to landing a publication deal. She sold her first book and was working on her follow-up when the line closed. One month before her book was supposed to come out.

I, on the other hand, had a glorious bounty of luck. Three months after I decided to pursue publication seriously, I had lucked into (1) a great critique partner, (2) an in-person pitch opportunity with an editor and (3) a new line eagerly searching for authors. If that ain't luck, frogs don't have lips.

Yeah, yeah, the editor changed lines, the line closed, and I eventually sold that book to a completely different line, but I was lucky.

In addition to my one mantra in life (disappointment = expectations minus reality), I swear by another saying: Luck is opportunity meeting preparation.

You will, if you write long enough, see your share of bad luck. You'll be writing ghosts when everyone else is writing vampires, and just as soon as you start writing vampires, they'll move on to zombies. Lines will close, publishing houses will go out of business or merge, agents and editors will retire. Some days, it will feel like a plague of Biblical proportions.

But speaking of the Bible, I firmly believe in the verse that says God works all things to the good. That line closing? It wasn't the home for you. That editor? She might have been a nightmare to work with. Something better, infinitely better, is planned for you.

The upside is that sometimes luck is with you. Be ready. Be prepared. Who knows? An agent on Twitter or her blog might say, "Oh, man, I just got asked by an editor for a ghost story, and I don't have any. If you have one, send me one now."

And that's when you smile, because you've polished that old ghost story to a brilliant shine. You can hit SEND while all the other writers are cursing their luck that editors are no longer looking for zombies.


Piedmont Writer said...

Man oh man Cynthia I hope you're right. I just read an article about query letters, and I'm one of the small majority of writer's who's queries get read and requested material. So at least I know I'm dedicated to my craft.

It's finally the Year of the Tiger (Of which I am) and Monster Baby keeps finding 4-leaf clovers all over the back yard. So I think I have some luck anyway.

Oh I just hate waiting. IT's so hard. But thanks for a great post. It's good to know I don't really suck, I'm just on the wrong side of luck right now.

Tory said...

Hi, Cynthia! I love reading your posts because each one tends to hit me where I am in life on that particular day. If you read my blogpost from yesterday you'll see the connection.

I agree w/ your statement: If one line closes, then it wasn't the right home for you. But rejection/defeat is extremely hard, especially when it's one right after the other.

I'm an optimistic person, though, and refuse to let these rejections/defeats get me down. All we have to do is look around. There are so many who face worse circumstances on a daily bases than we ever dreamed. So, for me, I'll keep typing away and living each day to the fullest.

misty said...

Stupid question: What is this 'line' you speak of? (blush) I'm not familiar with that term yet. Please enlighten!

Patty Blount said...

Have I told you lately how happy I am that I've "met" you? What a great post and just in time for me. (I'm in wallowing mode again.)


Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

I think the luck factor is often what frustrates those who focus so much on preparation...

Natalie said...

I totally agree! I have critique partners who have been writing way longer than me. They are WAY better than me too, but their agent searches have been fruitless. I think it's got to be a luck thing.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I would totally read Cynthia and The Lucky Ghost.

I'm just saying...

Lickety Splitter said...

When I read your posts, I am always reminded of my friend who works in a different industry than the one you work in. The similarity? You both have "work jargon" which I pretend to understand but rarely do. I don't sweat it, I just wait for the words I know I will understand because I know they are coming around to a topic that I can totally relate to .... like God closing the door on one deal so we can get the deal meant for us ;)

Cynthia Reese said...

Anne, The Husband says I'm always right. And with all those four leaf clovers have got to mean SOMETHING!

Tory, a string of bad luck happenings will get even the most optimistic of us down ... but that makes the good luck seem so much sweeter!

Misty, no stupid questions at all -- just stupid assumptions on my part. When I talk about a "line," I refer to an imprint of a publisher ... say Harlequin's Love Inspired or Superromance lines, or NAL's Signet. These "houses within a house" are usually targeted at a specific reader, with specific writing guidelines for its writers.

(((Patty))) I'm the lucky one!

Natalie, don't you hate it when you know uber-talented writers who haven't got The Call yet?? Their turn is a-comin'!

Shoot, Elizabeth, now you've given me another story idea. :-)

Lickety Splitter, I apologize profusely for the jargon. It sneaks up on you like kudzu, and pretty soon, you're just eaten up with it. :-)

Anonymous said...

"Luck is opportunity meeting preparation."

I love this line because it's so very very true. You do need to work hard, but luck plays a part, too -- but to take advantage of that luck, you need to be prepared.

MOLLYC said...

Congrats. I am a fan, as you know. I do believe that plugging away without stopping pays off. That is why I spend so much time on Twitter. I think that is the reason...molly

Jeannie said...

Great advice, Cynthia.

Hopefully, Friday will be my lucky day...I'm going to a luncheon my local chapter is holding and I'll get to pitch to agents and editors over champagne punch and chocolate mousse.

Something should break my way.

Julie Musil said...

I sooo agree with you! Your posts are so encouraging for the rest of us. Thank you!

muffintopmommy said...

Excellent post, you underpacker! Love that line about luck meeting preparation (See, I already forgot the exact quote because my mind is muddled with packing shoes and skirts and capris, and, and, and...). I think a lot of things have to go right to land a book deal, but work ethic and tenacity is almost always involved....at least I like to think so. We'll see! Thanks for a great post.

Kelly Breakey said...

My Gram would have said "Everything happens for a reason." And it usually does.