Before I launch into this post, I want to tell you all: I have an agent.
Of course when I received the offer I was the consummate professional. You know me. Cool-headed, even-tempered, never one to get carried away. I thanked him for the offer and politely accepted and was the very picture of calm. Sedate. Demure.
… oh who am I kidding, this was totally my reaction:
Anyway. This post actually spawned out of a conversation I had with my friend Alex while he was visiting me two weeks ago, about hard work and luck and the life of a creative type. It just happened to nest with Recent Awesome Events. Serendipitous timing.
So I’m the kind of person who researches everything before she dives into something. Before I bought my first home, I spent six months simply looking at listings and figuring out what sort of things fit in what sort of price range before I even made a peep about the whole mess. Before I went for my master’s, I researched everything I had to get in order to get into a school, what to expect in the process of getting a degree, how to finagle work into paying for it, et cetera. Publishing was no different. I don’t jump into things lightly.
There are times when the research really pays off. I was able to narrow down my list of things I wanted in a first home to what was absolutely non-negotiable and what I might be able to bend on. I monitored my finances closely and figured out exactly what I could afford. I learned all about loans, most of which I have now forgotten. As a result, I got a decent condo at a decent price.
And there are times when it looks on the surface that the research didn’t pay off. Getting an agent was sort of like that.
If you recall a post I made awhile back about writing queries, you know I’ve done a fair bit of homework on the subject. I also have a massive spreadsheet of agents who, according to Publishers Marketplace, represent either YA or scifi (or sometimes, happily, both). For each of these agents I searched for their results on Absolute Write’s Beware and Background Checks forum, I checked Writer Beware, I checked Preditors and Editors, I looked at their client lists, I dug at the internet to see if they’d done any interviews, or what current and former clients have had to say about them. I kept my ear to the ground at conventions and noted any idle gossip. I did my homework.
However, in this instance, I met my fabulous new agent at a convention, we hit it off, he didn’t hate my novel, and here we are. And from here, it might be really easy to think that all this work I did, researching, learning, listening, taking extensive (extensive) notes, was all for nothing.
I don’t think it was.
The thing is, I was prepared to do all of the things authors do along the journey to publication. I’d polished my manuscript as far as I possibly could. (No surprise, though, that I still have to work on it.) I was nearing a final draft of my query letter, and beginning the high-level outline that would become my synopsis. I had a pithy little logline for my book that I could toss down at a moment’s notice. I was ready to do all the things that one must do as a professional person.
When I was prepared to do these things, that meant I had one less thing to fret over. (And rest assured: I am quite good at finding things to fret about.) As a result, when a big huge pile of luck was dropped in my lap, I was able to take advantage of it and not just let it slip by.
There are a lot of creative types who get their break in the way that they’re “supposed” to get their break. They work hard, they talk to the right people, they correctly format their submissions and patiently wait to be discovered, and in the meanwhile they continue to work at their craft, improving as they go. And there are a lot of creative types who get their break in a different way. But most of those lucky creative types didn’t do the basics differently. They work hard, they talk to the right people, they do all the things required of a professional. And that means that when luck came along, they already had a foundation to stand on.
As the saying goes, fortune favors the prepared mind, and I think it’s one hundred percent true. I was very lucky, but I followed that luck up with hard work, which I already had been doing thus far and was used to and knew how to keep up a steady pace of productivity. I had a novel I’d been polishing which obviously had something about it, since people are willing to take a chance on me and try to help me along with it. I’m not exactly a suit-and-tie professional, but I dress well enough and can speak without spitting on people (mostly) and can generally carry my half of the conversation. (Though, once again, while writing this blog post about being totally pro, I have a stain on my clothes, because that’s how I roll.) I knew enough industry stuff not to sound like a complete idiot. And even though I feel criminally under-read, I’ve still read enough that I can hold a conversation about books.
So while some people might see a happy little serendipity story about some housewife who banged out a novel in six months and became a multi-millionaire (billionaire?), remember the story of that single mother who slaved over her book for six months and waited three releases before seeing her work pay off. And remember the stories we don’t hear, of the people who came up to the edge of their lucky break but were not ready to take advantage of it.
It may seem on the surface that creatives who attain any success get there by stupid luck. And yeah, there certainly is a bit of luck involved. But it’s incredibly difficult to take full advantage of that luck without a bunch of hard work to back it up. So don’t worry that the work you’re putting into this now will be all for nothing later. No work you do, so long as you are sincerely trying to improve at your craft, will ever be wasted.
Anyway. I have an agent. And I’m pretty stoked. So I’m going to go celebrate.