Friday, February 03, 2017

Do You Need to Be Lucky to Get Published?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I have a precise moment when my writing life changed forever (no, not when I got my agent). It was the moment that set me on a two-year path to publication, and I know without a doubt that I wouldn't be where I am today if I had not gone down this path (you could say it was my personal inciting event).

Here's a quick trip back, looking at what was luck and what was work. I think you'll find there's a good blend of the two, but I wouldn't have been able to be "lucky" in some instances if I hadn't been doing the work. We make our own luck sometimes. Other times, we jump in luck's way so she has to hit us.

LUCK: My best friend hearing about the Surrey International Writer's Conference. I wasn't looking for a writer's conference and would never have found this one if she hadn't come across it and said, "Doesn't this look awesome? Let's go!"

WORK: Singing up for the conference and flying across the country and then to another country to attend it. Deciding to take the extra Master Classes the day before, primarily the "How to Pitch Your Book" one, since (at that time) I had no clue how to pitch a novel. I wanted to be ready.

LUCK: The other Master Class that day was about tension, given by agent Donald Maass. This is the actual class that turned on the light bulbs in my brain and made me realize the things I needed to needed to do to write the novel I sold. (For the record, the pitch class was also very helpful--and made me cry--even though it did make me realize the novel I was pitching that year was not sellable. I guess I was also lucky in that this class gave me a wake up call about a novel I couldn't sell, but didn't know I couldn't)

WORK: Coming home and digging through every old story idea I had, looking for the fresh, original idea the conference folks talked about all weekend.

LUCK: Finding years-old handwritten notes about a boy who could shift pain from person to person. The idea for that story really sucked, but the core idea hit me and I couldn't stop thinking about it.

WORK: Taking everything I'd learned from both the conference and my years of studying writing, and writing The Shifter. (Or The Pain Merchants for my UK friends). And having it ready for the next Surrey conference.

LUCK: Seeing two internet query opportunities from agents I was interested in, right before the conference. Both led to full manuscript requests.

WORK: The time I took to find blogs and writer's forums to keep up on the industry so I could find opportunities like the above when they arose. Plus, researching which agents liked the kind of book I'd written, and who were the best candidates to query.

LUCK: That the next Surrey conference had four agents I was interested in as presenters, who were also taking pitch appointments.

WORK: Going to Surrey again, and polishing my pitch as best I could so I'd be ready.

LUCK: Having an offer of representation waiting in my e-mail the day I got home from the conference.

WORK: Letting the four agents reading my book know I had an offer, and taking a closer look at each of them so I'd be ready if more offers came in.

LUCK: Having several of those agents interested and make offers.

WORK: Having to pick one. (This was VERY HARD WORK)

LUCK: Making the right choice. Though honestly, I couldn't have gone wrong with any of them. They were all fabulous.

WORK: Doing all the edits my agent asked me to do so we could submit the manuscript.

LUCK: Having my manuscript ready to submit to editors just when a new imprint was launching, with a top-notch editor who happened to have a long relationship with my agent.

WORK: Waiting while my agent did the negotiation thing with multiple editors. (This is also way harder that you'd think)

LUCK: Having my book chosen for Balzer+Bray's launch list. (Which was both an honor, and a great opportunity for my novel)

WORK: Doing all the edits my wonderful new editor asked for. Then doing them again. And again. And being blown away by the copy editors, and everything they did. And the whole process, really.

LUCK: Having such amazing people working on my novel. I joked that I feel like the Verizon guy. I turn around, and there they were--all these folks who were working hard so that my book was the best it could be and did well for all of us.

Luck certainly played a part, but if I hadn't been working hard and doing everything I could to be ready, the luck wouldn't have mattered.

I had to be ready to be so lucky.

SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver once said in a keynote speech, "Do the work." For writers, there's no better advice. We can talk about writing all we want, toss out as many first drafts as we can do in a year, but to be successful (no matter which publishing path we take), we have to do the work. And when we have, then we'll be ready to take advantage of those lucky breaks when they come our way.

How have you gotten lucky in publishing?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series (and Amazon bestseller), Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, the Amazon bestseller, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  
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  1. Too quote one of South Africa's most famous golfers, Gary Player, "The harder one practices, the luckier one gets."

    I like the thoughtful way you've balanced luck and hard work as both being necessary to achieve one's writing goals.

    Call it Destiny, Fate, Karma, God's Will, Inshalla, whatever, but I do believe there comes a point when luck takes over from hard work and plays a small but prominent part in life.

    Judy Croome

  2. Writer/Photographer/Roswell's Dad, Kyle Cassidy ( has a pretty amazing life. He dislikes my word for it: Charmed. To him, charmed means it was gifted to him instead of being the result of a lot of hard work with a healthy dose of unexpected good timing (*cough* luck *cough*).

    I like Charmed because it does take into account that uncontrollable element of luck. The gods, the fates, the LOLCats of the Mulitverse smile upon you and something wonderful is placed in front of you.

    I also like Charmed because it isn't pure magic. You need to WORK with what has been granted to you to bring it to fruition. Without your active participation, your intention, your vision and your willingness to devote your time and energy to working with it, the gift is meaningless. Wasted.

    Your list here is a great, well thought out series of examples of this process in ACTION.

    Well done you! (And thanks!)


  3. I really enjoyed this post. Hard work and luck go hand in hand. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is an inspirational post that really hits home for me, so thank you :)

  5. What was that old saying, 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration? If it were all about luck I wouldn't be doing this.

  6. Another old saying: God helps those who help themselves.

  7. I know this isn't related but...
    I've been struggling to revise for the past couple months and don't seem to be getting anywhere. I've done very little revising and feel like I'm wandering blindly.
    Is there any system or paticular things to look out for? Any launching pad to get oneself going?

  8. I agree. You can only have the luck you are willing to make for yourself. You can't expect to win the lottery if you never play. (lol, I guess I got to go pick up my ticket.)

    Thank you for this post.

  9. This was a fun post to dust off and bring out again. Reminds me of my submission journey :)

    Story Weaver, that'll make a good topic for tomorrow's RWW.

  10. Thanks for dusting this off. Very neat to see where luck had a hand and where work came in. And the fact that they dovetailed. Each stage of work opened up an opportunity for luck to move things forward. But the luck wouldn't have mattered without the work follow-up. Good things to remember.

  11. Janet,one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was finding your blog. Thank you for all you do.

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  13. I deleted my first comment as it had a typo... Arrggh!

    For the same reasons and with the same attitude, I attend the International Surrey Writer's Conference every year, and take the same master classes with Donald Maass.

    Happily, last October he asked for pages.

    As you say, writing is an ongoing process and commitment is vital.

    I'm lucky that I live on Vancouver Island,only a short ferry ride to the B.C. mainland where the ISWC is held.

  14. Thank you for posting this again. Good motivation to keep working hard so that if (when!) luck presents opportunities I'm ready to take them. I agree with Mary, one of the luckiest things for me was finding Janice's Blog in 2010!!

  15. Work and (what I would all Providence.) All of the above. Thanks for once again sharing that the road to publication doesn't come easy!