Friday, April 23, 2010

As Luck Would Have It

When I look back at my writing career thus far, I'm amazed at how many fortunate circumstances I encountered. Some of these events are so improbable they make my jaw drop in retrospect.

For example, several years ago when I was new to writing, I decided to attend the Moonlight & Magnolia conference because I'd finaled in the Maggies. I signed up for an appointment with an editor. There was just one big problem: I didn't have a clue how to pitch a manuscript. This was a group appointment with 12 authors. When the first author finished her perfectly short pitch, I knew I was in trouble. I looked down at my legal pad (you're allowed to guffaw now) and started rattling non-stop. My face heated. I knew I was botching the pitch. I came within inches of standing up, announcing I was a fraud, and telling the editor I wouldn't waste her time.

Then the editor said, "Wait a minute. I know this book."

Here is the improbable part. She'd read three chapters and a synopsis in The Orange Rose contest. Keep in mind this contest did not announce the editor judges in advance, so I had no way of knowing who judged it. I'd been writing for six months and got my first full request with the worst pitch on the planet. Are you thinking it was pure dumb luck?

I've always thought so until I read an article in The Telegraph by Richard Wiseman entitled Be lucky - it's an easy skill to learn. The article reported experiments designed to discover why some people are luckier than others. Read the full article here:

The research results found that lucky people notice chance opportunities, make decisions based on hunches rather than just logic, expect good things to happen, and see the positive side of bad fortune.

Let's return to that incredible lucky circumstance at the M&M conference. When I got the call telling me I was a finalist, the coordinator urged me to attend and said editors would pay attention to me. I really couldn't afford it. If I'd listened to Logic, I would have passed up the opportunity. Instead, I listened to my intuition. Not only did I get that request, I won first place in the historical category.

Fast forward to the day I finished polishing my second manuscript. I announced on a loop that I'd written the end. Now keep in mind, I'd not found time to research agents because of my travel schedule, but I planned to do so after I returned from a two-week business trip to Europe. While waiting for a flight to London, I checked my email. A published author who had read my first three chapters said she'd told her agent about my manuscript. The agent wanted me to query her immediately. I wrote the query in the airport, emailed it, and ten jet-lagged hours later, I found a request for the full in my email box.

Sure, it was a lucky break, but I'd volunteered many months earlier to review this published author's books. I didn't expect anything in return; I just liked her books. But the author kindly extended a helping hand to me.

I took advantage of other opportunities. I entered a contest because the grand prize was a check for the RWA conference in San Francisco. In truth, I knew it was an outside chance, but I figured it couldn't hurt to enter 5 pages. Not only did I get a request for the full, but I also got the overall highest score, netting me that conference fee. It never would have happened if I'd not entered.

I also entered an online contest on an agent's website just for grins. The competition was stiff, but again, I figured it couldn't hurt to try. Not only did I win first runner up, but I got yet another request for the full manuscript.

In a previous post, I blogged about how I met my agent by accident twice at conferences. I didn't even know about that first conference until friends asked if I wanted to go with them. Once again, I acted on a hunch and decided to attend. If I'd not gone, I would never have met Lucienne Diver. The second time we met was yet another chance encounter at the San Francisco RWA conference.

Was it all hearts and flowers? Of course not. That first agent who requested my full manuscript asked me to revise and resubmit. There was a big problem, however. She wanted me to change the premise of the book. Keep in mind she's a great agent. I have the utmost respect for her. She's done great things for my friend's career and for many other authors. She answered all my questions promptly, but we couldn't agree on the premise. Regretfully, I declined her offer, but I see it as a positive experience. Because I turned down that first offer, I met my dream agent only a few weeks later. :-)

Did I ever get rejections? Of course I did with my first and second manuscript. Some were tough to take, but the tough times made me appreciate that first sale all the more.

Luck played a role, but I also worked very, very hard on that second manuscript. I didn't send out a first draft. I ruthlessly rewrote the manuscript twice. And that hard work coupled with taking advantage of opportunities eventually culminated in my first sale.

Even with that first manuscript, I worked very hard despite being so green I glowed in the dark. I took 2 writing classes simultaneously. I wrote, rewrote, and polished that manuscript. Then I dared to enter 5 regional contests. I won 4 out of 5 and finaled in the Golden Heart. Eventually, I rewrote that manuscript for that editor I met at the M&M conference, and I got a heartbreaking rejection. But shortly afterwards, my personal life underwent some drastic, unexpected changes. If I'd sold that book, I'm convinced it would have been a disaster. What seemed unlucky turned out to be in my best interests in the long run.

Work hard, be open to possibilities, and most of all, keep a positive attitude. You can make luck happen.

Tell me your lucky writing stories!