Luck, of course! What did you think I meant?
Recently, a friend who’s just finished a manuscript wanted to talk about my path to publication. Her first question was an interesting one:
“How much of getting published is luck?” she asked.
My immediately answer was: LIKE ALMOST ALL.
I mean, on top of accident of birth to a privileged family which resulted in, among many things, excellent schooling and lots of disposable time to read and write, I had a story in me that managed to interest both The Greatest Agent In The World and The Best Editor On The Planet. And we all work really well together. Also, I live in an apartment where 3 gourmet donut shops have opened within walking distance in the past year. This is like primo luck and I did nothing to deserve it.
Because that’s what luck is, right? The stuff we can’t control.
So I thought about that and wondered, how useful is it to talk about luck, really? Maybe instead I should talk about the stuff I know I had a hand in. The stuff I can recommend doing.
So what isn’t luck? What can you control?
The writing, of course. You start with a blank page–you control every word that goes on it. They’re your accomplishment–or your fault. So make them good. Reread them and make them better. Then go off for a bit and read other people’s words very critically, and then come back to your words and make them the best you possibly can.
What else though? Well, it gets a little tricky there.
You can do a lot of research and query the right people for your project. You can try to pay attention to larger trends or manuscript wish lists so your work has a better chance of being au currant. You can be your best self and a good Literary Citizen so that when it comes time for you to work with agents and editors, you’ve practiced your social graces and can make good small talk. But all of these things take luck, and also sometimes they don’t matter.
Personally, I didn’t know much about agents before I started querying, I didn’t know what a manuscript wish list was, and I am socially very ungraceful: like I said, I’ve been very very lucky. And the nature of luck is very unfair.
But it can also be very freeing.
Because knowing the rest is ultimately out of your hands means you can focus on those beautiful words. And–at least for me–that’s always been what I cared about most.
So fill those pages. Tell your stories. Write.
And I wish you the very best of luck!