Writing Tip # 2 The Serendipity of Publishing
Isn’t the path to publication a carefully devised plan?
Yes, but we all know about ‘best laid plans…’
Like many authors I have ‘The Plan’ – capital P – Plan! Not to mention carefully defined goals with steps to achieve each one.
Hidden within these goals is the author’s ‘wish list’ and dreams – rarely written down, but lurking in the subconscious. C’mon! We all want to hit the New York Times bestseller list; we all want to stand up and get that Ditmar or Hugo, or Aurelias. We all want that seven-figure offer and a series contract… The list is endless, as are the hurdles to attain them, it seems.
However, some of the biggest breaks in my career have not occurred through these meticulously laid Plans. Many opportunities have arrived through serendipity. ‘You’re just lucky!’ is often remarked to me.
But what is luck? Luck is a four-letter word hiding a lot of hard work. We make our own ‘luck’.
To illustrate, here are three examples, drawn from my own career. I could give you more.
# 1: the cold pitch.
I decided that I would ring the top UKpublisher of my genre. I believed my story was ‘over the top’ and was reluctant to spend so much time writing something for a specific imprint if the story-line was too bizarre. Pacing back and forth, wearing a hole in my carpet, anxiously eyeing the demon phone, before courage again failed me, I snatched up the receiver, dialled the number, expecting to get through to the editorial assistant (as usually occurs when I ring America). Nope. I got through to the Editor-in-Chief. Who was more shocked: Me, for speaking to the Boss, or she for hearing an Aussie voice? With heart hammering, knees knocking and sick to the stomach, I gave her my cold pitch. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘We’ve just taken on a story similar to yours.’ (special effect: Big sigh reverberating around the world). ‘Oh, thank you,’ I replied. ‘But,’ she hastened to add, ‘I’ve just this minute walked in from a board meeting. We’ve decided to produce an anthology. Would you like to submit something to it?’
I would. I did.
Three weeks later, at7 p.m.on a Thursday, my fax machine went off. Inspecting the document, I discovered that it was a contract for my story.
Now that 5000 word story has been reprinted in the USA, and Europe and earned me a tidy sum in royalties. My story was one of a few in that anthology selected by a reviewer to mention. Seeing one’s name in an industry magazine is good for the ego, especially if someone is saying something ‘nice’ about one’s work!
# 2: getting noticed.
Many years before e-zines and internet writing communities, I organised the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Romance Writers’ group inAustralia. I published the bi-monthly newsletter and wrote articles for various writing groups. I came to the attention of Romance Writers of Australia (among others) who asked me if I would like to present two FF&P workshops at their next national conference.
I would. I did.
My first presentation was well-received. The next day there was standing room only in that room and more chairs had to be brought in for those who had not booked, but wanted a piece of the FF&P action.
As I was setting up my projector and handing out my giveaways, I noticed, sitting in the far corner at the back of the room, one of the Publishers who had been speaking and promoting her booklist at the conference. Oh man! Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to attend my workshop. Nerves – doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt at that moment. However, I soon forgot The Presence and successfully completed my final workshop. She remained seated while everyone left. As I was packing up, she came up to me and handed me her card. ‘I really enjoyed your presentation. Would you like to submit some of your FF&P stories to me?’
I would. I did.
Our working relationship developed over several years and many anthologies, some of which featured in the Dymocks’ Adelaidebest-seller list. One antho. reached the # 1 spot – competing against the mainstream big guy authors. The Publisher acknowledged my promo efforts nationally – saying that we got to the # 1 spot ‘due to Astrid’s hard work.’ Aw shucks! The publisher trusted me to deliver and gave me opportunities. The company ceased trading some years later, but I owe this publisher a great deal and have never forgotten the moment of the handing over the business card.
# 3: Can you help?
I received a desperate call from one of my Publishers. The list of work to be published in the first week of December was short by one 5000 word ‘shortie’. Knowing that I can write fast and clean (most of the time!), she asked if I would be interested in writing something for her?
I would. I did.
It was released and the front cover was immediately nominated in the Preditors and Editors ‘best cover’ category. This short story started off a chain reaction that is still reverberating as I write this article.
I did not know it – neither did the Publisher – that this was one of the greatest serendipity moments of my career. The Starlight series was born. (Starlight: sexy space opera – think Casanova meets Star trek). The characters, the scenarios, the plot just flowed. It was an amazing roller-coaster ride of pushing deadlines, software glitches, and other spanners thrown in the works to ‘test’ my resolve. In the writing, I allowed my imagination free rein; without inhibition, I explored scenarios and the meaning of life, sex and death amid exotic worlds and evil villains… I had fun. So did the readers. I received fan mail, and one wrote poetry about her favourite character. ‘Please write more!’ and ‘Will you write about Harimal?’ (a Starlight character) and ‘Please give us the HEA!’ (Happily Ever After ending).
That one 5000 word story has created a monster. Spin off series are planned, contracts negotiated.
I am still reeling from the effects. The books regularly get five-star ratings from readers and reviewers. The books hit best-seller lists overseas.
I have also had other ‘please help’ requests from other publishers and writing groups, sometimes at the last minute, because (quite simply and I say this humbly), I’ve managed to prove over the years that when the chips are down I can and will deliver… It’s all about working hard, and ‘being out there’ – that’s my ‘luck’: the result of 10 years’ work.
What all this means is – have the Plan, goals, steps to achieve all these and other moments in your career, but also be aware that fate/karma/the universe, or luck, might have other ideas. Be aware of opportunities, take risks, take what is offered with both hands. Run with it! Sometimes it won’t work out, but sometimes it will and these moments – believe me – are the moments we authors most savour.
Serendipity – thankyou!