Right This Way, Lady Luck

This week, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re chatting about luck and how it’s had an impact on our success as authors.

1941 Lady Luck Christmas Comic

When writing this blog, I actually typed “what is luck?” into Google. You guys know how I love Google. Here’s what came back: Success or failure brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

Let’s remove the failure part, because… positivity. So, I’ll revise this to say: Success brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

Now, I’m a fan of Lady Luck. I think she’s tiptoed into my life more than once. I think she’s had a hand in my success (ultimately, my book deal with Tor). But, I don’t think Lady Luck would’ve bothered with me unless I set the stage for her. Lady Luck likes nice things. She wants the red carpet, the silver platter. Basically, Lady Luck’s got great taste.

I like how all our posts this week acknowledge that hard work is paramount. No matter how lucky or unlucky you are as a person, your journey as a writer starts with your butt in a chair (on a couch, in bed, wherever) getting words down on a page. And those words have to be good. Remember, Lady Luck likes nice things. Now, those words don’t need to start “good”, but the time needs to be spent to make those words as perfect as can be. You got to dangle something in front of Lady Luck that’ll make her drool.

In all seriousness, I worked my butt off to get a book deal. Writing BECOMING BONNIE was a slow process. Bonn wasn’t my first book. By the time I finished drafting her, I had a small army of people willing to help me. They read, they offered feedback, I primped Bonn to the nth degree to ready her for agents — because I had also made the very tough decision to part ways with my former agent and pursue new representation for this new book. The hard work was put in, I didn’t think there was anything more I could personally do to improve BECOMING BONNIE, at that time. Then, Lady Luck stepped in. I left my former agent literally days before a Twitter pitch event. I didn’t know the event was happening. I logged onto Twitter and had a…. “ohh! This timing is perfect” moment. I threw Bonn into the mix, and I had a great response from agents. One of the agents from the Twitter pitch offered representation. So did a few other agents I cold queried after the event. I ended up signing with one from the latter group, but that Twitter event got the wheels moving for me. I’m glad I signed onto Twitter and saw that #PitchMas hashtag and I’m glad I had a shiny, new manuscript ready to go.

After signing with my agent, I got back to work. Bonn was primped and polished more. My agent and I did as much as we could. But the next step — someone else having a positive response to Bonn and wanting to publisher her — was out of our hands. It’s almost like we lit a fire under a paper lantern and slowly released it into the sky, with a push in the right direction. Then, Lady Luck stepped in. My literary agency has a newsletter featuring a handful of the agents’ current and upcoming submissions. That newsletter went out into the world before my agent pitched any editors. My (now) editor responded to that newsletter. Would we have pitched my editor otherwise? I don’t know. My agent had a prior relationship with a different editor at Tor. Maybe my agent would’ve pitched her instead. But as luck has it, my editor responded to the newsletter, enthusiastic to read. My editor is from Texas. My book is set in Texas. My editor is a middle child. My protagonist, Bonnie Parker, is a middle child. Of course, those elements won’t make or break a book deal, but maybe, just maybe, they gave my book a slight edge, perhaps an unconscious one, over the other manuscripts my editor was considering at the time. Maybe, all the stars aligned perfectly.

Moral of my (getting kind of long) story is that hard work is the first step. But the next step is often out of our hands. That’s when we wait for a little luck to come our way. We cross our fingers and hope that our book is the one an agent/editor is looking for at that moment in time.

Susan Dennard, a fellow author from Tor, recently sent out a newsletter that touched upon luck. With Susan’s a’ok, I’d love to share a snippet with those still in the query trenches:

Acknowledging luck completely changes the comparison game. You won’t think, Wow, my book must be terrible because I cannot get an agent — and Jane Doe over there got an agent in a week! Her book is the same genre, so it must be better!

Instead, you can look at the situation and think, Wow. I know this book is the best that I could possibly make it. If only I’d been querying at the same time Jane Doe was — and to the same agent. Ah well, I’ll just keep trying.

There’s a lot I like in what Susan said, but I specifically (and quickly) want to hone in on the “keep trying” portion. I’ll be honest and drop a little confession on you: my editor didn’t read Bonn and immediately make me an offer. With her feedback, I did a huge revision, spanning three months, and that was the manuscript in which she offered a publication deal. So while Lady Luck originally brought good fortune my way, she passed the baton back to me, and told me to keep going, it wasn’t yet my time. As writers it’s important to always keep trying and to keep writing and to get your own red carpet ready for Lady Luck to prance down, saying, “Right this way, Lady Luck.”

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Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years ​chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. BECOMING BONNIE (Tor Forge/Macmillan, 5/9/2017) is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. SIDE BY SIDE, telling Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree story, will be released in the summer of 2018. Please learn more about Jenni's books at jennilwalsh.com.