I’m going to tell you a secret.
No, it’s not the meaning of life or why the Kool-Aid packet says not to mix it in a metal pitcher (though I’d love to learn both of those things).
I’m going to tell you the secret to getting published. Ready? Lean close, I’ll whisper. Ew, not that close, you’re smearing snot on the monitor.
OK, the key to getting published isn’t talent. It’s not practice. It isn’t even a fabulous agent, though I recommend having all of those things.
Nope, there are really just two keys to getting published. The first is perseverance – an all-consuming-teeth-gritting-balls-to-the-wall ability to keep going in the face of adversity, failure, rejection, and bad hair days.
The second is dumb luck.
That’s pretty much it.
As a soon-to-be-published author, I’m probably supposed to say something more profound. I should give you a wise, pious little smile and tell you that if you just hone your writing skills and craft the best book you possibly can, you’ll eventually get published.
I don’t believe that.
Because over the years, I’ve seen some truly terrific writers just give up. One or two rejections, one or two years of bad luck or overt failure, and they throw in the towel. They decide to quit the whole writing thing and try something safer. Like sword swallowing.
I’ve also seen some truly awful books get published. I’m not talking about the kind you love and I hate, or I love and you hate, but we all agree to hug it out and accept each other’s differing tastes.
No, I’m talking about bad writing. You know it, I know it, and we both know it gets published.
Why? Let me repeat myself. Perseverance. Dumb luck.
Years ago when Pythagoras was job hunting, he applied for a position he desperately wanted. He didn’t get it – wasn’t really even in the running – but the person who got the job was so laughably under-qualified, you had to assume there was blackmail, hypnosis, or really good sex involved.
My father – who spent 30 years working in the same profession – clapped Pythagoras on the shoulder and nodded wisely. “It’s like that a lot,” he told my dejected husband. “The wrong guy often gets the job, but someday you’ll be the wrong guy for the job.”
I’m not sure this was a great source of comfort to Pythagoras, but it was oddly comforting to me. It’s like that a lot in writing. You’ll see these hugely talented authors who could be published. Who should be published. But the perpetual beat-down gets to them and they decide not to keep going.
I can respect that.
And I can also respect the writers who work their butts off, who take failure after failure and still keep going. The writers who receive a rejection and don’t think “I suck,” but who shake their fists and shout, “Mr. Editor, you suck.”
That’s not to say you shouldn’t learn from negative feedback, but the take-home lesson isn’t that you’re unworthy. It’s that you need to keep working, keep trying, keep at it until you achieve your goal.
Also, you need a little more luck.
You can’t do much about the luck. Well, you could try sacrificing a virgin in a volcano, but you’ll likely just melt your shoes and singe your eyebrows.
You do, however, have control over your ability to persevere. Someday, you might be the wrong guy for the job. And that will be the best day ever.