Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting lucky (with or without stars)

Each year, they hold a big meteor shower for my birthday.

I know, I know…you’re welcome.

The Perseids meteor shower hits its peak each year between August 9-14. If clouds and city lights don’t obscure your view of the sky, you can celebrate my birthday (August 12) wishing on about 60 shooting stars per hour.

I’ve already mentioned I’m a bit superstitious. And though I’ll freely admit using my birthday meteor shower to rack up a few shooting star wishes, I’m also a big believer in making your own luck when it comes to your writing career.

Here my three favorite strategies:

Keep balls in the air
Yes, I did say balls. Done giggling? OK then.

Back when I queried agents, I had a rule – for every rejection I got, I’d send out two new queries. Not only did it keep me from dwelling on the most recent blow (snicker) but it ensured I always had plenty of possibilities in the pipeline. I ended up with offers from four agents, and eventual representation from the best agent on the planet, Michelle Wolfson.

This is also what I love about Michelle. When she shops my work, she doesn’t forward an editor rejection with a note that says, “bummer, oh well.” She’s always thinking ahead, letting me know there’s a plan. The plan might involve submitting elsewhere or tweaking the manuscript or even just sitting on it for awhile, but there’s always a plan.

It’s a good way to improve the odds that good news might come in the wake of bad.

Did your manuscript get slaughtered by critique partners? Start a new one. Queries didn’t land you an agent? Send new queries. Daniel Craig rejected your marriage proposal? Stalk George Clooney. Having a plan not only gives you hope, but ups your odds that your luck will improve.

Imagine the best thing, then the worst
No, this isn’t a suggestion that you picture Daniel Craig in his underwear being lit on fire (wait, give me a sec to dwell on the underwear thing).

In the eight years leading up to my three-book deal, I had a lot of time to visualize outcomes for every scenario. Is it better to await word from an editor thinking, “this is SO going to happen!” in hopes that your positive energy might make a difference? Or is it best to think, “I don’t have a wanker’s chance in a convent” so you’re braced for bad news?

The short answer: it doesn’t matter.

Bad news will come whether you envision a twelve-figure book deal or your keyboard being devoured by locusts. Good things can happen no matter what dirty images are flashing through your mind.

But it does help to picture both scenarios – the very best outcome and the very worst, plus a few things in between. That way, your brain is braced for everything, and you’re less likely to shout surprised obscenities when your news comes.

Stay busy
Waiting can be brutal. It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting for feedback from critique partners, responses to queries, or news on a submission to an editor. Waiting is the roughest part of the publishing biz, and it can make you bat-sh*t crazy if you let it.

Don’t. Keep your mind and your body occupied. Start an exercise routine. Spend time with friends. Begin a new manuscript. Download dirty pictures educational materials off the Internet. Whatever you do, don’t spend your days wearing a hole in your mouse by repeatedly hitting “refresh” on your email in-box.

If you were one of three people reading this blog back in February, you may have noticed I visited my grandma the day before my book deal was announced. That wasn’t an accident. It was my way of getting myself out of the house and away from the computer on the day the Sourcebooks editorial board was deciding my fate.

It was the smartest thing I could have done (well, besides bribing the editors with wine and chocolate, though things worked out OK anyway).

So what are your strategies for making your own luck? Do you clutch a four-leaf clover in one hand while polishing your query with the other? Please share in the comments.

I’ll be lying in my hammock, waiting for the sky to get dark and my meteor show to begin.


Patty Blount said...

First, happy birthday!

As for keeping balls in the air, I'd decided to that after a recent lapse in self-confidence. I was ready to abandon SEND and writing altogether. (Kelly is quoting AIRPLANE! movie lines at that.)

Instead, I blew the dust off the sequel to an earlier story and found the change of scenery helped (re)energize me.

Great post, as always.

I hope the year ahead brings you much success!

Linda G. said...

As a matter of fact, I WAS one of the three people reading your blog back then. I consider myself a founding member of the Tawna Fenske Fan Club. :)

And I do hope you are stretching out this birthday thing. You should always get at least a week's worth of celebrating out of a birthday.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I was wondering who to thank for the meteor shower! Thanks for being born. And the good advice, I guess.

No thanks for making me wish I was in a hammock right now, though.

Unknown said...

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

I keep at it. I send out queries; I look for help from other writers; I read the genre. More than anything I keep writing. :-)

The revise and resubmit letter I received in June provided me a great opportunity. This doesn't happen often, especially at this publishing house, and I feel pretty good about my chances. The revision is almost done. I'm guessing it will be back in the hands of the editor next week. (Oh, and when I click send, I'll be wearing my lucky t-shirt)

Shadow said...

For now, I keep writing. I have not only a manuscript that is almost 60K but several short stories to keep working on. Work is always a good distraction. :)

and BTW happy almost birthday!

CKHB said...

Nope, sorry, there is no Plan B. I'm just going to have to wait for Daniel Craig to see the error of his ways.

Alexa O said...

Continuing to work, query, and plan ahead builds opportunities for "luck."

By the same token, having an optimistic attitude AFTER you've gotten the bad news is also invaluable. If an agent or publishing house says "no," remember that it probably means that they aren't right for you.

Maybe it means your manuscript needs work, in which case, knowing that is the first step to fixing it.

This isn't just blind Pollyanna talk. I really believe that we make our own luck partly when we DECIDE to see the bad things as potential good things. (Professionally speaking, at least. I'm not talking about genuine life tragedies. Though, often, even they can bring about unexpected positive changes to your life.)

Barbara Kingsolver said, "The things we dread most can sometimes save us."

Wise words!

Bookewyrme said...

Interestingly, you have the same birthday (though undoubtedly a different year) as my mother. So happy early birthday! ^_^

As for keeping my balls in the air (heh) I haven't been doing so well at that lately. Maybe if I fling them harder?


Delia said...

Just so you know, four-leaf clovers don't work. I find them all the time, entire bouquets of them. Really. I'm kinda known for it. With the amount of four-leaf clovers I find, I should have rainbows shining out of my butt with little pots of gold at the end so that I never have another care in the world. Sadly, this is not the case.

So what I do, after I'm done chickening out, is go in big for number three -- I keep busy. If I don't have time to worry about it, then I won't worry about it. That plus hard work will (hopefully) equal publication someday.

Oh, and I have an unreasonably low bar set for myself. So low that, if I ran a current through it, it could be one of those invisible fences. That helps, too. :)

Génette Wood said...

Man, I want a meteor shower on my birthday!

My good luck charm is a lot of prayer and finger-crossing. I also have mentally prepared myself for all sorts of rejection. If I'm already expecting it, I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and get right back on the horse.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I like this. Thank you. I cannot STAND WAITING and therefore my solution is to do, do, do. (And if Daniel Craig is done in that process, then so be it.)

Kadi Easley said...

When I was steadily collecting rejections, my mom and I started keeping a tally. "Okay, she'd say. When you hit fifty we'll go out for coffee." Next was. "When you hit 100 I'll take you out to a fancy dinner." Every trip to the mailbox was like a an opportunity to meet the publisher's clearinghouse prize patrol. And we did get our fancy dinner. Twice. It made getting a rejection feel like a reward and I was always eager to send off more queries.

On a separate note I was lying on the patio last night watching your meteor shower when a crash scared me to death. I sat up and tried to figure out what it was and found a pack of drunk teenagers tearing down road signs. A perfect opportunity to scare the bejesus out of those kids and I was laying on the patio in my pj's. My phone was in the house so I couldn't call the cops. Wish I'd had a flashlight. I could have scared them myself.

Danica Avet said...

Happy Birthday, Tawna!

I'm usually pretty okay with rejection, waiting, and the like because there's always something for me to think about. You know things like: I have got to write down that dialogue I thought up while brushing my teeth!, or I wonder how many more books I can afford to buy this week?, or Is my cat peeing somewhere she shouldn't while I'm away from home?, or even Does Gerard Butler wear boxers or briefs? Does he go commando?

Generally, if I just think about other things, I can handle the wait and resulting pain of rejection, orphaning, critiquing blues, writer's block, or any other writerly thing that makes me miserable :)

lora96 said...

Happy Birthday/Meteor Shower Coolness!

Made me want to sing Airplanes except you really would not want to hear that. Even the moth trapped in my truck the other day did not want to hear that, but it had no choice. Unless bashing into the window was not an escape attempt so much as a suicidal wish.

I snickered and snorted my way through Balls in the Air. That's just how I roll. :)

Useful advice. If I could just get those extra pesky 35,000 words out of my WiP I could put all that wise counsel to work today. Alas, I will bookmark the post and refer to it with my overburdened eyes when revision is complete.

Candyland said...

The only luck I've ever experienced, is the luck I've created myself. Oh and I chant a lot.

four leaf clover said...

Meteor Shower would be so awesome.
Finding a four leaf clover for good luck would be cool too.

Jessica Lemmon said...

Hear, hear! Stay BUSY!

I'm always planning what to write next, and in the case of my current MS, I'm so damn excited to write my next thing I can hardly stand it! (Wouldn't it be ironic if this is the one picked to be published since I'm nearly sick to death of writing it?)

Steph Schmidt said...

Huzzah to my favorite shower! AND Happy (Early) Birthday! May it be awesome, and jinx free, as possible!

Wearing the giraffe earrings of good luck juju has been my go to plan, lately I've been enjoying the idea of working on something new.


Patty, it's an entirely different kind of flying altogether :)

Linda G, first thing Pythagoras said to me on August 1: "so it's your birthday month, we'd better start celebrating." He's very well trained!

Elizabeth Ryann, it's my pleasure to provide you with meteoric entertainment. Want me to try a tornado next?

Jeannie, congrats on the revise/resubmit letter! Will be keeping my fingers crossed for you!

Shadow, thanks for the birthday wishes, and congrats on the 60k!

CKHB, I just talked to Daniel, and he said he'll stop by your place when he's done here. Expect him to be very, very tired.

Alexa, love that Kingsolver quote! Actually, I just love her in general.

Bookwyrme, wish your mother a very happy birthday for me. Don't tell her I made a joke about balls. Moms don't always like that (hi, Mom!)

Delia, I have never, ever found a four-leaf clover. What's your secret?

LadyGenette, when's your birthday? Maybe you could arrange a blizzard or a tropical storm or something?

Sierra, I've always been a very impatient person, but I've gotta say...the publishing biz has done a good job of knocking that out of me.

KD Easley, OMG, cracking up over your teenager story! I love your method of celebrating rejection milestones. People forget that even rejections are something to be proud of. They mean you're getting closer.

Danica, wondering about Gerard Butler's underwear keeps me up at night, too.

Lora96, thank you for the birthday wishes! If your singing can kill months, Pythagoras would gladly invite you to dinner. He hates moths with a bloody passion.

Candyland, so can you teach us your secret chant, or would you have to kill us?

Four leaf clover, I do love the meteor showers! It was cloudy here last night, so I have high hopes for tonight.

Jessica, I probably shouldn't admit this, but the book I hated most of all while writing it? It's the one now scheduled as my debut.

SM Schmidt, you've gotta post a picture somewhere of these giraffe earrings. Maybe I'll request some from my husband for my birthday.

Thanks for reading, guys!

Clever Cherry / Betty said...

I wrote a longer comment but something ate it.

Thanks for the encouragement; I needed it. Working hard I can do.

Clever Cherry / Betty said...

I wrote a longer comment but something ate it.

Thanks for the encouragement; I needed it. Working hard I can do.

Unknown said...

Happy birthday! Mine is Friday, and I never knew about this meteor shower during birthday week. So thanks for sharing, and thanks for the advice!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I love meteor showers! I didn't know I have you to thank for this week's? So, thank you!

You're so right about staying busy and not dwelling too much on things that are out of your control. As soon as I have one book done, I move on to the next one. :)

Jen J. Danna said...

First of all, a very happy birthday to you! Have a great day tomorrow and make sure that Pythagorus pampers you like he should.

This article comes at a great time (4 query rejections in less than 24 hours; 3 of them in the space of 2 hours this morning. Ugh). I agree with having lots of queries in the pipeline (sent out 7 just last night) to keep all possibilities open. I hope I am as lucky as you with your agent match-up.

My strategy for my own luck? Nose to the grindstone hard work and never give up. When a bunch of rejections clobber you like that, give yourself a 10 minute pity party then put it behind you and move on. There are other fish in the sea and that agent, the one that is just right for you, is out there somewhere. It's just a matter of finding them.

Hoping for clear skies for you tonight and a wonderful meteor show...

Harley May said...

Happy Birthday! This is a great post, Tawna. Thanks. I needed to read it. That keep going mentality is what I need. Also, when I see my mind traveling down a dark path I need to think of something nice. Like rainbows, or Daniel Craig, or your butt. Michelle Wolfson does sound like a great agent.

Now. When would you like your birthday spankings?

Jan Markley said...

Way to go with the universe presenting you with a meteor shower on your birthday- and I thought I had a healthy ego ;-j Great advice all round. I believe you create your own luck and yes, one must be strategic when one is taking over the universe one manuscript at a time. The waiting is a killer and it doesn't stop once you get published - you're right everyone needs a strategy to deal with it and keeping busy is a great one!

Liz Reinhardt said...

Excellent advice! I went to a writing conference recently where I bumped into an editor I'd sent a manuscript to, but never heard back from. I had no hard feelings, but did say (mid-babble), "I sent you a manuscript and never heard back!"

His response? "Tell me about it." I gave him my nutshell (snicker) and he gave me his business card and personal email to send to. Nice, right? If I hadn't been feeling fine about his lack of attention, I don't know if I would have had the guts to talk to him.

So here's to hoping I made some luck!

And a very happy birthday to you!


Clever Cherry/Betty, don't you hate it when blogger eats comments? Happens to me a lot. Glad you enjoyed the post!

Jessica, happy birthday to YOU! Enjoy our meteor shower.

Kathi, have you been watching the meteor shower? Saw a whole big bunch of 'em last night, hoping for more tonight!

Jen, a couple people just asked me to post my query stats, which I'll probably do on Monday. I glanced very hastily at the chart I kept during my query process and saw about 65 agent names on the list. That's plenty of rejections I racked up, yet here I am with the best agent on the planet. Let's all sing it together, "It's all subjective...!"

Harley May, I am poised and ready for my birthday spankings. Thank you, ma'am, may I have another?

Jan, you're exactly right about the waiting not stopping once you're published or have a book deal or even an agent. It's just how things work in this business, and wise authors learn quickly how to cope with that!

elizabethreinhardt, super huge congrats on talking with that editor and getting a personal email contact. I'll be keeping all my fingers crossed for you. What a great story!

Thanks for reading, guys!