Preparing For Luck

Some people get the big break without even trying. We try not to be jealous or to wish bad things on them. But why can’t it happen to us when we want something so badly we can taste it?

In reality, most of us have to work for our success. We’re not going to be Lana Turner at the soda fountain when a Hollywood producer walks in. By the way, she’s well before my time, too. Type “Lana Turner soda fountain” into a search engine and you’ll get the rest of the story if you haven’t already heard it.

We have to work hard. And sometimes, we still don’t get the prize we’re after. That’s life.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Luck comes to those who prepare for it.” And like a lot of overused old sayings, it’s true. If you’re not ready when opportunity arises, it can slip away before you even knew it was standing in front of you.

How many of us even recognize an opportunity to seize it? What if you’re in the elevator with a higher up at work and she asks how your project is going? Can you sum it up in a few seconds and impress her with your progress or idea for improving it? If so, maybe she remembers that conversation when you’re a candidate for a promotion. That’s preparing for luck.

As a writer hoping for a publishing deal, what would I say to the man sitting next to me who strikes up a conversation on a 3-hour flight? What if he sees me editing a hard copy of my work in progress and I find out he’s an agent looking for new speculative fiction? (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

I’d better be able to give him a 10-second killer sum up of the story. And when he says, “tell me more,” I need another 30 seconds to stop hyperventilating give him the highlights. If he’s still interested after that, I figure it’s okay to talk coherently about it for a few minutes. And I try to ask him intelligent questions about his work, clients, or thoughts on today’s publishing market.

[Totally off topic—NEVER rely on Word to check your grammar. I wrote the draft of this post in it, and it told me I should have written “its okay” in that earlier sentence.]

Two bloggers I follow (Emmie Mears and Kourtney Heintz) recently took part in the “pitch slam” at the Writer’s Digest conference in New York. Talk about pressure. Pitch your novel to a series of top literary agents in a few minutes. Not an undertaking for the faint of heart.

Did they “cram for the exam” at the last minute? Of course not. They spent countless hours crafting their pitches as carefully as their manuscripts. There was time spent in workshops getting ideas and early drafts critiqued. Then they practiced them as much as any musician preparing for opening night at Carnegie Hall.

And both got multiple requests for partial manuscripts. That’s a huge success for someone trying to break into the traditional publishing world. But it’s still not the end of the road. Writers don’t invest heart, soul, sweat, and tears for requests. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a published book. Even after all that preparation, these two bloggers still have a lot of work ahead of them. And their perseverance is inspiring for someone like me.

No one ever said preparing for luck was easy. We still may not get what we want. In life, there are no guarantees that hard work will pay off. But it improves our chances of realizing that it is opportunity knocking and then getting to the door in time to meet it.

And now I think it’s time I worked on my pitching….

No, not that kind!

So are you doing everything you can to prepare for luck? Or have you already succeeded in grabbing hold of it?

29 thoughts on “Preparing For Luck

    • Thanks, Jeannie—it was partly meant as a kick in the behind for me. I need to start thinking about those few sentences and shortest, shorter, short bits about the manuscript. 🙂

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  1. In a course for project managers, I learned all about Elevator Pitches. It is hard work to describe a project and its goals within 30 seconds to 2 minutes. (Also transferable to the marketing of books). It forces one to focus on the core of the matter at hand. If you have difficulties keeping within the time, chances are you have not reached the core yet. But it is easier said than done. (I was terrible at summary writing in school. I am a person of many words.) Thanks for the great post. Cheers! 🙂

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  2. Have you considered doing this kind of writing for money, rather than fiction/novels? All of these little features you’ve blogged would be ideal for any of the magazines I typically read. You really are quite good at this…and it might be that first step you want for a wider readership and the ultimate goal of publishing a book.

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    • Oh my gosh, thank you so much for the compliment! I must be doing a good job of hiding how difficult it is to write them!

      I’m not sure I could handle the deadline pressures of freelancing. I was fine with them in school, but that was “a few” years ago. 😉 It’s challenging enough to meet the blogging schedule I’ve set for myself.

      I get the most satisfaction from the creative writing, but I do really enjoy the interaction of the blog, too. But who knows, maybe if I find my stride with this, I might give freelancing another thought. Never say never—which might be another post topic…. 🙂

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  3. I always bristle a bit when I hear “Oh, she’s so lucky” or “He has all the luck”, because like you, I believe “luck” is the result of hard work. Sure, sometimes fate smile upon someone, like sitting next to an agent on a plane who wants to represent your work (nice dream, by the way–I like it :)), but that work still has to be done, and that takes effort.

    Thanks for another great post. You’ve touched on a subject my husband and I often muse about. 🙂

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    • Dreaming is something I’m really good at—If I flew more, maybe I could make this particular one come true…. 😉

      But dreaming doesn’t feed the bulldog, so I try to be practical, too. And that means working hard, even at those times when I don’t want to. (And there are lots of those!) But that’s usually our best shot at reaching our goals.

      And now after a somewhat serious Saturday post, I’ll try to follow it up with something fun for next week!

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  4. Pitch slams are always difficult. You are there eyeball to eyeball…but afterwards there’s that “Oh, why did I say it that way when maybe it would have been better…” But requests for manuscripts – that’s a good start……and oddly, you never know who actually will be at the airport….

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    • That is exactly how I would feel after leaving one, even if an agent asked me for a partial. I’m just that kind of person—I always think I could have done it better, if…. Add my inherent shyness, and I don’t know if I could do a pitch slam. My voice sounds so much better when it’s written….

      The best I’ve had on a plane so far was the woman next to me saying she liked what she saw 🙂 But even that’s a good sign, I think. I just have to keep working at that luck….

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  5. Ah yes, I know this feeling all too well. I am of the opinion that opportunity is always there, but only those who are fully ready (read: prepared) seize the opportunity. I guess on one hand it could be perceived as luck by those who aren’t prepared like that.

    I look back over the last “few” years since I graduated college and I am ashamed at all the opportunities that I passed by. Hindsight is 20/20 and I see now where I screwed up. I believe if I had been more prepared, more curious, more confident, braver–then I would be in a different place with my writing.

    Knowing this though is a huge motivator in my journey now. I just remind myself how I missed out, and I won’t let myself do that again. I am better prepared, as you say. I do have an elevator pitch that I have memorized and when people ask me what my book is about, that’s what I give them. 10 seconds. Bam. Some people ask for more info, some don’t. I too keep telling myself that I’m going to be unknowingly holding a conversation with a lit agent and that’s how I’ll get my big break.

    Either that, or run over one in the street because I’m focusing more on my novel than my driving.

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    • Oh, no, don’t run him over! You might get blacklisted by the other agents, lol!

      I don’t regret my choices in life, but like you, I wish I would’ve approached life with more confidence and courage when I was younger. Maybe I’d be on my 20th novel by now. But better to make the attempt later rather than not at all and regret it the rest of my life.

      I keep reminding myself that writers have so many more options today. If I can’t attract that agent, e-publishing is not necessarily the old vanity press. Some books are very good and sell very well, even though the author couldn’t get that traditional deal. How many books like that never saw the light of day before electronic publishing?

      So I also remind myself it’s just a matter of time before I’m published. I just have to be patient and make sure the books are as good as they can be so people will enjoy reading them.

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    • That’s my feeling, too. Even if I fail, at least I tried. And while some people don’t think that’s good enough, I don’t agree with them. Failure is not trying.

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  6. Thanks for the shout out JM! I agree that you have to prepare and be ready to recognize and take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The more you work on your craft, attend conference, and learn about the industry, the more you realize luck and timing play an important role too. But being ready when luck and timing coincide is the trifecta for success! 🙂

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    • Any time, Kourtney! It’s one thing to read all the agent and editor advice for getting published. But a blog like yours has so much more impact—you’re on the ground really doing these things.

      It’s far easier for me to identify with someone like you who’s working her way out of the trenches (i.e., slush pile!) than an established agent or editor sitting in an office in New York.

      Given your preparation, I’m sure that when luck and timing head your way, you’ll be ready to lasso them in!

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  7. Thanks so much! I’m hoping my blog can help other writers skip some of my mistakes. 🙂
    Definitely trying to get out of the trenches, but also strangely enjoying my time here. Just giving it all I’ve got and looking out for luck and timing.

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  8. I’ve been lucky my entire life, once or twice in a bad situation. I don’t exactly know how to prepare, but I do my best at it, when I know how. 🙂

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    • Sometimes it’s as simple as doing our homework—whether in school, or the work-world equivalent. But every student knows homework isn’t always easy! Either the assignment is hard or this thing called life keep interfering. Great to see you back in the comments, Amber!

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  9. Throughout my life I found that, if you really want something, you are subconsciously preparing for it. Even while busy at mindless tasks your brain is working on what you really want. While learning new things, which may appear to have nothing to do with what you want, your brain is building bridges between the new info and your end goals. I have found that if you sit quietly and picture yourself at your end goal (or even intermediate goals) you will reach those goals quicker than you would ever imagine. So preparation is exactly what you said; it is getting you ready to take advantage of whatever piece of luck comes your way. It may not be exactly what you were looking for but you will get a sublime feeling when you realize an opportunity is presenting itself. Good luck!

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    • I think that’s very true. And it seems even clearer when we look at the opposite—when we have to do something we don’t want to do or learn something we have no interest in. It’s just plain hard to prepare in those cases. But when we really enjoy something, it’s no work at all to practice or learn more about it.

      I do try to visualize success as a writer—but the insecurity that seems to afflict every writer (if they’re honest) is always ready to jump to the front. The trick is to keep moving forward, as is so often the case in life!

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