Not long after I started my first novel, a writing teacher told me it takes three things to get published—talent, persistence, and luck—and that typically two out of three were enough. Fine, I thought, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Soon after, I listened intently as NYT Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie told a roomful of aspiring writers that if we’d finished at least one full manuscript, the only thing separating her from us was that she’d been struck by lightning. Great, I thought. I’d finished not one but three manuscripts and already signed with a good agent.
But it was nearly five years after hearing her speech that I finally got my first publishing contract. And while Jennifer was clearly being modest, this notion that randomness and luck played such a big part in publishing became for me both a source of comfort and frustration.
When faced with rejections, near misses, and other disappointments I could tell myself: it’s just bad luck; it’s not my fault; I just hadn’t been struck by lightning—yet. And that soothed my ego.
But at some point, or rather during many dark moments, it did start to feel as if the universe was against me, that the odds would never be in my favor, that I was coated in some kind of anti-lightning repellant. And even with objective evidence of talent (from contests, agents and editors) those dark moments were smothered in self-doubt.
Still, it was during one of those dark moments that I realized a major upside of failure. I realized that given everything I’d sacrificed in the trying—the time, the money, the tears, the self-torture—I must want this publication thing, bad. If I was giving up so much to make it so, if I was willing to take so many sucker-punches to my ego, I must really, really, really want to make my living as an author.
Some writers know that going in—it’s like they come out of the womb knowing they want to be published—and I envy those people. Me? I had (and have) many interests and never possessed a super-clear vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up. So when I found myself (in mid-life) writing my first novel to pursue publication, it shouldn’t have been hard to declare, “Well, that was an interesting experiment!” switch gears, and shift to another path.
But it was hard—excruciatingly hard—to move on, even after soothing my bruised ego by rationalizing that my lack of success was merely bad luck.
Turns out all my near misses (do I have some stories!) showed me that I wanted, I needed to continue. My failures taught me that I didn’t want to give up, that I’d finally discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.
While that epiphany made the heartbreaks all the more acute (and in publishing the heartbreaks never stop), I continued to concentrate on the elements I could control. I worked on my craft to make the most of my talent. I did my best to be smart about timing, keeping an eye on the market without leaping blindly onto trends. The only thing left was the one element I couldn’t control: luck.
All I could do was wait to be struck by lightning.
But the more I thought about the lightning analogy, the more I realized I could improve my chances. The key was to build more, and better quality, lightning rods.
The better constructed, the more plentiful, the more strategically placed, the greater the chances that one of my rods would be struck.
And so I wrote. I polished. I worked really hard. And now with five novels and seven short stories published, I continue to erect more lightning rods and wait for a major strike.
Maureen McGowan is the award-winning and Amazon bestselling author of two popular YA series including the dystopian thriller series: The Dust Chronicles: Deviants, Compliance, and Glory (Skyscape, Amazon Publishing). She writes exciting, fast-paced novels, enjoyed by teen and adult readers alike, and also writes steamy, adult fiction under the pen name, Mara Leigh.
Maureen always loved writing fiction, but side-tracked by a persistent practical side, it took her a few years to channel her energy into novels. After leaving a career in finance and accounting, she hasn’t looked back. Aside from her love of books, she’s passionate about films, fine handcrafted objects and shoes. She lives in Toronto, where she attends the film festival every year.
The trade paperback editions of her Dust Chronicles series are currently on sale! http://amzn.to/1xcXrLy