Monday, November 21, 2016

How to Get Lucky

A popular post from October 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

First, get out there.

Second, learn to smile

Third, wear perfume or cologne

Forth, act interested in other people and get their contact information

Fifth, find out what they want and help them with it

Sixth, be patient, it's a number game but you gotta play if you wanna score.

Now, wait, you weren't thinking I was talking about--oh you bad, bad, blog-reader! I'm not talking about that kind of lucky, the STD type of lucky, I'm talking about getting your lucky writing/publishing break. Shame on you!

This blog is all about creating your lucky moment, your big break, your connection that then leads to another connection that down the road puts you exactly where you want to be. Lot's up and coming writers justify the success of other writers by their being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right person, or being at the right conference. Usually, they say this in a whiny tone of voice, consoling themselves with the misconception that because they weren't as 'lucky' as someone else, they missed their chance. Lame! And I'm gunna tell you why.

Right now, Julie Wright, a writer on this blog, is living it up in New York and hopefully not annoyed that I'm telling people that. Oh well, I'll choose repentance over permission this time. Julie is in New York because she is attending a highly-respected and very hard to get into writer's conference where she will be surrounded by editors and agents of some of the largest agencies and publishing houses in the country. They are very particular about who they allow to attend, she had to submit writing samples and wait a very long to time to hear that she was able to go. Then she had to plan a trip in 3 weeks and get everything ready to present. You can look at her current situation and think "Dang, she's lucky." You can think that, but you'd be wrong.

Julie isn't lucky (go to this post from a couple weeks ago for confirmation), she is brilliant. Brilliant because most writers have never heard of this conference and therefore wouldn't know to apply. Brilliant because most writers would be scared to death to submit a writing sample to be evaluated because they could very well be told they aren't good enough by some highly-respected judges. Brilliant because in the years I've known Julie, she's attended five times the writing conferences I have, knows hundreds of people in the national writing market, and despite having a hundred or more rejection letters in her file, she still goes to conferences, submits writing samples, and hob knobs with the mucky mucks of her market. Brilliant because instead of justifying other people's success with the idea that they were in the right place at the right time, Julie has consistently put herself in as many of the right places as she possibly could so that when the right time came, she knew what it looked like and got it's name and number.

If you want to achieve your writing goals and have ever said that someone else succeeded because of luck, or being the right place, or knowing someone, or simply by chance--then consider the following factors that can up your chances exponentially (I don't actually know what exponentially means, but it's a very, very cool word and makes me sound smart until I explain that I don't know what it means)

First--Get out there. Attend conferences, send queries, go to critique group, leave comments on blogs, have cards made up with your contact information. If you stay home and do none of these things, you'll never meet people, you'll never learn to network, you'll never gain confidence in who you are, you'll never perfect your elevator talk or learn to interact with all kinds of writers and publishing professionals. It's the law of the harvest--you reap what you sow. If you plant nothing--meet no one, go no where, comment on no-blogs--then you reap nothing--no Friends in the business, no name recognition, no card file, no inside knowledge. It has nothing to do with writing skill and technique (though they are important) but getting out there is about becoming part of the club. People talk about an 'old boys network' in pretty much every industry. And they do exist, however, in writing, it's an open invitation. Anyone can join, you just have to meet the rest of the people in the group. Writer's moan about being in the slush pile, but they put themselves there by doing nothing. Many writer's avoid the slush pile through having connections--but that doesn't happen in their kitchen.

Second--Learn to smile. Smiling isn't just about pulling up the corners of your mouth and showing your teeth, it's about attitude. It shows you're happy, it makes you inviting to others, it invites a good mood around you. When you're 'out there', having a smile on your face will increase your ability to meet other people to an incredible degree. It's the first step to being nice--smiling. And you should be nice.

Third--Wear perfume or cologne. This goes along with the smile, you want to be inviting. You don't want to smell like a cheeseburger or yesterday's shirt. You want to be confident in your presentation and that means not offending anyone's senses. You can take this a step further and brush your hair, stand up straight, choose a colored shirt that sets off your eyes. You're not going for super model here, but details are the difference between good and great--work toward great. Now, I know there are people out there that are allergic to perfume and Cologne--don't give me excuses. The point is, you want to be inviting. Stink is not inviting.

Fourth--Act interested in other people and get their contact information. Do not--DO NOT--simply advise, talk about your own book, tout yourself. Ask questions, find out what other people are doing, ask about their goals, how they got started, where they see themselves in ten years. Not only does this make them connect with you better, but you could learn a thing of five. Instead of being set on inspiring them, look to be inspired BY them. After meeting them and learning what they do, get their contact information and store it in a card file. You never know when that information might become very valuable to you.
And by people, I mean beginning writers, advanced writers, published authors, editors, agents, conference coordinators, spouses of all these people, marketers, the guy at the registration table. EVERYONE is someone worthy of your time. Julie knows, literally, hundreds of published authors and hundreds of writers who have yet to finish their first book. She could name three dozen agents off the top of her head and tell you what they publish. She goes to national conferences and goes to lunch with top authors in her market. She has their phone numbers and e-mail addresses and she knows if they are married, single, with kids, love dogs, are vegetarian, or vote republican. She knows these things because she's met them and she pays attention to them. Not every one of them have been responsible for a positive turn, but several of them have, and many are yet to play their hand, but they will. One thing she said about this conference she's attending now is that it's the first conference she's ever been to where she didn't know anyone, let alone forty people. But I can guarantee that when she gets home, she'll have fifty new contacts to add to her Rolodex.

Fifth--Find out what they want and help them with it. If you know someone that would be helpful for the situation of someone else, refer them there. If you know a book or a resource that would help them, share it. Some writers hold onto their advice as if by sharing it they will suddenly lose their place. That's silly. Be open and helpful and encouraging to other writers any way you can. Notice, this came after the advice to listening to the people you meet tell about themselves. That is not a coincidence.

Sixth--Be patient. Don't look at the people you meet as your ticket. They are people, not printed slips of paper, and be genuine, but realize that it can take time to develop a network and to feel comfortable in certain settings. This goes back to putting yourself in lots of 'right' places. Go to conferences over and over again, go to blogs over and over again, look and listen over and over again. Give it time and be sincere, be open to learning new things and generous in sharing what you know, but don't rush through it--rushing will negate the genuine pursuit and you'll miss out on so many things you need to learn through this phase of your career. Once your published, don't stop. You'll still need those resources, those networks, and they will need you now and again to help them along.

It's my belief, based on watching many other writers use this formula and succeed, that following these six steps, coupled with good writing, will not only help you, but actually allow you to accomplish your publication dreams. You don't have to go to a dozen conferences a year, but you do have to go to at least one, and more if you can find those that fit your genre and your schedule. You will have to make networking a priority if you want to benefit from it, and if you do, one day someone will tap you on the shoulder and say "Hey there, my name's Opportunity. I heard about you from so-and-so who was introduced to you by what's-his-name--in fact, it seems that a lot of people know who you are. Wanna get lucky?"


Amanda said...

I've got to disagree on the perfume thing. If I were an editor, I'd avoid the perfume-laden people like the plague. Many people I know - in fact, MOST people I know - agree that perfume stinks. And a conference with a lot of different people all smelling like a different sickly sweet scent is a good way to get a headache and lose your happiness. Deoderant and a thorough shower are tickets to not stinking. Maybe some mildly scented lotion. But too many people wearing perfume/cologne leads to the enclosed space smelling like the front of a Dillards - you know, the part many people rush past so they don't get sick.

Josi said...

Certainly, good sense and discretion is important. However, I've smelled far more BO at a writer's conference than I have subtle perfume and I've never heard an editor/agent complain about too much. It seems when bodies are pressed in together and spending all day in their seats, they tend to get a bit fettered, but a little perfume goes a long way toward throwing that off--but maybe I'm off my rocker :-) Wouldn't be the first time.

And is that really the only thing worth commenting on the post? Sad :-(

Annette Lyon said...

This is so true. There is the very rare person who manages to break in without networking and such, but for 99.9% of writers, it's doing the work to get into th circle that leads to the break. You MAKE your own luck.

You're brilliant. Like Julie. :)

Amanda said...

Of course that's not the only thing worth posting on! ;) It was just what caught my attention before I had to attend to other things - like my kids, and birthday party I have to host tomorrow. But since you asked and I have a free moment, I did find the whole post very interesting. We don't get a lot of conferences in this part of the world, and usually they're quite expensive, so as of yet, I've never been able to go to one. I do make it a point to participate in as many writing/editing groups as possible. It's only a tiny beginning to networking, but I only switched from short stories to novels recently, and know little about the publishing world at this point.

Curtis Moser said...

Josi, after reading the first part of this blog, I took a break, showered, smiled at my wife, found out that she wanted me to do the dishes, so I helped her with them, and I waited patiently. Sadly, I didn't score. So, I came back to your blog and finished reading it, thought about it for a little while, decided it was better advice for a writer than a husband, and filed it away in my "what-to-do-as-a-wannabe-writer" drawer; which is always open and in the forefront of my mind.


I read a blog post from a national publisher last night that went on and on about how they were no longer accepting any submissions from non-clients because all they get is garbage, and how everyone should just self-publish and leave them alone, blah-blah-blah. After reading it, and several of the comments, I went to bed pretty discouraged.

I tell you this because I want you, (and all of you contributing bloggers on this site), to know how refreshing and encouraging your blog is. For all of us out here who struggle from day to day with the confidence we need to press on, it's nice to read something that encourages rather than discourages. Great blog. Great job.


Stephanie Humphreys said...

Great post. I find the networking thing so hard because I have to actually talk to people. The more I do it the better I get. Thanks for all the great advice.

Heather Moore said...

Great advice, Josi! I completely agree that you never know who you'll meet at a writer's conference (or who they'll become), so your attitude and friendliness are top priority. It IS hard to talk to people you don't know, but aren't you relieved when someone breaks the ice and talks to you?

ali cross said...

Well, I do! Want to get lucky, that is ;)

Thanks for the great advice Josi!

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Great advice, Josi. But how do I do all that in middle of nowhere, Canada?

Time to start collecting air miles, methinks.

Julie Wright said...

Oh now I am all a-blush! I leave for a couple of weeks, and come home to find you calling me brilliant behind my back! I really need to blog here about the conference. Maybe next week . . .
In the mean time, you too are brilliant.

conferences are expensive. Travel and airfare are expensive. But I've found that conferences "travel" sometimes. One year something might be held in California, another, it might be in Quebec. Surprise yourself and do a google search for writers conference and type in your home state or locale. You might find a conference near you . . . or near enough to take a day or two for a road trip.

I loved the post, I did make new friends :), and who knows . . . maybe I got lucky . . .

We'll see . . .

Keith N Fisher said...

You did a great job of inspiring me to get back out there. I have to say I agree whole heartedly. I have been with holding many comments of late thinking other commentors have covered it. Also I sometimes have a different point of view and I don't want to make waves or enemies.

You shamed me, however, I used to comment on all these blogs and gained much respect and recognition. It's most certainly worth the time it takes.

I would add a note though, many of us courters feel a bit star struck around the leaders in our field. At the Whitney Awards last year, I wanted to shake hands with Dean Hughes but didn't because I didn't want to embarrass myself by gushing. I know its silly but since I live in a ward with some famous people, I watch so many members make fools of themselves.