“You’re so talented any agent would be lucky to have you.”
I overheard that the other day, and no, it wasn’t about me! But it struck me because this sentence uses the words “talent” and “luck” in a way that misleads. You don't get representation or a book contract or success just because you're talented, or even by earning it through hard work, deliberate craft, and persistence. You need luck too.
A few years ago, I got an offer of agent representation from the first and only query I ever sent.
I might be forgiven for my momentary conviction that my talent was unmistakable – that first agent had seen it, so surely everyone would. That agent was lucky to have me. After one query, my success seemed assured and inevitable.
But it wasn’t.
Getting agented quickly wasn’t a sign of genius. It was a stroke of luck. I queried the right agent at the right time – or maybe the wrong one, because that book never sold and that agent – a respectable one with a respectable agency – left the business.
I sent 100 queries for my next book, then another 200, and then I lost count. I did not get another agent.
Was I less talented than before? I don’t think so. I think my craft was stronger.
Maybe I was less lucky -- my timing was wrong, whether querying after the market had cooled off, or having my email hit a possible right agent's desk right as they spilled a cup of coffee on their sweater.
But I wrote other books, and eventually I got another agent. I sold two books two years apart, and I counted myself lucky.
Along the way, I’ve received more rejections than acceptances by a factor of a hundred or more. I actually found the first contract offer I received in my junk mail. My email program was so used to rejections that it filed good news away as spam.
And I’m unagented again.
Less talented than I was when I still had an agent? I don’t think so.
I have more rejections now because I’ve been at this longer. Because I’ve been at it longer, I think I’m better – a better writer, a more resilient person. We writers have to be.
So am I less lucky than I was when I sent that very first query? I don’t think that either.
I still have a book coming out June 14, and I'm lucky to be where am I. Sure, I know other people who are more talented, and others who are luckier -- often, the same people.
I'm hoping to be one of them the next time I query. The odds are always long, but I'm playing a long game. Sometimes luck catches up.