Wednesday, September 25, 2013

There Is No Secret Ingredient

You know that scene in Kung Fu Panda when Po's talking to his dad just before he fights Tai Lung? Po's freaking out about the fact that the legendary Dragon Scroll was blank, that he has to figure out how to defeat the vengeful Tai Lung on his own. In this moment of fear and indecision, his dad finally reveals the secret ingredient in their family's secret ingredient soup.

There isn't one.

Two or three years ago, when I was still slugging it out in the query trenches, I poured over every kidlit book I could get my hands on, determined to ferret out the secret of its success. I eagerly anticipated the release of books from bloggers I admired, certain that their words would reveal the mysterious X factor that mine were so obviously lacking. But the more I searched, the more discouraged I became. I honestly couldn't figure out what their stories had that mine did not.

But that's because there really is no secret ingredient. If you've been trying to get published for a while; if you've had multiple agents praise your work and tell you it's not you, it's them; if you know what to do with feedback and no longer fear revision, then YOU'VE ALREADY ARRIVED. The only difference between your stories and mine--and all the others on the market--is that my stories have been fortunate enough to land their big breaks. I simply queried the right manuscript at the right time to the right agent, who then managed to submit it at the right time to the right editor.

You'll notice how much of that process had nothing to do with me. Of course, if you're the sort of person who likes to be the master of his or her own fate, that may be hard to hear. But on the other hand, the good news is that it really has nothing to do with you. You're already there. You're good enough. Now you just have to wait for lightning to strike...


Julie Sondra Decker said...

I really needed to hear this. :) I agree with you about the luck aspect . . . we know we need to be good to succeed, but even good people don't always hit their window. I know I always need to be open to hearing and incorporating ways to improve, but I think it's important to also keep in mind that you only need one to fall in love with you.

I have an agent who believes in me and I hope my book will hit that pocket for an editor soon.

evelyne holingue said...

Thank you for the wise advice. Hard to not take a rejection as a personal failure. And yet, the luck factor works in every aspect of life.
In any case rejections shouldn't spoil the joy of writing.
Thanks for another inspiring post.


Krista: Thanks so much for this. I think I'm almost to that point where I've done all I can with my current ms. Some crit services I use have told me it's ready to send out but I'm not sure I'm quite ready to throw it out there. I am afraid of blowing through every agent on the planet and coming up empty. But I know I have to try. When I'm away from my ms for a while I start to doubt but then when I read it again, I go "Wait a minute--this IS good." Anyway, I'll keep your words and Po in mind and plunge in soon!

Virginia Pierce said...

This is such a great blog post, and so true. I've before done this, looking for the "why", searching for that "something extra special" that I must've missed. This post will resonate with many, thanks!

Stephanie Garber said...

I want to hug this post! This was great to read. It's kind of scary to know that part of publishing is just a matter of timing, but it's also kind of nice too. I like knowing that it's not all in my hands. I feel as if there's freedom in knowing that I can do my absolute best, but it still doesn't mean things will work out the way I want. That way, when things don't work out, I don't need to feel as if I've failed.

Anonymous said...

Great article! I linked to it on my blog (there doesn't seem to be an automatic "linked by" function on Blogger).

Heather said...

I love your encouraging advice!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Julie, the more I learn about the industry, the more it strikes me that so much of this journey really is all about luck. Yes, you have to reach a certain threshold of technical proficiency to land a publishing contract, but there are so many technically proficient writers whose stars just don't align for whatever reason. Once you've reached that threshold, the rest is out of your hands.

Evelyne, I'm afraid I've let rejection spoil the joy of writing on more than one occasion:( I'm still striving to improve...

Good luck, Heather! You know, I think querying is such a process. Sure, my first manuscripts didn't land agents, but they did allow me to engage in worthwhile conversations with agents, one of whom eventually offered me representation. It's okay--and sometimes preferable--not to succeed on the first try.

Thanks, Virginia! It's so hard to have confidence in our own writing. There were--and are--many days when I just need someone to tell me, "You know, your writing's really not as bad as you think it is." :)

Such a good point, Stephanie. Rejection ISN'T failure, but it's easy to lose sight of that when you're drowning it.

Thanks, Tom! I very much appreciate the plug.

Thanks, Heather! You're so kind.