I heard a joke once about a woman who prayed to win the lottery. Her prayers were fervent, and she prayed them every day. "Please, God, let me win the lottery." Finally, after years of this, the woman died. She stood before the pearly gates and said, "Lord, I prayed and prayed. Why didn't you ever let me win the lottery?"
And God said, "Well, first, you have to buy a ticket."
I've been thinking about this a lot, because my second book is finished and looking for a home, a traditional publisher this time, because the self-publishing route is really a difficult row to hoe, at least for fiction. I've written query letters, pitched agents, even sent the manuscript off a few times and gotten the inevitable rejections. I really felt like I was putting it out there.
Then a friend of mine went to Thrillerfest and came back with a story from bestselling thriller writer Jim Rollins. I believe I mentioned it last week, the one where Jim was describing his road to publication and said that the agent who accepted his first novel was agent number 50. That's when I realized that sending a manuscript to two agents in two years is not really "putting it out there." In essence, I've been trying to win the lottery without buying a ticket.
I've been treating finding a publisher like something I'd like to do and not something I really want. There is a huge difference in those two things. I'd like to lose 50 pounds, but I want a pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. I'd like to go rafting down the Amazon, but I want to snuggle with my puppy in a temperature-controlled, mosquito-free environment where I am unlikely to be sucked under the rapids and bashed brainless against a rock. The things we'd like to do rarely get done; it's the things we want that we work to achieve.
So here's what I've done to move finding a publisher from my list of "like-to's" to my list of "do at all costs." I've submitted a partial to a publisher who requested it; I made a list of 100 agents and small presses that take unagented responses (James Rollins did it in 50, but it's always good to have a spare, right?); I'm in the process of looking up each agent's submission requirements and enough information about them to personalize my query letter and explain why I chose them. I've written a generic query I can tweak and four synopses of different lengths. And I've begin submitting. I expect to have a publisher before I get to agent 100, but if I don't, guess what? I'll make a new list.
I'm finally buying a ticket.
Maybe the thing you want is different from mine. Maybe it's a college degree or to see your artwork in a gallery or to win a blue ribbon in a horsemanship class. Maybe you're already on your way to achieving it. But if you're still wishing and waiting, the first step is always the same: get out there and buy a ticket.