Your Lucky Break!

On my August 21 post about publishing myths, David commented: “The thing that worries me the most is that a vast majority of stories about finding agents I hear or read about in blogs, message boards, or authors’ websites involve some lucky break or some connection.”

That’s a good point, David. Like many businesses, publishing is built on personal connections. But if this is a big worry for you, then you may not be giving enough credence to the idea that to some extent, we create our lucky breaks.

What’s that old saying? Luck is where opportunity meets preparedness? This is not a bunch of gobbledygook, it really is true.

Granted, all situations are not equal, and everyone doesn’t have the exact same opportunities. But we all have some control over the connections we make, the networking we do with other writers, the conferences we attend, and the blogs we comment on. We also have some control over our writing – how hard we’ve worked to make it the best we can.

Many of my clients have come to me through referrals – that is, personal connections. But they didn’t have a magic formula. They created connections just the same way you can, by networking with other writers. They did enough networking that they eventually met someone who was impressed with their writing and was also a friend of mine. We were introduced and I loved their writing. I offered to represent them, and I sold their book.

From the outside this often looks like a “lucky break.” But it’s much more than luck. An opportunity arose that the person was prepared to jump on.

You create the potential opportunities by networking with other writers and people in publishing. You create preparedness by being the best writer you can.

Keep writing and keep networking (as you are right here on the Internet). So that when your opportunity comes, you’ll be prepared with a completed, saleable manuscript. And you, too, might get your amazing lucky break.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. buy neopoints on April 9, 2012 at 5:48 AM

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  2. MyrtleHarmon22 on March 12, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    I received 1 st home loans when I was 32 and this helped my business very much. But, I need the short term loan also.

  3. Heather B. Moore on September 2, 2009 at 6:44 PM

    >I think this is the best advice I've read in a very long time.

  4. sarah on September 2, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >I find your posts so encouraging, so positive and so rich with great information. Thank you so much for that. For me, I will keep writing and trusting God. I've seen too many awesome miracles to doubt. I don't believe in luck. Sarah

  5. Liberty Speidel on September 1, 2009 at 10:09 PM

    >Wow! What a timely reminder! Thanks for sharing, Rachelle. You're so right on this–not just for publishing, either, but for life in general. You create your own opportunities to become what you want to be.

    Of course, in writing, one must write well. That's a given. You can't create opportunities and have drivel to present! 😀

  6. Anonymous on September 1, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    >Under the guise of anonymity, I must say that, in my opinion, the most difficult aspect of procuring literary representation is actually writing something so unique and singularly compelling that an agent is willing to market. I've written my fair share of essays and diatribes, but have never had the discipline to sit down and write a novel. Would somebody represent me simply because I have the ability to write? Doubtful. Until I become determined, inspired, or desperate enough to focus and apply my many facets to writing something worth selling, the idea of representation will continue to remain nothing more than impractical musing.

  7. Sarah on September 1, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    >Luck is what hard work looks like from the outside.

  8. Amanda Davis on September 1, 2009 at 1:37 PM

    >Chance favors the prepared mind.

  9. Charles David Eyer on August 31, 2009 at 9:22 PM

    >I am writing hard to create my own luck. I am working on another (shorter) novel to hopefully catch some agent's eye, since my novel just completed is probably too long for someone to take a chance on me. I am shooting for 80-100,000 words to better match what is acceptable for a first time novel.

  10. L.H. Parker on August 31, 2009 at 8:32 PM

    >Awesome! Now I don't feel guilty about buttering up people at conferences.

  11. Elisa on August 31, 2009 at 6:05 PM

    >Right on! (And write on!)


  12. jimnduncan on August 31, 2009 at 5:59 PM

    >While I and everyone else knows that the blind luck does indeed happen on rare occasion, I believe like many others here that the general luck we see people achieving is indeed made, not bestowed. It really is about persistence and connection. If you persist (and you shouldn't be in this business if you don't have that ability in spades), have patience (again, don't leave home without it), believe in and continue to perfect your craft, you will eventually achieve success. You have to believe that as a writer. You have to be willing to write not one story, but many. You can't just query a few agents, but many. Submit far and wide. Talk and get to know other writers, publishing pros, etc. Make connections, because you never know how far that web will extend, and some day the links will coincide at the right time and luck will be made.

  13. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience on August 31, 2009 at 5:56 PM

    >My "blessed break":

    Four years of 6 days a week of blogging, thousands and thousands of words, daily apprenticing of the craft, and a CBA agent found the blog (one of his authors was a reader and, unbeknownst to me, referred him) and he read back through the archives and then offered representation.

    Five months later, we sent out a proposal, which led to several offers from CBA houses , and ultimately, a signed contract with Zondervan.

    I have never sent out one query… ever.

    To David that may look like some "lucky break." I understand. Yes, pure grace. But too, it was borne of four years of quiet, faithful blogging, one word at a time,

    When we are faithful in little

    Godspeed, David… We're cheering you on! To simply be faithful, day in and day out. May He prepare you to be prepared for the plans He has for your future, full of good, full of hope…

    All's grace,

  14. Kimberlee Conway Ireton on August 31, 2009 at 4:15 PM

    >Three years ago, a book contract fell in my lap. Rather out of the blue, a writing friend told me her book editor was looking for young writers with spiritual depth, and she mentioned my name to him.

    Oddly enough, I had a polished book proposal, complete with sample chapters, ready to go. Now, I’d always considered this my practice proposal: I hadn’t told anyone about it, and I wasn’t even thinking about shopping it around.

    And then my friend connected me with her editor who was looking for this very kind of writing—a huge lucky break.

    But…it wouldn’t have been so lucky if I hadn’t already written that proposal.

  15. Rachel Starr Thomson on August 31, 2009 at 4:01 PM

    >Well said! Luck is often expressed as "being in the right place at the right time" — I may not be able to control the moment that happens, but I can make sure I'm in the right place, whether that means completing a manuscript, learning to be a stronger writer, attending an event, networking, etc. The right time is bound to come along eventually :).

  16. Janice Campbell of NAIWE on August 31, 2009 at 3:43 PM

    >Excellent post, Rachelle. One of the main things I teach is that we each decide whether or not we'll be a "Lucky Freelancer." A lot of it is doing the necessary groundwork so that we're ready when opportunity knocks. Luck–like faith– is dead without the actions to back it up!

  17. gina on August 31, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    >I keep praying for God to put the right people in my path, for me to be aware of who those people are, and for the patience to wait for those people. So far, they haven't shown up. I guess this is where the patience comes in.

  18. Utah Savage on August 31, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    >I'm a writer with a disability that keeps me home and fairly poor. I can't afford to go to writers conferences. I blog and I tweet. I follow writers on the internet and I work on my own writing. I have a novel, short stories, and poetry finished and ready to go. I just bought a new Writers Market and plan to start sending stories out. But I have no one who could introduce me to an Agent or say a good word for me. I keep working on a query letter for the novel. But it's a very difficult thing to write. The novel was a piece of cake compared to the query letter.

  19. C.R. Evers on August 31, 2009 at 3:03 PM

    >your positive attitude is so encouraging. Thnx for posting this!

    great post!

  20. alleahna on August 31, 2009 at 2:55 PM

    >In my experience luck has always been spelled h-a-r-d w-o-r-k and p-e-r-s-i-s-t-e-n-c-e. Everyone I've known who seemed to get that 'lucky break' did an awful lot of work to get to that point. Most of the time the work wasn't obvious so the lucky break just seemed to happen.

  21. Heather Diane Tipton on August 31, 2009 at 2:46 PM

    >Great post, Rachelle! I couldn't agree more.

    I tell new (and sometimes old too!) writers all the time, that story is King… but it always helps to know someone too, so make sure you do a lot of networking at conferences… don't just go to classes!

  22. Merrie Destefano on August 31, 2009 at 2:45 PM

    >I'm probably Old School, but I don't believe in lucky breaks. I believe in hard work and persistence. And I think that if your book is well-written, has a great concept, meets current market needs, you'll find a home for it. I just don't think luck has anything to do with it. Divine Providence, yes. Luck, not so much.

  23. Bob Mayer on August 31, 2009 at 2:44 PM

    >My rule of thumb is for every 'yes' I get in publishing, I get 49 'no'. That can be quite frustrating, especially after 20 years of it. The major thing a writer controls is the writing. But we also control how much networking we do and how we present ourselves to the world.

    Persistence often trumps talent.

  24. Solvang Sherrie on August 31, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    >Love this post! This could probably qualify as my mantra for life. People think I'm lucky, but I just follow the advice my dad taught me, advice he learned in Boy Scouts, "Be prepared." 'Nuff said 🙂

  25. Cassandra Frear on August 31, 2009 at 1:26 PM

    >"Good Writers make their own luck."

    David McCullough said this to William Zinsser while he was working on his biography of Harry Truman.

    – quoted in Zinsser's Writing About Your Life.

    I think about writing in terms of growing a garden. Lots of work. Some projects do well. Others don't. Issues and crises arise. They must be solved. Willy, nilly, over time and sweat and earnest effort, the garden grows. It's not about luck or having a green thumb or uncovering a magic formula. A garden is the fruit of persistence, of learning from mistakes, of hard labor.

    Becoming a good writer is like this.

  26. Rebecca Knight on August 31, 2009 at 12:51 PM

    >Awesome post and advice!

    I'm a shy introvert who happens to love people, so when I started thinking about building a platform, it was really a great opportunity for me to break out of my shell and do some things I wouldn't normally do.

    Because of this, I've made some amazing online friends, and have learned so much from commenting on agent/editor blogs. Deciding "I'm going to put myself out there" turned out to be me giving myself permission to not by so shy anymore, and it's been a blessing all the way.

  27. Bill Peschel on August 31, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    >"my" query … "my" proposal. *sigh*

    Better get back to work.

  28. Bill Peschel on August 31, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    >The reason why you hear the "lucky break" stories is because they're far more interesting to tell than the "I polished by query, then I polished by proposal, then I mailed it out to all these agents and finally snagged one."

    That's how I did it: a polished query letter sent to 40 agents, and she helped polish my proposal before sending it to a couple of publishing houses, and received an offer to publish. Dull, right? (Well, except for my wife squealing — and she's not by nature a squealer, BTW — squealing 'you're going to make some MONEY!' That bit's funny.)

  29. Sharon A. Lavy on August 31, 2009 at 12:39 PM

    >Thanks for another great post Rachelle. Not sure where Tim is coming from. We do need to be careful where we spend our money while learning the craft, but reputable agents don't charge.

    I spent a fortune learning to write with my first manuscript. But I consider that the price for education.

  30. Liz on August 31, 2009 at 12:23 PM

    >Thank you for this encouragment! It means a lot, especially coming from an agent!

  31. Chris Morrow on August 31, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    >As writers producing work with a Christian worldview, I think we have it pretty good. The professionals – writers, agents, editors, etc. that I have met are generally nice people willing to help when they can.

    A year ago I emailed a commercially successful writer in my field who referred me to her agent. It was very kind of her to try and help me. Her agent wasn't taking new clients, but still offered to critique my work. His suggestions were terrific.

    Christian publishing is a business, but one that is populated with good people and for that I think we are all pretty . . . (LUCKY??!)

  32. Andrew on August 31, 2009 at 11:32 AM

    >I had an agent look at my ms, kept it about six months, then said No Thanks. Awfully discouraging, but it spurred my into setting up a website, and looking for ways to get my name out there, along with the book's premise.

    Maybe it will be an opportunity, maybe not, but when one door closes, another opens, and if the only way out from where you're at is through that door, get walkin'.

    (Question to Rachelle – does putting the first few chapters of the book on a website for free download make it 'published' and hence less attractive to an agent?)

  33. JStantonChandler on August 31, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    >I'll admit that I've been guilty of hearing of another break out writer and been a wee bit jealous of their "luck". What we don't see is the years of hard work and sacrifice that this "lucky" writer had to do to get to their break. Thanks for this wonderful reminder that we do, in essence, make our own luck! Faith and hard work, when coupled together, are virtually unstoppable!


  34. T. Anne on August 31, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >What an inspirational post! A great way to start off my week and the new season (at my house summer is over). I need to sparkle and spit shine my MS for my 'lucky break'. A miracle wouldn't hurt either. 😉

  35. Arabella on August 31, 2009 at 11:09 AM

    >Luck? What's that? Anne quoted, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
    That's true, but I'm in such a bad way right now that I say, "Money beats talent when talent doesn't pay."

  36. Donna Gambale on August 31, 2009 at 11:09 AM

    >I agree – I've always believed that you set yourself up for good things to happen. Not to say that you can't do everything right and never catch that break, but few people acknowledge the power they have over what happens in their lives. You just have to be willing to work your butt off and take advantage of every opportunity.
    Great advice!

  37. Timothy Fish on August 31, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    >Pam, while it may be true that you can’t “win” if you don’t play, I’m financially better off than most of the people who play. That makes me a winner without playing. I prefer “don’t play if you won’t win.” At some point, we have to draw a line between when we can reasonably expect to succeed and when we are just dropping money in someone else’s pocket. Unfortunately, much of the publishing industry has the appearance of fleecing the aspiring author.

  38. Lily on August 31, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    >I fail miserably! I follow many author and agent blogs, but rarely comment on them. I read and learn. It takes so much of my time to just to that, it leaves little time for actually working on my ms. The tough part is finding the balance.

  39. Kim Kasch on August 31, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >”Scientific proof: We Make Our Own Luck”

    Mom used to say, "Opportunity doesn't always come knocking – sometimes you have to go look for it yourself."

  40. Kristen Torres-Toro @ Write in the Way on August 31, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    >Hi, Rachelle!

    It's good to know that this business is open to people like me who are trying to build their connections. While I cheer for all who get their books published, I'm excited for my chance too–and working hard to do everything I can to make sure that it happens!

  41. Gina Logue on August 31, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    >Doug – that happened to me too! I used to think reading the Bible was the most boring activity. Then 13 years ago, God revealed His heart to me through His Word, and I chose to believe. Since then I’ve been enthralled by it and been reading it over and over.

    With all other books that I enjoy reading, I might read it a second time but that is rare.

  42. lynnrush on August 31, 2009 at 9:38 AM

    >Very nice.

  43. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on August 31, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    >Good morning, Rachelle,

    Luck is the duck you see on a pond.

    From our POV, a duck is an beautiful bird moving swiftly and smoothly across the water. From a fish's POV, it is two feet working just as hard as possible, churning up the water as it heads towards shore.

    Success always looks easier from the outside where you cannot see all the work that is happening on the inside and the "lucky break" is the point where the God-ordained circumstances intersect with all your hard work and dedication so that you can touch the lives of other people. To both aspiring writers and successfully published authors, the effort to reach that goal – touching the lives of other people – is worth all the hard work to paddle across the pond.

    Be blessed!


  44. Teri D. Smith on August 31, 2009 at 9:07 AM

    >Hope to see you at the next "lucky break" conference. (ACFW in September) One you will have worked hard to achieve the position you have, and one I will have worked hard to prepare for. I'm reminded of Thomas Edison's famous quote of 99% perspiration.

  45. Novice Writer Anonymous on August 31, 2009 at 9:06 AM

    >This was a beautifully written post. I'd never heard that phrase before, but it absolutely makes sense 100% of the way. Very timely post.


    Novice Writer Anonymous

  46. Pam Halter on August 31, 2009 at 8:22 AM

    >I agree, Rachelle. That's why conferences are so important. Most people feel differently about something when they've met the person who created/wrote it.

    And ours is such a competitive industry. We need to make contacts if we're going to be successful.

    Timothy, there's a saying that goes, "you can't win if you don't play." I suppose that goes for many things, not just lottery tickets, which I don't buy anyway. 🙂

  47. Roxane B. Salonen on August 31, 2009 at 8:19 AM

    >Tim made the connection between seeking publication and job hunting. That analogy has come to me many times as well. It really is very much the same thing. My husband just changed jobs after owning his own business. I know a small part of him might be inclined to think he failed with the business. Instead, being a business owner and wearing tons of hats for five years helped him rise to the top of the application pile when the opportunity arose. So much the same with writing and publishing. Also, I think it's a combination of luck and God. God expects us to do the work, the laboring, but if we're doing His will, He'll help lead us to the right opportunities when they come near.

  48. Doug Spurling on August 31, 2009 at 8:19 AM

    >Once I read a book. I thought it dull. Until I met the author. I read it again, and thought it one of the best books ever written.

    Even the biggest best seller in the world is foolishness to those who don't know the author…The Bible.

    Who you know is important.

  49. Alexis Grant on August 31, 2009 at 7:59 AM

    >Thanks for this post! Making your own luck is so important, no matter what career path you take.

  50. Kelly Combs on August 31, 2009 at 7:43 AM

    >I liked the story about Billy Coffey…truly it looked like a "lucky break," and it some ways it was, but he put years into the journey.

    And I believe that my turn is coming…but I'm not ready yet. When I'm ready, it will happen.

  51. Jessica on August 31, 2009 at 7:27 AM

    >Great post! I totally agree. "Luck" is overrated and gets too much credit, imo. 🙂

  52. Tim Archer on August 31, 2009 at 7:09 AM

    >I've discovered this to be true in job hunting. So many of the jobs that I've gotten have come through someone I know. The old adage comes to mind: "It's not what you know, it's who you know." It may seem unfair, but it's true. We can sit and whine about it, or we can work on getting to know the right people.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  53. Krista Phillips on August 31, 2009 at 6:42 AM

    >Very true! Preparedness reminds me of the story in the Bible about the virgins with their "lamp oil." Granted, they are waiting for Jesus return, and wow, that is SO SO much more important than writing some book… but the principle is there. Be ready with a rockin' awesome book(s) for when God DOES allow that "lucky" break.

  54. Katie Ganshert on August 31, 2009 at 6:29 AM

    >This is so true.

  55. Timothy Fish on August 31, 2009 at 5:36 AM

    >Almost thou persuadest me to buy a lottery ticket.

    Chance is a part of life. Even Solomon said that (Ecclesiastes 9:11), and yes, there are some things we can do to improve our chances. But the thing that fascinates me about this industry is that a publishing contract appears to be a license to prey upon the desperate. I often consider that in quiet times and I’m not sure that I want to be a part of that.

  56. Anne L.B. on August 31, 2009 at 4:53 AM

    >This reminds me of a quote:

    "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."

    I don't think anyone succeeds in publishing without talent. But like writer jim, I believe in God rather than luck. I believe the same God Who gives talent honors hard work from those who honor Him.

  57. Matt Mikalatos on August 31, 2009 at 3:13 AM

    >My "lucky break" involved a referral from an author friend… but I also had a book ready to go and had interest from a publisher (I had gotten to know the editors there by writing some articles for their magazine). Great post, Rachelle.

  58. writer jim on August 31, 2009 at 3:01 AM

    >Amazing LUCKY breaks.
    The best method is striving to obey God, and He will bring your BREAKS in perfect timing. How?
    Over 20 years ago I saw a man in a field; the Lord told me to witness to him. I stopped my car, walked far out in a field; and told him about Christ. We became friends. ten years later he entered politics, and rose to a position where with one phone call…he could get a return call from the president of the USA.
    God has caused numerous things to happen, so that I now know many people in diverse positions of power, to help promote my book in GOD'S TIME.
    If YOU are writing FOR God; He can be totally trusted to guide YOU. If you are writng mainly for your own joy; then hpoefully you can work hard to make good breaks come.

  59. Weronika on August 31, 2009 at 1:26 AM

    >Terresa beat me to it — I agree that both are crucial and one needs to work on both at the same time. It's an odd balance, but I think it's one we all learn to perfect at some point along our writing journeys.

    Thank you for another excellent and inspiring post, Rachelle.

  60. Terresa on August 31, 2009 at 1:11 AM

    >Opportunity and preparedness are both important. Not just one or the other. A good reminder to keep working on both.