I’m so excited to introduce you today to the very funny and talented Ryan Miller! Ryan entered one of our contests in February of 2016 and scored himself his very own book contract. Read on to hear more of his amazing story!
Fortune Favors the Prepared
Let’s be honest: Getting a book published takes luck. The right manuscript has to land in the right agent’s or editor’s hands at the right time. Whether it’s a shiny-penny-face-up-on-the-sidewalk small break or a flip-of-the-final-card-to-make-a-royal-flush big payoff, luck is involved.
You can spot the lucky writers, too. They tend to be busy. Always working, always pushing forward with something. In a green field, they’re the ones on their hands and knees, searching for four-leafed clovers. They often have to wipe the sweat out of their eyes as they pound hissing, red-hot horseshoes into shape.
Metaphorically, of course.
At this point, I should admit that I’m one of the lucky ones. Last year, my entry into a Sub It Club contest was randomly selected from among more than 400 other potential winners, and now my first picture book, MATILDA MACKINCHEESE, is planned for a fall 2018 publication with Sterling Children’s Books.
A whole lot happened before and after Fate drew my name out of the hat. As the beneficiary of a lucky break, I feel obligated to tell you: Lucky breaks are a lot of work.
And you should totally prepare for one. Because you don’t want to miss it.
1) Get ready.
Some cultures consider crickets to be lucky, so if you plan to tap into the power of this awesome insect, you first need to make a place for it to live. Maybe stock up on cricket food. The last thing you want is to find a little chirper and lose it—or catch one and fail to properly care for it. In terms of writing, the best way to prepare yourself for Fortune favoring you is to write. Plan stories, finish them, polish them, and keep writing.
At any given time, I tend to have on hand: a completed project or two, one or two (or three or, since I’m being honest, four) in the works, and more ideas than any one person should legally be allowed to think up. Before my opportunity came in 2016, I had a completed picture book that had garnered nothing but silence from a major publisher I’d been invited to query, a story idea I loved (but a first draft I didn’t), some outlines, a first chapter or two, and a lot of desire.
2) Seek out the places where lucky breaks are born.
I know we’re talking about luck here, but you’re not going to spot a shooting star if you don’t go outside at night and tilt your head back. Be active in writing communities, read industry blogs, and watch for contests. Go to conferences. Introduce yourself to other writers and agents and editors. Hunt for the charm that opens the door!
In addition to making the normal efforts toward securing an agent or getting published, I kept my eye out for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I didn’t bank on them, but I figured there was no harm (and some potentially amazing rewards) in trying.
So I came across a Sub It Club post about author Amy Dixon and her editor at Sterling Children’s Books, Christina Pulles. After reading all about the impending arrival of Amy’s MAURICE THE UNBEASTLY and what Christina was looking for in a new book, I noticed an invitation to leave a comment for a chance to skip the slush pile and land a manuscript directly on Christina’s desk.
3) Follow the rules.
If you know Mary Poppins, you know that chimney sweeps are lucky. But it’s not just spotting one or being near one: You’ve got to shake hands with one and get your fingers dirty. Luck often requires action, so be sure you do it right: Follow the contest entry rules, format your manuscript properly, and meet the deadlines.
It was pretty easy to do what the contest I entered required; I just had to leave a comment. But from there, things got a bit more technical. I didn’t win a publishing contract or an anything-goes story pitch session. What I had was valuable, but it was still nothing more than what it was: an opportunity. I had to prepare a query letter like every other author hoping for publication. I had to address everything accurately and spell check it and be as meticulous as I could.
4) Do your research.
Want to catch a leprechaun? You have to know your stuff. Those little guys are clever and tricky and don’t want to part with their lucky charms if they can help it. Steeping yourself in as much lore as you can gives you a leg up when trying to locate a pot of gold.
When I won the contest, I went into full-on stalker mode. I read and re-read the blog post, noting that Christina was looking for books that made her laugh. Then I read everything I could find about Sterling in general and Christina in particular. I scoured industry publications and social media. I paid attention to her stated interests as an editor. After all that, I decided that the finished book I had in hand was good, but probably not a good fit for her (it was sweet, but not that funny), so I took my didn’t-love-it first draft of a different, funnier book and worked it into a better second draft, and an even better final. Along the way, I kept in touch with Christina via Amy to ensure I was respecting her deadlines.
And then I sent it in. And waited.
Turns out Christina liked my manuscript, as did the rest of the Sterling Children’s Books editorial team, as did the sales and marketing department, and now—a few negotiations and a contract signing later—MATILDA MACKINCHEESE is on the way. Christina made my book stronger with her edits, and we’re on the absolute same page in terms of the illustrations. Just a couple of weeks ago I got to see the portfolios of two potential artists, one of whom could be the one to visually bring to life my story of a girl trying to get her picky parents to try new foods.
I feel lucky to be working with Christina and Sterling. I’m excited about achieving a lifelong dream of mine. And I’m busy working on my next lucky break.
What about you?
Ryan Miller is a professional writer, journalist, and editor, and since he doesn’t drink coffee, he chews on pens and doodles. His debut picture book, MATILDA MACKINCHEESE, is forthcoming from Sterling Children’s Books! To learn more about Ryan, visit his blog at standingintheshallows.com