“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”
I have an agent for my historical fiction novel Marc Antony’s Best Wife.
He didn’t become my agent through the normal way. Whatever “normal” is these days in the publishing industry.
I’m published in history by an academic press. But years ago I switched to biographical fiction, believing that stories of strong women made history more accessible.
I had no idea it would take me 10 years to write the novel. And I’m a hard worker.
I got an agent, but I had no luck
I’ve pitched to agents at the Willamette Writers’ Conference here in Portland. I kept detailed notes about the conversation, with the agent’s name at the top right hand corner of the paper. The only one I ever drew a heart by her name was Holly, a new agent at MacGregor Literary Agency.
When she sent me an email that she wanted to represent me, I was thrilled. But I drove the approximate 2 hours to the Oregon Coast where the agency is located. I wanted to talk to her face to face. I liked her a lot.
And when she sent me a contract, like my other book contracts, I signed it on my grandmother’s grave. My grandmother would have been proud of me.
As a new agent, Holly found it difficult to break into the business, particularly since the publishing industry is so in flux. Relationships are important in the business, and with so many manuscripts clamoring for attention, it takes more than a great novel. It takes luck.
I did not have luck.
Starting the self-publishing route
I believe in my novel Marc Antony’s Best Wife. So I started investing my own time and money to get ready to self-publish it. I hired marketing coach Ronnie Noize, who is a marketing genius. I had a date for the launch scheduled. I started looking at cover illustrations.
Two weeks ago, I went to an old email account that I used before I had my website email. I was looking for the email from Holly that had the contract to formally end the relationship. There, to my surprise, I found a two-month old email from Holly. She had written that she was switching to editing novels, but asked if I was interested in having Chip MacGregor, the owner of MacGregor Literary Agency, represent me. Several days after that, Chip had sent me an email.
But both emails were two months old.
I’ve noticed Chip before
I emailed him and asked him if he was still interested and whether we could we meet.
I’ve watched Chip at the Willamette Writers’ conference. In fact, he sat down beside me on the couch in the hotel lobby and was talking to someone else. I had a burning question regarding whether to email a thank you note to the agents to whom I pitched or to write a handwritten note. I had to wait 20 minutes for a break in his conversation. When he stood and said he had to go, I grabbed my chance to ask him that quick question.
To meet Chip at the Oregon Coast, I woke up at 4:30 am. I asked my grandmother to help me be clear about which direction to go: the agent routine or self-publishing route.
When Chip went over publishing houses where Marc Antony’s Best Wife should be sent, my grandmother intervened. It was clear I wanted him to represent me.
It’s a good fit
I love that Chip has had 30 years in the industry. With the publishing industry in transition, that’s important.
But there’s two other qualities about Chip that are important.
Chip is smart. He did post-doctoral work at Oxford University. I’m a scholar at heart. Nothing thrills me more than pouring over a great journal article. My personal library on Ancient Rome would rival a professor’s collection. (Check out the books behind me on my website picture. That’s just some of my books on Ancient Rome.)
And he’s a kind person. He told me a story about an older gentleman recently wanting to inform him about the miraculous qualities of the Internet. Chip was patient and kind in response.
Getting to this point
Getting to this point has been a long journey, full of twists. There’s no doubt in my mind that hard work played a significant part of it, and I’ll continue to work hard.
What I can’t count on is pure luck, but Oprah’s quote is that you have to lay the groundwork for luck to happen. I have.
And of course, I have my grandmother in my corner.