Happy Accidents and Useful Collisions: The making of a bestseller
Even though publishers work hard and effectively to create success, if you ask any debut author to explain how their fantastic book became a hit they will always list "luck" alongside "my publishers did a great job". Why do these authors feel they were dependent on luck? I think perhaps they realise that they have enjoyed the good fortune that is Good Timing.
Here we are, spinning through life, colliding with one another, or not; encountering experiences and ideas, or not. With the right timing, an author will find inspiration for her writing; with good timing, the author will make the connections which will lead to her being discovered by an agent or publisher; at the right time, the author will find her audience with a book which speaks to a market trend. If the timing is wrong, an author with a perfectly good manuscript can start to wonder, "Am I alone in the forest? I laid this trail of word crumbs and not one bastard came to find me. Where is everyone?"
As an agent, I do my best to eliminate luck in favour of strategy: in other words, my job is to contrive good timing. Charged with getting things done, with influencing events and delivering on promises, I spend a disproportionate amount of my day thinking not about what to do, but when to do it. When to ask for favours, or to offer something up: times to say yes and times to say no. Sometimes we hold news back; sometimes we pre-empt bad news. To employ good timing, we need to be sensitive to the people we're interacting with and their occupations, with what they're likely to need or to be open to. Authors seeking an agent or a publishing deal need to be just as strategic in their planning of what to write, how to pitch it, to whom and when.
I only submit books which I think have a good market of course; I also time my submissions carefully. But sometimes employing good timing is about setting the pace. In the early stages of an auction, publishers look to the agent for guidance. How long do I have? When will you set a deadline? Often bidding parties start out at totally different speeds - one editor is racing, another is plotting. Part of our job is to make sure everyone runs the same race; if we lose a runner, we lose an opportunity to win.
When the timing is just right, nothing beats the giddy rush of quick agreement, of a fast 'Yes please!', 'That sounds great!' or 'We love it!' When we all trip over our feet and our words in our rush to praise, when a publisher offers a pre-empt, when an author quickly emails her editor to thank her for her brilliant work, when a publisher can't wait to share a book with the world. When an agent just can't stop herself from picking up the phone to an author she has never met before, to say: I found this trail of crumbs, I'm following it into the heart of the forest, and if you stay just where you are I'll come and find you. Your letter arrived on my desk at just the right time.