Getting your first big break in writing can take a lot of hard work, determination, and maybe just a little bit of luck.
This is the tale of travel writer Brian Thacker, successful author of seven travel books including Rule number 5: No sex on the bus and The Naked Man Festival. His former life was as an advertising art director, and when you lose an account in advertising, many people lose their jobs. His was one of those jobs.
So he decided to do something different. “I saw an ad in a paper for tour leaders in Europe and winter work,” he recalls. “So, I got this big silly dream. I went over and got a job as a ski guide in Switzerland. And, in the summer I was taking tours around Europe, busloads of drunk Aussies and Kiwis around Europe.”
Brian had kept a journal of all the things the locals got up to, and what the passengers got up to on the tours. He always thought it would make a funny book, so he got started writing a couple of stories, handwriting. This was back in 1999 and pretty soon he had 80,000 handwritten words, which he somehow coerced his sister to type up for him (clearly she owed him a favour).
So far, we've explored the hard(ish) work part. Now things get fun. He looked for an agent. One agent said “no one wants to read that shit” but still he persisted. Other agents said no thank you nicely. But he was determined. Coming from an advertising background, he was working hard at “selling” his book, with a catchy title (the one about no sex on a bus), a marketing plan that identified his market, and even a cover he designed himself (because, Art Director).
So that's the determination part. And he got himself an agent and that agent sent it to a few publishers. Only a few. And this is where luck plays a part. We'll let Brian tell you:
“Luckily enough, it was sent to someone at Duffy and Snellgrove, but she was leaving. She was publishing editor, and the publisher wasn't interested. She was going to Allen & Unwin to children's books, but she took it with her and gave it to one of the other publishing editors there, because she quite liked it. That publishing editor didn't really like it that much either, but the publisher was walking past a desk, saw it on top, and liked the cover, and then saw the name, Rule Number 5: No Sex on the Bus. And the publisher thought, ‘What's that?' And she picked it up, and flicked through it, and away it went, and I got a publisher.”
And it turned out people did want to read that shit after all.
Is there a moral to this story? If there is, it's probably that you need to sell your book like a product (because it is). Then you have to write it (Brian didn't just talk about writing 80,000 words. He actually wrote them.) And that occasionally luck might just come along, but only if you've done some hard work and determination first.