I don’t remember why I started it. Plenty of authors do it—or they did before email submissions became so prevalent. I know I did it when I got my very first short story published in the journal Prairie Fire. And after that it became a tradition. Whenever I submitted a manuscript, I kissed the envelope for luck before mailing it out.
Now, I was brought up to be a skeptical, logical sort of person—and I am. But lately I’m not as quick to stamp out the little rituals and incantations that help me through the day. I blame the publishing business. So much is out of our control. There is so much luck involved.
But no, you say, it’s skill and persistence. Any book blogger will tell you! Of course it is. You won’t get anywhere without both. But luck is the third side of the triangle, the element we’re less likely to talk about, less likely to give her due. Who’s reading the slush pile the day you submit your manuscript? Did the editor have her coffee yet? It’s out of your control.
The mailman was at the box when I brought the manuscript submission of my first picture book, On the Night of the Comet, through knee-high snow to be mailed. Immediately I saw that underneath the wrapped scarves and multiple layers was a very cute guy. (Canadians can do this. It’s an evolutionary adaptation.)
“I’ll take that for you,” the cute mailman said. He smiled. We had a few words of playful conversation. He was flirting! And I was flirting back! I felt the stars beginning to align. He held out his hand for my envelope, and I was pretty sure he’d be asking for my phone number next. Then it came to me: I hadn’t kissed the manuscript yet. I couldn’t send my submission out without its luck. Reluctantly I held up the envelope and gave it a big, wet kiss.
My friend Hadley Dyer talks about the way a guy’s face falls when he realizes the girl he’s flirting with isn’t who he thinks she is. She calls it “The Indiana Jones Face” after the part in Indiana Jones where the Nazis open the arc of the covenant and their faces melt like wax. I’d never seen it directed at me before, but, yes, there was the mailman stumbling back, the interested look on his face melting like wax into one of fear and alarm as he realized the girl he was flirting with was a psycho envelope kisser.
I could have tried to explain. Girls more adept at flirting than I might have been able to salvage the situation, but for me, I knew that recovery was impossible. And maybe once someone’s face goes Indiana Jones, it just can’t go back. I thrust the envelope into his hands and turned away. A few months later I got “the call” from Maggie DeVries at Orca Book Publishers telling me that they’d like to publish. I didn’t regret the kiss.
I know, I know. I’m a marketing nitwit. I should have spent my first blog post writing about my forthcoming YA novel, Witchlanders, not about an incident that happened with an out-of-print picture book as difficult to find as…well…the arc of the covenant.
I sent an email when I first queried Steven Malk, my agent, with Witchlanders, and no, I did not kiss the computer screen before I pressed send. As far as I know, he did not kiss the manuscript when he mailed it to Caitlyn Dlouhy at Simon & Schuster. But I still can’t help feeling, in spite of my logical side, that the stars were grinding into some very precise and unlikely alignments the day she opened that envelope. And it seemed appropriate to launch this blog by writing about the third side of the triangle, by giving luck her due and whispering thanks to that unknowable force.
Call me superstitious.
Well, that was it, my first blog post! If you have any writing superstitions, or any other comments, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section. I’m going to try to post my random musings every Wednesday. Next week: Worldbuilding 101