Writing Superstitions, or How I Gave Up True Love with the Mailman to Become a Published Author

Posted by on Mar 2, 2011 | 21 comments

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


  1. Great first post, Lena! I look forward to following your blog! 🙂

    Maybe there’s a secret, electronic way to kiss the screen. Maybe you mouse the cursor off the email window, to where it won’t leave any trace, and type ‘xxx’ or something.

    Of course, if that did end up in the email, it might leave the wrong impression…

    • Erin, that’s a brilliant idea. What about writing XXX at the bottom of the manuscript but then changing the font to white? It’s there, but it’s not. I might start doing that.

  2. Great story, Lena. I’m sure if you explain to the mailman your kiss was all in the name of literature, he’ll understand.

  3. Hey, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. If the guy was so shocked by a little writerly eccentricity, he wouldn’t have hung around beyond the prologue. Still, it might have been a great prologue.

    And there is a way to kiss you work goodbye on the screen. I’ll show you at the RefLib on Thursday.

  4. Great POST! I’ve only done one and will post new one soon. It’s funny how scary it is isn’t it ? And we are word folks. Or maybe that is why. I will follow you—uuu ! And look forward to the Witchlander.s The title is so great. And huge congrats you are publishing with big house in the US — it is good to know it does happen ! Gives us all hope. Maybe, one day! I think I should try again one day and do that kissing thing! xo Sheree

  5. Lena, great post!

    Can’t wait until the Witchlanders makes its debut! They’ll be lots of kissing then.

  6. Hi Lena,
    Nothing wrong with kissing the outgoing manuscript…. I do it too. After all, our manuscripts are our precious babies. (Loved this post as it made me feel more ‘normal’.) 🙂
    All the best with your new novel!

  7. Lena, I can’t wait to buy Witchlanders. The cover looks wonderful, though I was hoping for a picture of Ryder (who I figure is as cute as the mailman). I like your kissing idea. Perhaps that’s the secret ingredient missing in my submissions. I’ll definitely give it a try. Karen

  8. Enjoyed this first post, Lena! I think there have been many a manuscripts kissed over the years!!

  9. Lena, I loved this first edition of your blog! And here I thought I was the only one kissing and waving my submissions good-bye as they entered the black hole of the publishing universe! Just think. All those kisses going out there must do someone, somewhere, some good.

  10. Wow. I’m amazed to see that there are so many other writers kissing their manuscripts out there! Thank you all for leaving comments on my first ever blog post.

  11. I can tell your blog is going to be interesting! I’ve never kissed a manuscript, but maybe that’s what’s missing. Maybe I’ll try the invisible kiss.

  12. The way your writing has taken off, I don’t think you need a kiss for luck anymore! (But it never hurts, just in case.)

  13. I’m an envelope kisser, too! Ah, one of the limitations of email. 😉
    I’m going through the agent submission process now, and hadn’t realized before just how much luck plays a role… *sigh* But at least I can control my perseverance! So nice to see your story, in such a fun way. Good luck with the upcoming book! Such a gorgeous, intriguing cover!

  14. Thank you! Yes, if you keep persevering, the luck side of the triangle gets shorter and shorter, I think. Best of luck.

  15. What about the cute mailman? You should try to track him down.

    I used to get all my kids to blow on the envelope when I mailed out manuscripts.
    Now they’re grown up and I email books out as attachs. Technology doesn’t lend itself to these lovely superstitions. Not like you can throw a glass of champagne at the laptop.

    Should be something we can do. Wipe/and/or kiss the computer screen?

    Best of luck with Witchlanders.

  16. This was a shocking revelation to me, Lena. Never before have I suspected that a simple kiss (however wet) would do the trick. I begin to feel just a little silly when I think back to all the years of burnt offerings, walking backwards around the mailbox and turning passages from Strunk and White into solemn incantations.

  17. You guys are all making me laugh! Valerie, you’ll never snag a mailman that way! But I hear if you read Strunk and White backwards it summons the ghost of Maxwell Perkins.

  18. Lena, I enjoyed your “true confession of a children’s author.” It took courage to admit what we all do! Someone was going to be caught sooner or later. I look forward to the release of your book!

    author of the Dot to Dot in the Sky series

  19. Your first blog entry was wonderful, Lena! Great writing – I can see why your work is published. I always kiss my manuscripts too, trying to remember to do it at home because it’s hard to sneak a kiss onto a huge envelope in public.
    Good luck with Witchlanders.

  20. Gisela! Another manuscript kisser! I am in such good company! Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words.


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