I used to live a twenty-minute drive from a massive, sandy beach. It was never warm there, never suited for lounging and sunbathing. It was always windy, and the north Atlantic water was frigid even on the warmest days. But it was a lovely spot for searching for sand dollars.
Sometimes I’d find one within a few minutes of hunting. Other days I seemed to be out of luck, and I’d give up quickly. But over time, I discovered something interesting: If I kept looking, if I kept my eyes open and had faith that I would stumble on something wonderful, a treasure always appeared. Usually it was the sand dollar I’d been hunting for, and I made it my goal to come home with one every time we visited the beach. But there were others. Beautiful moon snail shells. Purple mussels, and narrow razor clams. Yellow snail shells so tiny I could fit ten on my littlest fingernail.
But I only found those treasures because I looked for other opportunities while I was on my mission. If I’d only watched for circles, the other shapes might have slipped by.
It’s a lesson that’s come in handy for me many times. I’ve learned to keep my eyes and ears open, taking in information even when it doesn’t relate to what I think I should be searching for. It’s how I stumbled on the world of indie publishing while I thought I should be researching agents and queries, and it changed my life.
Opportunities are out there, but we have to be ready to spot them.
Sometimes the opportunities come directly from setbacks. They can be the hardest to see, but can also be the most rewarding.
During the production stage of my third book, Sworn, I thought I had things under control. I’d set reasonable deadlines for myself, left lots of time for revisions before editing and after, and felt confident that I had my proverbial ducks in a row. As I’d scheduled things, edits would be back by September, just in time for the kids to go back to school. I’d work my butt off, and have things ready to go by Christmas.
And then there was an unexpected delay on my editor’s end, and it turned out that while I still had the first editing slot in the month, it would start several weeks later than anticipated. I’d be sending the book out to him when I had hoped to be getting it back.
It seemed like a huge setback, and left me in a bit of a bind as to what to do with myself while I waited to get it back. Three weeks wasn’t enough time for me to start drafting a new novel, and I didn’t really feel like stepping away from that fictional world while I waited to dive back in with edits. I was frustrated, a little panicked at the idea that I wouldn’t have the book ready for when I’d hinted I would.
But then I started looking for the opportunity. Instead of sitting around and moping, being upset about something that no one had any control over, or wasting my time, I poked through my idea notebook for something else I might tackle.
So I wrote a prequel novella, just to keep my head in the world of my books. And what started out as an interesting exercise in getting to know a difficult and somewhat mysterious character turned into a 28,000 word novella, drafted in four days. A doomed romance, intense and beautiful (and ultimately heartbreaking, for anyone who has read the Bound trilogy). I wrote and revised it while Sworn was with my editor, and sent it to another editor who was able to fit the small project into her schedule.
And now that little side-project is with beta readers, and will be going out to my newsletter subscribers as a Christmas gift, a thank-you for the incredible support they’ve shown while waiting for me to finish the trilogy. The big novel will be out at the end of January, and in the meantime, my readers have a little fuel to add to the fire of the story.
Maybe not every cloud has a silver lining, but so much depends on whether we react to minor disasters by shutting down or by searching for the opportunities.
An editor completely ripping a book apart is a blow to the ego, but it’s also an opportunity to make our work so much better. Rejection by an agent or editor might lead us to looking into opportunities we might not have considered otherwise. Unkind words from readers can help us focus on what’s important to us about our work, and help us understand who we are (and aren’t) writing for.
So this is my goal, the thing I want to work on in the coming year. When things go badly from here on out, when the monsters jump out of the closet and make me want to cry, when I fall flat on my face in front of a crowd, I now have a plan. I’ll give myself time to be upset, to lick my wounds and tend to my bruised ego.
And then I’ll look for the opportunity, believing it will always be there if I look hard enough. Maybe it won’t be what I expected to find, but I believe there is always a beautiful treasure out there somewhere, if only I look hard enough.
Kate Sparkes is the Amazon and USA Today best-selling author of the Bound trilogy (Mature YA Fantasy). She lives in Newfoundland , but spends most of her time exploring strange lands from the comfort of her office. Visit www.katesparkes.com for details on her work, upcoming releases, social media connections, and to sign up for her newsletter and grab some free stories.