Writers Can Help Themselves Get Lucky

Don’t worry, this post is still approved for general audiences. Though if you’re looking for the more adult definition, this is the interwebs. Just don’t be gone too long, because that might not help your career advancement.

Anyway.

This post is about writers who make it, the ones who find the magical combination of timing and the right eyes and whatever else it takes to make it – you know, the writers who get lucky.

I participate in a weekly Twitter chat called #storysocial. Last night’s topic was traditional vs. indie pub, and someone made this comment in response to a question about what we think are the biggest challenges in the publishing world:

luck

I had to disagree a little.

get lucky

To me, luck implies good fortune that outweighs the effort it takes to get it. If I go to the gas station, buy a lottery ticket, and win ten million dollars, that’s luck. Statistically, I’m more likely to get hit by a car on the way to the station than to win the jackpot, and spending two dollars on a ticket was virtually no effort on my part.

Simply put, writing and publishing a book takes more effort than that.

Yes, there are elements of a Big Writing Break that are out of our control. Some writers are better set up for success out of the gate – for example, anecdotal studies (like this one) show women are less likely to land an agent and get traditionally published than men. That’s why many women writers use initials (J.K. Rowling, anyone?).

So some of us have to work harder than others, but that doesn’t mean writing success is off the table. Let’s examine the experiences of Writers A and B, fictional wordsmiths based on the stories of real people.

Jefferson luckWriter A writes a masterpiece, works on perfecting it with a critique group and editor, spends hours constructing an effective query, and sends it out to agents. While she waits, she works on building her social media platform. After sixty rejections, one New York agent asks to see the full MS and eventually signs writer A. Would you say Writer A is lucky?

Writer B opts to self-publish her masterpiece. She spends her own money on an editor, works with a critique group, hires a cover designer, arranges for advance review copies to go out, and promotes the pre-order period widely across social media. On launch day she sells…twenty copies. So she re-evaluates. She learns where her audience hangs out and schedules signings there. She revises her blurb. Maybe she redoes the cover. Eventually, after some well timed posts in promotional newsletters, her book reaches #1 in two categories on Amazon and she’s making some decent money. Is Writer B lucky?

don't give upFrom the outside, it may look like Writers A and B are lucky. Landing an agent is hard. Hitting number one in a category is amazing. But from the outside, we don’t see all the stuff that came before the big break. Writer A had sixty rejections? Man, that’s tough. And I bet Writer B didn’t get much else done while preparing her book for public consumption.

Their success didn’t come from luck. It came from sheer tenacity.

What if Writer A had given up after fifty-five rejections? What if Writer B decided her book was a failure after only twenty sales on launch day and did nothing else with it? They might have holed up in their writer dens, bitter against those whose fortunes were better than their own.

Here’s the thing about attributing success to luck: it invalidates any hard work that contributed to the success. 

I doubt there’s a successful writer out there who made it on the first book they slopped together. And even if you’ve had some success, agents won’t be beating down your door, desperate to represent the next Stephen King. You have to want it badly enough to stick with it for however long it takes to make it (whatever that means for you), making adjustments along the way if you don’t see the results you want.

Personally, I think we give luck too much credit.

 

33 thoughts on “Writers Can Help Themselves Get Lucky

  1. Pingback: What Did You Like? 2016 In Review | Allison Maruska

  2. Hi, Allison,

    Great post! Motivates us to work hard on our crafts and become lucky. Many people say that a person is lucky, but no one looks at the hard work he has put in. I interpret luck as God’s blessings after we put our efforts in our endeavours. And God blesses us based on our good Karma.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You know, I’m very happy I’ve read this post, it lifted my spirits somewhat. I’m both author A and B… only without the success. I’ve submitted my book last year and only collected rejections… plus some hints to why my book might have been rejected (all speculations, of course, but there are hints) and so I plan to work more at it and try submitting again.

    In the meanwhile, I’m self-publishing my first book and I’ve done basically the work you’ve outlined up above. I don’t think I’ll sell 20 copies on launch day, but I still plan to do more work on promoting the book and see what happens.

    I’m not completely convinced luck has nothing to do with success. Unfortunately, I think it does. But I do believe, as they say, that “the more I practice, the luckier I get” 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve made a brilliant case here. Even if luck came in the form of immediately finding an agent then landing a book deal, a writer has to realize this is where the real work begins. It may be the pressure of producing the next book, or the realization that the experience is less than what they’d hoped for, which may necessitate having to look elsewhere. One needs to establish a work ethic, continue to educate themselves, and maintain an iron-fisted tenacity for their entire career.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Allison for this. It’s really thought provoking and it actually makes a lot of sense. I’m having a bit of a low self esteem day and lack of confidence so this came along at the right time.
    Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

  6. In my experience, and not just in the publishing world, the ones talking about luck are the ones who didn’t do the work. Who majored in literature in college and then talk about how lucky someone else is to make good money in technology. Um, yeah…all luck that.
    But what sticks with me from your post is that I have to want it bad enough to put in the prolonged work, and that’s where I’m on the fence. I’m not sure I do.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “Work hard and hope for a break.”

    A famous comedian noted that, when people ask what’s the secret to success, this was what he told them. “Work hard and hope for a break. You’ll see less talented people make it before you, and you’ll see people who don’t put in the hours you do.” LOTS of people said Tim Tebow couldn’t be a quarterback in college or the pros, and they were right – to a point. Tim Tebow said, “Somewhere my opponent is out there training and I am not, and when we meet, he will win.” So Tim worked harder. He was not the best but he won a few college championships and a NFL playoff game. Not because he was lucky. The chips were stacked against him. But when you are 25 and a multimillionaire, you’re a success. Pete Rose wasn’t the best player on the team, but nobody outworked him and he won a few World Series. The list of less talented, more successful people is nearly endless. “Unrewarded genius” is a phrase for a reason. So is “starving artist.”

    Strangely, “starving marketer” is not a saying…

    Neither is “starving always works his butt off guy,” but it’s not exactly pithy, either.

    But the comedian was right, too. Luck plays a role. So what is luck? Being at the right place at the right time means you had to get off the couch and go to the right place. (Odds are the couch wasn’t it.)

    There’s some luck. SOME. But too often, the people who haven’t really broken a sweat are throwing up their hands cursing luck while the winners are keeping their noses to the grindstones.

    I know a Little Red Hen. Do you? She works and works even when it doesn’t seem to be paying off. I have great admiration for her and I tell her that all the time. (Some people think I’m a Little Red Hen; I’m not so sure.) But at the end of that children’s story, the Little Red Hen reaps rewards for doing hard work and the others – the nonworkers – want the same reward without doing the same hard work.

    They’re the ones talking about luck.

    I’m trying to find more Little Red Hens to model myself after.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. OMG! I love this post, Allison. Hmmm … I wonder why. I agree 100 percent. I prefer to think I am a child of father fortune, and he’s a tough love kind of dad while mom, Lady Luck holds my hand, but only smiles back at me when she sees I am well prepared.

    Liked by 3 people

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