Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Luck Makes Your Writing Career (But Persistence Makes Your Luck)

When you ask authors how they got where they are, a lot of them will credit the usual suspects; hard work, several editorial passes, and the gumption to keep submitting while wading through a snowstorm of rejections. Thanks to the advent of social media, you'll also hear authors talk about how they built their brand, created pages that drew and kept readers, and made sure they had a receptive audience for the stories they wanted to tell.

All of that is great. I'm the last person who wants to knock hard work, solid foundation, and clocking the thousands of hours it takes to build a following. However, no successful author is a self-made success. Because the unfortunate fact behind every successful author is that they rolled the dice, and those dice came up a win.

Ha! I did it! I rolled a seven!
This is, unfortunately, a flaw of our myth of the self-made success. We all want to believe we did it ourselves, because that means we're in control of our success. Conversely, it means that if you're not successful, then you have the ability to control that, too. However, it's entirely possible for you to do everything right, and still fail. You can write a great book and get it rejected, or if you succeed in getting it published, fail to make sales.

There's a funny thing about dice, though. If you roll them often enough, sooner or later the pips you want are going to turn up.

Every Roll Is A New Chance

Let's say you wrote a book. It's a good book, too. You have a firm grasp of artistic language, a solid plot, and it is the perfect length. You edit it till it's tight and smooth, and then you send it out into the world. Maybe you publish it yourself, or maybe you get it published traditionally, but the point is it's out there now. You took your shot... and you missed. Your book goes nowhere, and no matter how hard you try to get people to check it out, no one is interested.

So what do you do now? Well, you write another book. And another, and another, and another.

You'll hit the target... eventually.
Have you ever heard about famous movie stars who were total unknowns for years, despite appearing in movie after movie, and TV show after TV show? Until that one role, that one chance, got them out in front of millions of eyes, and people liked what they saw? Well, being an author is kind of like that... but if you give up after your first network slot doesn't get you discovered, then you probably won't make the big time.

If you fire enough bullets, then eventually you'll get lucky. You'll write a book that intrigues (or outrages) enough people to focus a spotlight on you. You'll get nominated for (or win) an award. A celebrity will come across your book, and tell their legion of fans that you are the next big thing. Or you'll finally have collected enough small pockets of fans over the years that when you release your tenth, or fifteenth, or twentieth book, there is a huge scramble by people who want to read it.

Luck works in strange ways. Sometimes it completely ignores you, and your year and change of effort falls flat on its face in a mud puddle. Other times luck wraps its arms around you, and tells everyone how phenomenal you are. But if you never get out of the puddle, and wipe off your face to try again, then you may as well stay where you are.

Sooner or later, those pips are gonna fall your way. Don't stop rolling until they do.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. Hopefully it helps keep you humble if luck already gave you a deep, loving kiss. And if it hasn't, don't worry, just rattle those bones and try to make your next throw count. If you'd like to help support this blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and become a patron today. For as little as $1 you can make a big difference in my work, and you'll get a free book, too. Lastly, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Another wise and far-sighted column, Neal. I can testify to some degree of luck falling to me on occasion as a result of sheer audacious persistence.

    Example: I once sold the movie rights to a novelette---yes, with up-front money---based on the ms. alone. The story had never been published. It circled through a group of friends and landed in the hands of someone with indie-producing ambitions. (No, the movie hasn't been produced. But I've had other commissioned work as a result of that sale.)

    Keep your flags flying. Don't stop working, don't stop submitting...OR even simply passing around.