There’s this nasty rumor out there floating around about publishing that seems to suggest that if you want to get a book published by a Traditional Publisher, you have to get lucky.
I’m here to assure you that this rumor is 100% true.
I’ll say that again.
If you want to be a Published Author, you have to get lucky. It’s exactly like winning the lottery.
It’s kind of like winning the lottery, if the way you won the lottery was by devoting yourself to the study of statistics and risk management and the algorithms that particular lotteries use to generate their numbers, and then maybe developed your own system to model a carefully-selected and targeted lottery, and then you analyzed your costs versus potential payouts, and you took an extra job solely to fund your lottery-playing, and you refined your system through years of playing and further study and talking to experts, and you stuck with it and stayed within your budgeted lottery-funding, and re-invested your minor lottery winnings back into your lottery-funding pool, and played consistently for a decade.
And then finally won a reasonable sum that was more or less in line with the amount of work you put in (or maybe somewhat less).
Many published authors will tell you that they are published because of their Sheer Determination and Amazing Skill. (While this is obviously true in my case, I’ve heard that other people simply got lucky.)
Actually, every author who has ever gotten a book deal has had luck on their side to one degree or another; the manuscript hit the right person’s desk at the right time, when the market was doing the right thing, and the publisher happened to have money to spend on acquisition, and so on and so forth. Sometimes great books languish unnoticed for years. There are just far too many variables that are completely outside of the Author’s control.
It’s never just luck. Entirely too many not-yet-Published-Authors like to use the luck angle to escape the painful truth that they don’t really want to put the work in. Some folks want to dash off a manuscript over a weekend and then email it directly to a few Big Time Publishers and then sit back and wait for the money to roll in.
In other words, they treat it just like the lottery.
So yes, if that’s the approach one takes to authorship, then it probably does take quite a bit of Luck to “win”.
The fact is, the vast majority of Published Authors have spent years positioning themselves for that kind of luck.
They have worked hard at learning their craft. They’ve done research to target the right kind of publisher (or agent) for the kind of work they do. They FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. They stick with it. (Not me, of course, but I mean real authors who have talent and things.)
In short, they make their own luck.
A few years ago there was a delightful study about Luck, comparing people who thought of themselves as having Good Luck and those who thought they had Bad Luck. You should check it out for yourself but because this is the internet I will summarize it by over-simplifying and use my own over-simplification to further my personal agenda:
People who were ‘unlucky’ generally didn’t give themselves as many opportunities for success as ‘lucky’ people. It more or less came down to playing the odds.
That’s not actually a quote from the study or anything, I just wanted to use WordPress’s neat quote button on something and that seemed like a good place to do it.
So, on the one hand, now that I’ve been lucky enough to become a Published Author, it’s really tempting to sit here and tell you that it’s not luck, it’s hard work and I earned it and I deserve it because I’m better than EVERYONE AND WHY CAN’T YOU SEE MY GENIUS AND I SHOULD HAVE WON ALL THE AWARDS!!! (which haven’t been awarded yet there’s still time to nominate me nudge nudge nudge!!!)
But being honest, I have to admit that I had met the right people who helped me get my manuscript to the other right people who had to think very hard about the realities of their business and the state of the market at the time and a lot of moving pieces had to line up to make it all happen. Being a man of faith as I am, I of course think of it as Providence rather than Luck.
But also, it was a long and difficult road of 10+ years, studying, practicing, learning, failing, getting rejected, weeping, gnashing teeth, dusting off, trying again, etc. etc.
I have no idea what the ratio is between the two, but I’m pretty sure it takes some of each.