11.18.2005

Getting Lucky

Miss Snark, you never (that I can see) to talk about the luck factor in becoming a published author. And it seems to be more and more prevalent among the people I see being published. I'm not talking about the highly talented. I'm talking about the rest of the crap that gets published. I have spit my coffee across my desk many a time when I've heard the news that some half baked writer has sold a book. And trust me, I've heard it a few times. And the only reason I can think that their work is selling is because they got lucky or came across some equally half-baked editor.You know this is true. So when you talk about how good books and good writing sell, I have to chuckle a little because it's only partly true and every writer loses sleep over it, especially if they've been at the craft for a long time, write well, and have been passed up for one of these starlets.

There certainly is luck involved in getting published. But it's not the only thing, and it's not something you can control. There's that cliche "the harder I work, the luckier I get" but that's a facile response to what the Snarkling points out.

Here's the thing though. Luck is the last factor in the equation, not the first. By this I mean you can't be ONLY lucky and get published. Leave aside the celebrity book-as-brand-extention thing, which we've all agreed isn't really writing. If you write a book, it has to be well written for its intended market (well written for the romance market isn't the same as well written for literary fiction). It has to, at the very least, appeal to someone who wants to publish it, and probably an agent, an acquisitions committee and a few other people too. So, luck is the piece that comes AFTER you've polished your book, worked on finding an agent, and worked on getting it considered.

The best example for how luck works is in the book Transition Game by Jon Wertheim. It's a fascinating narrative about how Indiana high school basketball "went hip hop"... got faster, focused on the individual player and took to the air. Transition Game talks about a high school player who was not only the best player in Indiana (and college scouts had their eye on him from freshman year on) but was nationally ranked. This kid was good, fast, a team player, and smart.

By the time this kid got to college, the game had gone hip hop on him. The things that made him great were almost liabilities now. He never quite made the college leap. Not cause he wasn't good, but because the game had changed around him. That's luck.

BUT the point of this story is that luck was a factor ONLY cause he was at the top of his game. He'd done the fundamentals, he'd hit the practice sessions, he'd made one gazillion free throws on his backboard at home. It wasn't enough, he needed some luck which he didn't get, but he wouldn't have been in a position to take advantage of luck if he couldn't sink a three pointer from thirty feet.

So, no, I don't talk much about luck. I can tell you the things that make me nuts as an agent reading query letters. I can tell you how publishing works here in my corner of the world. I can't make you a better writer, I can't force you to practice, and I can't bring you good luck. For that you have to rub the bunny slippers with a twenty dollar bill.

Here's a link to the listing for Transition Game on Amazon, if you're interested. I read the book and liked it a lot.

10 comments:

ink-stained-wretch said...

If the author's own epistolary talents are any indication, I'm not sure he or she is in any position to judge whether the writers he/she is seeing published are half-baked or not. IMHO, anyone who refers to writing as "the craft" shouldn't be published on principle, but aside from that, the query belies an underlying belief that publishing is a zero-sum game where the bad writers keep the good writers out of Barnes & Noble, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of publishing. The Nicole Richies of the world don't keep a million Thomas Pynchons from blooming; they create the budget for two where one would have existed otherwise.

I have never met a writer who's "been at the craft for a long time" who didn't think he or she wrote well, and if repeated attempts at securing an agent or publisher have failed, who didn't think that he/she was being passed over for some lesser "lucky starlet." If you think the biggest factor in your failure to get published is luck, the biggest factor in your failure to get published is most likely you.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Actually, I think Nicole Ritchie's book may qualify as "well written for the target market" in its own way. The tartget market is people who obsess over airheaded celebrities. If Nicole Ritchie somehow actually wrote a modern day Moby Dick, would her fans actually buy it?

quanty p biederman said...

Although I suspect it's a typo, I especially like the idea of calling those who would buy Ritchie's book the "tartget market".

Linda Adams said...

Too many writers spend a lot of time picking apart what's wrong with a popular book instead of looking at why it is popular. Most readers aren't going to care if a writer uses a different dialogue tag than "said" or that this sentence structure wasn't right. But to the writers, those "writing mistakes" are terrible sins and clearly the writer must have luck on his side to have a book with all these sins in it published. Get over it! All books are not perfect. The reader is not going to care if the prose isn't the greatest thing in the world. All they want is a good story that's worth the money they spent on it.

Bernita said...

Luck, as someone else said, is for rabbits.

Maeve said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maeve said...

Linda, I absolutely agree. The point of the exercise is story. Writers must remember a time when, hopefully, they too were so captivated by a story, they barely noticed the words.

Tsavo Leone said...

Bernita said...

Luck, as someone else said, is for rabbits.


But not the three-legged variety...

Amie Stuart said...

Linda great point. One thing I keep reminding myself is that, as a writer, I don't read like a reader does. Kay Hooper and Mary Kay Andrews are two (in a very small group of) writers I can completely turn off the editor and just enjoy! and as a life-time reader I really hate that. Right now I'm reading Nick Hornby's latest release and it's great but I still find myself studying how he writes because I think he does really great first person.

BTW Miss Snark I put that book on my Amazon wish list--thanks!

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Good catch, Quanty. I didn't mean to say that. It may have been a genuine typo, or it may just be that Freud strikes again.