So many times in writing groups I see people asking how others make money in the writing industry. There are all these people talking about luck and, while luck does play a certain role in publishing, it’s not the primary determiner of success. The primary determiner of success in modern publishing is the author.
This is good news, even if it is scary news. The good part is that we have more complete control of our fortune and fame than ever before. The bad part is most of us don’t know what the heck to do with that control. I can’t tell you the number of self-made author websites that make 1990’s Geocities websites look professional grade or marketing campaigns that make me cringe a little harder every time I see them.
Making your own luck, in part, means you need to realize that you aren’t supposed to go this alone. Whether you’re self-publishing or traditionally publishing, you’ll have a team of people to back you. If you’re self-publishing, you pick the team whereas with a traditional publisher the team picks you. Either way, you have a group of experts backing you to support your work and help you make your own luck.
Part of making your own luck also means spending a lot of time educating yourself. You need to learn what publishers are looking for, how they select manuscripts, what agents and readers want… The fact that someone picks up your book isn’t a function of the astrology of the day; most of the time it’s because they saw something in it they wanted or liked.
If you want to be picked up by a big publisher there’s a function of luck in that decision, absolutely. However, that luck is partially self-generated by creating a professional, polished manuscript with a solid query to go with it. Yes, it’s sometimes a roll of the dice to some extent whether your query will be read by the people you’re sending it to, but as someone who has worked in acquisitions, luck didn’t determine acceptance. If the query followed guidelines, was interesting, and showed professionalism it got them in the door.
Heck, my company just picked up a short story collection (something I typically don’t do) because the person sending the query impressed my acquisitions editor enough to take a look at the content. I have no regrets about picking up the author, either. The writing is polished, the stories thrilling, and I look forward to sharing them with the world. That wasn’t luck–that was the author doing things right. Yes, they rolled the dice about whether or not we’d pick up a short story collection despite our guidelines, but everything else was them creating their own “luck”.
I can assume, my reading friends, that you have seen the pattern by now! A lot of people like to rely on “luck” because it absolves them of the responsibility of making sure what they’re doing is what they should be. They can send out a hundred queries, sigh, wring their hands, and blame Lady Luck for their lack of response. Or they can read their query and realize that sending neon green-on-pink was probably not a good font choice and the flagrant typos made it impossible to read.
The other part of this good news is since you don’t have to rely on wearing your lucky underwear backwards while chanting hymns to Fortuna, you can take control of most of the elements of your piece’s success through hard work, dedication, and study. I realize this might not be the shortcut a lot of people are looking for, but there just isn’t one. Write well, query well, be professional. Those are your keys.
You can do this. Get to it.
(Note: Yes, that is a tabletop RPG character sheet at the top of this post. But no, that one’s not mine. 😉 I’m not actually sure what system that is, to be honest. Gold star to whoever tells me!)