Two recent experiences made me start thinking about the role of luck in our writing and publishing careers. First I received an email from an online writer friend whose books weren’t selling and who was beginning to doubt her writing abilities. I tried to reassure her with my answer that it’s something most writers feel some of the time. Then came news of some other writers who’d decided to give up because they’d been targeted by trolls who’d written nasty reviews of their books, sometimes without even having read them. My friend needed some luck to generate interest in her books, the others were being brought down by bad luck (and the incomprehensible desire of some people just to hurt others for their own amusement).
I remembered having written an article a few years back about the balance between luck and laziness in my own writing career. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here but it concerned one of those weeks that make being a writer very satisfying. I was feeling good because I’d started a new novel, there was a good turn-out at a reading and talk I gave, then came news that a publisher was interested in some of my sci-fi/fantasy stories and finally, on the Friday morning, proof copies of a non-fiction book I’d written arrived along with a message saying the publisher wanted to commission two more in the series.
So, all good news when I set off for
Glasgow for the weekend of my grandson’s 5th
birthday. Needless to say, my two grandsons weren’t particularly impressed by any of this. As far as they’re
concerned, my writing skills are judged on whether I can make them laugh when
they come into my bed in the mornings. Needless to say, their laughter isn’t
provoked by elegant turns of phrase or dramatic linguistic and thematic
juxtapositions but by me doing funny voices and creating characters who live
inside walls or have two mouths so that they can talk and eat simultaneously.
(This particular detail involved an interesting sub-plot about the anatomical
separation of vocal chords and alimentary canal and, if the listeners had had
their way, would also have involved an exploration of what happened at the
rectal end of the process.)
So altogether it added up to a happy weekend. But what’s it got to do with luck?
Well, when lots of ‘results’ of this sort come together, it feels like (and it is) luck. But it has to be put in the context of the many weeks or months, of ‘lucklessness’ which preceded it. We get pleasure out of writing, we work at it, cut, edit, polish, to make it as good as we can, and we send it away hoping that it reaches someone who appreciates it and recognises its quality. So when we get the usual rejection slip or, worse, no acknowledgement at all, we’re deflated, and it’s easy to start wondering whether we’re deluding ourselves and should maybe start a paper round or a window cleaning business. No. Keep writing, keep submitting material. Rework it, resubmit it because, yes, in the present market you need luck but (cliché alert) you make your own. If you stop writing and submitting you’ll never get lucky. I know, that’s so obvious it’s hardly worth stating, but it’s too easy to start thinking it’s all a waste of time. It isn’t. Look back over material you may have forgotten, look at it critically, amend it if necessary, and start sending it away again.
As for the trolls, their need to hurt others reveals more about them than it does about you. How many of them ever have the pleasure of opening a package, taking out a shiny new book with their name on the cover, cradling it and feeling as if they’ve just had another baby?