Monday, April 09, 2007

Luck and Timing

Lots of great comments recently. I'm going to take a few days to reply to some of them, but I also want to give my non-writing readers a break here and there from these topics. Which means yes, I've discovered some new weird sites, good ideas, infuriating news, and so on. But I'll quickly tackle a couple of comments.

MF Makichen asked:

...Do you think a lot of the business of writing comes down to luck and timing. Or do you believe that ultimately great writing and perseverance are what will keep a career going long-term.

Just to be clear I admire anyone who can finish a book, find an agent, and get published, whethter the writing is my cup of tea or not. But so much of the "business" of writing seems to come down to luck and in some cases who you know....
MF, thanks for this, because I think a lot of new writers have these questions about luck and timing and connections. So I'm going to respond not just to what you've written here, but on this topic as it concerns new writers.

Luck and timing come into play in all of our lives -- from the moment we are conceived until the day we die. And in some cases, after that. If you are lucky enough to be literate, you are ahead of a great many people on this planet. Trying to understand luck and timing can get us into some questions that are concerned with the workings of the cosmos (and chaos) if not philosophy and theology, which I don't propose to explore here.

So I'll just say that I don't think it makes a lot of sense to magnify whatever amount of luck and timing are involved in a writing career out of proportion. Especially not as an excuse.

I can understand the temptation. If a person is a new writer, and it's a lack of luck or bad timing that causes him not to be published, why then, the universe is against him, and there's not much he can do about that, is there? (This is assuming he wasn't done in by the evil, anti-creative publishing cabal I mentioned a few days ago.) It isn't a matter of anything lacking his imagination or his skill in telling a story, it isn't because he hasn't found his voice, that his style is overly ornate one moment and ridiculously spare the next, that his pacing is all shot to hell, that his grammar is MIA, that every character sounds exactly like every other character, that the opening induces yawns, that the plot is implausible or unoriginal.

Or any of the thousands of other things that can go wrong in a manuscript. No, he just wasn't lucky.


I've also seen this "luck and timing" stuff used by the envious. I don't know how many times I've heard horror stories from people who were in writing groups and who happened to be the first (if not only) person in the group to be published. Whoooweee. Ever want to see the green-eyed monster of jealousy rear its ugly head, that's where you should set up your cameras. Be sure the sound is on after the newly published person leaves the room: Of course talent had nothing to do with her success. Otherwise, it would have been me and not her! What luck! What timing!

What's the idea here, that publishers are actually using a big lottery system? Superstition is alive and well.

I don't claim that luck and timing are never part of the equation -- they are. I just believe that they don't play anything close to the largest role. And let's face it -- you can't make a career out of luck and timing. If you're going to write more than one book, you need to be able to deliver to your readers again and again. Publishers are looking for someone who shows that kind of promise.

Getting published isn't one, uniform experience. Some people sell a first book without ever getting a rejection. Some people take fifteen or more years to make a sale. Why? I think the reasons must be as varied as the authors and their works, and the people who buy them. And yes, luck and timing play a role, but I don't believe there are publishers making out contracts on nothing more than the basis of the author's luck.

Do I believe that some writers have bad luck? Yes, but I believe one can often recover from it. Do I believe that all talented writers get published? No, but I believe there may be obstacles other than luck involved, so that luck isn't always much of a factor, and to the extent it is, perseverance may increase their odds in the future. I've seen it work.

As for the "whom you know" -- I have asked a few of my friends how they found their agents and editors, and I'll be posting their answers. I hope it will help at least some of you to believe that not everyone had an inside connection.


I want to thank my friend John for catching a one of my typos in an earlier post. He's an editor. We all need them. We need friends like John, too.

And finally -- Kathy, so glad to hear from another fan of Thornton's!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post--not that you're passionate on the subject or anything:)!
MF Makichen