Unknown-1As a former professional poker player, I know about luck. It visits everyone in approximately equal doses, but not in equal doses in every hand. In poker, your luck will be pretty much the same as everyone else’s in the long run, but you will have extended periods where luck is absent. These are the times when the good players are separated from the bad. In point of fact, most good players actually struggle against luck.

In writing, I don’t believe luck is a significant factor at any time. This runs contrary to one of the principal articles of faith in the writing/self-publishing community. Thousands and thousands of words have been written about the undeniability of the existence of luck in publishing (especially self-publishing), about how it strikes some people like a hammer while ignoring others. Some people, it seems, get lucky right off the bat and sell a shitload of books for no apparent reason, while others languish for years in the rankings doldrums. If you’re not lucky, so goes the gospel, hang in there. Your turn may come at any moment! One never knows!

Well, I don’t buy it. Writing and publishing are not games of chance, wherein a sequence of events takes place due to pure luck. There are no “cards randomly coming off the deck” as there are in every single hand of poker. Luck cannot possibly put a debut novel by an unknown author in front of enough pairs of eyes in just a few weeks so that book can sell 20,000 copies in that inordinately brief time. And yet, stories like that abound, with the author invariably shrugging the whole thing off by smugly saying, “Just lucky, I guess.”

In writing, there’s no equivalent of poker’s “miracle card on the river”. An unknown author finishes a debut novel, then presses “upload” on Amazon’s KDP site, just like every other unknown author. From there, it goes into the vast Amazon Sea, another drop of water just like all the rest. How it goes from there to selling 20,000 copies in eight weeks is utterly unrelated to luck. There must be huge sales right out of the gate, after which Amazon will take notice. They will pick up the ball at that point, and give a big internal promotional push to that book, shooting it up the rankings and its sales into the stratosphere. The author’s monthly royalty checks rapidly vault into five figures.

The “huge sales right out of the gate” is the tricky part, though, and once again, luck has nothing to do with it. The book’s Amazon page must be placed in front of tens of thousands of people by some sort of intense outside activity. Some of this activity is widely accepted and acknowledged, some isn’t. Heavy advertising, focused social media promotion, insider contacts, buying reviews … I’ve even heard of a site overseas that will, for a fee, buy as many hundreds (or thousands) of copies of your book as you want and will do it by spreading the buys around different servers all over the globe to make the sales appear spontaneous and legitimate. There are a host of other activities available.

One thing is certain: luck does not place that book in front of enough people to garner the big initial sales needed to get Amazon’s attention. Only the writer’s effort can accomplish that.

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4 Responses to LUCK? NO.

  1. Timing is far more important than luck. Trying to see a PI series during a time when PI and other outsider stories are in a cyclical down period is bad timing, not bad luck. We all too often tend to attribute things to luck, when, in fact, they’re just more complicated than we can keep track of.

    In publishing, as in most things, the best definition of “luck” is, “when preparation meets opportunity.” Good opportunities are rare; be prepared.

  2. Mike Dennis

    Timing is indeed critical, Dana, and your example is a good one. If you’re writing in a genre that happens to be out of fashion at the moment, not many people will care to look at your book. And really, nothing can make them do so. But if your genre picks up steam, you should definitely be ready.

    My purpose in writing this post was to deconstruct the wholly-swallowed “rule” that luck reigns supreme. No one, it seems, has ever bothered to really think it through, that is, how exactly does “luck” put certain Amazon pages in front of thousands of people while ignoring others? Answer: luck has nothing to do with it.

  3. Wallow 111

    like your repartee, folks.
    may I add a comment, with an example:
    on the busiest shopping day of the Christmas season (I can say Christmas on this site?)my wife always finds an empty parking space at the mall within a few minutes.
    is it luck?
    when I asked her how she always finds the empty parking space, she replied that she doesn’t look for the empty spaces, she watches the people walking through the parking lots and anticipates their movements. They lead her to the empty parking space.
    I realized it’s a good process that also defines success.
    So please add “process” to “preparation” and “opportunity”.

    Wallow 111

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