Thursday, January 14, 2010

Luck You

I haven't blogged in a few weeks, because I've been busy. Besides working on a deadline, I've had a ridiculous number of good things happen in my career lately.

I'll make official announcements when I can, but I will say that I'm going to be around, in various genres, for the next few years, and I'm going to make a nice amount of money.

I've told a few of my writing peers some of the details, and their remarks have been genuinely supportive. They're happy for me. This means I pick my friends well, because I haven't encountered a single smidgen of envy.

But I am noticing something they say which I don't agree with.

Everyone I've told has told me I deserve this. Every single person.

They back up their statements by saying, "You've worked so hard" and "You've done so much" and "It's about time your writing got some recognition."

They're sweet to say so, but they're wrong.

Long time readers of this blog know that I truly believe, deep in my heart, that no one deserves anything.

But sometimes, we get lucky.

If people truly deserved things in life, it would imply there is some sort of fairness in the world, and some sort of guaranteed way to get rewarded for our talents and efforts.

I'm pretty sure that's not the case. Many talented writers languish in obscurity and poverty. Some newbie writers get huge deals without "paying their dues."

It's always been about luck.

Luck dictates where you're born, and who your parents are. Luck dictates the traits you're born with. Luck plays a part in your education, your career, your love life, the friends you have, and pretty much every facet of life.

As I write this, Haiti was just hit by a massive earthquake, and tens of thousands are dead. None of them deserved that. It was just horribly bad luck.

By the same token, no one deserves to land big publishing deals.

We all want big publishing deals. And a select few get lucky.

I believe if you work hard, learn to understand the business, and work at bettering your craft, you can improve your odds.

But at the end of the day, it's still luck.

Now, I understand why my peers said this. I have worked hard. I think I write pretty good books. They're telling me my efforts have paid off.

But the writing business isn't like planting a seed and growing a tree. There are many other factors involved. This isn't science, where you can run an experiment and always get a predetermined result.

People really hate to think that we don't have complete control over our lives. In fact, even those meticulous folks who measure out their lives with coffee spoons have less control than they think.

The fact is, you never truly know what's going to happen. You can create incredible works of art, toil your entire life, and never sell a single thing. Landing a big publishing deal is not something within your control.

So focus on what is within your control.

Read. Write. Improve. Submit. Learn. Experiment. Try.

I'm not entitled to all of these good things that are happening in my career. I don't deserve success. And neither does anyone else.

But I can say, with complete candor, that getting lucky is a lot more fun when you work your ass off. :)

So ditch that poisonous sense of entitlement. Don't be bitter if things don't go your way at first. Concentrate on what is within your control, and keep at it because you love it.

Happiness isn't the destination. Where you wind up is determined by luck.

Happiness, true happiness, is the journey that takes you there.

51 comments:

apmonkey1 said...

Very glad to know you've got things lined-up to provide your readers with our Konrath / Kilborn fix for years to come. And you do 'deserve' to be lucky considering how hard you work. ;-)

Dana said...

Very well said J.A. and I appreciate the sentiment. All too often I start to languish in the lament that I "derserve" something, especially when comparing myself to others. All we can do it work as hard as possible so that when luck strikes we're ready.

Mark Terry said...

Well, I wrote a post a while back about "nobody deserves to be a novelist" that more or less jibes with what you say here. I'm otherwise (because, I wouldn't be me if I didn't respond to one of your posts with anything but a 'yeah, but...') in mild disagreement with two of your statements.

1. "...the writing business isn't like planting a seed and growing a tree." Welllll, it's awfully damned close. But you can't control the weather and you can't control which ground you plant your seed in and you can't whether someone's going build a building on top of your sapling. Otherwise, you can tend to it, water it, fertilize, etc., and hope for the best.

2. "But I can say, with complete candor, that getting lucky is a lot more fun when you work your ass off. :)"

I guess so, but I really think that "getting lucky is a lot more LIKELY when you work your ass off."

Word recognition: derride

Dave Zeltserman said...

Congrats, Joe, glad to hear things good things are happening. Sometimes I think this is a game of attrition--if you're good, and persistent, and you're able to hang around long enough, things work out in the end.

Samantha Clark said...

Awesome post! And congrats on your good news. I look forward to reading more about it.

JD Rhoades said...

Congratulations, Joe! Maybe it's just karma coming back from her long vacation.

Kristi said...

Congrats Joe!

I thought this post was very beautifully stated. And surely something to think about...

M. M. Justus said...

Thank you for saying this. I haven't been following your blog for very long, but I congratulate you on your deals as well.

Too bad luck isn't sharable...

Emma Michaels said...

I was just thinking about this yesterday. Thank you for posting this. I do have to agree with you on that if you work your @$$ off on something then when you get lucky... it feels so much better. Wishing you tons of luck!

Sincerely,
Emma

Enchanted Crystals said...

REALLY? You're going to keep us in suspense? I want to know, dammitt.

I miss Jack!

Hi-fives, Joe.

Barb Annino

Anonymous said...

Nothing personal, JA, but I've never bought into your "luck" arguments. Getting a book to market starts with writing a good book. Is that luck? No, it's the product of learning the craft and working hard.

Getting an agent or publisher, is that "luck?" True, we are now dealing with the subjective decisions of third persons, but those decisions are more likely to go our way if the thing they're looking at is a good book, which in turn has nothing to do with luck.

Having readers like your book, is that "luck?" No, it's having a good book that they respond to.

People who can write a good book will succeed. Those who can't won't. It's the writing that's important.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Hey Joe-- good for you-- whatever it is, you deserve it. But not because you're lucky-- because you stuck with it.

I think that luck plays a part in every blockbuster-million-dolllar-book deal, but if you're like me, just a working tax writer, it's all hard work. But I still make more as a writer than I did as an accountant, and I'm not tied to a desk.

I think it's more about choices than luck. Anyone can learn how to be a working non-fiction writer. You have to learn how to use proper English grammar and just write about something people want to buy.

Linda said...

Wow. What a wonderful post! How great that luck has shown brightly on you! May you experience even more luck in the future!

I so appreciate the fact that someone else understands that a case of "I deserve _____" will actually make a person a bit more self-centered, egotistical and in some cases, downright selfish.

Dare I use the word "grace" here? I was blessed to survive Katrina--many didn't. I was lucky to wake up this morning in good health and my right mind with food, clothing and shelter. Many did not (or will not tomorrow).

Every day I am blessed with new opportunities to grow and learn as long as I keep myself open to those possibilities. That's not easy when I am constantly striving for what I "deserve" rather than looking for what I contribute. (Anybody ever notice that deserve breaks down into DE--which often negates the word following--and SERVE--meaning to be of assistance?)

Thanks for all you do to keep us motivated and on the right track!

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Good for you, Joe!

I know you always practice what you preach--you earned this.

Terrie

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks all for the kind words.

Nothing personal, JA, but I've never bought into your "luck" arguments.

Cool. I respect your opinion, and always love it when someone disagrees because then I get to debate. :)

Getting a book to market starts with writing a good book. Is that luck? No, it's the product of learning the craft and working hard.

I agree, but with a catch.

While I think that any novel has to meet certain minimum standards in order to function as a narrative, there is a lot of leeway in deeming something "good."

If a book has a dynamic character, conflict, rising action, and resolution, it meets most of the minimum narrative requirements. This is objective. (Either there is conflict, or their isn't.)

But how many people enjoy that narrative, and how much they enjoy it, is based on personal subjective opinion. The opinion of readers, agents, and editors.

If agents and editors truly had a grasp of "good" then JK Rowling wouldn't have been rejected so many times. She's richer than the Queen. Shouldn't someone in publishing have recognized that? Yet many passed.

Having readers like your book, is that "luck?" No, it's having a good book that they respond to.

But some readers don't like my writing--and I have enough 1 star Amazon reviews to prove that. :)

And yet, those who like it and those who don't are reading the same book. I really think it's impossible to define "good."

I think where luck dictates who reads my books for the first time. Where did they hear about it? What made them buy it? Was it on a store shelf? Did a friend recommend it? Were they surfing the net and found my blog? I think that's luck.

People who can write a good book will succeed. Those who can't won't.

I dunno. I've read some bestsellers that I could say barely met the minimum requirements for a narrative. And I've read some wonderful books that are way better than anything I could write, and yet they're out of print.

It's the writing that's important.

We agree on that one. But once you right the best book you can, I think luck comes into play.

Joe Konrath said...

@Barb - Jack will be back. ;)

Donnie Light said...

I'm very happy for you regardless of how it all came about. I'm happy for me because I get to look forward to reading more exciting novels by J.A. Konrath.

Anonymous said...

It's the writing that's important.
"We agree on that one. But once you right the best book you can, I think luck comes into play."

If you're talking about the traditional publishing model, it's true that the opinions and evaluations of agents and publishers come into play. Whether they take or pass on the title at issue is not a matter of luck, so much as it is a business decision as to whether they can make money on that particular book.

More importantly, however, the world is entering the era of ebooks and non-traditional publishing. The opinions of agents and publishers are in effect increasingly nullified because they are no longer needed. Authors can take their work straight to the public on Kindle, Nook, etc.

It may not happen overnight, but any book that is truly good and placed on the internet market will eventually get recognized by the public that is looking for that particular kind of book.

Again, it's not a matter of luck, it's a matter of writing a book that appeals to the public and then positioning it so it can be found and purchased.

Although we disagree on "luck," I'm thrilled that you have great things on the horizon. I agree with your friends that you do in fact deserve it. You're not lucky, you worked hard.

AstonWest said...

I have to agree that luck comes into play. The trouble is that (in general, of course) the ones who usually consider it "unlucky" that their work isn't getting published are the ones who need to work harder to get there.

It's much like the connection between your actual intelligence and how intelligent you see yourself being...

Joe Konrath said...

Whether they take or pass on the title at issue is not a matter of luck, so much as it is a business decision as to whether they can make money on that particular book.

That's a very good argument. But I still feel that luck does come into play for what they do buy, and what ultimately makes money.

An editor can love a book, then get shot down at the acquisitions meeting because of a dozen reasons completely unrelated to the quality of the work. But had she read the book a month earlier, it would have sold. Timing is a form of luck.

It may not happen overnight, but any book that is truly good and placed on the internet market will eventually get recognized by the public that is looking for that particular kind of book.

That I agree with. We're finally close to a level playing field, where cream has a much better chance of rising to the top.

Anonymous said...

"Timing is a form of luck."

I'll give you that one (because you worked hard to get it.)

Joe Konrath said...

the ones who usually consider it "unlucky" that their work isn't getting published are the ones who need to work harder to get there.

LOL. Very true. It's like how 90% of drivers consider themselves above average.

Marti said...

Congratulations and best wishes on your future projects!

I think luck does play a part, but the luck can't come into play for those who don't put in the effort. Writers who don't like to "market" themselves are less likely to find themselves in the path of the luck arrow when it is shot from Fate's bow.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Congratulations, Joe. As one who has been reading and enjoying this most valuable blog since 2006, I am thrilled for you!

Luck is an illusion, but your talent and persistence are definitely not!

Jude Hardin said...

Glad to hear things are going well for you, Joe. So true that it's all about the journey.

Terresa said...

Congrats to you on your great luck!

I believe that writers attribute their success to hard work. And while it's part of the factor, luck is probably just as much a factor, if not more.

Great thoughts here!!

Adam Pepper said...

Congratulations, Joe. Can't wait to hear the details.

And dont 90% of men think they're above average...

Chris said...

It seems that with persistence comes better luck. Colts receiver Raymond Berry once said that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Certainly someone who has stacked up 500 rejection letters and worked their butt off improving their craft has a better chance at getting lucky than someone who hasn't.

Scott Nicholson said...

I've always likened to success with waiting to get struck by lightning. You can sit inside in your rubbers, watching from the window, or you can walk out in the rain carrying a television antenna. You, my friend, are outstanding in your field. Might explain those fried brain cells...

Scott Nicholson

Stacey Cochran said...

With regard to my writing career, I can't really say luck has ever worked in my favor in any significant way.

Every measurable bit of success I've had has come as direct result of my forcing something to happen.

This is not to say that I don't believe in luck. I just haven't seen its effects firsthand.

I do live with the hunch that when my luck does turn, it's going to be like nothing I've ever seen before.

______________________

Stacey Cochran
Amazon Kindle's Bestselling Independent Author

Brad R. Torgersen said...

Perhaps there is a middle ground between raw luck, and force of will?

Karma. The accumulated good or bad 'luck' you create for yourself through your actions.

Last year I saw some karma at work, both good and bad. I saw someone who'd earned quite a bit of bad karma get the axe, and I think some of my good karma came into play to help me keep my job.

And it doesn't even have to be a mystical thing. Just the causality chain of all those little choices we all make every day, coming home to roost.

And yes, sometimes things happen utterly above that causality chain -- like the Haiti quake.

In publishing it gets a lot weirder because there are so many random factors and connections at work. But still, I gotta think that karma operates somewhere in the equation. With how much effort you've put into things like your Newbie's Guide, Joe, maybe these happy events you speak of are just some of your own good karma -- created by your choices -- coming home for you?

Joe Konrath said...

I think karma in the "what comes around goes around" sense is valid when human nature is taken into account, but I don't believe there's a prime mover who makes sure this is properly meted out.

This blog, for me, exists because I like to pass along what I think I know, I like debate, and I wish someone had a blog like this when I began my career so I could have avoided a lot of the mistakes I've made.

Karen McQ. said...

Congratulations, Joe! I look forward to hearing what's in store for you in the future.

I absolutely agree with your philosophy about luck. Add talent, hard work, timing, perseverance and marketing-savvy to the mix, and you increase your chances of success. But there are still no guarantees. I'm glad it's worked out so well for you.

Rob said...

Really glad to hear things are working out for you. Wanna spread some of that luck my way? :)

Seriously, though. Way to go. And even if you don't "deserve" this success, I do think you've earned it.

Keep us posted.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Luck, synchronicity, is the product of intent and hope. Cool post, Simon.

Stacey Cochran said...

I did just learn that The Kiribati Test had 14,000 downloads on Kindle in December. There has to be some luck somewhere in all those downloads.

Probably quite a great deal of it, come to think of it.

TheUndertaker said...

Hmm, I don't agree. I don't believe in luck. People who buy a Lotto ticket and sit at home waiting for a big win, believe in luck. I'm afraid that you deserve all the good things that come to you. But that's just me.

Debbi said...

Hi Joe,

Congratulations on your good fortune, Joe!

I agree that deserve's got nothing to do with anything.

However, I think when you work your ass off, you can (to some extent) make your luck.

On the whole, I agree with what you wrote, except this part:

"But the writing business isn't like planting a seed and growing a tree. There are many other factors involved. This isn't science, where you can run an experiment and always get a predetermined result."

Well, there are many factors that can affect a tree's growth, too. Sunlight, water, mulch and (in a yard) tending to the plant. Much like one might tend to any business. (Ahem, analogy alert!)

Writers talk about how many spectacular failures there are in the writing business. But do you realize how many small businesses in general go under within a few years? Most of them, and usually talent has little to do with it.

Regarding your point on scientific experiments, have you ever spoken to anyone who works in the biotech industry? I have and, believe me when I say that scientific research isn't done to achieve a predictable result. In fact, it often fails miserably.

My point is that even scientists have to be creative sometimes. And doing the right research in the right way is often a matter of luck, too.

In fact, on the whole, authors and biotech companies have a lot in common. They're both in industries that involve risk, require creative thinking and can pay off if you're talented AND persistent.

Just something to think about.

Anonymous said...

"I did just learn that The Kiribati Test had 14,000 downloads on Kindle in December. There has to be some luck somewhere in all those downloads."

Stacey, congrats. I see that your book is listed for free. Do you mind telling us how you got around the .99 minimum setting? Thanks ...

Stacey Cochran said...

Anon.,

Great question. The Kiribati Test went through Mobipocket and then Amazon's Vendor Central. A friend of mine helped me do it. If you can get a response from Vendor Central, they'll send you an online vendor sheet to complete and submit.

The visibility for hitting the Top 100 on Amazon has been remarkable. I've had three production companies contact me asking for film and TV rights, and I was contacted last week by an agent from CAA asking the same.

All of this unsolicited.

Vendor Central is the best way to go. Joe also suggests Smashwords, although I have seen no one actually get their book on Amazon for free going that route.

Good luck.

____________________

Stacey Cochran
The World's Bestselling Independent Kindle Author

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joe, and I can't wait to hear the good news. Whatever it is, congratulations on your good luck and for working so hard to tip the balance in your favor. Although some people may not like feeling they aren't in control of their success, I find it refreshing to hear that luck plays a huge part - and that it isn't necessarily your "fault" if you haven't achieved the success you hope to one day.

Meghan Ward said...

Great post, Joe, and I can't wait to hear the good news. Whatever it is, congratulations on your good luck and for working so hard to tip the balance in your favor. Although some people may not like feeling they aren't in control of their success, I find it refreshing to hear that luck plays a huge part - and that it isn't necessarily your "fault" if you haven't achieved the success you hope to one day.

Theresa Milstein said...

I like your perspective.

I've been writing, rewriting, and submitting for three-and-a-half years. When the rejections come, I look at the manuscripts with new eyes, and rewrite them. At this point, I've done countless revision and have received many rejections. It gets demoralizing.

Hard work is essential - I agree. And I couldn't imagine not writing. All I can hope is that my time and effort lead to publication at some point. But submitting at the right place at the right time also takes luck.

If luck weren't a factor, and every "good" book got published, EVERY book would make a profit.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I think the comments about you deserving good things might come from the fact that most (or all?) of these peers you mention write some type of genre fiction. A genre fiction writer -- by definition (mine)-- wants the world to be just in the end. That's why we write it that way. ;)

LD said...

That's awesome Joe. Great post and I can't wait to hear what the lucky news is.

Carl said...

You write very good books. I'd read more of them if they were available as e-books for my nook, but your down to one in the B&N e-book store. :(

EmilyBryan said...

A new way to think about "getting lucky!" Thanks!

Nick said...

I think expanding your exposure through your hard work improves your chances of getting lucky, as you put it. Hard work isn't the definite path to success, but the things you've done have gotten you noticed and that helps in this, or almost any business.

Success as a writer, just as a musician, is completely due to subjective judging of those who can reward and extend your career. I'm glad you found enough people on the business side who want to support you the way we (your fans) do!

nK

Monica said...

What a terrific post--Congrats! Since starting down my own writing path, your blog has been a must read. So, from a newbie, many thanks for all the terrific advice. Congrats again!

Sue Hyams said...

Brilliant post! And good luck with your run of good luck! Congratulations.

Anna Murray said...

J.A.

Congratulations on reaping the rewards of your hard work, and yes, yes, yes, you deserve it.

Anna