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A few years back, when I first started to think about writing a book, I heard the rumor that (unless you’re already famous for something else) getting published in today’s world was a numbers game. Whether or not an agent or publisher takes a chance on a new author is down to luck. It depends almost entirely on knowing the right person and/or being in the right place at the right time.
At first, I dismissed the notion out of hand, but the idea gnawed at my sub-conscious. What if I was wrong? After all, so many people seemed to think it was true. I decided to check it out, just in case.
It’s taken me several years of exhaustive study. I’ve researched hundreds of published authors. I read interviews with them, perused their online journals, listened to them talk on panels, even chatted with a few in person, all with a view to disproving the notion that getting published was down to luck.
Boy was I wrong.

To my utter astonishment, I came to realize that getting a book published really is entirely down to providence. What’s even more astounding is that you need not just one, but six strokes of incredible good fortune before you can ever hope to see your work accepted by the traditional agent publisher.
Being the helpful fellow I am, I’ve decided to share my findings here, to save the future blushes of any poor sap who shares the romantic notion that a writer controls his/her own destiny. 
Six reasons why getting an agent/publisher really is down to luck: 
1: You have to be fortunate enough to come up with a great idea for a story as well as inventing character(s) which you can mould into a high-quality, novel-length piece of fiction. 
2: By sheer fluke, you have to be the sort of person who’s naturally immune to the dread writer’s disease known as excusitis and possess the inner fortitude to do what it takes to get that first draft of yours finished. 
3: You need to be blessed with the intelligence to realize that when you do finally get to type ‘THE END’ you’re really still quite near the beginning. 
4: By an almost impossible coincidence, you need to not only understand the value of critique groups and the sage advice offered by successful writers in ‘How to’ books, on the internet, and at critique groups/workshops etc, you also have to possess the good sense to seek them out and be able to sort the useful from the not so useful. 
5: Even if, by some fluke, you somehow manage to get through those four stages, fate still needs to deal you a hand which includes the ability to appreciate the need to spend quality time working on your synopsis and query letter, followed by thorough research about where best to pitch your novel.  
6: Lastly, by a sheer accident of birth, you need to NOT be the sort of arrogant, pig-headed nitwit who’s so full of his/her importance that nobody wants to work with you. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Do I need all six of these lucky breaks to get my novel accepted, or could I get away with just five?
To tell you the truth, with all the exciting changes going on in the publishing world these days, I’m not even sure about that my own self, but seeing as how a failure to get your book published might just blow your writing dream clean out of the water, the question you’ve got to ask yourself is: “Do I feel lucky?” 

Well? Do ya?

If you liked this one, you might also enjoy the follow up post: http://jongibbs.livejournal.com/157568.html 

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( 65 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 17th, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)
To be honest, this is not the best satire ever.

You do need some luck: running into the right agent, someone who believes in your work and is willing to devote time and money to get it published, someone who likes it more than you do yourself (because aren't we all our own worst critic?). What with the large amount of manuscripts out there and the large amount of agents, finding the right one is quite something.

And then for some unfathomable reason, you need time. I'd be blissfully happy if anyone could explain why, but somehow no one gets published within a year, even when doing all of the above. It takes a lot longer than that.

Edited at 2011-01-17 12:31 pm (UTC)
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:31 pm (UTC)
...because aren't we all our own worst critic?

Clearly, you never met my old gran ;)
(no subject) - nathreee - Jan. 17th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 17th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)

Sometimes I worry it is an inner cabal. But reading your post cheered me up. You're right - the more I practise the luckier I damn well get!
Jan. 17th, 2011 01:00 pm (UTC)
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
It's really amazing how much luck is required. Thank you for collecting, collating, and summarizing it so well. You should write a self-help book about luck. :D

Jan. 17th, 2011 01:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but then I'd have to try and get it published :(
(no subject) - ideealisme - Jan. 17th, 2011 01:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - birdhousefrog - Jan. 17th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 17th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 01:37 pm (UTC)
You need to be blessed with the intelligence to realize that when you do finally get to type ‘THE END’ you’re really still quite near the beginning.

This, most of all :(
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
Hehe, I learned that one the hard way.
Jan. 17th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed the piece on luck (not!) in writing.
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Luck??
Thank you :)
Jan. 17th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
I started reading this with dread in my stomach, because generally, in life...well, I have some small luck, but not the degree I imagined might be necessary when I read the start of the post. By the end, I was grinning wide. I think I have the necessary luck! : ) Thanks for this, Jon!
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it, Kim :)
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
Send it out. Send it out. Send it out.

But not too soon, and to the right people, yes? :)
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
Right manuscript (steps 1-4), right place (step 5-6), right time (equal parts luck and research.)

Finder--from first word to a book in my hand--took 13 months. That came from all my years learning all those steps. As it happened, the timing was something out of a less-than-believable movie. I happened to finish it just as Eric was opening up for submissions, and Finder happened to be just the sort of thing his press was starting to roll with. If not for steps 1-6 though--that perfect timing would not have resulted in anything whatsoever.

Which brings me to step 7--it never hurts to get to know the people you're interested in working with. I heard about HRB about a year prior to actually submitting anything. I got to know Eric through another writer, and through his blog so that by the time I was ready to send him something, he knew who I was.

This is small press, of course. I don't imagine that would be as effective with the big presses or agencies, but it can't hurt.

Well...unless you're kind of a jerk...or Jon's old gran gets to him/her first.
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
Finder--from first word to a book in my hand--took 13 months

That's an impressive turnaround. Fur-Face took over seven years from first word to digital publication :)
(no subject) - mongrelheart - Jan. 17th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
Heh. I love it when you go snarky on people. Good one!
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
Not snarky, never that (I hope), though I'll admit to the merest hint of sarcasm on this one :)
Richard P. Weiss
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
Getting Published

Great advice. It wasn't the best satire because I don't believe you meant it to be one.

With going from being published in magazine and newspapers, trying to delve into fiction is like a big fish in a small pond getting placed in a big river to swim upstream as a small fish going into an ocean. I'm writing a second novel after having problems getting an agent for the first one. One item, perhaps #7, you might want to add regards some advice I've received from Jonathan Maberry and other writers from the coffee house meetings regards knowing your genre by reading it. I have since read dozens of sci fi novels, for example, before attempting another one. Also, when I'm finished the story, I'll be able to provide a market statement and/or sublist of other books similar to my own that have been successful.

With a full time job and a side writing business, it's a challenge to finish another novel, let alone market it. Jon, thanks for the great advice. Your web site is great!
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Getting Published
Thanks for the kind words, Rich :)
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Luck has a lot to do with it that's for sure. You can do everything right on your end: write a good story, have everything click. But it still comes down to luck when you approach an agent or a publisher. There are way too many forces outside your control once you've done your job. All you can do is hope the stars are aligned for you.

I hear a lot of writers say "luck has nothing to do with it." That's B.S. Whether the agent is in a good mood that day, whether he has an opening, whether he alone is interested in your well-written query, whether he personally feels he can sell (i.e. make money) with your story -- all those things are TOTALLY out of your control. There is very little you can do to change them.

You've done your part. You've written a great story. The rest is up to luck.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:17 pm (UTC)
You've done your part. You've written a great story. The rest is up to luck.

You know, I really don't think our job as a writer ends there - not if we're looking for publication. I don't believe it's just about who we approach, or when, it's also about how. After all, a lousy query letter and/or synopsis greatly reduces the chances of someone reading the sample pages of a novel.
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
Hehehe! Awesome post Jon! Especially #3.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kam :)
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
One part Lucky
Sound advice, and in keeping with the maxim I espouse that writers need 3 things: talent, perseverance, and luck.

You don't need that much talent, but you do need a huge amount of dedication to the craft. (Writers are, in the end, lit. junkies, and if your excuse for not writing is that "Jeopardy" was on, please stop pretending now)

And the luck is a thing you cannot control, but as part of the perseverance, you can try like hell to influence it.

Jan. 17th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: One part Lucky
I've always rather suspected that the luck part only happens once we get the talent and perseverance bit sorted out :)
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
I don't disagree that luck plays a huge role, but more than luck, I think you've got to possess faith or determination or whatever it is that sees you through what is a loooonnnnngggg process until you do strike it lucky.

Of course, it helps to be crazy in a good way.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Of course, it helps to be crazy in a good way.

Lol, that was the first thing I got to work on :)
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
Having an actual story to tell and then working to make it the best you can is more important than luck.

You'll get no argument from me there, Jaime :)

PS: Don't let the evil job get you down.
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Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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