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How do you define luck?


I’ve had some interesting reactions to Monday’s post.
 
Judging from some of the comments and emails I got, my tongue-in-cheek list of the ‘good fortune’ unknown authors need if they ever want to attract an agent and/or publisher gave some folks the impression that I don’t believe luck is involved in the process, but that’s not the case. I do believe providence plays a role.
 
The trouble is, I think an awful lot of people blur the line between ‘good luck’ and ‘the right approach.’
 
Imagine a complete unknown wrote a novel, Dracula vs. the Daleks. For argument’s sake, let’s assume it’s of acceptable quality. To me, ‘good luck’ would be this scenario:

Our unknown writer accidentally leaves the printout of Dracula vs. the Daleks at the local Dunkin’ Donuts. The very next person to sit at that table just happens to be a literary agent, who just happens to be on the phone that very moment with a publisher, who’s asking if he/she has any novels featuring, vampires, evil alien tin cans, and sink plungers.
 
Our unknown author returns, looking for the manuscript, just as the agent skims through the final pages. The agent heaves a tearful sigh and slips a contract across the table.
 
Now, it’s possible things like that really do happen (and if/when they do, few would claim it was anything but fortunate), but what if our unknown author didn’t leave the manuscript? What if instead, this happened:

After many hours spent researching potential agencies online, our author comes across the official website of our donut-loving writer’s-rep. The ‘What we’re looking for’ page describes cross-genre novels that sound just like Dracula vs. the Daleks. The agent’s news section gives details of a talk he/she’s giving at a local(ish) writer’s conference. Our unknown decides to go too. They meet. The author makes a well-rehearsed pitch. The agent asks for sample chapters, which result in the offer of a contract. 
 
Is that good luck?  Sure, providence played a small role, but I’d say it had more to do with taking the right approach, wouldn’t you?
 
By all means keep your fingers crossed, but stick them in your ears if someone tries to tell you only the fortunate few get published, ‘cause once you start thinking luck determines the outcome of something, it’s awfully tempting to excuse yourself from doing everything possible to shorten the odds. 



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Comments

( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
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meredith_wood
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Dang-it! I always miss the really good posts. Usually because I'm off trying to find my own good-luck charm. I keep losing that thing. ;-)
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Lol, and I hadn't forgotten :P

I'm just about to post a link to your giveaway :)
tracy_d74
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:26 pm (UTC)
And this is why I don't believe in luck.
If I'm revising and researching, doing my part to increase the odds I'll get noticed ... that ain't luck.
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
I'll take any luck I can get, but I don't plan on waiting for it :)
knittingknots
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
Well said.



jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
a_r_williams
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
Good post! I don't know who said it but there's a saying: "the harder I work the luckier I get."
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
I think I first read that in a Napoleon Hill book (circa many decades ago) :)
(Anonymous)
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)
I agree. Some luck in usually involved but it also takes a lot of work to get to that right place at the right time :)
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. I imagine it must be quite annoying to have spent years working on being a writer, only to be told that you were lucky you got published.
msstacy13
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
One of those rare people who are both wiser and more modest than I
said that it is no coincidence that the luckiest people
are those who know what chances to take,
and are prepared for those opportunities which arrive.

Even so, luck ~is~ a factor,
but only one factor among many.
As with sailing;
you've got to have a wind,
but you'd better know what to do with it.
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
There's no one more wiser and modester than what you are, Stacy ;)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
ideealisme
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
msstacy13
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
A very good counterpoint.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Jan. 20th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 20th, 2011 09:29 am (UTC) - Expand
msstacy13
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
Okay, a real life example of luck:
I know a computer programmer who has previously worked for a defense contractor,
which required a security clearance, and that experience
has enhanced his employability immeasureably.
Of course, had he not studied CompSci
and gotten decent grades, none of that would have come about.
OTOH, he paid his way through college by dealing illicit drugs.
He was busted, and if the arresting officer had taken a minute
to make a call and get a warrant,
the case would have gone to court, and he would have done ten years in prison;
never would have gotten a security clearance, or even a computer programming job.

But even in your hypothetical example,
the aspiring author did at least write and print his novel,
and took it out in the daylight.
However phenomenal a stroke of luck is awaiting us,
we have to meet it somewhere,
and when it greets us,
we must know what to do with it.
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
Yes indeedy-do, and, for the record, I always make sure the title's clearly visible whenever I edit something out of the house, just in case :)
ladysaotome
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
I agree with everything you said. Except there's a difference between providence and luck. I don't believe in luck. But I definitely believe in providence.
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC)
To tell you the truth, I just used 'providence' to avoid an excess of 'luck's :)
lyonesse
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
i guess my question was, is "the right approach to publishers" the same as "the right approach from me to my writing?"

and that's a definite choice, no luck involved if you've done your homework. but it does seem a bit random; i've heard recently that "some" publishers are starting to look at long works like my werewolf novel. but yeah, whatevs, that wasn't true when i wrote it and may or may not be true now or ever to come :)
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
I'd say they're two different things. If your goal is to find a traditional publisher, then it makes sense to tailor your approach (including wordcount, content etc.) accordingly. If it's not, then you're free to write a 300,000-word middle grade novel, or a 50,000 romance without sticking to the formula.
(no subject) - lyonesse - Jan. 19th, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 19th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
temporus
Jan. 19th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)
My definition of luck is quite simple: Luck is being prepared to take advantage of the everyday opportunities that surround us, and having the daring to try.

jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a grand definition :)
kellyrfineman
Jan. 19th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
You are spot on here. That last paragraph in particular.
jongibbs
Jan. 19th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kelly :)
dotificus
Jan. 20th, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
I agree that you have to focus on your own work. Always working to fulfill it, and working hard to to get published, market it, etc. But I think good luck is often a factor, a wild card, in this biz. There are plenty of mediocre books on the shelves that got published due to a stroke of good luck. Or debut authors who get a lot of marketing support from their pubs, in part because of good luck.
jongibbs
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing, Dorothy :)

Unexpected good fortune is always welcome, but some (as yet) unpublished writers tlak about luck as if it's the only reason other writers get accepted.

wordsrmylife
Jan. 20th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
How about--luck can make a difference, but you've got to do everything possible to make it easy for luck to strike.

Luck is certainly not enough.
jongibbs
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:23 am (UTC)
Luck is certainly not enough.

More's the pity :(
snapes_angel
Jan. 20th, 2011 02:43 pm (UTC)
only the fortunate few get published

Actually, the fortunate few do get published. The ones who have done their homework, as you've described it.
jongibbs
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
The smart ones :)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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