Ya gotta play to win


Roulette wheelLast weekend I came across a series of blog posts by author Delilah S. Dawson about author self-promotion; and, as an author who has been trying to crack self-promotion for years, naturally I decided to read her posts.  I started with Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work, and without recapping everything in there, I’ll just say my takeaway was that Delilah’s secret to writing success boils down to one thing.

Unfortunately, that thing is luck. Blind, steenkeeng luck.

In her post, she outlines why social media does so little-to-nothing to sell books, and I found I couldn’t argue with a single one of her points (having seen them in inaction myself).  Then she got around to describing what she sees as the writer’s formula for success… and it’s very telling:

The recipe seems to be GREAT BOOK + HARD WORK + TIME + LUCK.

And the writer can only control three of those things.

What Delilah’s saying is that luck, the thing you can’t control, is a major factor in a writer’s success—and I might go so far to say that it is such a major factor that the equation should read:


You math fans will understand right off what I did there, but for those who aren’t: “GREAT BOOK + HARD WORK + TIME,” the work, are all important; but all of them hinge on LUCK to succeed.  With all that work, times zero luck, you will fail.  Or, with very little work, but a whole lotta luck, you can succeed anyway.  (Ask a Kardashian.)  LUCK is the secret ingredient.  And you’ll either get it, like the lucky few—or you won’t, like the unlucky many.

I mean sure, just like with the lottery, ya gotta play to win; and in writing, you play by being prepared if your lucky break happens.  You have to have a good book, be prepared to impress the right people, know the right things to say.  But being prepared only works if you get the chance to use it… if luck strikes.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  You actually can do things to increase your odds—like writing stories that an audience has already proven (by sales) that they want—or spending lots of money (if you’re lucky enough to have it) on promotional marketing—or utilizing influential contacts (if you’re lucky enough to have or cultivate them) to help promote you—etc.  But you have to remember that all of these are only odds-improvers.  The final win-lose scenario is still all up to blind, steenkeeng luck.

The Card PlayerThis is particularly disheartening for me because, for most of my life, well… my luck has usually been bad, and I’ve often squandered opportunities when it’s occasionally been good.  But the cool thing about luck is, it really doesn’t work in streaks; it’s completely random.  You might have 300 unlucky draws in a row before you have a good one… or it could come on your second draw.  So you never know… you might not see a lucky break for years… or it might happen this Wednesday.

Now, if you accept that idea, then it puts the rest of your promotional efforts under a new perspective: You are now no longer actively doing anything to get discovered and hit it big in self-publishing; you are doing everything to be fully prepared if when if when luck strikes.  It doesn’t exactly take the pressure off, but it does put your predicament in a more palatable place, and ought to make you feel a little better during those periods when nothing is happening for you.  Honestly, it makes me feel better.

So the only question remains: If when if when luck strikes… will you be prepared?

If you’re wondering whether I’ll be prepared… well, no one wonders that more than I.  But I’m working on it.  Now that I know the score, I’m trying to make myself more prepared every day.  And I’ll keep doing that until either I win… or I get tired of the steenking game and cash out.

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