“Luck” in Publishing

A friend of mine gave me an idea for this post: the factor of “luck” in publishing — traditional publishing, not self-publishing.  Do those who’ve gotten published really have better writing skills or connections to the gatekeepers of the industry? Or is it simply a matter of luck and randomness?

Many writing instruction books will tell you that sometimes luck does play a role in getting published. Your work might have been in exactly the right place at the right time. Perhaps you’re writing a book about robots and by the time you get around to submitting to agents and publishing houses, books about robots just happens to be the new trend. Maybe the particular agent you’ve queried happens to like the exact type of story that you’ve written.

I would say that luck probably accounts for a small percentage of reasons why work gets accepted. I think the main factor is determination. You’ve got to keep on sending your work out, even after it gets rejected. I forget who said it, but someone said, “Every no is just one step closer to yes.”

Compliance with the publisher’s submission guidelines is another factor. If you show that you can follow simple instructions, your work will not be judged as harshly as the sloppy, coffee-stained query letter that arrives in the crumpled envelope. Still, compliance and following instructions don’t necessarily equal skill, which is obviously a large factor. Even so… you can be the most skilled writer of all time, but if you have no determination or you can’t follow directions, you’re not going to get anywhere.

To quote a Fort Minor song, getting published may just boil down to a random formula: “ten percent luck, twenty percent skill, fifteen percent concentrated power of will, five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain…”

Publication Fixation

We tell ourselves that we write because we love to write and because we can’t not write. We tell ourselves that we don’t care if our writing sees the light of day or not. We tell ourselves that we essentially write for ourselves and not for anyone else.

Then why do we want to get published? Surely not for the money or for the fame, which are practically nonexistent (unless you are in the top 0.001% of writers who reach a great level of fame and riches). For the recognition? For bragging rights? To be able to tell people that you’re a published author? To feel your physical book in your hands and flip through its pages? Because of peer pressure (all your writer friends are getting published, so you should, too)?

Perhaps it’s all of those things. Every human being (to some extent) wants to be recognized and praised for his work. What we don’t want is the hard parts of publication: self-editing, receiving critiques and feedback, waiting on the slow wheels of the traditional publishing industry to turn, marketing…

Some people think that there is no point to writing or art unless it’s showcased or published or shared with others. If you choose not to publish or not to share, then these critics think that you’re “eccentric” or that you’re “wasting your time” on something that will only be seen by one set of eyes: your own. These critics might even think that you’re too “pretentious” and that you think your art is “too good” for anyone else to see.

This is something I struggle with. Am I hesitating because I fear the hard steps in the publication process? Am I hesitating because I genuinely believe my work is not ready yet? Am I afraid to share what I have created? Am I just making a lot of lame excuses? It could be a mixture of all of those things.

As hard as it is to overcome, fear of publication is part of the process in itself. Here’s to overcoming the fear and pressing forward — whether you ultimately choose publication or not!