The blog of author Harper Alexander

Take Your Pick – Talented and Hardworking, or Lucky; and you can’t choose Lucky

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You hear it more and more, these days – that success in the publishing industry is as much about luck as it is anything else.  And the evidence of that is everywhere, really.  Many a best-selling author‘s story consists of querying a bazillion agencies and almost giving up, or putting everything they had into their book until they were literally penniless, before all of a sudden landing that one break, catching a single person’s interest and taking off, much to the chagrin of all those who previously turned them down.

Then there are the best-sellers that kind of just glided through their entire creation and query process and slipped right to the top, but in all honesty – many of us can’t say why they’re there.  There’s nothing all that ‘special’ about them, and often there’s a common opinion that these authors can hardly even form coherent sentences.  It’s frustrating to those of us who put lots of deep thought and professional effort into creating something we strive to make actually good, not just catchy or cool, and to those of us who were maybe at the top of any class that involved writing and therefore know we can write at least as well as we ought to be able to.

And I’m not trying to speak big-headedly, here – I know there are many of you who can agree that you’ve opened one of those infamous best-sellers to investigate its charm, and have come to the same conclusion: I could have totally written this, if I’d wanted to.  Often, with me, that’s accompanied by a ‘But of course I would never have wanted to’.  I just feel as though there are many books out there, these days, that just aren’t that good.  They’re the kind of thing that make it easy to say ‘If this can be published, so can I’.  But somehow, it’s not that easy.  Not by a long shot.  The fact that Twilight got published doesn’t make anyone the least bit more interested in our equally-passable if not (I’m going to be presumptuous here, but not just on my part – on yours, too) superior work.

So what gives?  Well, we answered that in the very first sentence of this post, unfortunately.  Actually, you didn’t even need to read past the title.  We kind of started with the main point and moved on from there.  But there are some things in life that deserve (or demand) a ramble or a rant from time to time, and this is one of them.  At least I think so.  If you agree, then you’re reading this without the need to be rewarded for your time looking into it with anything more than the empathetic knowledge that someone else feels your pain in this matter.  If not, then you’re probably reading this because you’re one of those looking for a solution.  A trick to charm your way in with the rest of the lucky ones.

Well, let me put it this way: if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’re one of the lucky ones.  It likely won’t be any special ‘trick’ that gets you your break.  The dice will either land on you or they won’t.  Fate will either smile on you or pass you on by.  BUT – while you’re here looking for solutions, we might as well dig up some tips that could boost your chances where ‘luck’ is concerned.

Tip # 1: You can make the conscious choice to stick with natural-born talent and respectable hard work, or stop pretending all that matters and start writing Twilight.

Tip # 2: You can write a million books.  The more books you write, the better chance you have of one of them striking it big, or at least catching on.

Tip #3: You can write NUMEROUS books, or perhaps short stories or novellas, and based on feedback or self-published sales take your writing in whichever direction seems to bring you the most success.

Tip # 4: You can write TWO books (or a series), and max out the first volume with every manner of free promotion you can apply to it.  You won’t be making money off of that first book, but ‘free’ things reach a HUGE audience, and if your work is something that the public will in fact take to, they’ll buy the second volume (and maybe the third/fourth/fifth/twenty-sixth.

Tip # 5: You become famous some other way, and then tell your fans that you dabble in writing on the side and happen to have a self-published book they should check out.  Or just write an autobiography, at that point, and you’re set.

Tip # 6: Become RICH some other way, and invest in all kinds of over-the-top advertising that reaches essentially everyone.

Tip #7: Write a million books and simply sell one of each.  They don’t even have to be good.

Probably, only numbers 2, 3, and 4 will be of any use.  And of course, number 2 is only useful if we take out the ‘million’ part and stick in a more reasonable number.  Perhaps ‘dozens’ is more realistic.  ONE dozen is a good place to start.

I’m a firm believer that hard work and dedication do pay off, so whatever happens – don’t give up completely.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s written anywhere that hard work and dedication will make you famous, however, so my advice would be to focus instead on nurturing that small-scale loyal fanbase.  Do what you can to expand, and get to know your readers!  Find ways to interact with them!  They’ll think it’s totally cool, and it will be rewarding for you as well.  And if you strike it big somewhere down the line, you may just be happy you took the time (had the chance) to dedicate some attention to the few loyal readers that you could.

My other general word of advice: don’t take the advice to quit what you’re writing to write Twilight.  If you feel as though your work has soul, keep at it.  If you must, write a Twilight-equal book as an experiment, under another pen name.  If it works – great, you have a way to pay the bills while you follow your worthwhile endeavors.  If not…at least you proved Twilight isn’t they key to everything, or the only hope for all of us who aspire to do so much more.

(Just to be clear, here, I don’t hate Twilight as much as most of the Twilight-haters.  I just happened to be underwhelmed by it while everyone else around me raved about it, and I do have my issues with it and its subsequent popularity.)


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