- Have a website or “landing page” for his/her book
- Use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.)
- Develop a “platform”
- Build connections with a community of readers
- Develop an email list/newsletter
- Have an amazing book, a professional cover, and a catchy blurb
- Make smart use of sales tactics like price points and free Kindle days
- Never, never, never, never give up
I’ve been wondering, though, if one more thing shouldn’t be added to the list: To succeed, a writer needs to be really lucky.
I can hear the howls now: Luck has nothing to do with it! It’s all about talent and perseverance and building a community of readers…
True. It’s hard to imagine success without those things, but I still think a measure of luck has something to do with it, at least in some cases.
And let me add right away that I’m not blaming my shortcomings as a writer on my lack of luck. And I’m not bitching about other people being luckier than me. I place most of the blame for my shortcomings on the fact that I’m a novice marketer, trying to learn the ropes as I go after having spent the last thirty-plus years learning my craft and living with the illusion that I’d eventually land a deal with a publisher who’d do all that marketing for me.
For the most part, I’ve been trying to do all those things in the bullet points above, some better than others. Success hasn’t exactly been forthcoming, but it depends on how one measures success. To keep from failing at that last bullet point, I measure success in terms of just having books that are out there and having had some readers find them through my efforts (directly or indirectly) and be entertained by my storytelling. If I measured success in the hundreds of dollars or in averaging one sale per day in an average month, then the measurement would fall short. I’m not there yet. But I can live with it.
I’m just finishing a week of free promos for my books after having launched the second in my Ace Stubble series, Unfinished Business. I noticed that on the days when Take Back Tomorrow was free, there were a lot of downloads (68) through the German arm of Amazon. Out of curiosity, I did a Google search and found that a German free-book-promo site had picked up the listing for my book and featured it; so there are 68 English-speaking German readers with my book in their Kindles, and a handful of them are likely to read it.
Those are 68 (potential) readers I hooked up with strictly by chance. Yes, the people who say you make your own luck will argue that I put myself out there and thought positively and created the opportunity by making the book free in the first place. But so did several thousand other indie writers on the same day. The people who run that German site picked my book out of thousands and featured it without any other input from me. Maybe they liked the cover, or the selections from book reviews I included in my blog post about the free day. And maybe if I’d listed the book on a different day, the site administrators would have been in a different mood or had their eye caught by a different book. And so it goes.
On other free days, I’ve had other promo sites feature my books, resulting in thousands of free downloads. And on still other days those same books (with the same covers and blurbs and the same outreach on my part to the promo sites) have gone unnoticed, resulting in a couple hundred downloads instead.
It strikes me as rather random. As do other aspects of success.
I was reading another indie writer’s blog where he was analyzing the wild but temporary success he had on Amazon after his novel was featured in an Amazon-generated list of recommended books; his was the only indie book on the list, and he suddenly found himself with sales comparable to the pros his book was rubbing elbows with. Upon investigating, the writer discovered that his book had been included in the list because it looked so good, so professionally put together, that the Amazon editors had assumed this self-published book had come from a small press. While the author did a fantastic job of designing and marketing his book, the fact that it got noticed by these Amazon editors and recommended on a list of professionally designed books was, really, just a matter of luck–something the author was quick to acknowledge.
Why that book and not one of the other thousands of solidly designed indies, or even other professionally published books? Random chance maybe? The editors in a particular mood on a particular day and having some indefinable thing catch their eye that on another day would have slipped right past?
I don’t know the answer, but it does seem to me that random chance has something to do with the reason some writers shoulder ahead of others who are equally good, and oftentimes even better. And those better books never get noticed.
The same probably holds true in traditional publishing where one skilled writer gets picked up by an agent or editor on a given day while an equally skilled writer gets rejected–partly because the first one was in the right place at the right time.
Imagine the previously unpublished author of a teen vampire romance whose query comes up in an agent’s queue the same week that the first Twilight book shoots into the literary stratosphere. The agent snaps the book up and is pitching it to publishers in a heartbeat while the other queries in the queue–all by equally unknown writers, some with more talent and some with less than the author of the Twilight clone–get rejections because the agent can take on only so many new clients.
Surely there are books that deserve rejection, but there are others that, in a different week, would have outshone the book that got signed. Does being lucky guarantee this hypothetical author success? Not at all. But it gives that writer a hell of a better shot at it than the others who go back to the slush pile.
I don’t mean to sound defeatist or to say it’s all about chance. This isn’t sour grapes (I don’t have a bestseller because I never got lucky, etc.). No, talent and marketing and skill and savvy all help put the writer in a position where the odds are better. But it really does seem to me that, at least in some cases, luck is as much a factor as talent.
And in some cases, more.
No one seems to talk about it, though. Maybe because it’s something that can’t be taught–or sold–on a website.