It’s tempting to think that if you just write the perfect book, if you just write the right query, find the right agent and the right publisher, if they just give you the right marketing push, if you just do the right bloggy/Facebooky/Twittery activities, if you get the right reviews…. you totally have it made in the shade.
In other words, it’s tempting to think you have control.
And you do have control! Some.
You can write the best book you can. But worse books than yours will go on to be successful.
You can do the best promotion you can. But books that were promoted less than yours will go on to be successful.
You can be courteous and professional to everyone. But people who aren’t as nice as you will go on to be successful.
At the end of the day, there’s a powerful, important force that you can’t control that will determine how successful your book will be. And that’s the Fate Factor.
The Shack was self-published with a $300 marketing budget and it went on to be a #1 bestseller.
Christopher Paolini self-published Eragon, he struggled to tour around selling handfuls of copies, until novelist Carl Hiassen’s stepson happened to buy it and like it. Hiassen passed it on to Knopf, and the rest, of course, is history.
There are lots and lots of stories like this of books with the most modest of beginnings that hit the right note at the right time, get the right boost at the right time, and take on a life of their own.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all try and do everything we can. I truly believe that it pays to give yourself every boost you can. Opportunity can’t knock if it can’t find your door. All that work you put into your book, all that work you put into marketing… it does matter. It does.
It’s just that when it’s all said and done, the book is going to do what it does. It’s going to sell what it sells. And that’s alright.
All you can do is try your best and hope the Fate Factor does the rest.
Natalie Aguirre says
So true. We should really focus on what we can control. At least that's what I'm trying to focus on.
Another great post. You are so right.
I think the biggest thing a writer can do (besides write on and keep the faith) is be ready. Be ready for the knock of opportunity to come. Be ready to fail, be ready to succeed. Be ready to work hard, and be ready to work harder. But above all, be ready for Fate to drop in, because she's fickle, and you just never know. 🙂
Thanks, Nathan. Loved it.
Tori Scott says
Love, love this post. Once you admit you're not as control as you think you are, or want to be, it's actually liberating. Thanks for the great thoughts!
Liz Alexander says
The Fate Factor has played a huge role in my publishing success. Some highlights:
1. My first book was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to (directly, not through an agent – yep, the complete manuscript, no proposal or anything — ah, those good old days of the late 1990s!) and was pivotal in launching a new career for me as a TV broadcaster in the UK;
2. A newsletter landed on my desk when I was an alternative health journalist many years ago, containing a request from a niche publishing house for authors for various titles. One of those titles The Book of Crystal Healing literally jumped off the page. I could SEE my name on the front cover. I did go on to write it — and it's my second best-selling book with something like 180,000 sales worldwide. It also led me to write three further books for the same publisher, one of which has sold 200,000 copies and still earns me royalties.
3. I was interviewing the CEO of Random House in the UK for a professional development magazine, for which I was briefly the editor. Upon telling her that I'd written three books she said, "Then you should write for us," picked up the phone and called one of her commissioning editors to meet with me. Working from the Heart: A Practical Guide to Loving What You Do For a Living (now out of print) was the result.
Fate? I love it! Bring it on. LOL.
Barbara Kloss says
Absolutely true, and great to remember that. Thanks for yet another great post!
Lucinda Bilya says
As always, a great blog topic, and quite the poet today.
Yes, it is very tempting to think we have some control over our lives. However, willing ourselves control over fate is much like trying to harness the wind like a wild stallion. Some horses can’t be ridden and attempting to control them, results in one hairy ride.
After one more job interview today, along the route back home, I realized that in today’s world, we measure success by a different ruler. Hard work, strong work ethics, and even education doesn’t measure up to the magic found in poise.
King Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun. Although there are many more things under the sun, basic human nature remains the constant. At a time when inventions inflamed the imaginations like vampires and zombies do today, people had hope and wonder. Today, we must have a unique twist on old concepts, a new flare so daring that it makes our heads spin, or an answer that defies the choices presented to us, or we are merely ordinary.
Ordinary surrenders to fate.
Most of us know of Phyllis Diller and her crazy hair. How many of us can turn a bad-hair day into a lifetime of success?
Vampires that glow in the sun instead of burning up and are capable of living a near-normal life on the outside with families, houses, school, and love, is a new twist on an old concept.
Adding love to war such as Pearl Harbor…
Adding heart to tragedy gives a new flavor to crime, war, disasters, or mystery.
Twist fate until it yields.
Mike Larson has some great tips on failing your way to success.
Thanks again, Nathan for a great blog and forgive me for such a long response. It has been one of those days…
Laurie Boris says
Thank you. I needed this today!
McKenzie McCann says
I hope the Fate Factor is on my side. That would be GREAT. I need it :c
Adam Heine says
A geek analogy, but hey, that's what I do…
It's like playing Settlers of Catan. You can't control how the dice fall, but you have to do everything else you can to put the odds in your favor.
I can only speculate but I wonder if we sometimes create our own fate through our beliefs and corresponding actions. Also I've read that positivity of attitude draws to us positive energies and outcomes while negativity draws like energies to the person who dwells on that side of things. Regarding book sales, I think if a book is something people want to read and get the most enjoyment from, then this is the book that will sell well. Twilight, to use one example, was the right book at the right time and it had some lovely things going for it: originality, interesting characters and uplifting values. In a world dominated with powerful media groups (news and entertainment) that often push the grosser elements, Twilight – despite the dark theme of vampirism – had light and sweetness. I think many people are drawn to that. Of course there are the sensational books that aren't about sweetness and light that sell well, perhaps because they, too, are breaking new ground at the time? I think art should move the culture forward. but if it settles on a well=loved theme for awhile that's ok, too.
I think the most successful books give the reader something substantial, and their success is not a coincidence or forged in stone.
Timing, I think, is crucial. I don't like to think it's random because that makes me panic. Let's call it "alchemical" which is magical randomosity (which is not a word except I just made it up)
I do think you can give Fate a nudge. I've seen writers who just assumed the publisher would do everything and sat back and did very little. After a couple of so-so reviews, their books disappeared.
Much as we might complain about having to do our own marketing, it does make a difference. If even on a small scale, you can connect with readers, you'll "grow" your reader base, little by little.
The problem is that many expect it to happen overnight. Even the overnight successes don't happen overnight!
Donna Hole says
Thats why I make plans for when the third novel sells big time, not the first.
Until then, I take Dori's attitude: Just keep swimming.
Kevin Lynn Helmick says
Better known as "The Luck Factor." Its a strange and mysterious thing where and when lightning strikes. We have all read books, even bestsellers, where we thought 'I can do better than that. I HAVE done better than that! What's going on here?'
But… good fortune favors the bold and win or lose ya gotta show up and play. it may not happen in this life, or any another for that matter, but it might, and that's enough. If we write something that only a hand full of people dug, this year or a hundred years from now; thats still pretty cool in my book.
The Lemonade Stand says
wow. this post was awesome. I laughed. then I realized that sometimes fate's plans suck. Then I cried.
(Just kidding. I didn't really cry.:-)
Great post, I needed to hear this.
Rachael W says
Mercy Loomis said: "Work as if luck is about to strike you." I like that. Like, enough to copy it on a sticky note and paste it to my fridge.
Another great post, Nathan! Thanks!
Um…you might want to modify that quote, just to be on the safe side…
"Work as if GOOD luck is about to strike you."
Meghan Ward says
I'm always the last to comment! I do think hard work can help sway luck in our favor, but yes, I've heard stories about a book being turned down again and again by publishers, then picked up by a small press after a stroke of fate, and going on to become a bestseller. Just look at all the Swedish crime novels that are selling because of Stiegg Larsson's success. THAT's luck!
Marie Ohanesian Nardin says
Thank you Nathan for adding to a very similar conversation I had with my husband yesterday. So while I continue to improve my query letter, take another look at my synopsis, scout for the agent that fits my project and write my next novel, I'll keep an eye on my horoscope, too!
Fate – the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed.
Personally, I believe that one can influence fate. How about another universal principle – "like attracts like"? How about the power of the subconscious mind, the spirit?
Can your thoughts, your wants and desires that are transmitted by the spirit throughout the universe be strong enough to influence "fate"? I think…no, I know so.
Yes, I've read "The Secret" and although there is a lot of "over the top" examples and propaganda in the book; the basic premise is sound.
In fact, the underlying theme of my first novel is exactly that…the mind and the strength of it's faith/belief is immeasurably powerful.
This Bible verse Matthew 17:20 – "He (Jesus) replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." – has been misinterpreted by most people for hundreds of years. Jesus was not talking about faith in an omniscient God; rather, faith in the power of the universe that is in invested in all of us.
Look around you and back through history…those who have benefited mankind with their discoveries and inventions; those who were the great philosophers; the greatest artists and writers; the richest of the rich. The majority of these people were not religious, but they had faith in their own inner power…the mind and its ability to "move mountains".
So true. Risk taking and hard work are important factors as well. I've blogged about it here. Nathan, do you really believe the query system will survive? I've often wondered if you saw the writing on the wall when you turned in your agent badge. I've blogged about why it will die here:
Rachael W says
@ Holly — Ah, yes, specifying good luck is important. But I figure I've had enough bad luck come at me in the last eight months, it's got to be good luck's turn. I hope. =)
And sometimes it works just the opposite. Something you never imagined would sell winds up on a bestseller list and gets more attention than you ever wanted it to get.
I am a big fan of Eleanor Brown's advice to send off a book with the thought, "Bye bye book. Call when you've found work."
The bottom line is that I write because I love it. I am active on different forms of social media because I enjoy making connections with other readers and writers. I send thank yous to agents who read my work (even if they don't take it on) because I appreciate their time and I'm grateful for their feedback.
I do what I do because I love the life I'm living. I hope I get a publishing deal. I hope my book is fabulously successful — but those aren't my ultimate goals. Fate schmate (see, I can rhyme too) — I'm going to enjoy this ride.
RachaelW–If only. My inner cynic assures me it doesn't work like that. Whenever I am stoopid enough to ask, "How could things possibly get worse?", an answer is promptly dispatched.
Forget Fate, it's Murphy we have to watch out for. He's a law unto himself. Of course, Murphy and Fate may well be in cahoots…now that makes a lot of sense… 🙂
Marilyn Peake says
Just returned home from vacation. Tired, so I will express my agreement succinctly: Yup, you are so-so-so right. Spent the last week at Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios. At Universal Studios, we marveled at the extremely talented musicians, some middle-aged, playing in a theme park. Fate – the fickle ingredient of success.
Crosby Kenyon says
I'm still struggling, but I've been in the right place at the right time once or twice, so I know it happens.
….Don't crush my little spirit.
Actually, having zero control is something I can cope with.
It's the fact that worse books will become bestsellers that I cannot stand to think about.
RW Bennett says
This is such an excellent blog. I just got my first novel up this past week, so I'm less experienced at all this. The tremendous advice from so many terrific posters couldn't come at a better time for me. Commenters here give a writing class.
Cathi Stoler says
Nancy Lauzon says
So true, Nathan. Authors have so little control in this industry – but they're getting more. I published my first 3 novels through small press because I was sick of getting rejected by the big pubs. I had next to no distribution in the bookstores and the most hideous covers imaginable – luckily I used a pseudonym at the time. Recently I decided to 'reinvent' myself, use my real name, self-publish on Smashwords and make my own covers. Fate has its place, but at least now I'm in charge of my own career. I've already sold more e-books in one month than 2 publishers sold for me in 3 years. Suddenly writing is fun again. Yippee!
Claire Sierra says
Elizabeth Marshall pointed me to your post (thanks, E!) and this is just what I need to hear right now as I embark on completing, publishing and launching my book, the Magdalene Path. thanks for this!