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.
Kathryn Magendie says
Amen to this, Nathan; another gem.
Caridad Pineiro says
Sad, but true. There is very little control, but you've got to give it your best no matter what.
You make good points Nathan and it certainly supports something I've been thinking about for the last few months about what to consider success.
I would love to sell a story or my manuscript and I figure eventually I will, but it can be daunting to continue to write in the face of rejection after rejection.
I'm trying this year to redefine success and limiting that to the things I can control.
If I can write a good story/manuscript and finish it and submit it, that's one for the win column. I've done everything I can, as well as I can, which is a lot more than I used to do (I'd either not write, or write and not finish).
If it gets rejected, so be it. It's evidence that I did what I had to do and a step forward.
Everything will happen when it happens and how it wants to happen.
I'm trying to woo Fate the best I can–gifts, compliments, etc. I even offered to help him move once. But to no avail. That dude's a rock.
Thanks for the reminder, Nathan. Guess your pep talk means I need to jettison my procrastination/fear of rejection excuses and get back to work polishing my novel so opportunity can come knockin'…
Lisa Schroeder says
I totally agree, Nathan. And I think the sooner an author admits a lot of this business is out of his/her control and focuses on what is – the writing – the better off he/she will be.
Pam Stucky says
When I was a kid, my family went on many road trips and thus we played every manner of road trip game one can imagine. This included, of course, the license plate game where we watched to see what states other cars on the road came from.
As one does when one is on the road, we saw tons of U-hauls. One day my dad commented, "I wonder how many rentals it takes before a U-haul truck has been to every state?"
I thought a bit and then said, "It's totally hit or miss. Just by chance, one truck could be used exclusively for local moves, and could be rented 100 times and never leave the state. And another truck could be rented for a cross-country move on its first trip. It's completely random."
I agree with what you're saying. To a degree we have control and to a degree we don't. However, I also believe that waiting for opportunity to knock is a waste of time. I'm not waiting. I'm going out and knocking on doors to see if I can find where opportunity lives.
Exhausting, yes. But I'm not going to leave any more up to Fate than I have to!
"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."
I love that you said this. I also think that you shouldn't be someone you're not to be more marketable.
Also, having no control is not sad, it's what makes art amazing. You have no idea what will happen. Just let go and go with it.
Mr. D says
There's another word for it. Luck.
Lori Benton says
I think of it as the God Factor, since He's more interested in my well being than Fate, but yes. I agree.
I heard someone say once (maybe it was you) that if publishers knew how to make a book a bestseller, they would do it for every book they publish.
Genevieve Ching says
I think you only have so much control as an author, and most of that control revolves around the writing itself. For me, I've taken consolation in the mail I receive from readers who say The Soulkeepers has meant something to them personally. Just one of those emails is worth a thousand sales to me
Rick Daley says
I just give the Magic 8-Ball a shake. Works every time. Outlook good.
Bryce Daniels says
That DID rhyme. And a Happy National Poetry Month to all!!
See Elle Oh says
Hear hear. It's important to keep in perspective that there's only so much you can do, with a manuscript or any other endeavor.
Pitcher Lefty Gomez used to say, "I'd rather be lucky than good." But, you can only work to make yourself good. Luck's a far too coy and mercurial mistress to court.
Darlene Underdahl says
Yep, drop the head, tuck in the tail, and keep on keeping on.
This reminds me of a saying my Mom taught me as a kid.
Work on the things you can control. Accept the things you can't control, and pray that God teaches you how to figure out which is which.
Tara Tyler says
Unfortunately, it's not always the perfect books that make it – it's more the perfect fit or perfect timing.
Danielle Spears says
When I was in Cross Country in high school and falling behind all the gazelles, I had a friend who stuck by me. This friend had a motto that we'd breathlessly chant as we tried to keep up: Do your best and God will do the rest.
Josin L. McQuein says
If you want to see an instance of how every advantage doesn't necessarily guarantee success, read Aprilynne Pike's blog.
Her BFF was a mega writer of sparkly-vampire proportions and passed her book along to her own agent. It took A YEAR with recommendation to get the agent, after every other one she queried passed. And then, with the superstar agent and mega-seller BFF… the book didn't sell. Her next series, Wings, sold and became a best-seller.
Fate's part of it, but even if you're in a plum situation and no one wants what you're selling, you're out of luck.
And I hate when people say Paolini self-published Eragon. It's not really true. His parents owned an actual indie press and used it to publish the book. They used their already established connections to get the signing in that bookstore. Had he actually self-published, with no connections, no one would have given him the time of day or table space to sell.
The English Teacher says
So true and yet so depressing.
It's true with lots of things in life, though. The other guy often wins. And the bad guys often prosper.
Fine, thanks for this lovely, upbeat start to my Thursday, Nathan!
Mercy Loomis says
I will paraphrase the many people who've said this: You can't control luck, but you can work your tail off so that when luck strikes you're ready to take full advantage of it.
Work as if luck is about to strike you.
This post was not intended to be removed by the author, but fate stepped in and the author had no choice.
It's an industry of "if's" that really fosters discontent in many ways. "If I can just tell a strong story well, if I can just get an agent, if I can just find a publisher,if I can just get a review in that newspaper or blog, if I can just make it on the NYT bestseller list, if I can just attract a movie producer" – it NEVER ends. I'm pretty sure the only way to be happy as a writer is to concentrate on the first goal and let the rest unfold as it will (with a little marketing effort, of course.)
Robena Grant says
Yep, luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity. I think Deepak Chopra said that. : )
And more than fate, I think what makes the biggest difference in the sale of a book is word of mouth. Authentic word of mouth, from people who have actually read the book.
Karen Peterson says
I heard someone once say, "People have no idea how many years it takes to become an overnight success."
I think this Fate Factor is applicable to so many things in addition to becoming a successful novelist. It's the same principle in sports, the film industry, and even blogging.
There are some blogs out there that are incredibly well-written with great stories/advice/products that had small followings, while blogs that rarely see any editing and that are rambling and messy become really popular.
Uber-success is hard work mingled with luck.
D.G. Hudson says
You mean Amazon hasn't cornered the Fate Factor yet? It's nice to know there are some things that can't be achieved by connecting all the dots in the right sequence. There has to be room for the unknown factor (timing, great idea, etc).
I like the idea of new writers being discovered who don't know someone in the business or who don't have huge budgets. The path must not be too controlled or the creative may not rise above the mundane writers who navigate the waters better.
So to summarize, if Fate is involved, our chances are about as good as looking at a crystal ball. Hmmm. Wonder if ol' Fate is amenable to a sacrifice of some kind or a shrine? Didn't that work in the old days?
This kind of reminds me of the stick boats we toiled over and launched as kids down the side of the curb after a decent rain storm. I can still remember running along beside my boat as it careened off the others. We were all so impatient to give the necessary nudge when the boats invariably got hung up on some unforeseen obstacle. It’s amazing how far we went from home.
"Opportunity can't knock if it can't find your door."
And that's going into the "life's great quotes" section of my brain.
Matthew MacNish says
I can't decide how uplifting this is. It's somewhere above zero, but I'm not sure how high.
This post makes me happy. I simply don't have all the time to devote to marketing a book, looking happy, looking intelligent, giving interviews, sounding authorly, etc etc, like other people have. And you know what, that's not holding me back from hitting it big.
Jan Morrill says
Good to remember, Nathan. That's why, though I'm attempting everything you mentioned in your first paragraph, ultimately I believe, "Que sera, sera." 🙂
February Grace says
You can tell us the truth: do Jedi mind tricks work to help sell books?
Just Another Day in Paradise says
We really only have the "illusion of control" in most things. So make it happen for yourself. If you have a great story, in a well written book, that you saw through to completion consider it a major success. Never rely on luck, fate or coincidence, they really don't exist.
great point Nathan. Write and produce books for the love of it, not because you want money and fame. Keep it up!
I'm desperately hoping for a bit of Fate Factor.
I thought securing an agent at a top agency would mean instant publishing success, but although a deal in Germany came though pretty quickly, my novel is proving much trickier to sell in my home country (the UK). My agent has faith, but I admit I'm struggling to hold on to mine!
Kurt Hartwig says
JK Rowling very nicely says, "I believe in hard work and luck, and that the first often leads to the second."
No guarantees, of course, but a good practice.
You might also include the cliche of "work smarter not harder" in there.
…and isn't the "fate factor" one of the beautiful things about living? It's ubiquitous for a reason. The not knowing, and not being able to have full control of our destinies is one of the key components of this whole human experience. Not only is it what may help or keep us from being published, but, more importantly, I think it's one of the central themes we should address as writers. Maybe there's some wisdom to putting writers through the fate factor publishing hell since we are the ones who are there to provide beauty to human struggle for the masses of readers. Just a thought. Thanks, Nathan.
Sheila Cull says
"No wonder! This is why it hasn't happened yet," yelled Sheila
Paul Dillon says
It has the be the case that, in today's market, many of the 20th century's "classic" novels wouldn't make it out of the slush pile if submitted by an unknown author.
Rebecca Kiel says
Isn't this true for everything?
You can do all the invitro available, and still not have a baby. You can go to fifty job fairs and still not get a job to fed your family. You can train for twenty years and still not be the fastest runner.
It is almost as if we need to forget we are not in control. Whether it be a baby, job or gold medal (or publishing contract!) we want we've got to give it our all. If we fall short of our dreams or become the next big name, then we can face the powerful Fate.
Sierra McConnell says
I like to believe it isn't Fate. It's called God. And He's always ready for you to listen.
Rebecca Stroud says
Great, great post, Nathan. One I especially needed of late as I am notorious among friends/family for my "sucky" timing.
Anyway, I loved your "opportunity can't knock if it can't find your door." Only problem is, I have huge signs posted "Here's my door!" yet it still goes over to my neighbor's house..:-)
Seriously – as an ebook author – I'm about done with the social marketing side for now. I have to get back to the writing and just cross fingers that Fate – aka Oprah – stumbles across my dog-stories.
Till (ahem) then, I'll keep on keepin' on.
It's a bit like accepting death, I suppose. But life begins again with each new book.
May we have many lives.
Definitely something to think about.
I'l go further and say it is fate (if fate is defined more as random luck and not providence) + self + other supports. I haven't actually read Gladwell's Outliers, but I know enough people that have to get the basics which seem to be: You can work really hard and you should work really hard but you still, very often, need others to believe in you. And you still, very often, need the right circumstances like place and time and means.
Probably most success stories were realized because somebody–a somehow important somebody–believed in the talents or gifts or whatever of that person. Like Jackson Pollack's wife, Lee. Or Venus and Serena's dad. Or Hiaasen's stepson. Etc. Etc. People who believe and people that have connections can make all the difference. Which is why you'll have a better chance of being the next Conan O'Brien if you go to Harvard and not University of Northern Iowa.
Preperation + Opportunity = Success.
@February Grace – Unfortunately, Jedi mind tricks with a wave of the hand do not work to sell books, even though my books are the books you are looking for.
The Pen and Ink Blog says
Ah yes, "The Fickle Finger of Fate".
If you'd ever read Phoebe Atwood Taylor's Leonidas Witherall Mysteries
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_Atwood_Taylor#Leonidas_Witherall) yyoou would me most familiar with this mysterious finger.
I love the gifts of fate.
Well, I agree and I disagree.
Timing in the culture matters alot. Writing a book is communicating to people, and whether your book speaks to the people of the current culture is definitely a matter of timing.
Of course, some books are ahead of their time, and may hit the culture a century later. We don't always know the impact of our writing. Sometimes having just one person read our book can have much more of an impact than we realize.
But with the rise of e-publishing, alot of blocks to writers are fading away. It used to be much, much more about luck. Did you send your MS to the right agent, at the right time, and did they submit to the right editor at the right time, etc? If not, your manuscript would likely end up in a drawer. Even if it was good.
Without self-publishing Amanda Hocking and John Locke and Christoper Paolini and the Shack guy would all probably be unpublished.
The fact that all of those blocks are fading away doesn't take away from the timing factor, but it makes it so, so, so, much easier to find an audience.
The time has never, in the history of mankind, been a better time to be a writer.
I really believe that it will get even better. I think ways to find the best self-published books will arise, and help readers find their book match.
It used to be so hard to find books! Drive to the book store and wander around. Now, a few clicks on-line, and poof, it's there! I think it will get easier and easier.
So, I think you're right about the Fate Factor, Nathan, and right to advise people to let go of it, because you really can't control some things, but I also think the Fate Factor is less right than it used to be.
I will just pray that fate is on our side, and do all the other marketing/blogging/facebook/twitter stuff.
Great post, you always have a way of putting these up just before I start hitting my head against the desk.
Thanks, you have successfully protected my forehead from any new bruising.