Author Topic: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]  (Read 18157 times)  

Offline sela

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #125 on: April 18, 2017, 03:16:33 PM »
There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.
Robert A. Heinlein

I agree with this. What most people call luck I would call positive results based on the randomness of stuff outside your control that gives you a leg up -- if you respond appropriately. I would call it good timing and being prepared for those random events when they come along. 

I understand the refusal to acknowledge that luck plays a part in success. People often use the term "luck" to downplay successful people's success, often to make their own failure feel less biting. They think, "I deserve to be a success. I am not a success. That person has success and in my view, they are less (good, smart, skilled, talented -- fill in the blank) than I am. Therefore, that other person's success is undeserved and due to luck. Life is unfair, the system is rigged, and I no longer have to feel bad."

In the end, I believe I can only control my own behaviour. I have to deal with the external world that is not under my control including its randomness and respond to it. Sometimes, that randomness puts something good in my way and if I respond appropriately, I may increase my chances of success. Sometimes that randomness puts bad things in my way. Whether I succeed depends on how I respond.

Stuff happens outside of your control. You can only control how you respond to it. To that extent, your success is all up to your own hard work and response to the events that happen in your life.

In the end, when it comes to self publishing, you have to be a great storyteller (appropriate to your genre and category) to succeed in publishing. Not a great writer. A great storyteller. If you can tell a great story that pleases a large audience of readers, and if you can package it and get it in front of them, you can have huge success.

Without that ability to tell a story that entertains readers, all the other stuff will do nothing. Nor will the random events that might be considered lucky breaks. That badly told story packaged badly and languishing in invisibility, will go nowhere.

Offline KennySkylin

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #126 on: April 18, 2017, 03:41:27 PM »
Even Michael Jordan, with all his skill, had to rely on some bit of luck (plays working out a certain way, teammates willing to pass him the ball at just the right moment, an opponent not jumping to block at the exact second he throws, etc.).

I would argue that luck had very little to no influence on those types of situations. Jordan and his team's preparation and skills are what determined the outcome. Random events might have happened now and then in the games, but those are going to happen for both teams over time. Michael Jordan never won games or succeeded by relying on luck.

Offline Jena H

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #127 on: April 18, 2017, 04:06:30 PM »
Michael Jordan never won games or succeeded by relying on luck.
Agreed.  Relying on luck is a fool's errand.  But luck does occur and can tip the scales toward success.



What most people call luck I would call positive results based on the randomness of stuff outside your control that gives you a leg up....
Yep, that's pretty much the definition of luck.

« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 04:08:05 PM by Jena H »
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Online Rosalind J

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #128 on: April 18, 2017, 04:44:56 PM »
Things happen for a reason. You just don't know the reason. I don't mean magically or by destiny; I mean there are lots of factors, and you don't even understand your own, let alone someone else's.

I've had a lot of snide comments from authors over the years that I got lucky, hit the easy button, etc., because I didn't have any fiction training and had quick success. I thought I was super lucky also. But then I kept on being lucky, even writing other things, when the market changed, when the rules changed, etc.

Here's what I've come to realize. My husband says that everything in my life prepared me for this job, including many unglamorous things. I think it was more of a pulling together of lots of factors, as well as a willingness to take risks. And then it was keeping on writing and taking more risks and making innumerable decisions and trying really hard to be honest about what doesn't work. Including reading all the reviews and learning from them and working so hard at getting better.

But a whole lot of it has been work habits--a lifetime of being the A student and the good employee with her nose to the grindstone, the one who rewrote or retyped her notes for every single class.  Not listening when people said, "You need to treat this like a 9 to 5 job. You can't work seven days a week for months. Surely you don't need to write that many books to do well."

You get opportunities. Maybe that is luck, but mostly it's just how you grab the opportunity and keep going. For example, it wasn't luck that New Zealand rugby romance caught on. I wrote it because I knew it would, from paying attention to all sorts of things I could detail. And I had a strong voice because I was a strong and self-taught copywriter and had honed my voice that way. But I wrote fiction because I had some really, truly bad luck, and then I published it because of some more crappy luck. A lot of success is being able to pull yourself up from those low points and find a new strength from them. I know that sounds like a Hallmark card, but it's pretty true. Strength trainers don't build muscle by lifting tiny little weights. They get stronger from microscopic muscle tears and rebuilding.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 05:24:52 PM by Rosalind J »

Offline SC

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #129 on: April 18, 2017, 07:59:07 PM »
I don't believe in luck, at least not for big things or stuff like this. Luck is for gambling and small, meaningless things. Like when you're playing a video game and get a good boss drop. For anything that really matters, nah, I don't believe in luck.

Offline EBWriter

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #130 on: April 18, 2017, 11:10:56 PM »
Things happen for a reason. You just don't know the reason. I don't mean magically or by destiny; I mean there are lots of factors, and you don't even understand your own, let alone someone else's.

I've had a lot of snide comments from authors over the years that I got lucky, hit the easy button, etc., because I didn't have any fiction training and had quick success. I thought I was super lucky also. But then I kept on being lucky, even writing other things, when the market changed, when the rules changed, etc.

Here's what I've come to realize. My husband says that everything in my life prepared me for this job, including many unglamorous things. I think it was more of a pulling together of lots of factors, as well as a willingness to take risks. And then it was keeping on writing and taking more risks and making innumerable decisions and trying really hard to be honest about what doesn't work. Including reading all the reviews and learning from them and working so hard at getting better.

But a whole lot of it has been work habits--a lifetime of being the A student and the good employee with her nose to the grindstone, the one who rewrote or retyped her notes for every single class.  Not listening when people said, "You need to treat this like a 9 to 5 job. You can't work seven days a week for months. Surely you don't need to write that many books to do well."

You get opportunities. Maybe that is luck, but mostly it's just how you grab the opportunity and keep going. For example, it wasn't luck that New Zealand rugby romance caught on. I wrote it because I knew it would, from paying attention to all sorts of things I could detail. And I had a strong voice because I was a strong and self-taught copywriter and had honed my voice that way. But I wrote fiction because I had some really, truly bad luck, and then I published it because of some more crappy luck. A lot of success is being able to pull yourself up from those low points and find a new strength from them. I know that sounds like a Hallmark card, but it's pretty true. Strength trainers don't build muscle by lifting tiny little weights. They get stronger from microscopic muscle tears and rebuilding.

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Offline ThomasDiehl

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #131 on: April 19, 2017, 12:06:08 AM »
You cannot compare literary works to commercial fiction. There's a reason it's called commercial fiction.
Neither Lovecraft nor Poe are literary fiction writers. You can't just remove people from consideration because they ended up being regarded as classic literature posthumously. Also, nobody said a thing about genre restrictions, so far this has been about quality v luck, which should be a valid discussion across all genres, even if relative to the genre's overall commercial success.
Good fiction is good fiction, no matter the genre.

The problem with giving current examples is, I have no idea how successful the people I'd mention are. Not to mention public perception is skewed toward those already successful. It is really hard to look for unsuccessful writers (I mean, how do you even find them?), yet only when analyzing their failure in contrast to the successful ones is it even possible to really tell what apparent factors of success really are such.
E.g. I propose that quality in writing of all levels can be found at all levels of success. Crud will be more common in the lower success tires, but it will not make up 100% anywhere.

There's one example I stumbled upon, but that was a novella in German that has been pulled by the author a year ago. And it was literary fiction.
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Offline Douglas Milewski

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #132 on: April 19, 2017, 12:56:37 AM »
So does the same apply to trad publishing, with all its competitiveness? Is luck at all a factor in signing a contract?

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Offline Jena H

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #133 on: April 19, 2017, 03:42:37 AM »
So does the same apply to trad publishing, with all its competitiveness? Is luck at all a factor in signing a contract?
Even having a contract offered involves some measure of luck.  Catch an editor or agent on a bad day and they'll shove your query into the trash; catch them on a good day and they'll say, "hmm, this sounds somewhat promising" and ask for a sample.  We've all heard stories about how, back in the day, Famous Writer X got 20 (or 40, or 50) rejection letters before someone took a chance on him/her and offered a contract.  That speaks to the author's determination, certainly, but also to the fact that they didn't give up, and they had the time and energy to keep going, and that eventually they ran into an editor on a 'good day.'  Going even further back in the day, it meant that the writer even had the money to continue the process.  (I once knew a writer who said she delayed sending a manuscript out to an editor because she used her last bit of handy cash to buy milk.)
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Offline Jana DeLeon

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #134 on: April 19, 2017, 05:02:54 AM »
Neither Lovecraft nor Poe are literary fiction writers. You can't just remove people from consideration because they ended up being regarded as classic literature posthumously. Also, nobody said a thing about genre restrictions, so far this has been about quality v luck, which should be a valid discussion across all genres, even if relative to the genre's overall commercial success.

Yes, I can exclude them. Pick something current if you want to have a discussion about disregarded "quality" work that doesn't perform in the market. The market has changed since Lovecraft and Poe. Studying them tells you absolutely nothing. The discussion of luck is with regards to success which has been defined by most as making money. Commercial fiction makes money. And like it or not, certain genres of commercial fiction make more money than others because the readership pool is much bigger.

This is exactly the point of those of us refusing to admit luck. Picking a genre that has a large readership pool, then having the storytelling ability to write a book that not only meets the genre expectations of that readership but resonates with them emotionally is what makes a bestseller. But business acumen has to be deployed before you ever start writing. That's not luck. That's being a professional.
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Offline Kristen Painter

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #135 on: April 19, 2017, 05:43:35 AM »
One of my favourite sci-fi books of all time, Idyll by James Derry, was written by an (as yet) unsuccessful independent author.

I read as far as halfway through Chapter Two and just couldn't get into it. And I read everything from Craig Johnson to Loretta Chase, so my tastes are pretty varied.
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Offline Paul Hector Travis

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #136 on: April 19, 2017, 06:07:36 AM »
If you ask most uber-successful people, whether they be sportspersons, actors, popstars, business magnates etc., if their success has in any way relied on luck, most will admit it has. The right talent scout spotted them; the perfect business opportunity came up; they met the ideal bandmate by chance. Certainly, a huge amount of hard work and talent is required. I know a trad-pubbed author who freely admits that he would never secure an agent these days, as it's virtually impossible without the right connections. And how does one acquire such connections? Self-publishing is a little different, of course, and indies have the ability to make their own luck. However, should I ever achieve the targets I have in mind, I'll happily concede that I've had good fortune.

Offline Paul Hector Travis

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #137 on: April 19, 2017, 08:35:06 AM »
I read as far as halfway through Chapter Two and just couldn't get into it. And I read everything from Craig Johnson to Loretta Chase, so my tastes are pretty varied.

Fair enough. The world would be a very dull place if we all agreed on anything. Excellence in storytelling, something which I've seen referred to several times on here, is subjective. I dare say that I could read some of the recent indie books that have been successful, and not find them entertaining.

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #138 on: April 19, 2017, 11:35:09 AM »
I've had a lot of snide comments from authors over the years that I got lucky, hit the easy button, etc., because I didn't have any fiction training and had quick success. I thought I was super lucky also. But then I kept on being lucky, even writing other things, when the market changed, when the rules changed, etc.
I get those comments from people with MFAs in creative writing, English majors, and others who "cherish" good literature. The fact that I tested out of my college English classes, edited a university-level textbook while still in college, and taught university writing classes without ever taking one notwithstanding. I have not "paid my dues" or spent enough time "studying my craft", nor have I suffered through the requisite 100+ rejection letters to prove my "commitment to my art."

Yes, I cringe when I go back and read my first book. They continue to get better because I do study my craft and I am smarter than the average MFA graduate. I also work harder, and I do something a lot of them don't do. I write.

So what I think you are saying is don't listen to the advice of people who have no track record of success.  ;)
This is where my element of luck happened. I started paying attention to the right people.


« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 12:00:51 PM by brkingsolver »


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Offline ThomasDiehl

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #139 on: April 19, 2017, 11:52:36 PM »
Yes, I can exclude them. Pick something current if you want to have a discussion about disregarded "quality" work that doesn't perform in the market.
How? With old works I can call them quality and it is generally agreed upon they were quality authors. Wit current stuff, I have two problems: 1. I generally don't know how successful any given author is and 2. It boils down to works I personally like which does not neccessarily have anything to do with quality.

Quote
The market has changed since Lovecraft and Poe.
Indeed. EspeciallyLovecraft was really LUCKY to live in a time when short fiction was a far more viable market.

Quote
The discussion of luck is with regards to success which has been defined by most as making money. Commercial fiction makes money. And like it or not, certain genres of commercial fiction make more money than others because the readership pool is much bigger.
Yes, but that is exactly what I mean by a factor of luck. See, I can't stand romance for the life of me. I will never be able to write a good romance because that genre is far too far away from anything I enjoy reading or writing, from anything I could even conceive of plot-wise. I don't think I have a chance in the world of ever writing a good romance novel, no matter how much work I put in. Just like a blind man can't paint the Mona Lisa.
One of the forms luck comes in is the popularity of your favorite genre(s) in your lifetime.

Quote
This is exactly the point of those of us refusing to admit luck. Picking a genre that has a large readership pool, then having the storytelling ability to write a book that not only meets the genre expectations of that readership but resonates with them emotionally is what makes a bestseller. But business acumen has to be deployed before you ever start writing. That's not luck. That's being a professional.
And yet, there is a limited number of seats in the bestseller lists. There's only 100 seats in the Top 100 so if there are 101 people competing for it and all are as good as the others, one will have bad luck. Her campaign seen by the wrong eyes despite the right targetting just because targetting is never 100% acurate. Or it's September 12th, 2001, and she just wrote a book about a terrorist attack on NYC a week before.
In fact, all of us here are lucky, because we happen to speak a language that has a viable ebook market at all.

I still hold this true: Luck is extremely important. However, hard work can and does increase your chances of getting lucky to the point you can actually bruteforce your way into luck. But in the end, every book sells because the right pairs of eyes happened to see it at the right moments in time. And that, to me, is the very definition of luck.
Because no matter how much work you put in, you will never be ubiquitous, you will still rely on the right people being at the right places at the right time. Work increases the chances of that happening, but it does not guarantee it.
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Offline This_Way_Down

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #140 on: April 20, 2017, 03:14:29 AM »
How? With old works I can call them quality and it is generally agreed upon they were quality authors. Wit current stuff, I have two problems: 1. I generally don't know how successful any given author is and 2. It boils down to works I personally like which does not neccessarily have anything to do with quality.
Indeed. EspeciallyLovecraft was really LUCKY to live in a time when short fiction was a far more viable market.
Yes, but that is exactly what I mean by a factor of luck. See, I can't stand romance for the life of me. I will never be able to write a good romance because that genre is far too far away from anything I enjoy reading or writing, from anything I could even conceive of plot-wise. I don't think I have a chance in the world of ever writing a good romance novel, no matter how much work I put in. Just like a blind man can't paint the Mona Lisa.
One of the forms luck comes in is the popularity of your favorite genre(s) in your lifetime.
And yet, there is a limited number of seats in the bestseller lists. There's only 100 seats in the Top 100 so if there are 101 people competing for it and all are as good as the others, one will have bad luck. Her campaign seen by the wrong eyes despite the right targetting just because targetting is never 100% acurate. Or it's September 12th, 2001, and she just wrote a book about a terrorist attack on NYC a week before.
In fact, all of us here are lucky, because we happen to speak a language that has a viable ebook market at all.

I still hold this true: Luck is extremely important. However, hard work can and does increase your chances of getting lucky to the point you can actually bruteforce your way into luck. But in the end, every book sells because the right pairs of eyes happened to see it at the right moments in time. And that, to me, is the very definition of luck.
Because no matter how much work you put in, you will never be ubiquitous, you will still rely on the right people being at the right places at the right time. Work increases the chances of that happening, but it does not guarantee it.
You realize you are debating with a writer who has sold more books than almost everyone else here combined, right?
There is a reason for the limited spots at the table. Very few people have the combination of skills required. Making a living as a novelist is the NFL or the MLB. Only a certain number of players are good enough. It sounds elitist because it's an elite group. It takes more than being a competent writer, or even a decent marketer. The array of skills and talents required are very specific. I suppose if you have them all, you're lucky. But if you do, and you use them properly, it's not luck when you succeed.
Not every writer has the same goal. But if yours is to make a living as a novelist, and year after year you're still right where you started, there are harsh truths to face. It's probably that you simply don't have the necessary skill set. Most people learn to accept this. They don't stop writing. But they realize it's for their own enjoyment. Some become bitter and angry. That's usually when the topic of luck shows its head.
I said this in an earlier post, but it bears repeating. Feeling fortunate is not the same as being lucky.   

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #141 on: April 20, 2017, 03:33:46 AM »
Robert Heinlein was quoted earlier in this thread. Here's another one from him.

"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded here and there, now and then are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

"This is known as 'bad luck.'"


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Offline Sarah Shaw

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #142 on: April 20, 2017, 03:45:34 AM »
I was raised to treat my successes as a matter of luck and my failures as a result of not trying hard enough- while making the opposite assumptions- that success is due to hard work and failure to bad luck- for others. This still seems to me the wisest way to proceed. You never know, if you're successful, when an illness or injury, a change in public tastes or a personal tragedy may turn all your success to ashes. If you're unsuccessful, working hard and trying everything you can think of maximizes your chances of sooner or later catching a break. As far as other people go, we can never know their exact circumstances and why they aren't succeeding at what they do. To assume their failure is due to not working or trying hard enough just seems ungenerous.

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #143 on: April 20, 2017, 04:16:43 AM »
Making a living as a novelist is the NFL or the MLB. Only a certain number of players are good enough. It sounds elitist because it's an elite group. It takes more than being a competent writer, or even a decent marketer. The array of skills and talents required are very specific. I suppose if you have them all, you're lucky. But if you do, and you use them properly, it's not luck when you succeed.

I hear this said a lot, that only a very small number of people can make a living as a novelist. And yet I see people all the time giving up the day job and going full-time. About a third of my writers' group is earning full-time money, and another third is earning a good chunk of extra income. I suppose it depends on your definition of 'making a living'. My arbitrary definition is $5K a month, or $60K a year, sustained over 2-3 years, but yours might be different.

Anyone can have a lucky break here and there, or an unlucky one. But to earn a living, and do it consistently for several years, is not about luck, I'd say.
    

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Offline Paul Hector Travis

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #144 on: April 20, 2017, 04:20:47 AM »
You realize you are debating with a writer who has sold more books than almost everyone else here combined, right?
There is a reason for the limited spots at the table. Very few people have the combination of skills required. Making a living as a novelist is the NFL or the MLB. Only a certain number of players are good enough. It sounds elitist because it's an elite group. It takes more than being a competent writer, or even a decent marketer. The array of skills and talents required are very specific. I suppose if you have them all, you're lucky. But if you do, and you use them properly, it's not luck when you succeed.
Not every writer has the same goal. But if yours is to make a living as a novelist, and year after year you're still right where you started, there are harsh truths to face. It's probably that you simply don't have the necessary skill set. Most people learn to accept this. They don't stop writing. But they realize it's for their own enjoyment. Some become bitter and angry. That's usually when the topic of luck shows its head.
I said this in an earlier post, but it bears repeating. Feeling fortunate is not the same as being lucky.

Nobody is disputing brkingsolver's credentials. Well, I'm certainly not, anyway. Personally, I think I'm lucky to have a reasonable amount of talent for writing. Unless a hundred reviews (a decidely prawny number compared to many, but one I'm proud of nonetheless) are lies, this skill is self-evident. Of course, there may be people who've read my books, hated them but not left reviews; I suppose I'll never know. Either way, I'm not much good at marketing, though I hope to rectify this and become successful. If I do become successful, will I no longer consider myself lucky to be a skilled writer? I don't think so, but I hope to find out!  :)
« Last Edit: April 20, 2017, 04:35:52 AM by Paul Hector Travis »

Offline This_Way_Down

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #145 on: April 20, 2017, 04:53:13 AM »
Nobody is disputing brkingsolver's credentials. Well, I'm certainly not, anyway. Personally, I think I'm lucky to have a reasonable amount of talent for writing. Unless a hundred reviews (a decidely prawny number compared to many, but one I'm proud of nonetheless) are lies, this skill is self-evident. Of course, there may be people who've read my books, hated them but not left reviews; I suppose I'll never know. Either way, I'm not much good at marketing, though I hope to rectify this and become successful. If I do become successful, will I no longer consider myself lucky to be a skilled writer? I don't think so, but I hope to find out!  :)
I was referring to Jana DeLeon.

Offline berke

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #146 on: April 20, 2017, 04:53:41 AM »
A lot of success is being able to pull yourself up from those low points and find a new strength from them.

Beautifully said.

Offline This_Way_Down

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #147 on: April 20, 2017, 04:58:18 AM »
I hear this said a lot, that only a very small number of people can make a living as a novelist. And yet I see people all the time giving up the day job and going full-time. About a third of my writers' group is earning full-time money, and another third is earning a good chunk of extra income. I suppose it depends on your definition of 'making a living'. My arbitrary definition is $5K a month, or $60K a year, sustained over 2-3 years, but yours might be different.

Anyone can have a lucky break here and there, or an unlucky one. But to earn a living, and do it consistently for several years, is not about luck, I'd say.
I'm in a group where all of us are making a living - most of us 6 figures and some 7. But still, from what I've been able to dig up, there are roughly 10k-15k novelists in the world making a living solely through their writing. This is a combination of both indie and traditional. There are other ways to make a living as a writer, of course. Being a novelist is just one. So if you want to include other areas, the number jumps up dramatically.

Offline Paul Hector Travis

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #148 on: April 20, 2017, 05:28:43 AM »

Offline Douglas Milewski

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Re: The Failed Novelist [MERGED]
« Reply #149 on: April 20, 2017, 05:55:09 AM »
I was raised to treat my successes as a matter of luck and my failures as a result of not trying hard enough- while making the opposite assumptions- that success is due to hard work and failure to bad luck- for others. This still seems to me the wisest way to proceed. You never know, if you're successful, when an illness or injury, a change in public tastes or a personal tragedy may turn all your success to ashes. If you're unsuccessful, working hard and trying everything you can think of maximizes your chances of sooner or later catching a break. As far as other people go, we can never know their exact circumstances and why they aren't succeeding at what they do. To assume their failure is due to not working or trying hard enough just seems ungenerous.

When we look at an unsuccessful writers, we ask, "What are they doing wrong?"

The thing about this question is that all pro writers ask it of themselves at every level. "What am I doing wrong? What new mistakes did I make this time? How could I do it better?" Nobody, but nobody puts out a perfect book perfectly. If the best can't do everything perfectly, nobody can. That doesn't mean that you don't strive for excellence, it just means that if you look for something wrong, you will find it, guaranteed.

For writers who don't sell, its just as important to say what they're doing right. I don't think that anyone can build on, "You didn't work hard enough," or "you didn't work as hard as I did." I've found too often that learning what works is often harder to discover than learning what you did wrong. Wrong is easy agree on, but what's right? Those are fighting words.

Disclaimer: I sell horribly. Set your filters accordingly.