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Talent vs Luck

Your Fiction Story

I have yet to meet a newbie writer who does not want be a published author, and in the same breath declares their book would make a very good film.

The aspiration, the goals, the glittering success, afternoons spending money we don’t have, building the ultimate home in our day dreams.  I do encourage you to keep those crazy dreams, marry the prince, set up a kick starter campaign, do what you need to do.  But don’t expect a book deal to get you there.

After a conversation, fueled by too much caffeine, with an agented/ published/book advanced/film optioned author, I suggest that at its core,  a book is not a product – it is your heart and soul.  For that, it is valuable.  Because of that, it is the work itself, not its outcome, that is precious.

My friend told the story of how she had just been dropped from a critic group.  She had joined at the invitation of a friend who founded the group.  But the endeavor was quickly  dominated by two successful authors who were more interested in cultivating a worshipful court than helping the next author achieve either their dream of landing an agent or their dream of creating a coherent plot.   

Worship, if you have little else to do, is fine.  Boring, but fine.  My friend dropped the group because apparently, she was not sufficiently impressed with these two mean girls, and she committed the largest crime possible:  she suggested that these authors were  not successful because they were brilliant, they were just lucky.   

They were not pleased. She was banished from the kingdom.

But she is right.

Between the two of us, we could immediately name many authors, brilliant authors with fabulous books, who never could catch a break.  We equally could name okay authors, mediocre authors, who did see their book’s published, caught the break, were lucky.   

As much as I want my success to be all about me,  my talent and acknowledgment of (finally!) my hard work, it won’t be.  Success, particularly in the publishing industry, is about luck. This is a difficult idea to bear, especially if you are not lucky.   But I believe it’s far more damaging to not acknowledge the randomness that lies in black heart of book publication.  While the Muse will show up on time and consistently, success does not. In fact, there is no god for success, perhaps because success is so difficult to pin down, let alone stand still long enough to model for a marble statue.

When I was younger, every time I head a famous author admit,   “I was lucky” I felt it dismissed my own efforts and hard labor.  I now know that it’s the bald truth.  I was lucky.

Luck is when your book arrives on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday and the agent is in a much better mood.  Luck is when you send in a book on Zombies the minute the publishing team announces they are tired of vampires.  Luck is when your book launches September 10th not September 11th.  Luck is when you’ve labored for five years to produce a work that hits a public nerve, or captures a gestalt that no one can ever predict.

Ask an author, famous, infamous, obscure, what they are doing.  Publication is not the first word on their lips.  Writing is.

  • I’m writing again.
  • I’m working on something new.
  • I’m working.
  • I’m creating.
  • I’m happy.

In the end, writing is all authors have because it’s what we do.   How much better to embrace work fully, be creative, not commercial, be passionate, not promotional.  Writing is your art and art makes our lives better, fuller, happier.  And if that creative work reaches an audience – lucky you.


Catharine Bramkamp is a successful writing coach and author. She has published over 300 newspaper and magazine articles in publications like Modern Maturity (AARP), SF Chronicle and Santa Rosa Magazine. She was a contributor to two Chicken Soup Books and has published anthologies of her work, non-fiction works and novels. Her work has also appeared in a number of poetry and fiction anthologies. She has experimented with the self-publishing world since 2001. She has published and self-published seven books through companies like Author House, author assist companies like 3L Publishing and through traditional publishers like Write Life. Her poetry collection, Ammonia Sunrise, will be released in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press and her mystery novel, In Good Faith will be released by Write Life in 2011. Catharine holds a BA in English from UCSB and a MA in English from Sonoma State University. She is a 25 year member of California Writer’s Club. She is an adjunct professor for the University of Phoenix. She works with authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their dream of producing a book come true. For more information on that, visit her at Catharine has lived in Sonoma County for 25 years and considers wine a food group. She is married to an adorable and very patient man who complains he’s never featured in any of her books. Her grown children who are featured in a few of her books have fled the county.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John J White

    Interesting. The first article I read on your blog and it strikes a nerve. Luck. It’s all about luck. I can live with luck. Me, I don’t have decades of young adulthood and middle age to dedicate to the craft. A newbie at 61, a retirement gift to myself, the gift of time, the freedom to finally release the demons in my head, to write about aliens and the stars, and broken heroes. Nothing new but it’s always been fuel for my soul. The odds say I won’t publish a thing. Luck says I will. I ride luck like I used to race my cars, on the edge, mere nanoseconds to make a decision and take the lead. I can ride luck.

    I was published once, non-fiction, all throughout the nineties writing about science and technology. Back when magazines were real, were on paper, not when I had to think about how web browsers took in information in sound bites (or bytes?), worry about layout and navigation and white space. White space? The only white space I know is pacing myself during a guitar solo, let the silences tell part of the story. I walked into that job, only because of the early encouragement of my elementary and high school and college instructors, who sensed *something* in me. So I wrote for the fun of it, sometimes only telling the stories to myself. Funny, I still tell myself those stories. I can remember writing such a scene in a corporate meeting, my mind no where near the topic at hand. I lived inside the fantasy, if only for five minutes.

    But luck let me wander into that writing gig, one that made some damn good coin back then. I like luck. Once, I had the tiger by the tail. TIme to roll those dice again. Thank you for this. And good luck to you…

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      Thank you John, for your thoughts!
      I do believe that writing and creating improves our lives. I find that when I’m deep into creating a novel, all other aspects of my life improve, the act of creating attracts opportunity and more joy into my day to day life. I say, keep writing and good luck to you as well!

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