L is for Luck.
I’m not going to mince words here. Sometimes, you can follow every rule, you can do every single thing right, and your writing career isn’t going to go the way you want it to go. Publishers mess up book launches. Vendors change their terms of service. Computer equipment crashes. Stories refuse to be reduced to pixels on a screen.
Those are the bad luck days.
But there are good luck days, too. A friend connects you with a beta reader who helps you to create your best work yet. An advertising service had a last-minute cancellation and they can take your ad on launch day after all. A librarian just happens to love your work and chooses you to be the subject of a library-system-wide reading program.
As an author, you’re going to have more bad luck than you ever imagined was possible. And you won’t always recognize your good luck, even when it’s staring you right in the face.
So what can you do to manage “luck” as an aspect of your career? Bad or good, you can be prepared.
Because, bottom line, the worst of circumstances and the best of circumstances are going to require the same response from you: More. You will need to devote more time, energy, and resources to resolving a bad situation than you had originally planned on spending. And, perhaps unexpectedly, you’ll need those resources when good things happen.
I don’t need to explain how you need resources on hand to deal with bad luck. You can spin out all the horror stories in your own head—the costs to print replacement promotional materials, the energy to accommodate new editors after a catastrophic housecleaning at your publisher, the time and energy all that grappling takes away from your “real” job—writing.
But picture this: In the same week, your book is recommended by your favorite talk show host, your favorite politician, and your favorite movie star. (What? It could happen!) Immediately, a public that had never heard of you is clamoring for your attention. They want to buy your book, but they also want to interview you in distant, exotic places. You’re going to be front-page news on every newspaper, magazine, and blog post in the country. But you’re probably going to want to buy new clothes. Get a haircut. Etc. It’s the best of luck, but it’s going to cost you.
So, the best way to deal with luck—bad or good—is to develop a plan. No, you won’t be able to account for every conceivable instance of bad or good luck, much less the inconceivable ones. But your contingency plan can consist of several broad strokes:
Time: Develop a plan to devote more time to a project. You might push deadlines on other projects, if you control those. You might schedule leave at your day-job, spending one or more vacation days on dealing with the crisis. You might trade off household responsibilities with a friend, partner, or spouse.
Energy: Develop a plan to sustain your energy during a luck-based event (or, as so often seems to happen, chains of multiple events.) You might keep a special stash of chocolate (or liquor or… well, you know your favorite reward.) You might have a massage therapist you can call in a pinch. You might have a rejuvenating place you can visit on short notice—a friend’s house or a B&B or a rental property.
Money and other resources: Develop a plan to increase or re-allocate your resources in response to the emergency. You might have a fund of “mad money” to purchase solutions. You might be able to rent office space or computer equipment to cope with an unexpected change. You might be able to hire experts (editors, designers, psychologists) who can help you manage what luck has brought to you.
Commiseration: Develop a plan to share your feelings. You might have a supportive friend, partner, or spouse who is removed from the writing world but understands what you’re going through. You might have a writers’ group, a handful of people who know your goals and can listen to your emotions about your current situation. You might have a writers’ organization such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or Romance Writers of America, or Mystery Writers of America where others are experiencing the same or similar results from the luck that’s hit you. (Just keep in mind that if you’re experiencing good luck, most fellow writers won’t enjoy listening to you whine. Try to share good news with writers who are more successful than you, or at least temper your complaints to those who are less fortunate.)
Once the luck-induced crisis is over, you have one task left to complete: analyzing what happened, with an eye toward keeping it from happening again (in the case of bad luck) or making it happen again (for good luck.) Figure out what happened, exactly. Why did the event affect you? Is it possible for that event ever to happen again? If yes, figure out ways to respond faster, or better, or more completely, and incorporate that information into your contingency plans.
So? When have you been spectacularly lucky in your career? What could you have done differently to better take advantage of that luck? Conversely, what was one really unlucky event on your path to your current position? How could you have minimized the effects of that bad luck?