Here’s a recent post by Kristen Lamb, who blogs about writers and social media, asking if successful writers are “just lucky”:
It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?
So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?
I’m a little dubious about this “statistic” that so many Americans want to write a book. Did Gallup take a poll?
But the larger point is true — many people I’ve met over the decades sigh, wistfully, or say, with tremendous conviction, they, too will soon publish their own book.
Do they? Apparently not.
I think “writing a book” is actually proxy for an unexamined stew of more complicated desires — many of which have very little to do with the talent + endless slog it takes to actually publish a book:
— public validation
— media attention aka “fame”
— showing everyone you really are creative
— proving to your high school English teacher/skeptical spouse/Mom you can do it
— seeing your book at Barnes & Noble
— hitting the (cough) best-seller list
— being able to say you’re an author
Luck is about .000006 percent of what it takes to become a published author.
The definition of “successful” also varies widely:
Did you (as some of my colleagues have done) get on the “Today” show?
Did you hit the best-seller list?
Did you sell more than 500 copies? 100? 10?
Was your advance $150,000? $750,000? (Or, more typically, $25,000 or less?)
Was it made into a movie or television series (preferably starring Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt, maybe both)?
Having (so far) published two non-fiction works with two major New York publishers, I’ve been bloodied.
Some of what it took to achieve this:
— Each book was rejected by 25 publishers before selling
— I’ve been through six agents, (i.e. finding them and working with them along the way)
— I’ve been a journalist, i.e. writing for demanding editors for a living, since 1976
— I attend conferences, network almost daily with other accomplished writers, have read a dozen books on how to market and promote my work
— I spend thousands of dollars every year to create and update my writing-related websites
— I’ve paid attorneys to review my contracts and paid $1,500 for liability insurance on “Malled”
And this is still a tiny fraction of the time, energy and skill I– like many other “successful” writers — brought to the party.