What Is Luck?

luckI mentioned to a non-author friend my idea that book promotion is what we authors do until luck finds us, and she asked, “What is luck?” That brought me up short because I had no answer to her question. It seemed self-evident to me — luck is luck. But what is luck really? So I went searching for an answer.

Merriam-Webster says that luck means 1a) a force that brings good fortune or adversity; 1b) the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual; 2) favoring chance.

The Free Dictionary says that luck means the chance happening of fortunate or adverse events; 2) good fortune or prosperity; success; 3: One’s personal fate or lot:

Wikipedia says that luck means fortune (whether bad or good), which occurs beyond one’s control, without regard to one’s will, intention, or desired result.

Google says that luck means success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

Some people believe in luck as a separate entity or force that they can control by using various lucky charms. (Supposedly, Michael Jordan spent his entire NBA career wearing his old University of North Carolina shorts under his team shorts for good luck. Various politicians, including the current president, carry an array of objects in their pockets for luck.) To these people, luck is faith. They believe that the talisman will help make things go a bit better for them than circumstances might dictate.

My friend suggested that there is no such thing as luck, that what happens is the result of choices we make. And perhaps that is true, or at least partly true. You cannot win the lottery if you do not choose to buy a ticket, but winning the lottery is a matter of chance as far as I know.

Most of us believe that luck is being in the right place at the right time, but perhaps such a confluence is not so much a matter of luck as a matter of choices — ours and everyone else’s — a cascade of decisions and events that brings us to that particular place in time. Since we have no control over all those choices and events, we call the outcome luck. Perhaps if we were privy to the algorithms that control the universe, we would see that on a cosmic level, such fortuitous happenings as being in the right place at the right time are not chance at all. But on a personal level, since they are beyond our control, we call them luck.

Some people don’t believe in luck at all. They say it doesn’t exist. That, as in my example of being in the right place at the right time, “lucky events” are only those that exist beyond our ability to predict. This idea skirts close to determinism, which according to Wikipedia is “a metaphysical philosophical position stating that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen.” There is no luck then, just something that has been ordained by circumstances. Of course, if any one of those circumstances had not come about, then the outcome would have been different, and that sounds a lot like luck to me.

So, does any of this change my idea that promotion is what we authors do until luck finds us? Not really. So much of the book business, and especially what will strike a chord with the reading public is beyond anyone’s ability to predict. (If the major publishers were better at it, they wouldn’t be in the financial mess they are, paying high advances to authors whose books don’t warrant the cash outlay.) Some writers follow trends and manage to write books that make it big, such as the myriad vampire books that followed on Twilight’s coattails and Fifty Shades of Gray, which stemmed originally from the Twilight series. But what about Twilight itself? Was it luck that the book appeared when people were receptive to such a thing? Perhaps it wasn’t vampires that people were fascinated with but the bondage issue, which could be why so many vampire writers who expected to make it big didn’t. They missed the broader picture.

Those of us who write the books only we could write rather than trying to write books to fit trends or to fit what a reading pubic might like are more subject to the whims of chance and circumstance, especially if those books don’t fit into a prescribed genre. (I was appalled to read where one reviewer downrated a well-written book she loved only because it didn’t follow many genre conventions.)

If we struggling authors had been different, if we had had a different outlook on life, if the books we chose to write hadn’t been so dear to our hearts, if we’d been more outgoing or aggressive or innovative when it came to promotion . . if, if, if. All those ifs help create the circumstances of our books, and since most of those circumstances and characteristics are beyond our control (we can only be who we are after all), we are dependent on luck for our eventual success.

We will continue promoting until luck finds us. Perhaps by doing so, we will change our circumstances and so have no need of luck. But of course, luck itself could bring about that change in circumstance.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

11 Responses to “What Is Luck?”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Well, I may not know how best to define luck, or what luck might bring me in the future. I do know though that luck has given me the oppurtunities to learn from a variety of teachers on how to write, and has brought me into contact with several writers who’ve helped me in one way or another with my work (that includes you, Pat). Hopefully one day luck (or God, preferably) will bring me some success in writing and allow me to reach a very wide readership. Until then, I leave it up to God and my hard work to get me to the people.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m not sure it was luck that brought you here, but I don’t know what else to call it. We met when I was freshly pressed, and getting freshly pressed is definitely a matter of luck. And that you happened to be following freshly pressed articles on that day is also a matter of luck.

      I have a hunch luck is one of the keys to the universe. If we can understand what “luck” is, in all it’s ramifications, then we might understand more about what life is and how it all fits together.

  2. dhdriller Says:

    Interesting concepts. i do believe in luck, but i don’t call it luck. I think it is rather something entirely different altogether. for me “Luck” is, living life and trying to make good decisions that will lead my life in a posative direction. These planned, and hoped and sometimes unexpected results of some other motives sometimes pay off, and some times they do not. But with out good decision making, to give a certain set of circumstance a possability to grow (or even fail at times) then so called “luck” will never fallow us. a kid fresh out of college lands a high paying Corporate job and is financially set for life. Is he lucky? I don’t think so. I think earlier on he saw potential in a growing business field, he worked hard to get a degree in that field and built up him self and his resume, and submitted it to some of the right people (probably thinking “I’ll never get that particular job but what the hell, I certainly won’t get it if I don’t apply for it”). In the interview i am sure he did his homework about what they will be discussing, and how to publicly speak, again another decision he made, to better his situation. He wasn’t “lucky”. He just had a dream, did his homework, and kept putting him self in certain situations that would eventually pay off into what he wanted, what his ultimate goal was that he set out to accomplish in the first place. That is just an example of course, but that is my definaition of luck. “The outcome, of decisions and actions YOU have performed, to set that event in motion, good or bad” Great post though! I thought it was a great read 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I wish I believed it was all our own doing, that the best person or the one most prepared is the one who succeeds, but too often I have seen the opposite. I do believe, though, that to a certain extent, luck does favor the prepared.

      Thank you for joining the discussion. I find the concept of luck and the philosophy of luck fascinating.

      • dhdriller Says:

        I agree. It is very fascinating. And I didn’t quite mean whom is better prepared succeeds.. I believe more in he who is better prepared, and who has made good decisions, has MORE of a chance of certain things falling into place for them. kinda like the lottery, can’t win if you don’t play. 🙂 The idea of luck is definitely interesting though, and i do agree there are some things in life, situations we end up in that we in no way saw coming, or could have prepared for. And if true “Luck” does exist, i could certainly use some more of it sent this direction! LOL 🙂

  3. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    All I really know is that you can’t win if you’re not in the game.

    I’ve had my share of both good and bad luck.

    I was writing vampire short stories for ten years for various magazines before Twilight came out. Then when I get together with a publisher and decide to put out a vampire novel there is Twilight being more a hinderance than a help.Was this bad luck? I’d say so.

    It was just bad timing really but I wasn’t to know that Twilight would suddenly spring into existence. No doubt other writers felt the same way.

    Then you have your writers who were actually following after Twilight’s shirt sleeves. How can you tell one from the other? I don’t know if you always can. Most readers wouldn’t bother trying.

    I don’t follow trends though I still write the occasional vampire story. I often have such stories situated around historical events. Recently I had a story published in Night to Dawn magazine that I am rather proud of. It is situated in Kansas in the years leading up to the American Civil War and at a time when Kansas was known as Bloody Kansas because of the fighting between pro-slavers and anti-slavers. I thought a perfect place to put a gun-slinging vampire who, for once, is on the side of the angels.

    Meanwhile my Desk Job stands as uniquely placed. It hasn’t been upstaged by someone else writing a novel about a fantasied out office and the creatures who inhabit it. Also it is an Australian writer’s salute to Lewis Carroll and his Alice books which may be a first in itself. Mind you Australian artist Charles Blackman was having fun with Alice a long time before I decided to create my own weird and wonderful cast of creatures.

    The upshot of all this is you cannot predict what other writers and what publishers outside your own will do. You can only roll with the punches and do your best to make what you do worthy of the attention of your readers.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Twilight was just an example. I did not mean that all vampire books were derivative, but you have to admit, that some were. Luck isn’t always good, as you pointed out, in your case it was bad. Timing works both way — at the right place at a particular time or the wrong place at that time.

      • ROD MARSDEN Says:

        I didn’t think you were saying all vampire books are derivative. What I wrote was based on my own sense of personal history dressed up somewhat. Yes, of course some writers thought they could make a fortune by copying Twilight. Me? I’m not a young woman writer nor can I really imagine myself so for the effort it would take to write an entire novel. Yes, sometimes luck isn’t on your side and it isn’t your fault. And sometimes luck is on your side and it mixes well with the blood, sweat and tears you have put into a writing project along with, of course, the joy of creation.

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