I 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+