To Win Big, You Have to Enter the Race

Last week I got a note from a student who just had a novel accepted by a major publisher. He seemed a little surprised at how easily it had happened, as if he’d happened to enter a horse race and had just taken first place by accident.

But it’s no accident. I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about publishing and making money in this business as having an element of chance, as if writers who succeed are just lucky. I’ll grant you, it does seem to me that at times there is an element of chance.

For example, my friend Richard Paul Evans started out as a self-published author. He took his little book out to Book Expo America—a huge trade show—and tried to get a table so that he could display it. But the tables were sold out.

Yet as he was walking through the exhibition halls, he noticed that one table was open—the vendor that had reserved it was a no show—so he quietly set up a little display and talked to people about his book. No one was interested, it seemed, but he was invited to a small bookstore in the South to do a signing.

He went to the bookstore, and signed in the midst of a snowstorm. No one came. He realized that he had wasted his time and thousands of dollars in self-publishing, but then a woman walked in late, just before the store was about to close for the night.

She brushed the snow off of her coat and got to talking to him. She told him that she was a television producer for a morning news show—Good Morning America. Due to the snow, their guest the next morning wasn’t going to be able to make it. She asked if he would be willing to stand in for the missing guest.

That national attention, a coincidence, soon led to a million-dollar publishing deal and became the foundation for Richard Paul Evan’s success.

Was it luck? Coincidence? Perseverance?

I think it was a combination of factors. Richard Paul Evans perseveres. He’s also smart. But eventually, when he most needed publicity, he met someone who happened to need a guest speaker, and it changed his life.

Yet time and time again I meet young would-be writers who say, “You know, those authors who make it big? It’s all a matter of luck.” This becomes their excuse for doing nothing at all.

There’s no such thing as luck. I like what Kevin J. Anderson says, “If you want to attract lightning, be a lightning rod.” In other words, work hard. Be in the right place at the right time. Be ready.

It may seem that there is an element of luck to this business. I won’t deny that. I often hear people compare it to a horserace. But I have never known an author who got a major contract without first writing a big novel. So if you want to win, get a horse into the race.

In fact, I like to set goals for the next few months. I’m going to put three horses into the race this year.

See you at the track!

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