Dumb Luck or Literary Excellence?

roulette wheelOver the last 15 years I have attended both the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference and the Southern California Writer’s Conference. If you’re a serious writer and hope to one day get published, make it a point to sign up for a high-profile writer’s conference. Nowhere on planet Earth will you find more aspiring writers, literary agents, editors, publishers, and writing instructors. It’s a great venue for networking, pitching your work and learning the business of writing.

Publishing deals are made at these events; agents offer representation; writers connect with influential people; workshops teach tricks of the trade. Overall, it is a worthwhile investment of time and money. And I guarantee that you’ll meet some extraordinarily talented writers. But there is a dark side.

Only a handful of the writers attending such an event walk away with elevated spirits. Most writers who frequent these events hope to find a literary agent, or better yet, make a deal with a publisher. Most set their expectations too high. Unfortunately, the deals are few and the weary many. Never having found anyone even remotely interested in my work, I walked away from every conference feeling rejected and worthless as a writer. But, I licked my wounds, learned something worthwhile from each experience, and continued to write.

The Fiction Read & Critique Workshops were one of my favorite parts of the writer’s conferences. Many writers didn’t have the backbone for this slugfest, but those who endured gained some great perspectives. Picture 25 hopeful writers jammed in a small room for hours on end, reading passages from their latest novel and listening to their fellow writer’s scrutinize every word, every character, and every syllable. Emotions flowed freely and diplomacy was not in the vocabulary. Of course not all critiques were critical. But for the most part, the criticisms outweighed the kudos.

The point of these read & critiques is not for the writer to be unmercifully bludgeoned or embarrassed. But for them to learn and grow as a writer by accepting the critiques in the spirit in which they were intended. Thin-skinned writers have no place in this world. Competition is ferocious. So, excuse me for saying this, but “if you want to piss with the big dogs you have to step into the tall grass”.

What I found most amazing about the read & critique workshops was that once in a while a yet undiscovered, unpublished writer would stand up and read a passage that would absolutely blow me away. I’m talking about stunning narratives, riveting dialogue, and a use of language that was so literate it read like poetry. What amazed me most was that few of these gifted writers had ever been published. I would say to myself, “If this gal can’t get to first base, what the hell am I even doing here?” How could I ever hope to get published if these extremely talented writers were yet to be discovered?

So, after attending several writers’ conferences and accepting the painful truth that my writing at best was middle-of-the road, I faced a bittersweet reality. On one hand I could save myself further pain of rejection by embracing my fate. On the other hand, it tore out my heart to accept defeat and the reality that none of my four novels would ever be published. So, I did what any red-blooded Italian would do: I said, “Screw all of them. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.” And I self-published.

Had I not self-published, They Never Die Quietly would be sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Amazon Encore never would have stumbled upon my novel and made me an offer. Nor would I ever have signed on with a very successful literary agent. Nor would I have deals pending with two foreign publishers. Nor would I be working with one of the best book publicists in the business. Nor would I be writing a sequel. Nor would I be on the threshold of what could prove to be a very lucrative writing career.

Whether or not I’m a good writer, worthy of publication, could be argued till doomsday. But one thing is certain: Lady Luck dealt me a straight flush.



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3 responses to “Dumb Luck or Literary Excellence?

  1. Ken

    Ok, fine but when you go on your publicity tour and I see you trying to get the host to say the name of your book, you, and your publisher at least three times I hope you don’t mind if I point and laugh. I think you should’ve pointed out making it in the writing business is 5% talent, 60% Luck, 5% hiring the right people and the rest is all willingness to whore out your goods! 🙂

  2. Daniel

    Only 5% talent, eh? I was hoping for 10%.

  3. More like a Royal Flush – in spades!

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