Friday, March 23, 2018

How Important Is Luck in Gaining Publication? by Jacqueline Seewald

The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the emperor is warned to “Beware the Ides of March” by the Soothsayer. Julius, not being a superstitious sort of fellow and believing the nonsense about his personal immortality, sneers, ignores the warning, and refers to the Soothsayer as “a dreamer.” Not Caesar’s wisest decision.

 We recently celebrated St. Patrick’s Day which supposedly brings good luck and fortune. People do at times have lucky things happen to them and at other times suffer misfortunes like ill health, accidents or assaults. However, writers prefer to believe that for the most part we make our own luck.

According to Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” I apply that statement to authors. We get lucky with our work when we’ve done adequate preparation—that is being well-read, writing, rewriting, and editing until we’ve created something of value and quality. If we’re too lazy or too full of ourselves to make this kind of effort and commitment then alas we’ll never “get lucky.”

Luck is often a theme in literature. For example, Thomas Hardy created characters that were unlucky like Tess or Jude. Yet it could be argued that their bad luck came as a direct result of fatal flaws in their own characters. Tragedy derives from this. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship.

I write about and admire main characters with positive values who make their own good luck and overcome obstacles through personal effort, not bemoaning their fate or bad luck. To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar again, as Cassius observes: “Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In tribute to Irish literature which often deals with themes related to luck, I want to mention a few of the outstanding Irish writers I’ve appreciated over the years.

As an undergraduate English major, I read and enjoyed John Millington Synge’s The  Playboy of the Western World. Synge celebrated the lyrical speech of the Irish in a boisterous play.

In graduate school, I took a semester seminar on the works of
William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. I learned a great deal about Irish mythology from his work.

George Bernard Shaw was also of Irish origins and a great playwright, another favorite of mine. His plays still hold up because of thought-provoking themes and clever dialogue.

I’ve read James Joyce’s stories and novels but most appreciated his earlier work. I thought Portrait of the Artist was brilliant as was Dubliners, his short story collection. His style was original and unique.
Mere luck does not account for his success.

Satirist Jonathan Swift is often thought of as a children’s writer, but this is, of course, completely false.
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift
Oscar Wilde was a talented Irish writer and playwright. Sentenced to two years in prison for gross indecency (homosexuality), he eventually lost his creative spark.
Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest (play), Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (children’s book), A Woman of No Importance (play)
Abraham Stoker (Bram Stoker) gave us Dracula (enough said!)
Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, C.S. Lewis all had Irish origins as well, although they left Ireland for England. The list of outstanding Irish men and women who have provided great literature is very long and therefore beyond the scope of this blog. However, neither luck nor connections account for the success of these famous authors.

My latest novel DEATH PROMISE is set in London, New York City, and also Las Vegas—where people tend to place their hopes on luck. But not everyone in the novel is fortunate. The unique skills of Dr. Daniel Reiner and woman of mystery, “consultant” Michelle Hallam are required to solve the murders in this romantic suspense mystery thriller. You can check it out here:


Your thoughts and comments welcome!


Susan said...

Sometimes I think luck is the only thing. Look how often a badly-written book takes the reading world by storm when other, better books languish in obscurity. Look how the fickle finger of discoverability hovers over one or two books and ignores others totally - and sometimes not even a very expensive PR campaign can help. Luck also plays a part in getting books even read by agents and editors. The older I get the more I realize that luck is often the only determining factor in whether a book is successful or not - not skill, not story, not anything that the writer can control. Which, of course, does not excuse anyone from writing the best book they can... they should just realize that the best is not always the only criterium for success. Susan, aka Janis

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

What an interesting post, Jacqueline!

I firmly believe in luck and more specifically God's blessings and favor - in fact I always wish everyone the best of luck and God's blessings.

And today is no exception.

Thank you for sharing!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Pam,

Seeing "luck" as God's blessings and favor is a good way to think of it. Wishing you and my fellow writers this in turn!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan/Janis,

It doesn't hurt to be lucky, of course. And sometimes people do have good luck and sometimes bad. But often, there are other complex factors involved. With writers, hard work and talent mean a lot in standing out from the herd. It's never an easy road to success, but no harm in trying.

Susan said...

I agree, Jacqueline - as writers we should never stop trying to do the best work of which we are capable. I'm just saying that 'good work' is not a guarantee of success in itself. But - as the old phrase says, 'Luck favors the prepared.' Even so, there are no guarantees. Susan, aka Janis

Zari Reede said...

I agree! I think we have had some luck and I’m praying for a little more, but until then I keep aspiring to be the best writer I can be. Networking writers organizations, meeting people in the industry and doing the necessary social media also helps.

Steven M. Moore said...

OK, here's a conundrum: if "good luck" is God's blessings, is "bad luck" an Old Testament God's curses a la Job or the New Testament's Devil a la the temptation of Christ in the desert? Rhetorical question, of course.
I've often argued that having a successful book is like winning the lottery: our chances are slim, even if we establish the necessary conditions for it to happen, but there's no sufficient condition.
The fact is that there are many good books and good writers out there and not enough readers or reviewers to keep up with pace of new books published every week.
Of course, you can't win the lottery, say the wags, if you don't play. That's the same for book success too. I always say, "Write the next book!" It's fun, it will entertain at least a few readers, and your muses will be smiling that you have another story in you.
This thread mentioned St. Paddy's Day and Irish authors. Shaw was Irish too, and quotes from him lead off each part of a recent book of mine. When I visited the Writers' Museum in Dublin, I was proud to see how the Irish have contributed to world literature. That's the blarney in us, I suppose. I for one love to spin a good yarn! (BTW and FYI, photos of the Blarney Castle and the Writers' Museum can be found on my website.)

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I think in today's world we can't ignore social media. Making connections is important. If you do good work, hopefully word of mouth will spread and help build a readership.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for your input. Your comments are thoughtful and interesting. I will visit your blog. It's true that talent and hard work don't ensure success when so many others are also writing today, but I believe they can make a difference.

Steven M. Moore said...

Perhaps I should rephrase: We can set up the necessary conditions so our book(s) can be noticed--first and foremost writing a good, entertaining book (i.e. offering a great product), and then all the rest: copy editing, formatting, spiffy cover art, reviews, and marketing; but there's no sufficient condition, i.e. no silver bullet, for book success.
I've read and reviewed many books that are excellent and yet don't do well, and some books that do well have really surprised me (in particular, they have nothing I want to emulate).
Storytelling (assuming we're discussing fiction) must be our first motivation. When we have that motivation, anything else that comes our way is like icing on the cake or ice cream on apple pie.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

Of all the authors and poets you mentioned, C.S. Lewis is my favorite. His Chronicles of Narnia made a lasting impression on me when I was about ten years old.
I look forward to reading your new book!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I am very fond of C.S. Lewis's writing myself. Glad you're looking forward to reading my new novel.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I was unable to leave a message on your blog. But I do agree with your comments. Not everyone who writes well garners an audience for their work. That is subject for a separate in-depth blog.

Steven M. Moore said...

Jaqueline and others,
I screen comments on my blog. You'd be surprised how many trolls there are out there. I like discussions but not foul language. Because I write YA (now with A. B. Carolan), I like to keep PG-13.
If things are working right, I should get an email from WP announcing your comment, but I'll go there and check right now.
My apologies.

Maris said...

Excellent post, Jacqueline. I truly believe luck has played a roll in my career. I just "happened" to pick the name of an agent out of a list back in the early '80s who turned out to be fantastic. And I just "happened" to send her a "sexy" romance when Harlequin was looking for sexy romances to launch their (then) new Temptation line. However, I also believe in being prepared, and I did read the how-to books and checked the Writers' Market before I sent out that query letter. I did learn the craft of writing, and I did have a full ms written. In my opinion, if you want LUCK to find you, you have to be prepared.

Steven M. Moore said...

You started early on...and I thought I was an early bird starting before the ebook revolution (which has fizzled a wee bit, so they say). That was luck! Nowadays the competition is ferocious--many good authors and good books covering the whole spectrum from 100% DIY indie to Big Five publishing. (You mentioned Harlequin--they're part of a publishing conglomerate now.)
I guess satisfying the necessary conditions for book success = "being prepared"--we set things up so when luck finds us, our book(s) take(s) off. I haven't arrived there yet, even after 10+ years in the business.
PS. WP settings somehow changed again. If this keeps repeating, I'll have to put my website gurus on the case, because it's beyond my skills.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


My first Harlequin novel was also way back when you didn't need an agent. Nowadays, as Steve points out, it's more difficult. For one thing, it's a lot easier to send out books and short stories. So the ones that are open to unagented work are deluged. Another problem, it's difficult to get one of the major agents interested who will place a writer with a major publisher. But this is a complex matter and deserves a blog all on its own.

Carole Price said...

I like your post, Jacquie. Since I didn't start writing until I retired (although a huge reader), I'm blessed to be published now. I give thanks to my critique group, perseverance, and as Maris said, being prepared. I don't know how much luck had to do with my finding a publisher, but I do have a bit of the Irish in me.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Carole,

Most writers cannot afford to write full-time unless they are independently wealthy or are retired. Like you, I'm retired, which gives me the opportunity to put real effort into my work nowadays.

Susan Coryell said...

I, too, love the Irish literati and I am Scots-Irish myself--maiden name is McDaniel. I especially love Yeats, Joyce and Wilde.
Your latest novel, Death Promise, is a real zinger! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment within those pages!
Best wishes for continued success.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Jacquie, you've listed some of my favorite writers. Dubliners is one of my all-time favorite books. As for luck, for me I feel lucky when a glass window shatters and the glass falls ten feet behind me. I feel lucky when I find a parking space. I don't consider it luck when I sell a story or a novel. I know I've worked very hard on that project, and the work is worth publishing. But I do feel for people who write well and can't get published. The competition is huge today. I don't know if it's luck or not. Obviously a great post since you've stimulated so much discussion.

Earl Staggs said...

Jacqueline, I think of luck as being in the right place at the right time. The trick is to be in a lot of places. For writers, that means having a sizable body of top-quality work published and available to the reading public, whether novels, short stories or both. Best wishes for good writing and good luck to all of us.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


The luck of the Scots-Irish to you! Thanks for the positive comments about my latest novel. Here's hoping readers find it.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Susan O.,

I agree with your comments about luck. And I know many good writers are discouraged these days because there are less venues for publication yet more people are writing than ever. It just means we have to work harder at our writing if we want publication.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I agree with you about having a lot of work out there. I submit quite a few stories and several novels in the space of a year. I think all serious writers do.

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