That’s No Lady, That’s My Luck

Like most professions where you have absolutely no control over the outcome of your efforts, writers are very superstitious people.

What do I mean by no control?  Don’t I understand that people can write a better book and therefore have a better outcome?

Well, maybe now with indie – I don’t know, I haven’t done enough to know if that’s true – but in traditional?  Pull up a barstool and let’s talk.  My third musketeer’s mystery book is exponentially better than the first two.  Even the publisher agreed with that.  BUT they gave it exactly the same cover as the first except for details you had to focus on, like the inset picture, and even in that the look was similar, and so it almost didn’t sell.  Or Draw One In The Dark, hardcover… buddy, I didn’t want to be in the same room with that cover.  It was the very best book I’d written to date, but it didn’t go anywhere.

And there are a ton of other factors – other than cover – that are vital for how well it sells and which I have no control over.  For instance, there’s the time it’s published.  January is the absolute suckiest month to bring out a book you expect to do well.  October isn’t much better.  Why?  Because in January people just got socked with the Christmas bills and they’re holding tight to their money.  In October, they’re starting to think holidays and being more careful with money.  The best times are summer or spring.  Also, does the book come out in hard cover?  Half the people don’t buy trade.  Also, what is the print run and how much push will this book get from the reps to the books stores.  No control.  None.  I hand in the book and that’s it.

But Sarah, you say, it’s still possible for a book to have everything against it and make it if it’s very, very good.  Not everything.  I mean Darkship Thieves had a ton against it, but it had a wonderful cover, and that carried it.  I was also lucky to get reviews in a few romance blogs.  But when you get everything against you – and it’s easier than you think – even the most wonderful book won’t fly.  People can’t buy it if they don’t know you exist.  And if you’re not already selling some amount, people won’t LOOK for your book on Amazon.  (Hence the promos we engage in.)

Look, it wasn’t so long ago that Terry Pratchett – a mega bestseller in the UK – was selling about what I sell in the US.  How come?  Cover, push, print run, time of publication.  He changed editor and agent and suddenly, overnight, was also a mega bestseller in the US.  That is how important those factors are over which the writer has no control.

Now, even if you get all factors going for you, if the book sucks, it will tell over time.  We all know – naming no names – people who were pushed and pushed and sold three or four books and then the fourth or fifth tanked badly because most people who’d bought the first couple of books on hype had READ them by the time the third/fourth came out.

But still, a huge part of the book’s success is RIGHT out of your hands.  And writers become superstitious.

It’s a form of going insane that avoids actually going completely buggaboo crazy, the type of crazy where they come and lock you up.

I’m as sane as the next woman, mind (and the next woman is my friend Kate who takes interesting medications.) and I know where the superstitions, the rituals, the weird taboos come from: they are part of one convincing oneself that he can control what one can’t control.  Again, part of keeping oneself sane.

The writing-rituals I know of personally range from “in a certain room, at a certain time” to “I can’t wear the color blue” or “I can’t answer the phone till it rings three times” to much weirder things.  There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of a writer who was convinced he could write only by the light of a certain lightbulb.  And he knew the lightbulb was magical, because he’d had it for years and it never went out.

Then his marriage went bad, and on leaving, his wife revealed how she’d changed that lightbulb every week so that it would never go out.

He didn’t write for two years.

Now, I don’t have real rituals or taboos.  What I have observed though is that my luck tends to run in cycles.  If I’m stuck in a really bad cycle, everything will go wrong, not just in writing: appliances break, trees fall, my writing sucks, books crash, etc.

My way of breaking this is perfectly rational: I make a radical change for a while.  Usually this means a vacation to Denver.  

Why perfectly rational?  Because to the extent luck is influenced by my mood: I might not see the opportunities, I might miss good things that could happen if I just did something; and I know that a run of luck like that makes me depressed which means I can’t write and I can barely function.  Taking a vacation – usually two days, sometimes even just one – resets my internal clock and even if the “luck” doesn’t change makes me more capable of coping with it.

Of course, the fact that every time I eat at Pete’s Kitchen in Denver AND TALK WRITING I sell a book also doesn’t hurt.  What?  No, I swear.  It’s like magic.  In fact my friend Rebecca Lickiss tried it, and it worked for her as well.  So, it’s proven.

It’s not superstition.  It’s science!  Because unlike all those other mugs, I don’t have any weird rituals and I’m so rational you find my picture under rational in the dictionary.

Now, excuse me, I have to go dust my glass floats before I write.  If I write while they’re dusty, the stuff just doesn’t sell.

36 responses to “That’s No Lady, That’s My Luck

  1. Quantum mechanics and the Higgs-boson explain this correlation of events that is normally attributed, by those who don’t understand Science, to “Luck.” At the super-sub-atomic plane all events connect.

  2. That’s my problem! I don’t have any rituals. I need to work up a few…

    • I recommend daily breaking of your fast through the ritual sacrifice of the unborn young of Gallus domesticus, possibly with a side portion of Sus scrofa domesticus‘s belly strips that have been treated with sodium chloride (possibly in solution in hydrogen monoxide), thus appeasing deities of air, land and sea.

  3. ppaulshoward

    Adding to the problem of “lack of control” IMO is something Eric Flint said. Writers *have* to work alone and being alone too long can make people somewhat “nutty” (except for me [Crazy Grin]).

  4. My rational logical mind does not believe in magic or superstition. Unfortunately, my id/subconscious does, and that’s where most of my – what? Power? Oomph? Imagination? Drive? – comes from. So I have to trick it and and play with it and cheer it up. Fortunately, it responds to silly things like rituals and fortune cookies and songs or buying a new toy.

  5. If we believed too much in the rational, we wouldn’t be very good storytellers. :-D

  6. Y’all sound like a bunch of pilots! Lucky numbers, special hats, pilgrimages to put on Igor Sikorskii’s hat so you’ll never crash (no, I’m not joking), rabbits’ feet, religious medallions or lucky pennies . . . good grief.

    [Types she who never, ever talks about publications or jobs before there is a contract confirmed because otherwise they are jinxed, and who tries to start projects on Friday the 13th because that’s her lucky day.]

    • YES! All the same things, yes.

    • A friend of mine has an on-line friend who is a trader at NASDAQ (who are apparently extremely superstitious). This trader (who is also an amateur artist) built a makeshift shrine to NASDAQ in the back of the trading floor, and the other traders have added to it, and leave little presents to it, just like a shrine to any small god. It’s their lucky shrine. She’s even turned down a pretty substantial buy offer for it.

    • Or baseball players (not washing their uniform, wearing the same socks every game, going to Popeye’s Chicken, not stepping on the foul line while entering or leaving the field, etc).

    • You mean my nightly ritual of swinging a dead cat over my head at midnight has no effect?

  7. Many years ago in an old, old copy of the “Handbook for Boys” (Before the name was changed to the Boy Scout Handbook) there was a story told about a North American Autochthon. He had been missing for some time and when he had finally returned to the village, the others asked him if he had been lost. His response was “Me not lost. Wigwam lost.” (Or to put into more PC language, “Pardon me, my friends, but I was in no difficulty about my location and the certainty or uncertainty thereof, but instead it was my naturally heated and insulated, green domicile about which’s location uncertainty was present.”)

    And so it is. I’m not crazy. It’s the rest of the world that’s crazy.

  8. Talk about luck – the leaf spring on my hubby’s truck broke this week so this morning we drove to the only mechanic that builds these kinds of springs for F150 in Northern Nevada in Reno. I was worried that the axle would fall off… anyway, after a full day in Reno, the truck is fixed and I am exhausted. This is the first bit of writing I have done all day.

    (rubbing my lucky stone) Gosh after the tooth fiasco and then the truck fiasco, i think my luck is not doing well.

    • and no one bought a book while I was in Reno – I guess I’ll need to go to Denver instead ROFL

    • Is that two or three? I’m always relieved when the third bad thing happens, because I’ve gotten the string over with.

      • Where I come from, what used to the only obvious entrance to the village by road — not alley or woods — had a massive cross built into the wall who knows how long ago. The wall and steps looked recent, but the cross might have been Roman or even — with a different meaning, of course — Celtic. Anyway, the belief was that if death got past the cross once, it would take three before it returned. As I was typing this, I realized in widening that road and paving it, they did away with the cross. I wonder if that means the village is now unprotected (since obviously its function was to make it hard for death to pass by and take villagers)?

      • For me it’s three if you consider the brakes going out a subset of the other car trouble. Three this year.

    • car, stove hood, stove, illness — this year has been a wreck. I’m hoping it turns soon.