1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

JA Konrath on luck

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Sep 28, 2015.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    A couple of posts:

    A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: How To Succeed

    A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Maybe You Suck

    I tend to lean toward Konrath's view on the luck component, though it is hard to know for sure if he oversells it. I say that mainly because I've known some very good writers with traditional publishing contracts who haven't been able to sell enough to make a living, either traditionally or in self-publishing. So I think there is a definite luck element, and I think you certainly help create your own luck by quantity and quality. But I also think it's entirely possible to have quantity and quality and never make a living writing fiction. What do you guys think?
     
    Legendary Sidekick, kennyc and acapes like this.
  2. acapes

    acapes Sage

    224
    31
    28
    This is one of the great draws of modern publishing:

    Ebooks have an infinite shelf life, and ebooks stores have infinite shelf space. If your book is good, it has forever to be discovered.

    I like the idea of having an audience find my work no matter when. Even if I think I've 'given up' on a published work finding its audience, by moving on and writing other stories, series, there's a chance that book will get some attention later on (so long as I keep publishing.)

    ETA: I lean toward him not overselling it - there's just too much that is unpredictable about publishing for luck not to count. (Despite that, I try to do everything professionally and properly, even with passion I hope, which may or may not make a difference sooner or later :D)
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
    Steerpike likes this.
  3. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,954
    965
    113
    "Luck" is basically the word people use for all the infinite variables in the world around us that affects us, even tangentially, but that we have no control over. So yes, in that sense, a huge part of all publishing is luck based. Though I think the luck factor is different in trad and self publishing.

    In trad, you're basically sticking a whole lot of extra people and processes between you and the reader where "luck" can fail you. You don't have any control over whether an agent will like your book. You don't have any control over whether an editor will like your book. You don't have any control over whether the sales and marketing departments will support your book. You don't have any control over all the internal functions at the publisher that can make a book sink or swim. You don't have any control over whether bookstores will buy your book from the publisher. You don't have any control over whether readers will see your book and buy it. And you don't have control over whether readers will like your book and recommend it to their friends or hate it and give you 1 star reviews.

    But when you self publishing, you're cutting out all those things you don't have control over before the book gets to the marketplace. You don't have to worry about the luck factor with agents, editors, sales reps, marketing people, bookstore buyers, etc. You become responsible for all those things and can give it your absolute best effort. The only remaining luck factor is whether the readers will find your book and buy it and then like it or not. It's all in the hands of the reader, as it should be, in my opinion.

    So yes, luck is huge in all forms of publishing, but the more you eliminate factors you can't control, the less you have to hope for good luck.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    On the other hand, even though things are under your control in self-publishing, there is a much greater chance of getting lost in the crowd. If your book makes it onto the SF/F shelves are Barnes and Noble, I'm almost certainly going to see it.

    I like the point Konrath makes about quality not being an indicator. I know some good writers who have been discouraged due to lack of appreciable sales, either through traditional or self-publishing. One of them hasn't written in nearly two years. I think people tend to get down on their work when it doesn't do well, and it's worth remembering that failing to sell doesn't necessarily mean you didn't put out a good product.
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    940
    113
    I feel like a broken record, but Joe's message is not the one I'm hearing from most of the people who are making money.

    A point of clarification first: The people I'm listening to aren't the ones who are getting movie deals and selling millions of books. They're the ones making good 4 and 5 figure monthly incomes by churning out book after book.

    Their overwhelming message is:

    Write a "good" book (though I have no idea how to define "good")
    Write a sequel to that good book.
    Put the first book on sale and spend money to promote it.
    Write a sequel to that second book.
    Make the first book free and spend money to promote it.

    You make your money by getting people to read your first book and "selling through" the rest of the series.

    (Disclaimer: my bullets points above are diagrammatic and shouldn't be construed as anything other than a starting point.)

    The message I'm getting is that success in self publishing is far more dependent on hard work than on luck.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    Brian - but if you compare the number of people you're hearing from to the total number who are attempting to self-publish, or the total number who are following the exact same principles, and not making money, what does that ratio look like? Is it even possible to know the answer to that? Because unless you have that figure, just going by the people making money doesn't contradict anything Konrath is saying here. Similarly, if you only go by the people who make a living in traditional publishing you miss all the people attempting the same thing, and writing well, but not able to break through. Happens in every commercial art form I think.
     
    kennyc likes this.
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    Before someone reads the thread wrong, the point Konrath is making in the "Maybe you suck" column is the opposite of what the column title says. If it is true that all you have to do is follow steps A, B, and C, and if you have a certain level of quality you're guaranteed success, then when a writer follows steps A, B, and C and doesn't meet with success, the only conclusion is that they're not very good. That is discouraging for writers, in my view. Sure, it MAY be that your writing is not very good, but there are plenty of good writers who are able to put out quality work at a good pace and still not do very well. You have to look at the quality of your work on its own merits, not let lack of success in the marketplace tell you that you're not any good.
     
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,518
    2,551
    313
    I read the first one and that was kind of encouraging. The second one was more of a bit of a rant and a bit more predictable. I think the guy's got a point though.
    There's loads of circumstances outside of your control that have an impact on you in unpredictable and unfair ways - for better or for worse. You can (should) still do your best to turn fortune in your favour, but there's always a chance it won't work out anyway.
    Basically, the world isn't fair, but that's no reason to stop trying.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    Yeah.

    I think there are two important concepts to understand in self-publishing (or traditional publishing for that matter):

    1) There are variables that will always be outside of your control, and you can do everything right and still not succeed because of those things; and

    2) There are variables within your control - the things we talk about in the threads on what you need to do for commercial success - and the more strongly you pull those variables in your failure, the more likely you are to minimize the variables in #1, above, that aren't within your control.

    That seems like something most people will agree on. I think "entertainment" is always this way. There are musicians who are extremely talented singers/songwriters/players who had everything seemingly going for them - talent, contract with a major label, rave reviews, and so on - but for whatever reason weren't able to break through despite all indicators pointing in that direction. It happens.

    It's hard to put odds on the chances of success, no matter what steps you're following. Maybe impossible. Best we can say is that if you follow certain steps your odds seem to be a lot better than if you don't follow them, but don't get discouraged if you follow those steps and it doesn't work out. Heck, you may follow those steps for ten years without much luck and then suddenly make it. Who knows? You keep your chin up and keep writing.
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    940
    113
    I have no idea, and I agree with you completely. The "survey" of people posting their experiences is flawed from a scientific standpoint. If someone shows me data that disproves the hypothesis, I'm more than willing to listen.

    At this point, I've seen a lot of people speak from experience and say, "Hey, I did this and this is what happened ..." I haven't heard a lot of data to support the idea that following the procedure doesn't work.

    Just going off the best data that I have now, it seems to offer an indie writer his best chance at success, and it seems like there are a lot of people achieving success that way.

    Here's the problem, though.

    I think that Konrath found success a while ago. The marketplace is changing all the time. Crap, it just underwent a huge transformation with the introduction of KU2. As independent business owners, we absolutely have to adapt to the changing times instead of basing decisions off advice coming from someone who broke through years ago in a different marketplace.

    The biggest difference between what Konrath says and what the other people making money are saying is that there are ROI-effective ways to promote your books. From the stories I've read, you absolutely can find readers to put eyeballs on your free or .99 book. All you have to do is schedule the promotions around your countdown or free kindle days and pay the money.

    I remember threads from a few years ago on this site. The question was, "How do you promote your book? Ads on FB, Google, Goodreads? Blogs? What works?"

    The answer was, "As far as we can tell, nothing is guaranteed to put eyeballs on your book no matter how much you spend."

    That dynamic has changed. There are a ton of services that, for a fee, email a link to your book to their subscribers. From the experience of everybody posting stories about their promotions, these services work. Some provide positive ROI for a single book at .99. Others depend on sell through.

    There are also other marketing strategies that have been proven to work. Permafree to build a email list is the best example. Get a couple of thousand people to sign up for your list, and you're guaranteed sales with every new release. Takes time to build up that amount of subscribers, but it's not luck getting them; it's work.
     
  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    940
    113
    I'm in a completely opposite place than you are.

    I find the belief that my success is dependent on luck to be extremely discouraging, much more so than placing any blame for a lack of success squarely on my own shoulders.

    Given the current marketplace, I truly belief that, if I do not succeed, it's solely because of one of three factors:

    1. I didn't provide readers with what they wanted.
    2. I didn't figure out how to put my books in front of those readers.
    3. I didn't work hard enough to produce the necessary quantity of books.

    At this point, I'm really unsure how much the quality of your writing comes into play. I definitely do not believe that the best books will necessarily get the most sales.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    Empirically, I just don't see this being possible as the only explanations of lack of success. To me it seems pretty much a given in any entertainment area that you have really talented, hard-working people who do the right things and never make it. But the more right things you do, and the longer you do them, the better your chances.
     
  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    940
    113
    I don't know. Empirically, it sounds pretty thorough to me.

    Following all the steps means I would have produced a bunch of books that readers want to read and then got those books in front of those readers. Again, my definition of success isn't a Ferrari for every day of the week; it's monthly sales that consistently hit the 4 to 5 figure range.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,259
    3,604
    413
    Problem is, if you can find only a single instance of someone who meets those criteria and didn't succeed, then the argument falls apart. Better to say those are all things that are vastly more likely to help you, not that they are absolute guarantees.
     
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    940
    113
    Actually, because each statement is so vague and hard to measure, it's hard to prove one way or the other. How do I measure if my writing is what the readers want to read? How do I know if I've put the books in front of the right readers? How do I know how many books is "enough?"

    Look, my driving motivation is this: If other people are doing it, I can, too! I have to experiment and learn the market and figure out how everything works, but the bottom line is that people are doing it every single day. They are seeing rising sales based with each new release. Look at Pauline and Greg from this site.

    You didn't mention what I thought was the most important part of my previous post - the availability of effective promotions. It totally blew my mind when I learned that that was the case. I'd always bought the luck principle because what was the alternative? You put a book out there and then ... ???? There was no plan. Nothing you could realistically do to help your book gain traction.

    Now there are ways to guide readers to your books.

    Old Paradigm:

    Step 1 - put out a book
    Step 2 - hope people buy it

    New Paradigm:

    Step 1 - put out a book
    Step 2 - promote the book
    Step 3 - If the book met expectations for sales/downloads from the promotions, you're on the right track. If not, something is wrong with your book! Is the cover right? The pitch? Do you have eighty typos in the sample? If it's not selling during the promotion, you've done something wrong. It's incumbent upon you to figure out what that problem is.

    EDIT:

    Just to be completely clear - I do not want to come across as, "I know what I'm talking about." As of right now, I have self published exactly one novella that, in its first 28 days or so, has made less than $1/day. That's not exactly the voice of experience.

    What I want to convey is: I've put a lot of time into researching self publishing as a business. Based on my research, I truly believe there is a path to success that does not rely on luck. It does rely, however, on working really hard, investing time and money, adapting to what the market is telling you, and soaking up as much knowledge from people who are where you want to be as you can. There is no guarantee that any one author is going to be able to work hard or smart enough to succeed.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
  16. acapes

    acapes Sage

    224
    31
    28
    I would settle for income enough for one of these a week ;D

    [​IMG]
     
    kennyc likes this.
  17. acapes

    acapes Sage

    224
    31
    28

    This is the key - writing a series (or multiple series) I feel. Readers now tell me they finished Book 1 and immediately bought Book 2 of my Bone Mask books, which is awesome.

    But no-one, after reading one of my standalones, says, "I just brought the rest of your books!" (sadly :D)


    I can infer from that anecdotal evidence that either:


    1. My standalones suck
    or
    2. Writing a series sells more books

    (because readers need to 'find out what happens' and a series/trilogy tends to leave a narrative unfinished until all titles have been purchased, of course)

    ETA: Where luck comes in for me in that example, I guess, is when someone 'stumbles' across the books on Amazon/when my blurb/over/chapter1 clicks with one person (but not another) and various other factors, did I run a promo on a 'good' day? good time of day (to reach the right person) So, so, so many variables!
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  18. acapes

    acapes Sage

    224
    31
    28
    (sorry, repeated post by accident)
     
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,161
    1,138
    163
    Let me get my bias out in front. I have been following Konrath for years and I really don't think much of him. He seems to support unethical practices and is really not well informed and often even misleading on a number of fronts. The time Lee Childs kicked his ass around the block on his own site was just awesome.

    Anyways, I still think that generally "luck" is an excuse and there is no reason to believe that luck plays much more of a role in writing than any other vocation.

    The fact is that making a living in writing is very hard. It is a lot like college football. There are thousands of kids playing the sport but very few will ever make much of a living at it. A lot of people want to, and think they can do it, but the market is limited and crowded and competitive (either traditional or self). In fact on the self pub side it looks positively flooded. It is not "luck" that makes it a tough go, it is market conditions.

    You might suggest that the guys who made high end wagon wheels were "unlucky" those darned motor cars caught on. I don't see it that way. They got killed by a significant change in market conditions.

    Think of it this way. If you take 1,000 people who want to be mountain climbers probably 950 of them could do Mount Kenya while only a very small number could ever do a tough technical climb. You would not suggest that the 10 who could do the hardest climbs are luckier than the others, they are, for whatever reason, better mountain climbers. Making a half decent living at writing is that tough technical climb.

    Now you might way that there is luck in writing, depending on how big a factor who think luck plays in success in life in general (you could argue you genes are luck I suppose, or the country you are born in, or the parents you are born to) but I don't see any reason to believe that luck plays a bigger role in writing than any other profession.

    Also, thinking about things in terms of "luck" is particularly not functional. It may serve as a salve to a hurting ego but it doesn't give you a path forward. You can't make yourself more lucky. If you conclude your lack of success is a lack of "luck" what does that tell you to do. It tells you to keep doing the same thing and hope you get "lucky." That does not strike me helpful or healthy at all.

    Market conditions make it hard.

    To me, being hard makes it a worthy endevour.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  20. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,954
    965
    113
    Out of curiousity, what unethical practices and what in particular does he seem to not be informed about? I've followed him for a number of years as well and I think his worst quality is just that he tends to be a bit of a loud mouth and very... direct in his opinions. But I have not seen anything wrong with the actual content of his advice that I can remember.

    And I don't think Lee Child kicked his ass at all. Child is very knowledgeable about his own publishing experience, which is totally uncommon. He has no idea how the system treats the average writer. He's a 1 % author thinking he can tell the 99% how things are.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
    kennyc likes this.

Share This Page