This past weekend, I hit the last stop on my conference tour, the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. Getting there meant a long train ride through rural Pennsylvania, during which I had a lot of time to think. And to make myself real nervous.
I like New York. Always have. The dynamism. The diversity. The pizza. But this wasn’t a vacation. I went there to work. I have a book to sell, after all.
The conference had its highs and lows. First the highs: I learned A LOT. And everyone seemed to be having a great time. The conference was held in the Roosevelt Hotel, a beautiful old building near Grand Central. The conference itself was very well-run, a few minor hiccups notwithstanding. And I got to meet author Jonathan Maberry, who easily makes my list of Literary Heroes. He signed a book for me, too.
And now the lows: my book needs a TON of work. Or, it’s completely perfect. I couldn’t really tell which. This is not the fault of the speakers and presenters, just my own anxieties and insecurities. With each talk, I went from one end of the spectrum (I did it right! My book is brilliant!) to the other (I fucked it all up! I FUCKED IT ALL UP!). In the end, I took another look at my book, changed a couple of words and added a few sentences, and decided that I’m very happy with it. Crisis averted.
But the worst thing, by far, was a single word I kept hearing from some of the various presenters: luck. “I got lucky.” “It was a stroke of luck.” As an aspiring author, this is NOT what I want to hear from people who’ve managed to get their books into print. Luck? What is that? Can luck be quantified? Can it be purchased or earned or won or found? How do I proceed?
Let’s be clear: when trying to learn the nuts-and-bolts and the ins-and-outs of getting a book into a bookstore, luck is not something I want to hear about. I’d like to think that, when someone talks about how they “got lucky,” what they really mean is “I did something, but I have NO IDEA what it might have been.” This makes more sense than the fictional and demoralizing notion of luck.
And besides, saying it was luck detracts from talent and hard work. You people are talented. You worked hard. Don’t say it was luck, don’t say ANY PART of it was luck. It wasn’t. Luck doesn’t exist. It never did. We’re all smart people. We should know this.
And I certainly don’t want to hear about it. Luck, if it existed, would be analogous to privilege, and I damn sure don’t want to hear about your privilege. I want to hear about how you navigated the world of publishing, how you landed an agent and got your manuscript in front of an editor. I want to hear how you poured yourself into your story and how good it felt to see that story on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. And above all, I want to hear that it’s something I can do, too.
I don’t want to come off here as completely angry and bitter. I love these people, and they all helped me immensely. There was plenty of great advice and insight given at this conference. It was well worth the trip and the expense. It was an experience. Did I sell my book? Not yet. Will I? Probably. I know my query needs work. I know there’s still plenty of agents to contact. I’m inspired and excited to keep going, to be a writer, to sell my stuff and have a damn good time doing it.
And I intend to share as much of my experience as possible, much like my old “I want to make videogames” posts (part one here). Which, by the way, is still on my list. But right now, I’m still on the road, and I miss my wife and cats. Soon, I’ll be home. No luck needed.