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The luck of the draw

The luck of the draw

Because I’m charging around in Wales with the kids – I’m going to keep it short this week.

One thought and one thought only:

There’s a heck of a lot of luck in writing.

The way we talk – the way I talk – often suggests that if you’re just good enough at your art and craft, you can force your way to success. And that’s just not true.

For sure:

A strong elevator pitch is the single most muscular thing you can do to maximise your chances. And I don’t mean that you write your book, then come up with the best single sentence with which to pitch it. I mean roughly the opposite of that. I mean you come up with a brilliant idea, then you write the book of the idea, then your pitch can be any old phrase that gestures at your brilliant idea.

But yes, the pitch matters.

Then too, you have to be able to write. You can’t achieve any kind of success without basic competence … but there are plenty of commercially successful writers who don’t have huge literary talents. Their sentences work, but never sing. That’s OK. That can definitely be enough.

And then on top of that, if you can actually write well, it really boosts your chances, not least because agents and editors do recognise good writing when they see it and they want to be close to it. They want to help it along.

But …

It’s still a game of luck. If three big supermarket chains take your book – based off little more than a title and a book cover – and if they sell that book at a nice little discount – then your book will be a bestseller. It’s not about whether the book deserves it or not. Just that number of feet walking past a well-displayed and sweetly discounted title WILL produce sales.

You can’t produce that outcome by force of will. A publisher can’t either. They all play the same game and all want the same outcome. They’re all professional. They all make nice book covers. They can all put together decent catalogues. They all know how to pitch.

Self-publishing is less chancy to be honest, but even big-selling authors don’t really know whether Series X is going to succeed as well as their big hit Series Y. They can put the same craft and market intelligence behind both, but in the end, they don’t know until they get the book out there.

So don’t judge yourself by sales. Aim for sales, yes – I always do. But it will be the Lady Luck herself, in her green-hemmed gown, who will determine whether you win or lose or just muddle through to some kind of draw.

Light a candle, eat a shamrock – and write another book.

Feedback Friday

Last week, another elevator pitch discussion kicked off (here; you need to be a logged into Townhouse to view that link.) The discussion is all good and the topic really, really matters. Take an owl ‘n’ imp refresher here.

Then just give me your pitch.

Let’s shake this up and you can give me:

Ingredients: 2-4 ingredients only. So your pitch looks like “teen romance + vampires”. Very short, and not even a sentence.

Short, messy: A short pitch (<15 words) that is for you only. It’s not going to go on a book or a movir poster, so keep it scruffy please.

Short, elegant: this is the line you want on the movie poster of your book. Or the back-of-book headline.

Longer version: Up to 50 words.

You don’t have to do ALL those pitches. Just offer what appeals. If you’ve done this before, then repeat the exercise but with a different book.


That’s it from me. Post yours here. Very normal service resumes next week.

Til soon.


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