Location, Location, Location

Writers and other publishing types love to give new writers advice about how to be successful.  I find these columns and blogs in my Facebook feed at least daily if not more often.

But there’s one subject they never mention: location.

Despite the Internet, despite Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Tumblr and all the rest of the ways to reach, create, and seduce fans, where you park your laptop can be as important as what you write and how you promote yourself.  Publishers are gaga about social media, but they’re always touting something new.  Before tweeting it was blog tours and before that book trailers.

Life as a writer can be very different in a city with lots of traditional media.  Even though they’re declining, newspapers can still give you inimitable coverage in reviews, features, and interviews.

Likewise, being able to appear on many radio stations still makes a difference in getting the word out locally to help build your audience before you break big.

And if you’re in a media nexus like New York, you’re more able to make face-to-face connections with other writers, with reviewers, with editors and agents at parties, book signings and readings.  These are precious contacts that writers living in East Podunk just can’t make happen for themselves.  Random contacts at summer writing workshops and yearly conferences aren’t the same thing.

Being in a big city also means lots of colleges and universities.  They offer the opportunity of speaking gigs and something else: invitations to teach at writing workshops.  That world is pretty much a series of closed circles.  A writer I know who runs one in the New York area confided that she only invited her friends in the New York area.  Other writers who make various circuits say they see the same people over and over.  If someone breaks in, she’s usually a star, not a newbie.

Of course, being born into a family of writers trumps everything: That’s the ultimate good location.

Success is Unpredictable

Poor newbie writers.  Everywhere they turn, someone’s telling them how to be successful.  Go indie!  Publish traditionally!  The advocates of each path offer fulsome proof of their reasoning.  It’s as overwhelming as middle-of-the-night infomercials for exercise machines that will trim belly fat in only ten minute sessions three times a week.

Of course, these machines are modeled for you by men and women with killer abs and minimal body fat.  You and I will never look like that unless we give everything up and hire live-in trainers.  And even then, as the coach said in Chariots of Fire, “You can’t put in what God left out.”

I’ve lost my patience with super-successful indie or traditionally-published authors telling the world: Publish the way I did because look how great things turned out for me.  Each side reports the benefits of what they’ve done with certainty and conviction,  and of course they’re either best-selling authors on the newspaper lists or best-selling authors on Amazon.  Or both!

First time authors sometimes publish big with a New York press, and sometimes they make it big going indie (and possibly go bigger switching to legacy publishing).  It’s all a crap shoot.

Most authors will never reach the heights of these newly-minted experts, and not through any fault of their own.  It doesn’t matter how hard you work, how good your book is, luck and timing are key ingredients that can’t be corralled.  Books have their own karma.  The right book at the right time published in the right way booms.

But nobody can predict it’s going to happen.  And the authors who share their glorious experiences need to realize that though they may want to inspire and enlighten wannabes, at some level, they just make the rest of us drool or wish we’d listened to our parents and gone into something predictable like Accounting.