Success As A Writer Is Soooooo 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 mind-numbing statistics to prove their points.  It’s as frantic as those 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 to publish and promote your books the way they did because look how great things turned out for them.  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. We have no control over how our books succeed or fail, but we can control how good they are before they reach readers.

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 less unpredictable like Accounting.

The author of 25 books in many genres, Lev Raphael has taken his twenty years of university teaching online to offer unique creative writing workshops at

8 thoughts on “Success As A Writer Is Soooooo Unpredictable”

    • Glad to hear that. Talent is important, but so is luck and stubbornness. I know too many people who gave up. Don’t let disappointment deter you!

  1. And “success” is pretty much self-defined (or should be). Anything in the arts (and most everything else) is unpredictable. Persistence helps, but . . . example, one of my writer friends who was modestly successful in traditional publishing about a year ago self-published a novel. It sold something like 20,000 copies in the first day. In. A. Single. Day. Even he admits he didn’t expect it.

    I sure as hell didn’t.

    My books never sell like that. My recently published novel . . . 6 copies in the first day. Over time it’ll sell more than that. I haven’t really geared up promotion, such as it is . . . but really, who can predict? 20,000 copies in a single frikkin’ day?

    • A story like that is the kind that might make some people think, “Yes! That’s the ticket! I’ll do it too and sell even more copies in one day!”

  2. Lev, it’s good to be reminded of how little control we have. Keeps me writing for the sake of the writing, & not for some fantasy outcome. Thanks for the advice!

  3. Thanks, Lev, for these wise words. Writing for that pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow is, at best, a crapshoot. But writing for the sheer joy of it, that never disappoints.


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