The Quality of Luck


We were really pleased to see in the Jane Austen Centre online magazine an article by Patrice Hannon in which she discussed her road to publication of two Jane Austen-related book, Dear Jane Austen and 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen. We were delighted not because the Editrix got a shoutout in the article (though it’s always nice to get an unexpected egoboo) but because it’s such a great story for aspiring authors.

There is a persistent belief among aspiring authors (and some readers) that one must “know someone” to get published, or have some kind of inside track. There is a grain of truth in this, but what is not acknowledged is that authors who are seen as “lucky” or “in the right place at the right time” are almost always someone who has worked very hard and had her hard work noticed and rewarded by putting herself in the position to take advantage of her “lucky” break. There are few really overnight successes.

It also should be pointed out that Patrice Hannon not only put herself out there by taking a part-time job mostly to sell her own book, and by believing in herself sufficiently to put in the time and work to promote it and get it noticed, but by backing it all up by writing good books. When asked to recommend someone to write a book on Jane Austen, the Editrix recommended Dr. Hannon because her deep knowledge (and love) of Jane Austen’s work came through on every page of Dear Jane Austen. If it had been a mediocre book, it would have ended there.

Jane Austen herself spent more than 20 years honing her craft before being published, and one can see the progress of her genius through each of her books. While publishing was set up a little differently in those days, without much more of a barrier to first publication than the ability to guarantee any losses experienced by the publisher, if her books weren’t great, they would have been forgotten like the other hundreds of books published in that time. Even the bestselling authors of her day–Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Samuel Richardson–are not widely known or read today. Work hard–and produce good stuff.

Albert Einstein famously once said that genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. We would add that luck, at least in publishing, is some percentage of genius and a larger percentage of work. Don’t expect the Publishing Fairy to come down and smack you with her magic wand. As Conan O’Brien said, work really hard and be kind and amazing things will happen. It’s true!

7 thoughts on “The Quality of Luck

  1. Editrix: I agree completely with your column. When I published my first book, “And This Our Life”, I self-published it because I knew the manuscript was not ready to send to a traditional publisher, but I took advantage of the editing services offered by iUniverse, which were very expensive but which taught me a lot about developing the plot of my story. A few months after publication and many hours of talks, signings and advertising I was contacted by a literary agent, Nicholas Croce of The Croce Agency, who was looking for new austenesque writers. I signed and he sold my book to Sourcebooks. They wanted it rewritten from a different character’s point of view, which I thought was the natural evolution of the editing process and did. “Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister” will be released Sept. 1. I asked Nick what had attracted him to my book and he said he liked the cover, which looked very professional (it has a picture of a college student I know wearing a Regency dress I sewed for her) and because my sales rank on Amazon indicated that it was selling well for a self-published book. Austenesque writers have an advantage, of course, because we have a well-defined audience- we can go right to our fans. I think the most important key for success as a writer is editing- even our dear Jane had to rework “First Impresions” before a publisher would accept it, years later, as “Pride and Prejudice.”


  2. Thanks! I needed this. I’m looking for an agent for an Austen-related work right now and having no luck (I just started a month ago though so it’s too soon to despair). Rejection is upsetting, but I keep plugging along. I think you’re right. Hard work and good writing pay off in the end!


    • MUCH too soon to despair. Query WIDELY.

      If you’re not getting requests from agents to see more, work on your query (see: Query Shark, and also read Miss Snark’s archives for more info).

      If you ARE getting requests to see more, and they keep passing, work on your manuscript.

      Meanwhile, work on your blog, write articles, write short stories, get yourself out there.

      Also, as far as Austen-related stuff goes, I’m told that P&P-related stuff is much more likely to sell. Not that the other stuff doesn’t, but it’s harder for new writers.

      Self-publishing and other alternatives will get become more important in the next few years with the increasing marketshare of ebooks. Right now, if you want to be A Famous And Wealthy Author, or even a mildly successful midlister, you’re better off going old-school.

      (this last part is general advice–not directed particularly at Lisa!)

      ALSO: don’t be a diva. Learn to take constructive criticism. Learn to blow off the non-constructive, useless nastiness. (I’m not saying it’s easy–but it’s necessary to the job.) Become analytical about your own stuff. Be your own toughest critic. And when presenting your work to others (including bloggers that you wish to talk about your writing), you don’t have to suck up and be all fake nicey-nice; just be professional. Don’t send your fanpoodles around to berate me and my guests, don’t leave pseudonymous comments on the blog trashing us (the Editrix sees all, knows all), don’t get up in my grille and tell me we trash everything so don’t bother reviewing your book, and remember that bloggers talk to one another, so word gets around about diva behavior. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like one. If you need to complain about a review or another blogger or your publisher, call your mother or your best friend and do it. Don’t do it on your blog or Twitter or Facebook. Like I said–word gets around; and karma’s a bitch.


  3. Lisa, send your proposal and manuscript to Nicholas Croce and see what he says. If you have not had someone advise you and critique you on your manuscript (a literature teacher, professional editor, or other professional who will give you an honest appraisal and suggestions) then you might want to consider it. The route that I took to publication was very expensive, although I was able to sell enough books to pay for the publishing, it was still an expensive way to learn my craft. If you don’t have access to any of these things you might consider a writer’s workshop where you can get a professional to look through part of your manuscript. They are also a great way to meet some agents. There is a meeting on Sanibel Island every fall which is put on by Florida Gulf Coast University- great seminar, great place! It is also helpful to join LinkedIn and join some of the writer’s groups. You can pose questions and get advice from writers who have been there.


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