when the gods intervene on your behalf, is that “success”

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

Chances are, most people will believe that a writer is more likely to benefit from sudden good luck if s/he is ready for it. Perhaps not being ready for it means the chance won’t happen. Aside from that, if an editor appears and says, “If you have a great short story, I’ll publish it and pay you fairly for your work,” then it helps to have a great short story ready.

So, I suppose practicing one’s writing skills and being ready for “a lucky break” can be called success.

Nonetheless, as I think of this now, I remember a shouting match–via snail mail–I had with a widely a known writers magazine many years ago. The magazine purported to offer everything a prospective writer might need, from learning the craft to the techniques necessary for finding a magazine editor or a book publisher. They did a reasonable job of covering the basics of creating a salable work and understanding how and when to pitch it to the right place at the right time.

I had no argument with that. What bothered me were their “success stories,” published in every issue to show that their teaching could lead to a successful writing career. What started this shouting match was the fact every “success story” never showed the magazine’s “pitch” techniques working. In every so-called success, the writer labored away at their craft and didn’t get it published until an influential author, agent, editor, or publisher moved into the house next door, ultimately took a look at the prospective author’s work, and showed it to the powers that be, sidestepping the normal submissions process.

My argument was that since the magazine was teaching how to successfully write and how to successfully submit work on speculation or on assignment, that the appearance of a “god” next door didn’t equate with success. The magazine’s submission system included building a platform of acceptances from little magazines or regional magazines or the local newspaper, writing a proper query letter, crafting a synopsis for an agent/editor/publisher, and doing all this according to accepted standards. There was no “god” in the system.

They argued, like Pasteur, the “god” next door wouldn’t have been of much help if the writer weren’t ready. I stipulated that. But I also said the magazine was teaching the standard route to finding a publisher for the created work, and that did not include having Ernest Hemingway or Bennet Cerf moving into the vacant house next door. I said I wanted to read success stories that showed writers following the magazine’s advice from A to Z. They never showed that, so I canceled my subscription.

There’s a lot of luck going around in the publishing business. Yet, I think emerging writers need more to do than sit and wait for it to appear. They need to know how to write and how to find a publisher. Of course, if John Grisham moves in next door and offers to help, I see no reason to turn him down.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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