by Janet Lane
Is there a way to improve your odds for publishing success? It’s likely you’ve learned about other writers’ successes and wondered, “When will it be my turn?” or “How did he finally get so lucky?”
There are ways to improve your luck, and reading about others’ success stories gives clues about ways we can improve our own odds for success.
The remarkable life of TV anchorman Tom Brokaw was recently the topic of a news feature, as well as a cover-page story in Parade magazine. Brokaw’s beginnings were modest. Born to working class parents and raised as an Army brat, he went on to travel to all seven continents, write six best-selling books, win every major award in broadcast journalism and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Success didn’t destroy him--he has been married for 52 years to Meredith, with whom he raised three daughters and enjoys five grandchildren.
In his latest release, A Lucky Life Interrupted, he writes about the not-so-lucky events, one of which was a battle with multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in his bone marrow. The experience gave Brokaw a dose of humility, and he shared his thoughts on good fortune. “I believe you make your own luck. It’s always a mistake not to go, so I jump on the airplane, try new things… A big part of making your own luck is just charging out of the gate every morning. And if you want to be lucky you’ve got to go out and take advantage of it.”
So it’s as simple as Nike’s slogan, then -- “Just do it!”
In the Parade article, Brokaw reviews his good luck -- good parents, a lucky break when he landed a job at a Yankton, SD radio station that launched his broadcasting career, and a serendipitous assignment from NBC to cover the White House during Watergate, an assignment that gave him the opportunity to play a large part in the greatest political story in American history.
Is it as simple as that, then, “Just do it?” Those of us who have invested a year or more in a novel--the writing and the polishing and the peddling of it--know that it takes more than just doing it. Timing and luck often play a part.
Consider Diana Gabaldon’s story. She posted incomplete chapters of her work in progress in an on-line chat room and caught the attention of an agent who secured a lucrative contract for Outlander, which became a New York Times best-selling series and made-for-TV movie. Then there’s J. K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series. Rowling graduated from writing on paper napkins to becoming richer than the Queen of England.
The Parade article included five tips to get luckier:
1. PAY ATTENTION. We need to pay attention when opportunity knocks. We need to open the door, and take action. Put down your cell phone. Walk away from your computer. As Brokaw says, “Charge out of the gate every morning.” That means get out of the house, step out of your comfort zone--join the publishing world in an active, rather than passive way.
2. OPEN YOUR CALENDAR. Avoid over-scheduling yourself, and save some “down time” for walking, meditating, enabling you to make connections and allow patterns and ideas to reveal themselves. Talk to people and listen, and you’ll begin to recognize opportunities.
3. INCREASE YOUR ODDS. It’s like the old expression, “If you throw enough mud on the side of the barn, some will stick.” You must be in the game to win. If you try 30 new things, you might be able to count 15 good things that happen to you.
4. TAKE CHANCES. Serendipity is more likely to strike when you step out of your comfort zone. Expose yourself to new people, new places, and new information. (Which is why attending writing events such as the RMFW conference is so valuable.)
5. LET IT GO. Clinical Psychiatry Professor Richard A. Friedman notes that the “unlucky” tend to dwell on their bad experiences, replaying negative events and giving them too much weight in their lives. Losing out on a good parking space becomes as bad as losing your wedding ring. Try to downplay the unlucky events, and create ways to easily recall your lucky or successful events.
And why not carry a good-luck charm, something that reminds you of a good-luck moment in your life? Brokaw mentions the late Sam Gibbons, a Florida congressman who carried a cricket, which he used as communication with fellow soldiers during parachute assault during World War I. “It’s a reminder that I’m lucky I wasn’t jumping into enemy territory in the dark of night,” Gibbons said.
Keep writing, keep dreaming. Pay attention, be ready, and take chances.
Good luck! I’m cheering you on!