Return on Luck

Roll the dice

I don’t normally cross-pollinate between my business blog (Yes, I have a day job, duh. I run a product development and industrialization services company, Zebulon Solutions.) and my writing blog.  But today I blogged about Return on Luck from a business perspective (for the original see http://zebulonsolutions.com/productizationblog/?p=467  ), and it occurred to me that being prepared for luck applies in spades to writing.  Perhaps even more so than business, since we as writers tend to be in the extreme long odds world. Se here is my modified-for-writers version of Return on Luck

One of my first business mentors told me, “All things equal, I’d rather be lucky than good.” That was long before I started writing fiction, or perhaps not, as I did a lot of business plans in that decade, which are often very creative and fictional.  As much as we would all like to think that being succesful at writing is about skill, talent, practice, and the like, it’s also, just as with most things in life, also about luck.

But there is such as thing as making one’s own luck, and more importantly, being prepared when luck strikes. Return on Luck is just as important as Return on Investment. Great companies have their ups and downs like everyone else, but they are ready to pounce when the die favor them. Having a plan to deal with an uptick in orders. Building impulse capacity into the supply chain. Being prepared to accelerate market launch if the preliminary design validation testing results are promising. Having a plan for three design spins but also a plan if no spins are needed.  But that’s the business, the engineering view.

Similarly, as writers we also need to be prepared for luck.  That means building a social platform, honing our talents, building that writing CV, and even practicing that elevator pitch (another term borrowed from the business world), just in case we are in fact stuck in an elevator with an agent, an editor or an author whose books have been made into too many movies. It also means networking like crazy.

Me, I got a couple of breaks early on in my writing, and I wasn’t really ready.  A work colleague introduced me to her sister-in-law, who worked for a Big 6 publisher as an editor, and even had gone to the same alma mater as I (go Owls!).  So I sent her a copy of the manuscript for my first novel, visions of six-figure book deals dancing before my eyes.  Well she didn’t like it at all, although she was generous enough to point out the two dozen things I was doing wrong with my writing.  In hindsight of course I wish that I had waited, polished it more, but in fact at that stage maybe what I needed was a solid kick in the pants, that I needed to learn sooner rather than later that my writing wasn’t there yet.

My second break was that the first short story I ever wrote was accepted for publication by the first market I submitted it to.  A check (a small check, see above, I’m not quitting that day job) followed, and again I thought, hey I’ve arrived. It was almost two years later before I sold my second short story, after learning the hard way that luck is fickle.  But again I knuckled down and worked on my writing and now I’m up to eight short story sales, four in 2012 alone.  So while I wasn’t completely prepared for the luck, it did work out. Life is funny that way.

And I am learning, both about how to write better, and also how to prepare myself better for luck, be it good or bad.  I’m applying the lessons of the business world to my writing, and occasionally the other way around too. I’m a better blogger now, and maybe my business plans, while no less fictional, read a little crisper too.

Back to work. Gotta keep paying those bills till I get lucky.

CR Hodges

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