Friday, March 4, 2011

What Has Luck Got To Do With It? A Lot Actually...

When I started this whole crazy writing career, it was on a lark. I wrote a short story, it caught on, and I had a revelation that there was a lot more story to write. I kept on writing, I ended up with thousands of fans, they demanded novels of the story, I self published, and...sold 25 books the first month.

The next month I sold over 60. I felt a bit better. I was trying to promote it to the best of my ability using social networks and appealing to my original fans, but I wondered if I was reaching the zombie/horror audience or not.

This is where luck came into play.

Dr. Pus from The Library of the Living Dead Podcast read the book and loved it. He contacted me immediately and we had a very positive email discussion. On his podcast he reviewed THE FIRST DAYS and gave it 11 Severed Fingers (out of 10) and gave the book a whole lot of zombie love. Sales immediately started going up. Later on, he would start to do an audio version of the first two chapters and sales increased.

Soon word of mouth caught on, 5 and 4 star reviews went up on and the rest is history. The series went on to sell thousands of books and gain a great fan base.

So how did I end up selling the film rights?

The producer who bought the option told me that FIGHTING TO SURVIVE popped up on the Amazon's "people who bought this book also bought" list of a book he was looking at. He thought Jenni looked a lot like his wife, so he clicked on the book. He's from Texas and liked the idea of people in Texas fighting zombies, so he bought the series. He loved it and asked me if he could option it.

So how did I end up selling the series to Tor?

After two disastrous attempts to find an entertainment lawyer in Austin, I ended up with one in Los Angeles. How I ended up with my lawyer is another really long story, but full of strange coincidences. Anyway, my lawyer negotiated the option and during that time a publishing house contacted me. He suggested that he should contact literary agencies he worked with in the past and see if any were interested in representing me.

Within a month I had a new agent with The Foundry Literary + Media agency in New York. Hannah sold the book series to Tor.

So if I were to be realistic about how I came to this point in my career, I have to admit that even though I worked like crazy to make it happen, in the end, luck was a big part of the mix. I got lucky several times and each time my career advanced another step.

Carrie Vaughn, bestselling author of the Kitty werewolf series, touched on how luck affected her writing career in a blog post on Genreality. She wrote about two separate occurrences that she had no control over, but that had a huge impact on her writing career. When I originally read this post, it really resounded with me. At that time a lot of writers were asking me about self publishing and how I had found my success. I told them the steps I had taken to get my book out and how I had promoted it. I was often told they had done exactly the same things I had, but not the same results.

Even the new Indie Author heroine, Amanda Hocking, isn't too sure why she's being so successful. She has sold over a million ebooks. In a new blog post she says,
As much as my name has been thrown about, I haven't seen J. L. Bryan's name mentioned. He's the author of a fantastic young adult paranormal romance called Jenny Pox. Like my books, his is priced at $.99 EDIT: It's $2.99 now. But it was $.99 earlier. Like me, he has several other titles out. Also, like me, he has paperback versions of his book available and he reaches out to book bloggers. In fact, he just did an intensive blog tour for the release of his latest book The Haunted E-book. I even included an excerpt of Jenny Pox at the end of my book Ascend, because I like his writing so much, and I want other people to read it.

With all of that said, Bryan sells less books than I do. I don't know how many exactly, because I haven't asked, but I can tell from his rankings that it's not as many. What's my point in all of this? By all accounts, he has done the same things I did, even writing in the same genre and pricing the books low. And he's even a better writer than I am. So why am I selling more books than he is? I don't know.
People constantly ask me how I ended up with a three book deal with Tor and I'm always honest about how it all came about. They often say, "Wow, you really got lucky!" And I know I did. Events did line up in such a way that my career took off and soared.

But even as I acknowledge that luck played a huge role in my career, so did a lot of hard work and perseverance. I started writing when I was just a kid and honed my style over many long years. I faced a lot of rejection and heartbreak along the path to publication. I even took long breaks from writing to save my sanity. When the decision to self publish opened so many doors, I was ready. All those years had toughened up my skin, given me confidence, and focus.

Luck did have a lot to do with my success and its an ingredient most writers don't even want to think about. It's rough to realize that some part of the process of establishing a successful writing career is going to be out of your control. But the part that is in your control...the writing, the marketing, the revising, etc...should be the very best you have to offer.


  1. Your story sounds like a lot of success stories in my field as well (architecture). When you look back and connect all the dots in reverse it seems unbelievable things turned out the way they did.

    At my new firm, started in the worst economy in 80 years, we have a quote we are fond of:

    "80% of success is just showing up" - Woody Allen.

    Of course you do have to 'show up' with amazing characters and a compelling story line like ATWD.

    And let's not forget those tiny fingers reaching under the door haunting us all...

  2. Thanks, Jones!

    I think what has really struck me in the last year or so is that when I gaze back on the journey to get to this point it's such an amazing string of coincidences. Then again, they say coincidence is God being anonymous.

  3. I hope that some of that luck falls on my path. My first novel of a series has been available for a month. I’ve been pounding the lonely road of self-publish and desperately treading water. I can’t seem to find people to do a review or blog about it. I’ve sent tons of e-mails and no one has time (a polite way to say no).

    I finally got one person to contact me about doing a review. I am more than happy to send a free paperback to those who are willing. I even ask people who have read it to leave feedback at Amazon or B&N but still nothing.

    Goodreads has been an optimistic light for me. At least I have a couple of hundred people marking the book as to-read.


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