Good; Luck


“I’d rather be lucky than good.”

You’ve heard the expression, or some variation on it. I have too – my whole life.  My father’s variant was, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” Sometimes he added “I guess” at the end, especially when something fortuitous happened to someone he deemed undeserving or held some sort of animosity for (football players for teams opposing his, for example).

I’ve seen the adage bear itself out in life. It’s not, despite its outward appearance, something for the embittered to say about those more blessed or fortunate than they. Rather, it’s a commentary of observation, one which, over time, is certainly possible to measure and note.

Some examples in general

I like the example of musicians and bands for this concept. They’re a concrete way to demonstrate an otherwise abstract idea.

Take for example some of the mega-bands from the 1980s. During that time, I believed anyone could record an album and get rich quick, regardless of talent level. Reference: Seagulls, A Flock of and Vanilli, Milli. I was wrong in that belief though.

See, more than just talent is required . There’s a confluence of fortunate events, a happenstance, which precedes almost every rock star success story I’ve ever heard. In the late 90s and early 2000s, VH1 ran a show called Behind the Music. WIGSF, you may recall The Simpsons doing a parody of this show, including use of the actual narrator from the series. (“Let me be clear about this: I thought the cop was a hooker.”)

When that show told the behind-the-scenes story of a band, there was, without exception, a pivotal point just before their breakthrough into stardom where the story goes, “Yeah, so, like, uuuuuuhhhh, this dude’s there, in like, the audience, y’know? And it turns out, he’s, uuuuuhhh, like, this big-time record producin’ dude from MegaStar Record Company, y’know? An’ like, he says, ‘Wow, you dudes are, like, awesome an’ shit, and I wanna give you a contract.’ So, uuuuuhhh, yeah – that’s, like how it happened. Then it all went nuts, y’know? Like, panties on stage nuts, y’know?”

Inevitably, invariably. Every. Single. One. My wife is a witness that I’m not exaggerating this.

They would NOT have achieved the success they did without what most of us would call a “lucky break” to put them ahead of a lot – and I mean  a lot – of other bands and musicians. Some of whom were more talented.

A real-life example

My ex-wife is a professional-caliber singer. She:

  • can write songs
  • plays rhythm guitar
  • sings both backup and lead
  • reads sheet music
  • almost has perfect pitch. (This is the ability to see the note on the page in its clef and sing it at the exact tone corresponding to the piano key, if you aren’t familiar.)

Point is, she’s got an amazing voice and can do a lot of amazing things with it. Things other singers won’t even try, most times.

Here’s how it went for her:

  • Some guy from a church where she used to sing heard her
  • he had a couple of contacts in the recording industry
  • he wanted to back her and approached her with the idea, of which she was in favor (obviously).
  • he sank about (I think) $10,000 to cut a demo tape
  • put her in contact with a few of his contacts, and
  • generally promoted her as best he could without hiring a marketing firm.

In return, she pitched herself to as many local spots and booked herself as a performer as many times as she could.

You know what happened? Of course you do.

Nothing, that’s what.

Oh, sure, she played the local gigs until they ran out, and she still sang weddings for friends and relatives or referrals thereof. But, last time I dealt with her, she:

  • lived with her mother
  • still claimed Amway was just to finance her “recording career”
  • might be singing at the church from which she got fired for a monthly stipend.

I don’t keep up with her and I don’t know – she might be a mega-star now – but last I heard from her she

  • didn’t have, and I quote, “a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of”,
  • had a set of twins
  • was fighting to ensure father (a friend of mine) couldn’t see them, and
  • had generally become Bitch One.

But that recording contract? Yeah, not so much.

Why? Because, as good as she is, as talented and capable and multifaceted musically, she never got that lucky break.

What’s it to ya?

For me, this comes back to writing. I see books all the time where

  • the writing’s not stellar
  • the editing could use some help
  • the product is in general a POS.

I read them – much as I can, anyway – and wonder

  • who the f**k at the publishing house bought that steaming pile of crap
  • which agent thought it would sell in the first place, and
  • how the f**k the author was unembarrassed submitting this as a piece of “literature” in the first place.

I see someone like J. A. Konrath, considered by many to be the king of self-publishing , a shining example of what’s possible. Of course, he’s very vocal about his advocacy of self-publishing, and yet, extremely cautionary to writers about following his footsteps with the expectation of achieving his success.

He’s sort of a dichotomy, because on the one hand he seems to be encouraging authors to go the self-publishing route and yet repeatedly discourages anyone from expecting to have the monetary success and popularity he’s enjoyed. He also repeatedly states he’s not an exception and authors who go the same route can get the same result, or even better if they work at it. (He is not, so far in my experience with his blog [very, very new to me], explanatory on self-marketing and promotion. He also makes no secret of the fact that he had success in print after a dozen years of failure before jumping to self-publishing, which proves he’s not self-publishing because he has no alternative.)

Confused? I am too.

But look at it another way: How about lottery winners?

Sure, you can become an entrepreneur and work like a dog, or a Type-A personality, sacrifice and suffer to make millions and finally get rich slow. You can. Oh, sure, there’s the remote possibility you’ll achieve instant, overnight success and be mega-rich and able to live like a wealthy slob in just a short time, but for most it’s a long, hard toil. And for most, the doing is the reward, not the money. They aren’t trying to get rich, they’re trying to do what they love most and to provide as comfortable a living for themselves along the way as possible.

But the odds aren’t in favor of that. The odds favor being a toiler forever, or until you retire or die, whichever comes first.

Lottery winners? They drop a few bucks on a ticket, the right six numbers come up, and they walk away multimillionaires.

For my money, pun intended, I’d rather be lucky than good. I’d rather be that guy who buys a ticket with the magic six numbers. I’d rather be that guy who happens to get his manuscript to the agent who’s had just enough alcohol that night to be in just the right frame of mind and who takes on my work, and in turn pitches it to just the right editor at just the right publishing house at just the right time for them to want my product so it hits the market at just the right moment so it sells like J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown had an orgiastic love child and I can sit back and live on royalty checks alone. I’d rather be that guy.

As opposed to this fat lump of wallow I’ve become, I mean.

How ‘bout you? Would you rather be lucky, or good?

-JDT-

 

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Copyright DarcKnyt 2010
ALL rights reserved

 
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10 thoughts on “Good; Luck

  1. I’m too tired to read all of this, I was up all night paying guys to kiss each other.

    Now there’s a pastime you don’t hear about much.

    • I certainly don’t want bad writing out there with my name on it, so I can’t say I’d rather be lucky than good. I want to be both.

      Me too, Linda, but if I HAVE to choose, I think lucky beats good every frickin’ time. 😉

      I had heard a lot about the book I recently started to read: it made the NY Times bestseller list, the author had interviews all over the internet, I follow this author on Twitter. I was excited to read the book. Now, I’m disappointed and angry. The writing is bloated and flat, the dialogue clumsy, and the characters cliche.

      Nohting new or unique there. 😉

      The author seems to be a nice person, and I don’t want to begrudge them success. However, though I work hard to make my writing not only technically solid, but emotionally evocative, and my characters and dialogue realistic, so far I haven’t excited anyone in the publishing world.

      I understand how you feel. I go through it on a regular basis… like, every doggone time I pick a book up. 😀

      My conclusion? No matter how many times the-powers-that-be say it’s all about the writing, I don’t believe that for a second.

      I’m with you! 🙂 Nice to see you here again, and I hope you’re doing AWESOME. And don’t worry; you’re already good. Now we both just need lucky, right? 😉

  2. I think Konrath cautions writers b/c he knows that most of them can’t put together a publishable work on their own (meaning that many self-publishers don’t put in the time to edit/polish and perhaps even pay a freelance editor to help them). One misstep with a self-published piece of work can doom a writer forever.

    I iknow, it IS like a tightrope isn’t it? And you’re right — until now (and this hasn’t necessarily changed just because Konrath is a giant), self-pub is for those incapable of traditional means.

    He is also realistic. E-books are still a small market and will be until a single platform/reader dominates and as you’ve noted, some of the lucky published novelist can’t write. It stands to reason than that many who self-publish are equally untalented.

    As tiny as the market is, can you imagine earning $120K/year doing it?! When it takes off he’s gonna be RICH! 🙂

    Have you thought about just taking the plunge with e-books? I have. More and more. I have a lot of short works. Things that won’t stretch to novels or even novellas (a sadly neglected sweet form in my opinion) and would like to compile a short story novel for e-book. Still pondering how.

    YES! I’m getting very, very tempted, in fact. I have a coule of well-polished and well-reviewed novellas and there are a handful of markets but — c’mon, they ain’t gonna pay much. (Some are pub cred only.) I agree — novellas are neglected too much.

    If you want to do it, do it.

    Thanks, Annie. Nice to see you again! 🙂

  3. I don’t care how it happens, I just want to be filthy rich.

    Oh, me tt sister. Amen to that.

    I see a lot of people who get lucky breaks and pi$$ them away. I think you need to have the intelligence and drive to turn the lucky break into success.

    Well, I think Sherri’s statement is pretty good. Preparation can be having the brains to handle it. 😉

  4. Some people do just get lucky breaks, but from the outside, it is hard to really tell. I mean, you have to write a book in the first place and you have to have a lot of really bad gigs with booing audiences (or no audience) before you can be good enough to get an audience big enough to have that important agent in the audience.

    I don’t know, Marta. I’ve played with a band, and even though it was a crappy high school garage band, it drew crowds. Surprising crowds. The largest I can recall was something like 1500 people. You’d be amazed how easy it is to get attention as a musician — IF you’re lucky. 😉

    You have to be brave enough to fail in front of people. You have to know that no matter how great your writing, someone is going to think it sucks. Someone is going to diss you in public. You can’t find any published writer on the planet who doesn’t have people who think he’s a hack. You have to accept that some people will love you. Some people will know you didn’t deserve your success–as most people in their hearts believe they don’t deserve their success.

    I don’t know if most people hold that belief in their hearts, to be honest. I think most of them think they’ve earned everything they have, worked for it or just were … lucky enough. I’m positive I’ve never heard anyone express the idea you’re putting forward here.

    But look in any bookstore. Sure, of all those thousands of books, how many are bestsellers? A fraction. Yet, many of those writers keep writing for their small audience. And why focus on the stories of lucky bastards anyway? How about the authors who worked hard, wrote well, and found success? Yeah, and someone out there thinks they are crap.

    Well, there are those, I’m sure. I guess for me the brass ring doesn’t lower itself to the midlisters who pound away for small audiences in niche groups, though. It’s about MY perception of success in that case, I believe. My definition of success, I suppose.

    Then some authors are victim to hype. Their books get talked up so much that they are bound to disappoint, ruining them for a long time, never allowing them to grow as a writer.

    How sad, isn’t it? So sad. You say this and I envision poor ol’ Brian Keene being billed as “the next Stephen King.” How could he possibly live up to that?

    I want enough money to pay my bills, buy a cute little house in our neighborhood, and send the kiddo to college. Too much money ruins most children it seems. Ever notice how many lottery winners go on to divorce, alienate their children, lose friends and most of the money?

    I hear those, yes, but I’ve also heard those where the people went on to live quiet lives of comfort without extravagance and made the money last for them and their progeny. It’s about which stories make the news, I think.

    I’d rather be good. Really. But I challenge you to find one author out there who EVERYONE thinks is good.

    I’m sure you’re right, NO ONE is considered good by ALL. Art is too subjective for that. And I’m not saying I’d rather be lucky than good unless I have to choose only one. I don’t know anyone who gets that choice. I do the best I can in all I do and hope for the luck to change. If not for bad luck seems like I’d have little or none, frankly.

    Luck is being prepared, being out in the world, saying yes to opportunity, and sometimes putting in so much work that you make it look easy to everyone else.

    Ultimately, I think life is random. You’re standing in the right place or the wrong place. You can’t control that. I sure can’t. The best I can do is put my best effort into where I’m standing.

    I’ll buy that last bit. Very much. Well said.

    • Well, you’ve given me more to think about and I can see where my thoughts weren’t, well, a success! Anyway, replying would take too long here. I’m going to blog about this later, so then we can compare notes again.

  5. I do not accept the premise of good/lucky mutual exclusivity.

    Most folks don’t. I’m becoming convinced of it, however.

    I definitely accept that a lot of what gets praised to the skies is a load of shite. There’s a lot of The Emperor’s New Clothes effect going on at all times in culture. There’s a helluva lot more out there that’s lucky than lucky and good.

    You’re absolutely right about that. 🙂

  6. Lucky.
    But I’d like to think I’m good, too.

    Oh, how good to see you again! I’m so happy you’ve stopped by. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re good. 🙂

  7. I come from a long time of bad luck. It’s in the blood, and you can’t shake it when it runs this deep. Matt comes from a line that is just as long.

    I’ve felt that way too.

    Our kids are going to be so screwed.

    Time will tell, sweetie. Don’t despair what isn’t yet. 😉

    Luck would be nice. I don’t like to feel envious, but sometimes I am. It would be nice to just have something so marvelous fall into your lap without working so hard for it all the time.

    Amen. AMEN.

    However, in my family, it was always very important to work very hard for everything you earned.

    I’d like both.

    I don’t know if there IS both, and hard work’s hard work. 😉 Gimme some luck any day. Hell, EVERY day. 😀

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