Friday, March 21, 2014

The Illusion of Control

Wednesday, I spoke of my envy of Kerry Nietz. Later that afternoon, J.A. "Joe" Konrath posted an essay titled "No One Knows."

And the thing is Joe's right, and it was the kick in the pants I needed.

We humans don't control as much of world as we like to think we do. We can't control the weather, like the record snowfall in a lot of the U.S. this year. We can't control where or when a plane crashes if there's a catastrophic failure. We can't control our neighbors's behavior though we may pass lots of laws to try.

When it comes to publishing, indies do have a little more control over certain aspects of the process. We hire our own editors, formatters and cover artists. Or not as the case may be.

But we can't make people read our books.

Sure we can try different marketing and advertising techniques. Free. Exclusive. Blog hops. Spend hours on social media. Give talks to local writer groups.

We can write great blurbs and hire the best artists. And maybe, just maybe, through pleading, cajoling, tricking, and/or nagging, someone might read that first page.

But we can't make him like it. So we are right back to square one.

As Angie pointed out in comments on Wednesday, Jimmy Fallon mentioned Kerry Nietz's Amish Vampires in Space in order to mock it. Guess what? It doesn't matter because there are people out in the big wide world who like that type of story. Now, Kerry's getting some attention. So, in the end, Fallon's mockery backfired big time, and Hollywood is calling Kerry Nietz, wanting the movie option.

This is what Joe means in his essay. This is exactly the Unreproduceable Phenomenon he's talking about. There's no way Kerry or any other writer could have made this type of event happen. We simply don't have that much control over the universe.

So what do we writers do?

Not a damn thing. Go back to your desk, your couch or your comfy chair, and write the best damn story you can. That's really the only thing we can control.


  1. True, Suzan. In the end, that's all we can do.

    1. Well, write and make tasty peanut butter men for our puppies!

    2. That's true. We can control how much peanut butter goes in or doesn't go in. So, there's that.

  2. Totally. [nod]

    I did a post a while back asking whether the writing is enough for (generic) you. Because if it's not, then this writing thing might not work out. If you need success and sales and praise and fame, then you're probably better off doing something else. If the writing is enough, though, if you need to write so much that you'd do it even if hardly anyone ever read your work and you never made a dime on it, then any success past that is an awesome bonus.

    We can certainly maximize our chances of success -- working hard, writing a lot, doing our best to learn and make good decisions. But that just means that if the chance of success ever randomly blows past, we'll be ready to grab it out of the air.

    Who was it who said that most people don't notice opportunity passing by because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work? That's a big part of it too. But there's a huge random element to this "success" thing and always has been. Anyone who can't deal with that should probably be working at something with a steadier pay-out.


  3. Unfortunately, too many people view writing as a form of lottery. If they flog that one book they've written enough, they'll be rich!

    We were cleaning out old files while packing last summer, and I found a bunch of my early attempts from the '90's. Egads! Yet, this is the type of stuff people are publishing and expecting to get rich from.