Luck of the First-Time Novelist

Guess my Statistics course was good for something…

Conventional wisdom in the writing world says that it takes at least three published novels to establish your name in the public eye. Don’t even think about quitting your day-job until then. But then, while leisurely reading the morning newspaper, I come across the name of Shilpi Somaya Gowda, whose first novel sold 300,000 copies in the first twelve months alone. Then I wonder, what’s the secret?

Because, while conventional wisdom may be accurate for the middle of the bell-curve, you’ve always got the extremes to think about. On one hand you’ve got workhorses like Diana Wynne Jones, or Stephanie Grace Whitson, who churn out books and become well-known but not household names. On the other, you’ve got phenomena like J.K Rowling (who lived off benefits until Harry Potter hit it big-time), and potentially Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Or even Margaret Mitchell (who wrote Gone with the Wind) and J.D Salinger (who wrote Catcher in the Rye) – two authors who only published one novel in their life, and yet said novels are incredibly famous.

I haven’t read Gowda’s book (entitled “Secret Daughter,” in case you were wondering), but I’m going to say there’s probably no reason she doesn’t deserve to be successful. The thing is, there are most likely hundreds of hard-working novelists out there right now, producing brilliant books which never see the kind of success Gowda found. What makes the difference? As someone who hopes to be publish a novel someday myself, is there anything I can do to reduce my chances of slaving away in obscurity?

Why, oh why, do some novelists strike it and some don’t? If I can figure out this pattern, I can turn my first novel into a sure thing.

Dream on, Harma, dream on.

The life of a writer is a bumpy road, full of unpreditabilities.


Filed under Gone With the Wind, On Writing

9 responses to “Luck of the First-Time Novelist

  1. Harma Mae…to that I say Amen! It is being in the right place at the right time when it comes to hitting it big. However, we would be foolish not to try right? After all, the joy of writing is why we do it. We have to keep that in mind. And we have to keep writing no matter what the critics say. If we do that, eventually, we might be one of the lucky ones like the author you described. You just never know! There is a good book listed on Amazon on 11 Ways to Get Published by Mary DeMuth. It is only $2.99. I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. I figure I need all the tips I can get. Great and interesting post Harma! Keep writing!!!!!


    • Yes, lately I’ve pulled out a few books on writing and publishing as well! I agree, all we can do is try, and remember why we love writing in the first place. Hope your publishing endeavors go well!


  2. O.o I didn’t even realize you had a blog *face palm* I feel so guilty! You read mine and I didn’t even know you had one! How terrible of me!

    But, as far as the “one hit wonder” novels… I suppose most of it is chance. After all, look at Stephine Meyer, Twilight isn’t really that great of a book (sorry all you Twi-hards) and I think she got famous because she just happened to be published by the right people at the right time when the market was looking for her genre.

    After all, there are a lot of REALLY GREAT books out there that never get attention. It doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing, just that they didn’t have the right promotion, or were focused at too narrow an audience.

    The important thing about writing a novel is that you’re happy with you’re work. Nothing else really matters.


    • Thanks for visiting! Don’t feel guilty, I know it can be hard to keep up. 🙂
      I agree with you about Twilight. It really is amazing how some mediocre books become famous and some amazing books don’t.
      I agree, the important thing is to be happy with your own writing.


  3. Luck, marketing, hitting the mark, having enough energy to do the needed publicity work, more luck, some skill is good too.

    I think you also have to consider that the market changes a lot faster than one can write a book, so you really have to be a visionary if you want to hit the mark. Or just write what you love and hope you get lucky.


    • Yes, I think it’s very hard to write according to trends.. for example, if you wrote a vampire novel now you might be a bit late to jump on the bandwagon!


  4. wendythecactus

    maybe it’s not the talent of writing per se that makes the book a masterpiece. there are scores of talented people writing and writing, without making a mark in the literary world! i find that many good books are about reading people and reading history. the author has this ability to see a shared authenticity or a need in people, or they uncannily see where history is leading. these are the books that stick. i think it was one of the romantic poets who said that a good writer is someone who can articulate something that, when heard, everyone realizes they knew it all along but they just couldn’t put it into words.

    idealistic wendy says the above.

    practical wendy says: networking. bahaha.


  5. Pingback: Prolific Vs. Perfectionist – What is the Best Way to a Lasting Writing Career? | Stories and Stuff

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