A writer friend asked me an interesting question the other day. To give you some background—I’ve been on a roll the past few years, gathering good press on my books, and good sales. Specifically, the books have been reviewed in the four journals that librarians and booksellers pay attention to, there have been Goodreads giveaways for advanced reading copies (ARCs) and regular copies, BookBub deals on e-book editions, and some of the books appeared have on “best of” and “noteworthy” lists. So the question from my friend is, how much of this is the publisher and how much is magic?
I love magic and, because one of my secret ambitions is to be a magician, I’d be happy to believe magic is all there is to it. Being more realistic than that, I know the publisher arranged the giveaways and deals and the reviews arrived because the publisher sent out ARCs. I’m also a fan of good luck, though. (In fact, luck literally is my name—MacRae means “son of luck” in Scottish Gaelic.) So I know that giving away and sending ARCs didn’t guarantee the book would be reviewed favorably or reviewed at all. And showing up on those lists? There’s definitely luck involved, including the luck of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right product. My Highland Bookshop Mysteries take place in Scotland. Call it the “Outlander Effect,” but Scotland is hot right now. And the publisher gave the books gorgeous, classy covers (that being my completely unbiased opinion, of course). So, yes, luck is involved, and that brings me to my “Game Theory of Getting Published.”
I’ve been lucky in many ways, including the good fortune of having a dad who loved pondering all kinds of things and sharing those ponders with me. One of them was his theory of games, which is this: The best games, the ones people play over and over, require a balance of skill and luck. Skill, so people can learn and improve their chances of winning; luck to add the elements of hope and surprise that bring people back. My theory is that publishing is one of those games.
There’s definitely skill involved in getting published. It starts with writing the best book you can. Then revising to make that book better. And then getting an editor you trust to help make it even better. This is true whether you’re traditionally or self-published. Also falling into the skill half of the balance:
- Learning to use social media to build and promote to a fan base
- Learning to network with other writers to learn from them, and so you can share each other’s good news and achievements
- Joining professional writing groups such as Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Murder Must Advertise
- Adding to your skillset by asking questions in those organizations’ email groups
- Being nosy by reading other people’s questions in those groups. You might be surprised when you read the many generous answers and a lightbulb comes on in your head. Nosiness, for a writer, is a tremendous skill to cultivate
But despite all the skill in the world, there is an element of luck in publishing. We’ve all heard stories about writers who find agents by bumping into them in bars at conferences. And we’ve heard about writers whose series have been dropped, despite good sales, because of the painful culling of the mass market cozy mystery herd or the sad demise of the publisher. Luck, good and bad, abounds in this game. If you hone your skills, though, you give yourself the advantage. Your skills will help you position yourself, so that when luck is flying overhead, ready to fall into someone’s lap, yours is in the right place to catch it.
Is any of the above a map for a sure route to publishing success? Hmm, or is that where the magic comes in?
Crewel and Unusual, book #6 in the Haunted Yarn shop Mystery Series, finds the ever-resourceful Kath Rutledge and shop ghost Geneva tangled up in an embroidery rivalry—and a murder.
The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” Crewel and Unusual, book 6 in Molly’s award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, will be out January 1, 2019. She also writes the Highland Bookshop Mysteries. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990 and she is a winner of the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction. Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois. You can visit her at www.mollymacrae.com and www.killercharacters.com.