Please welcome Greer Macallister, author of historical suspense (The Magician’s Lie), to Writer Unboxed as a regular contributor! We’re thrilled to have her with us.
My debut novel, The Magician’s Lie, was released in hardcover almost a year ago, on January 13th — the very same day as another debut: Paula Hawkins’ thriller The Girl on the Train.
Since then, The Girl on the Train has sold 4 million copies. The Magician’s Lie… has not.
Why and how does a book catch fire? It certainly helps to have a publisher giving the book a full-court press, as Riverhead did with Girl, but there have been plenty of debut novels positioned just as carefully, and funded just as generously, with nowhere near the results. (If you’ve read The Gargoyle, the ‘It Novel’ of 2008, please raise your hand.)
We all go into this business hoping our book is going to be The One. It almost never is.
We get the luck we get.
Not that I consider myself unlucky. Quite the opposite. While The Magician’s Lie hasn’t sold 4 million copies, it has done quite well — excellent reviews, good sales figures, flattering honors. And it’s passed the ultimate test for most writers: it’s done well enough for my publisher to buy my next book.
Much of that, like much of Paula Hawkins’ success, is luck. It landed on the right person’s desk on the right day. The readers at Target liked it enough to make it a monthly Book Club Pick. The guest judge at Book of the Month chose it as a main selection, and that guest judge happened to be Whoopi Goldberg. If it had come out in a different month, or if there had been different people making these decisions, my luck would have been different. Bad instead of good. Or not even bad, just nonexistent.
Which is why I tell writers: Take your luck. But I also tell them this: make your luck.
There is so much in this business we can’t control. But there are certain things we can. We can make each book the best it can be. We can seek the advice of experts and build the right team — everyone from agents and editors to beta readers and booksellers — to get a very good book into the hands of as many people as possible.
And if good luck comes your way, you have to help build on it. Tackle the edits. Do the interviews. Move heaven and earth to go on the tour. Spread the word any way you can. Say yes, say yes, say yes.
Four-leaf clovers, like anything else green, die without water.