Just because they got lucky doesn't mean you will too

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I think that when someone hits the jackpot in a difficult industry and gets lots of attention for their incredible success, other people think they can achieve the same thing. But it's way more difficult and impossible than the hype makes it seem.

For instance, there are successful authors who are interviewed on major national shows, get paid big bucks to speak at events, and who get their books optioned for movies. They are wealthy, successful, popular, and are never short of an interesting experience around the corner. They hang out with other successful, interesting people and they are fully participating in the culture to the level that they want. Other writers look at them and think that what the pros have achieved is attainable, so they hold on to that dream and plug away and talk about their own bright future, even though it's a total long shot. The same can be said about musical performers, influencers, national TV anchors, comedians, talk show hosts, artists, etc. People look at all those majorly successful people and think what they've achieved can be duplicated, but such success is very rare.

Back to the writing example: I recently met a couple of successful writers. One of them tried to get an agent and get published, but was having no luck. Then the cultural expectations and publishing business changed, so the door was open to them, and they got a good book deal, a loyal readership, marketing and publicity support from the publisher, and it seems like they can make a living from their writing. They were flown across the country and put up in a hotel (and maybe paid?) to speak to a group. 

Contrast this with what usually happens, which is when a writer has to pay their own way for any kind of trip, and they're lucky if they're asked to speak anywhere. They're also really lucky if they get an agent's attention, because people usually have to pay to speak with an agent at a conference. For every writer who gets a book deal and publicity support from a publisher, there are thousands who are hoping for that chance but will realistically never get it.

Another writer I met broke through in a different way. They got a certain kind of education, got short pieces published, made important connections, got a book deal and then a movie deal. They've been reviewed and interviewed in prestigious outlets and have representation. Whenever a writer gets exposure, I'm sure many aspiring writers think they, too, can take that path and get the same results. But it doesn't happen that way and seems to be random. 

Even writers who get published don't necessarily get the publicity support they need. They have to hit the pavement and do their own publicity, which ends up being a business in and of itself. So after they've spent a long time writing, they have to put forth extra energy to get attention and try to sell books, and they're very lucky if they manage to sell 1,000. People say that having to make back an advance is hard, but many writers don't even get an advance, so they're pretty much starting from scratch. Or they have to recoup the money they've spent on editors, etc. because they weren't successful or favored enough to have someone in the business provide the editing and other tools they need. Basically, when a writer has the backing of a publisher who is willing to pay them something up front, plus do their publicity, plus collaborate with them, that writer is really in a special group. But because such successful writers are interviewed and speak publicly about their journey, many people think it's possible to do the same, and there are companies making money off such dreams. 

And again, I can apply these concepts to other areas, especially creative pursuits. We see the successful people being celebrated, but it will rarely happen for other people. They can express encouraging words for all the hopefuls out there, but the positivity is just messaging; it rarely gets realized. But someone I was talking to had a good point: people have to be ready for opportunities, so it's important to develop talents and skills in case a door opens.