There is a single question which underwrites (ha!) the aspirations of the entire writing community:
"Why is that person famous and I'm not?"
It's a question that's not entirely unkind and not entirely motivated by jealousy, with the caveat that, yes, sometimes authors are also capable of being unkind and jealous. (Go fig, right?) But I don't think it's unkind or unfair for me to state, rather categorically, that I'm a better author than Stephanie Meyer, E.L. James, or Dan Brown. I probably ought to feel bad for picking on the three people in my profession that seem to get picked on the most, but that's also the reason why I chose them. Each is incredibly rich, famous, and popular, and each is acknowledged rather broadly by the critical and popular community as being pretty bad at crafting prose.
Anyway, the point is, rather than spend a post arguing the relative merits of various authors, the purpose of this post is that merit is not necessarily the driving force toward success. An author, for example, might be a genius for marketing and only so-so in the actual storycrafting department. Or a story, however objectively poor, might capture the popular zeitgeist. Some people even just have the good fortune to be born into money, wealth, fame, power, or connections.
If Max Brooks were not Mel Brooks's son, would he have the same level of success he currently does? If Joe Hill were not Stephen King's son, would his success level be the same? Sure, we're talking about someone who has distanced himself from his father's name in the latter case, but that doesn't change the fact that Stephen King would know agents, publishers, industry professionals, and all of those connections would be available to a young Joe, even if he was trying to set out on his own.
In the case of Christopher Paolini, whose ERAGON is, by any understanding, a middling to poorish book on its own merits, his family was wealthy and willing to invest significantly in his success. We're probably more familiar in general with glitzier show biz types. Taylor Swift and Emma Stone had essentially Paolini's experience: parents who were willing to gamble everything on their children's success. It's also hard to deny that Charlie Sheen probably wouldn't be famous if his father hadn't been before him...or Angelina Jolie, or Kate Hudson, or Bridget Fonda, or any other famous person's child.
It's my personal belief that there is a certain baseline level of competence necessary for fame and success, but beyond that point your main indicator to actually achieve success is luck. So, yeah, if Ozzy Osbourne's son or Will Smith's son (sorry, kids) are just terrible, terrible actors, no amount of sticking them in front of the public eye is going to catapult them to success. But if they are relatively competent and capable of learning - and someone like Kate Hudson is certainly capable of acting to a reasonable standard - luck can send them the rest of the way to the top.
What does this mean for those of us who didn't win the genetic lottery? Well, lots of things can contribute to your luck. Meyer, James, and Brown weren't scions of a legacy of fame and fortune. Who knows which particular winds blew in to raise them from their baseline competence to world-crushing success? Stephanie Meyer was a Mormon who drew on a network of Mormon mothers to push out a novel that had been well-crafted to their particular cultural tastes, and caught on like wildfire. Which is not to diminish her hard work, which no doubt she did, but no doubt other people have worked harder and been less fortunate. (Hmm, perhaps the buffoons in one of our major political parties could learn something from that...not to turn this into a political post.)
And what it boils down to for me is the sneaking suspicion that Yo-Yo Ma is not the greatest cellist in the world, nor Stephen King the greatest author. Beyond a certain baseline of talent I suspect fortune leads us all to our various places in life, far more than we would even care to admit, though Tolstoy, himself a wealthy landowner, probably had a suspicion of that. No, I'm pretty sure the greatest cellist in the world is probably playing on a street corner somewhere, and the greatest author in the world probably has a stack of manuscripts in a drawer that have never been published. And we shall never know the names of either.
Luck is a bastard.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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