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DIY luck

Simon WinderToday's guest lecturer on the editorial module of the MA in Publishing at Brookes University was Simon Winder, pubishing director at Penguin Press. He has a massive amount of book industry experience from both the publishing and the writing side (his books include Germania and my personal favourite, The Man Who Saved Britain, a cultural history of James Bond, which required 'hours on the sofa, reading books and watching films. Excellent.') He's self-deprecating and very, very funny - his description of the welcome drinks where the editors of Penguin met their counterparts at Random House, former bitter rivals, now suddenly colleagues following the merger of the two companies ('Awkward...'), had me almost crying with laughter.

'Publishing is too small an industry to have a carefully planned-out progression path,' he told the students. 'Every job I took came from a random decision by me or someone else.' Like the time he was offered the chance to go to the US to set up a new list and met his future wife within 24 hours of stepping off the plane. Or the time one of his wife's friends pointed out that there was a vacancy for a history editor at Penguin. Or the time he noticed his 19-year-old son reading one of the Penguin Classics released for the brand's 60th anniversary and realized he wasn't even born when it was released, which led to the incredibly successful launch of 80 Little Black Classics in time for the brand's 80th birthday. 

It's one of the things that's wonderful about the industry, and maddening at the same time: it means that sometimes people who are very able but lack chutzpah or luck or the right connections can miss out.

Looking back over my own career, I can see a similar pattern. I went to see an editor at W & R Chambers in Edinburgh who was a friend of my tutor's while I was still a student there, to explore the idea of publishing as a career: I walked out with a commission to write a book for them because they'd just been let down by an author and because I said 'Yes, absolutely' without hesitation when they asked, 'Can you write?' A textbook combination of chutzpah, luck and connection. 

You can choose the chutzpah (hustle, confidence, whatever you want to call it), you can work on building the connections, but you can't manufacture the luck. Or can you? Richard Wiseman famously conducted a series of experiments to determine the nature of good and bad luck, and discovered that: 

Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

I don't know if Simon Winder is familiar with that research (I bet he is, he knows everything) but his career certainly demonstrates the principles beautifully, and I can see these principles at work in my own too. 

How about you? 

This entry was posted on 29 November 2016 at 19:17 and is filed under publishing | self-development. You can leave a response here.

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