How to reach the “Writing Wheel of Fortune”

To get published, climb the pyramid and with luck you'll land on "The Wheel of Fortune." Level 1: I think I can. Level 2: Finish a manuscript. Level 3.: Learn craft. Level 4: Get published. Level 5: Reach "The Wheel" and get lucky. Do you agree with Bell's take on achieving best-seller success?

James Scott Bell’s take on the writing life              

By Janet Lane

Crested Butte’s breath-taking mountains and wildflowers tempted me to stay outside during last month’s writing conference, but the workshops and discussions lured me into Grand Lodge instead.

RMFW member Elizabeth Roadifer won first place in the Fantasy/Sci Fi category for her story, Fairy Tales.  HUZZAH!  RMFW Member and Mistwillow author Sally Clark won honorable mention for her story, The Color of Silence.  Congratulations, ladies!

The conference’s keynote speaker, James Scott Bell,  former actor and trial lawyer, is the author of The Whole Truth, No Legal Grounds, Presumed Guilty, and several more legal thrillersA former fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine, Bell wrote two books in the Writer’s Digest series, Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure and Revision and Self-Editing.

Like many of us, Bell struggled to get published in his early writing years.  His “light bulb” moment was made possible by Jack Bickham and his Scene and Sequel discussions about how they related to the story question. 

Bell uses a vivid image to dramatize the capricious nature of literary success.  He drew a pyramid on the grease board that represents  the types of writers who want to write a book.

At level one reside the people who believe they can write a book.  They may have written a first chapter.   At level two , writers have studied and perhaps written a full manuscript.  Level three writers persevere and continue to learn the craft of writing, and may have started their second manuscript.  The dedication of level four writers helped them finally get published.  Level five authors are multi-published. They continue to grow and learn from each book and keep getting better, more polished.

When the pyramid of writers had been identified, Bell drew a wheel at the top of the pyramid. This, Bell said, is the Wheel of Fortune.  There, for no predictable reason, certain books gain momentum over other, equally brilliant and well-written books, and they spin out into the sky.  Bell described this with dramatic flair as he drew the spokes of the wheel , slashing fast brush strokes with his Sharpie:  “And they just start shooting out.  Harry Potter.  Whirrrrr.  Whirrrr.  Twilight.  Whirrrr. Whirrrr.” If we can make it to the top level of the pyramid, we have a chance.  “Get it (your book) on the wheel, and maybe it will come up.”

Is this cynical, or serendipitous?  Is getting published really all about luck?  If not, what other factors play a significant role in holding your first published book in your hands?  How can we improve our odds?


Filed under get published, success techniques, The Writing Life, Writing Craft

6 responses to “How to reach the “Writing Wheel of Fortune”

  1. I confess, I don’t believe in chance much anymore. Yes, surprising things happen, but that doesn’t mean they’ll lead to anything more serendipitous. We capitalize on them or not. Sometimes our efforts work and sometimes they sink into the unnoticed literary efforts bog. Mostly I believe in God-driven opportunities and hard work.

    I have to confess, I was too lazy to try and reproduce his triangle, but you did an awesome job!

  2. redplume

    Hi, Victoria,
    I agree about the hard work. That’s what I like about the Wheel of Fortune visual. It allows for the vital steps a writer needs to take to reach the wheel. The “unnoticed literary efforts bog” — an outstanding mental image, too. I can’t free-draw worth a darn, or I’d tackle that, too. Thanks for sharing – I enjoy hearing from you! –Janet

  3. Jacqueline Seewald

    Hi, Janet,

    It makes sense that the more time we spend writing and honing our skills, the better our work will become. Writers also need to be voracious readers. I believe we must send our work out to as many editors and agents who are appropriate for our particular genre. Rejections are unfortunately part of it. As Walt Whitman explained: he watched a noiseless, patient spider casting its filaments out until it finally created a web.

    • redplume

      Patience…that’s a quality I possess in limited amounts, that’s true. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the strong visual, Jacqueline. –Janet

  4. Luck clearly plays a role, Janet. I’ve read lots of wonderful books that never made it to a bestseller’s list. Maybe the book was overlooked by the important reviewers or the timing wasn’t right for that topic or genre.

    That said, there are more and more online and networking opportunities for authors to get the “buzz” started on their own. We need to pay attention (while we continue to write and improve our manuscripts, of course).

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