It’s always baffled me how so many successful, usually white, usually male, individuals claim that they alone were close to solely responsible for their success, discounting or ignoring so many factors that contributed to that success.
One factor that’s so often discounted is simply the fact that it’s easier to take risks if you’ll still have a safe place to sleep and something to eat if that risk turns to failure. Another is knowing that you have the skills or qualifications to get another job. Yet another is having a lighter skin color. Another is having a manner of speaking that’s accepted. The list of other overlooked “advantages” is far longer than most “self-made” men will ever consider. And I’ve certainly had more than a few of those usually discounted or overlooked advantages.
Then, there’s luck. Now, it is true that people who work and try harder do have more “luck” than those who don’t, but in all the fields in which I’ve worked, I can name a number of people who had more talent and who worked harder that others who were more successful, largely because the successful ones were in the right place at the right time.
Obviously, it’s not all luck. I do work hard. I’ve averaged writing 2 ½ books a year for more than twenty straight years, and I’ve visited almost forty percent of the B&N bookstores in the U.S. over the past 20 years, as well as hundreds of other bookstores, not to mention the time and effort spent on the website and other activities, but there are other authors who worked that hard as well, and not sold as well as I have, and there are some who haven’t worked as hard as I have who’ve sold a great deal more.
I was a marginally successful short story writer – very marginal – until Ben Bova wrote me a critical rejection letter. He didn’t have to write it. I was fortunate that he did, because his suggestion that I should write novels was absolutely accurate. I was also fortunate that David Hartwell read all the major SF magazines, because when I submitted my first novel to him, he recalled my name from the few ANALOG stories I’d written, and that meant that he turned to reading my manuscript before those of totally unknown writers. Now he bought the book because it was good enough to publish, but I’m sure there were others good enough to publish that probably didn’t get bought for various reasons. I was also fortunate that David prompted me to do to my first SF convention, because the experience at that particular convention prompted me to write The Magic of Recluce, which I never would have considered, at least not until later, and Tor published that book with a Darrell Sweet cover just a year after The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, which had a Sweet cover, and the fact that The Magic of Recluce also had a Darrell Sweet cover and was released so soon after The Eye of the World certainly had to have helped enormously in launching my fantasy career.
Whether you call it luck or good fortune, it’s still a factor, and while I’m exceedingly happy that those events worked out that way, I’m also very well aware that they might not have… and that I could still be struggling to write short fiction while mired in a 60-80 hour a week high stress job in Washington, D.C. All of which is why I’m extremely skeptical of anyone who touts themselves as self-made. There are doubtless a handful of such individuals, but far, far fewer than most of those who claim such a title will ever understand.