In Jesse May’s cult classic Shut Up and Deal, the narrator offers an insight that’s been quoted by everyone from the late Christopher Lehmann-Haupt to James McManus. It goes like this: “Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck. That’s philosophy. Understanding luck is philosophy, and there are some people who aren’t ever gonna fade it. That’s what sets poker apart. And that’s what keeps everyone coming back for more.” I take that to mean that mastering luck is understanding that you can’t master it; sometimes it’s on your side, sometimes it’s not.
This little nugget of wisdom holds true for the publishing industry, too. You just never know what is going to work. But those of us on the business side—agents and editors—keep coming back for more. Why? Because poets and writers keep creating work that makes us want to try, to put our skills to use and play the odds.
If you, poets and writers, can master luck, you will be freed up to focus on your craft and thereby improve your chances of literary success, whatever that means to you. So sure, pay attention to the business of publishing. Do the research. Spend as much time and effort on that as your work deserves. But above all, be true to yourself, your talent, your taste. Take care. Make good art. That’s what matters. That’s why our motto at Ross Yoon is “Books change lives.” And we believe it. So keep writing and querying and…knocking on wood!
—Tina Pohlman of the Ross Yoon Agency