The Click Moment. Embracing Randomness For Authors

As an entrepreneur, I love to read business books and sometimes, one comes along that just makes me go crazy with enthusiasm!

In this case, I really did have a ‘click moment’ when I read Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity In An Unpredictable World. I’ve been recommending it to everyone, so I thought I would share with you guys as well.

In the short video below, I explain some of the key things I learned, and there are also some brief notes below the video.

 Embrace the random

  • The ‘10,000 hour’ rule – where practice and mastery will deliver success eventually – is only applicable in industries that have rules e.g. tennis, chess, violin. Where there are no rules, like fiction writing, or business start-ups, practice and mastery doesn’t make a difference to the breakout success story. Examples of breakout success without 10,000 hours: Virgin’s Richard Branson starting an airline with no experience, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, EL James 50 Shades.
  • If we pursue an approach that we know has worked in the past, we can be certain that competition will be fierce – others will pursue it as well. Whatever advantage we created is eliminated and success is as elusive as ever. Efficient market theory.
  • Your chances of success drop when you analyze the market and try to predict what you need to do to succeed.
  • Our brains are designed to perceive order instead of randomness. We find patterns where there are none. It’s easy to mistake randomness for skill. When something happens, we tend to believe there’s a larger plan in place

Make more bets and minimize the size of them

  • Make bets, using randomness to your statistical advantage. This opens you up to unexpected interactions and effects. You have a simpler time making a successful bet if you try a lot of them.
  • In academia, the chances of writing a ground-breaking paper are directly correlated to the number of papers written. You get more chances with more rolls of the dice.
  • Picasso created more than 50,000 works of art in his time – other estimates have it at over 100,000. He created a lot of crap as well as the masterpieces, but he couldn’t predict with certainty what would get picked. His output gave him the edge to be successful.

Create more click moments

  • Planned situations with expected outcomes don’t generate the chaos and randomness necessary to discover unique ideas.
  • We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” Herb Kelleher, South West Airlines. Act, but intentionally inject randomness into your actions
  • Take your eye off the ball. Explore things not directly related to your goal and don’t be focused all the time, or you will miss the unexpected things that might happen along the way. Allow time to go off schedule. Search for inspiration in fields, industries and cultures different from our own. Diversity unleashes surprises.

Putting this into practice as an author

(1) There are no rules in fiction. I will continue to share my journey here, and avidly follow what others are doing. I can’t help myself, and I hope you will also stick around to join in with your comments BUT/ in my own fiction I will experiment more, and you should too. Just because some genre trope or some marketing thing worked for one author doesn’t mean it will work for you or me, so let’s stop trying to find rules in the chaos and embrace the random.

(2) The novella business model = spreading the bets. I am increasingly drawn to this because
a) length is no issue with an ebook
2) it means more output in a shorter time and more product on Amazon means more chances to catch people’s attention
3) the story arc of a novella is shorter and since I am someone who puts in serious amounts of research I will be able to write faster
4) blending novellas in between full-length novels means my readers are happier, and perhaps I can grow a fan-base more quickly
The inspiration for this has been building for a while and the ‘click moment’ has just completed the circle really. Check out the Self-Publishing Podcast for how David Wright & Sean Platt use this model and they also discuss it with Hugh Howey, author of Wool here (self-published novella that went stratospheric and got optioned for movie rights by Ridley Scott)

 3) Create more click moments for idea generation. Invite randomness in. I am definitely guilty of narrowing what I consume based on the time pressures we are all under, but I am determined to expand my possibilities by expanding my comfort zone into things that are a little different. I am going to allow time to go off schedule.

I’m currently looking at my plans for 2013 and how I will change the way I work now I am ‘growing into’ being an author. These aspects will be part of it and I’m excited about the next steps. I’ll be sure to share the journey here!

What do you think about these Click moments? Please do leave a comment below, and go buy the book! 

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  1. says

    Hi Joanna:

    Sounds like a fantastic book. I have 3 books completed that I wrote during the past few years before indie publishing was possible. By next June all three will be out. When contemplating new works, I’m coming to believe that writing novellas may be a smart move because it keeps your works out there and satisfies those readers who are clamoring for more stories.

    • says

      Novellas are a great idea for keeping readers reminded of your existence and also keeping the writing fresh. Plus, we all like pressing Publish! All the best with your books.

  2. says

    Thanks for this post Joanna. This book and your summary seem to describe exactly the kind of thoughts I have been having lately about my own projects and direction. We definitely live in a predictably unpredictable world these days. Things everywhere are speeding up at a rapid pace, and taking immediate action and having a wide spread of timely products, services and interests seems to be the way to go.

  3. says

    Thanks for this, Joanna! It does seem that the future for writers publishing online means more frequent, shorter works, interspersed with longer works (if you’re into that – not sure it’s necessary anymore).

    I’m writing a series, though it’s not zombie, vampire, or post-apocolyptic (shocking, ha), and I’m not sure I have enough cliffhanger action going on to keep readers going. What are your thoughts on offering something more “literary” (i.e. more subtle?) but as serial episodes or novellas? Feels like I’m trying to walk a line between something with depth and something that keeps people turning pages. Are they mutually exclusive? I’d say no, but I’m not sure.


    • says

      Hi Deonne, if there’s one thing we do know – there are no rules! People love literary works and despite the candy-munching approach of readers to genre fiction, the literary works tend to stick in people’s minds – so there is definitely room for everyone. I also think that if you look at the “classic” works (except the Russians), many of those books were much shorter. Hemingway, Steinbeck etc … practically novellas I think – then publishing declared things had to be a certain length to make it worth a print run. Perhaps we are returning to the earlier sense of shorter books?

  4. says

    Thanks Joanna, as ever, for the great insight and this time an affirmation that I’m headed in the right direction. I’ve got full length novel out and a second coming out toward the end of the year. However, as a change of pace I had decided to do a novella series as an exercise to stretch the literary muscles during lunch breaks outside of the cubicle and try something a bit different. First novella is coming out in a week or so. What you are saying about the novella business model is indeed encouraging. It will give more to my readers and mix things up a bit as well, while staying true to my brand.

  5. says

    Thanks for the summary, Joanna. I picked up the audio version to listen to on my road trip today. :)

    I definitely agree with the idea of trying a number of different series and seeing what catches. I did that with my blogs and websites back in the day, too. Even with keyword research, it was hard to figure out ahead of time what would become popular.

    I do think people generally go for novels over novellas and short stories (Wool being an obvious exception–though one could argue that’s more like a serialized novel), but I enjoy writing the shorter fiction and releasing it in between novels to keep my name in people’s minds. My Flash Gold (steampunk) novellas do sell, earning me a few hundred extra bucks a month, even though they’re not as popular as my main series. It all adds up! 😉

    Good luck with your novellas!

    • says

      I think you’re totally right about mixing it up Lindsay – I’m going to keep writing full length books but also try to get a few novellas in too – it will also help with a pricing mixed model.

  6. Robert Coleman says

    Thank you for this, Joanna. I’ve been writing novellas in different genres since June last year – I’m currently on number 28 (using yet another pseudonym). You’re absolutely right about novellas being a great way to experiment. I’ve had successes and mediocrities in equal measure, and a couple of failures too. All of which has helped supplement my pension.
    But there’s one thing which I’ve discovered which is worth mentioning: I wrote one novella in a genre unfamiliar to me and it was a slow burner. Now, six months later, I’m selling more of this title each month than most of the others, and I have to retrace my steps and write a series of three in the same style. Being able to monitor each month’s sales gives indies like us so much more flexibility to change direction. But, oh, the choices available….
    And I shall read Mr Johansson’s book with interest.

    • says

      That’s fantastic Robert! Time in the market makes such a difference and I am only discovering this really now. Can I ask how you market the books with other names? Do you do nothing at all but load them onto Amazon and wait and see? It seems hard to market more than one brand name (something I am thinking about more and more!)

      • Robert Coleman says

        Hi again Joanne
        I currently have two pseudonyms – I’m saving my own name for a series of historical novels and short stories, scheduled for sometime in the new year (I began writing that series in 1983 and approached six London publishers who were polite but couldn’t fit my output into their list).
        As I diversify the settings and genres of my novellas, I intend to use variants of those two pseudonyms in exactly the same way as you do with J F Penn and Joanne Penn – the readers know that you’re the same person, but expect something different from you in each guise. I believe that if one retains the same writing style, but writes in a different setting or genre in the “variant” name, that may arouse some of your loyal readers’ curiosity about your other work. I don’t think that’s going to confuse the readership. (If it does confuse them, I’ll have to think again.)
        I didn’t have any problems introducing my second “identity” into my Amazon account. I have two blogs but only update them each twice a month.
        Of course, this is still the Wild West and we’re all still experimenting. And having a lot of fun!

  7. says

    Lol, well.. you can definitely tell that Stephanie Meyer and EL James don’t have 10,000 hours of experience. So maybe the rule still is true 😉 Joking.

  8. says

    Que sera sera – whatever will be will be. Entirely agree re the power of serendipity Joanna. It’s also the main reason I’m not overplanning my children’s project. Of course this approach scares the heck out of accountants, but it’s an oasis for creatives.

  9. says

    Yes! So I’m not crazy – in this regard anyway. It seems like forcing stories into cookie-cutter shapes to play to the market in the hopes of getting traditionally published just makes books, overall, bland. That’s why I published my book, “Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters”; I was rejected because the age range is more like middle grade while the subject matter is more YA but there are “middle grade” kids dealing with “YA” – and adult for that matter – issues, so I decided to take the chance on my own. Now just hoping one of those bits of randomness will occur and it will catch on. Definitely putting this book on my “to read” list. Thanks for the post. P.S. I’ve subscribed to The Creative Penn for only a couple of weeks now and already have read several helpful posts!

  10. says

    Hi Joanna!

    Great post and I’m glad you so enjoyed the book! Excellent set of thoughts here and enjoyed your video. In fact, you inspired my team to set up a clickmoments tumblr page where people can upload their posts or videos about click moments in their life:

    You know from reading the book that I had a click moment regarding my first book, which ultimately made it into a best-seller but that this moment was quite serendipitous. I put it together a post on the Harvard Business Review blog here:

    Your post has created a lot of great reactions because it goes to the heart of almost every single type of success (tennis and chess excepted, of course!)


  11. says

    “…stop trying to find the rules in chaos and embrace the random.” is such a great line. I’ve been feeling discouraged lately and that was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  12. David Perez says

    Hi Joanna,

    I agree 1000 percent with the novella approach and the embracing of randomness. It’s all a crap shoot anyway, so you might as well plan to be unplanned. In fact, planning a large book and then ending up with a short one is a prime example of embracing the unexpected, which, as we know, is essential to creativity.

    For instance, I had no intention of writing a novella but that’s what happened with my memoir WOW! It became novella-length in the relentless re-writing process. And it was liberating. I ended up calling it “memoirito” because “ito” is an affectionate Latino term for small but nice. For the most part, smallness allows for quicker reads and lower prices.

    One thing I’m learning, however, is that calling something a series, as I’ve done, can trap you into writing a follow-up that you wished you hadn’t planned. Also, never sacrifice quantity for quality. Your next book should always be your best book.

    Thank you Joanna for all you do. And I always like the comments section; they’re so informative!

  13. says

    This year, I’m officially going indie, intermingled with pro submissions. I spent the last year working on resolving an issue that’s been holding me back, and I’m ready. One of the areas I want to experiment with is flash fiction. These are very short stories, around 1K or less. I like writing them, and they probably take about 90 minutes to write. But a huge pitfall is that most of the markets are non-paying, though there are a few pro markets. I figure I can try submitting to the available markets and then do a themed collection of ten or so of them as an ebook. That can be my first release while I continue working on my two novels, as well as longer short stories.

  14. says

    Many good ideas here about the value of random input to creativity. Have to say I still believe in the 10,000 hour (or million word) rule when it comes to writing. No matter how receptive you are to random stuff you still need technique to synthesize it into readable prose. A LOT of technique. Don’t know that there are any Mozarts in writing.


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