The Palmer Luck Timeline

by stephenpalmersf

I seem to have acquired a reputation as “Mr Random” by insisting that much of an author’s career is completely out of their hands: luck and luck alone, whether good or bad. After an interesting discussion on the highly esteemed SFF Chronicles forum, I thought it might be worth noting down all those times my worries were for nothing because so much is chance, out of the hands of the author. Hence this blog post.

Authors worry too much because it is a profession in which much of their self-esteem, confidence and identity are placed. A story rejection or a bad review can feel awful, especially for new authors, but that is because such events seem to attack the author themselves. The bad review is taken to heart. The book rejection is personal. Over many years most authors can learn to deal with this aspect of the business, though not all, as various online spats between authors and readers have testified. I personally do not rest easy until somebody has left me a 1* review or something similar. Then I know all is well out there in the real world.

Here then for all to see is my catalogue of phenomenal luck. Writers or new authors reading this might like to try the exercise for themselves.

And remember – it’s mostly random out there. You shouldn’t worry about that.


Date: 1991-ish

Inside a rejected manuscript partial I find a yellow post-it, which turns out to be a note from an editor’s reader to the editor – a note I shouldn’t have seen. It slams my writing as bad and “lacking zing.” This note is the kick up the backside I need. I up my game, going back to my 1988 book Kray to create a completely revised version – with added zing. This book five years later is published as my debut Memory Seed.

Date: mid-December 1993

A few days before moving house – from a home where massive and appalling neighbour abuse from two mentally ill people means me and my wife never leave a forwarding address – I receive a letter of interest from Tim Holman at Orbit. Had he written a few days later I would likely never have received it. This I think was my most extraordinary stroke of luck. Not only had somebody important noticed my work, he had written to me in the nick of time. Luck quotient: 100%.

Date: 1995

After a long wait due to me writing a third version of Memory Seed and Orbit Books (part of Little, Brown) moving offices, I get to meet Tim Holman in London. During this first meeting he informs me that they receive about 2,000 manuscripts per year, and have waited about five years before approaching me, and others. In other words – odds of about 10,000:1 against.

Date: late ‘90s

SF goes through one of its periodic declines and I and other authors are dropped by the big companies. Totally out of authors’ control.

Date: very early ‘00s

My good friend Keith Brooke is in touch with Sean Wallace at Wildside Press, who happens at the time to be looking to work with British authors, including Keith, Dave Langford and others. I get onto the bandwagon. Fifteen or so years later I find out certain facts about Sean Wallace which mean publication by Wildside was a mixed blessing.

Date: November 2006

With all main options gone or used up, I decide to start again from scratch, sending my work to British publishers as I had in the early 1990s. I decide to start at the top: PS Publishing. Two days after emailing Urbis Morpheos out to them – an eyeblink in publishing terms – I get an acceptance. The cheque arrives shortly afterwards. Luck quotient: 100%.

Date: 2015

Keith Brooke and I need a really good cover for my novel Beautiful Intelligence. I don’t have anything much cop myself. I ask a few friends online, which leads to a chap called Steve Jones, who I have never heard of. He has a fantastic double-android image which would be absolutely perfect. Except… it turns out I do know him, under his internet alias, and he is already a fan. Subsequent arrangements are a doddle! Luck quotient: 100%.


So you see, worrying about random things is a mug’s game. You have to take a few steps back, don’t invest so much of your personal worth into your work, chill, and accept that there’s no such thing as fate, no such thing as destiny, and no such thing as “if you work hard enough at your dream it’s bound to come true.” Disney et al were wrong. You are at the mercy of the real world and random chance doesn’t care about you. Get used to it. You’ll feel better then.