If you publish your own work (and I do) or you’re thinking of publishing your own work, I recommend reading this post by Toby Buckell on Survivor Bias in the self-publishing world.
Seriously, I recommend taking a look at those posts. He has graphs! Everyone loves graphs nowadays.
There are a lot of comments I wanted to make on this, but this will be the main one: It’s not a lottery, but luck is involved.
The people who are in the far left of those graphs, selling a ton of books? They’re in that place in part because the books they wrote appeal to lots of people. However, that’s not enough. It’s also not enough for them to be marketed in all the right places and the right ways, to get a cover from a specific designer, or for the author to be online drumming up interest in their work.
There’s luck involved, too. You can do everything right and still not win. But since you can’t control luck, you have to simply create the circumstances where luck will flourish, and keep rolling dice.
Added: Wiseman speculated that what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences. Wiseman saw that the people who considered themselves lucky, and who then did actually demonstrate luck was on their side over the course of a decade, tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often and thus exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky people. The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.