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Reilly616
07-11-2008, 03:04 PM
Of all the novels completed and submitted. What percentage actually end up getting published? I know it is difficult to get an accurate figure. But since you folks have so much experience, I would value your estimates.

maestrowork
07-11-2008, 03:13 PM
I don't know. How do I know how many novels are actually completed and submitted every year? I have no way to tell...

That said, fewer than 5000 novels get published commercially (that's not counting self-publication and vanity presses). So you do the math.

Manderley
07-11-2008, 03:46 PM
In my little corner of the world, about 5% of the submitted manuscripts are published. In other words, 95% will get a letter saying: sorry ...

maestrowork
07-11-2008, 03:54 PM
In my little corner of the world, about 5% of the submitted manuscripts are published. In other words, 95% will get a letter saying: sorry ...

Actually I've heard the figure is smaller. 5-10% may get to the partial/full stage (90% is slush). Maybe 1-2% will get published.

SPMiller
07-11-2008, 03:56 PM
Actually I've heard the figure is smaller. 5-10% may get to the partial/full stage (90% is slush). Maybe 1-2% will get published.Many of which are by experienced writers.

Yes, the odds of getting a book published at all are tiny, especially if it's your first book. All you can do is write the best damn books you can (don't give up after your first failure) and cross your fingers. Most likely you're going to fail again, but at least you'll have tried.

In f/sf, new writers get published with fair regularity. Several per year. Dunno what you write, though.

Bufty
07-11-2008, 03:59 PM
95% rejected and the remaining 5% published? No way, madam - not in most places anyway.

Don't ask me how it was calculated, but some time ago I read the odds were 32,000:1 against.

But who cares about odds?

A good story, well-written will certainly put you ahead of 95% of the majority of manuscripts submitted.

Then you have to compete with the 5%.

Good luck.

Manderley
07-11-2008, 04:00 PM
Actually I've heard the figure is smaller. 5-10% may get to the partial/full stage (90% is slush). Maybe 1-2% will get published.


Ah, yes, but I'm not in the same corner of the world as you. And we don't have agents, so all goes into the same pile (apart from those already published, of course, who will have a more direct access to their editor). :)
I'm sure Maestro's number is the more accurate for the States.

JJ Cooper
07-11-2008, 04:02 PM
Bufty. Good to see you back, mate. How's the writing.

I like them odds.

JJ

maestrowork
07-11-2008, 04:06 PM
Yeah, like Bufty said, forget about the odds or statistics. Most slush is unpublishable anyway. Write a great book, polish it, and send it out. You'll only have to compete with the 5% then. ;)

As Uncle Jim said, every author out there has been a "first-time" author at one time or another. And first-time authors get published every year -- we have quite a few right here on AW. Don't lose hope because the statistics look so grim.

JJ Cooper
07-11-2008, 04:09 PM
Right here in this thread too, Ray.

JJ

Reilly616
07-11-2008, 04:43 PM
Actually, that raises another question, and I'm not sure exactly how to put it. The people who have read my work found it good. I'll try not to sound cocky, but getting A's in English and having people complement my writing when they just read a page that was left on the table, makes me confident that my writing is "good".
So, of all the thousands of manuscripts submitted, how many would you think are completely hopeless? How many are just totally boring, or badly written and just clogging up the desk. Is it that 90%? Obviously, from my perspective, I would hope so, but I highly doubt it.

SPMiller
07-11-2008, 04:47 PM
Knowing the exact odds isn't going to magically make them improve. You can't control whether someone accepts your manuscript or not. All you can do is write the best damn books you can. Nothing else will work. Get to it.

KTC
07-11-2008, 04:49 PM
I wonder what the odds are for people who don't submit and wait for publishers to approach them and 'discover' them? Do they knock or ring the bell?

Kevin, who so hates the bother of submitting... and will never be discovered.

Albedo
07-11-2008, 04:50 PM
I don't think you leapfrog the 90% necessarily by being "good", but by knowing you have to strive to do better. I'd say that's where most aspiring writers fail (says Mr. Never-been-published), and where the denizens of this board, hopefully, have the advantage.

maestrowork
07-11-2008, 05:20 PM
Is it that 90% Obviously, from my perspective, I would hope so, but I highly doubt it.

You'd be surprised. Anyone can write an essay. But writing a novel is something else -- it takes more than just stringing sentences together. Even the pros may have problems from time to time. I'm not an agent or an editor, but I've read enough dreck to know... slush pile can be a very awful place.

dawinsor
07-11-2008, 06:36 PM
Once in a while, an agent runs a contest in which readers can submit first pages or synopses or queries. The people submitting are savvy enough to read agents' blogs so they're not the most out-of-it. And I'm always shocked by how many entries are immediately flawed by weak control of language, cliched story line, lack of basic technique (POV, for example). I'd go crazy as an agent reading that week after week.

This is not to say, of course, that writers don't get better. Lord knows, I see flaws in my own work too, so I hope I'm getting better. But I do think we're not good judges of our own work, and many writers submit before they're ready.

Sometimes I bemoan that. It clogs up the agents' mail and makes them hostile.

James D. Macdonald
07-11-2008, 06:45 PM
If you haven't yet read Slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html), now's the time.

While you're at it, read Myrtle the Manuscript (http://www.sfwa.org/writing/myrtle2.htm).


Remember, this is a game of skill, not a game of chance. If you write an excellent book the odds of getting it published are excellent.

Mr Flibble
07-11-2008, 06:53 PM
I read an agent somewhere (I wish I could remember who, so I could link it) give the proportions.

it was something along the lines of:

20% sent in a form that makes it difficult to read. 6 point font, weird font, printed on both sides, pages dog-earred and held together by sellotape etc. This also includes people who fill the envelope with sparkles or somesuch to 'attract attention', or who use purple paper. Severe grammatical / spelling errors.

40% The prose itself in the first couple of pages. Every noun has at least one adjective, or the prose is so purple it blinds the agent, or the first three pages describe the weather, or mild to moderate spelling / grammar issues.

20 % plot is cliched, or is yet another novel about x, which has saturated the market over the last year, or plot is just, well, boring ( or boringly described) Or genre is not something this agent handles, or they just can't see where they will place a space opera about rampant lust bunnies from planet Zog.

10% The style. It's just not this agents cup of tea. Or it's trying to be experimental and actually comes across as unintentionally humourous, or makes the agent get the dictionary out three times on the first page, or the first sentence doesn't stop till page two.

Remaining 10% ( ish) will get partial / full request.

JJ Cooper
07-11-2008, 06:56 PM
And we haven't yet metioned that even if an aquisition editor loves it, she/he has to convince a whole lot of other people that it will sell.

JJ

JJ Cooper
07-11-2008, 06:59 PM
Jennifer Jackson (http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/) regularly posts how many submissions she receives and those she request partials and full for etc. She also talks regularly about some of the bizarre submissions she receives.

108 submissions received last week = 1 partial request.

Here's a snippet from a post:

The number of queries I get that are completely inappropriate for me (e.g. how-to-books, self-help books, etc.) is much higher than it ever used to be when we only had paper submissions to review. Every week I get queries that haven't even been spell-checked. Or are addressed to the wrong person (the one I just read today was emailed to me but the opening of the letter included another agent at another agency, address and all -- oops)

JJ

Toothpaste
07-11-2008, 07:00 PM
Time for . . . slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)!

James D. Macdonald
07-11-2008, 07:14 PM
While we're doing math, remember that one dreadful manuscript sent out five hundred times is the equivalent of five hundred dreadful manuscripts sent out once each.

If your manuscript is dreadful it won't get better by being sent out a lot. That's why I recommend starting a new book the same day you start sending your last one around.

Reilly616
07-11-2008, 07:14 PM
I read an agent somewhere (I wish I could remember who, so I could link it) give the proportions.

it was something along the lines of:

20% sent in a form that makes it difficult to read. 6 point font, weird font, printed on both sides, pages dog-earred and held together by sellotape etc. This also includes people who fill the envelope with sparkles or somesuch to 'attract attention', or who use purple paper. Severe grammatical / spelling errors.

40% The prose itself in the first couple of pages. Every noun has at least one adjective, or the prose is so purple it blinds the agent, or the first three pages describe the weather, or mild to moderate spelling / grammar issues.

20 % plot is cliched, or is yet another novel about x, which has saturated the market over the last year, or plot is just, well, boring ( or boringly described) Or genre is not something this agent handles, or they just can't see where they will place a space opera about rampant lust bunnies from planet Zog.

10% The style. It's just not this agents cup of tea. Or it's trying to be experimental and actually comes across as unintentionally humourous, or makes the agent get the dictionary out three times on the first page, or the first sentence doesn't stop till page two.

Remaining 10% ( ish) will get partial / full request.

Thanks. I like knowing figures. 'Tis how ma brain works :D

Melenka
07-11-2008, 07:50 PM
I write with the knowledge that the book will likely not be published, the same way I buy a lottery ticket fairly sure that I will never win. The odds don't stop me from playing and they won't stop me from inflicting my manuscript on agents and editors. I do, however, pick games where the astronomical odds make winning a possibility.

shelboselby
07-11-2008, 08:20 PM
I don't allow myself to worry about how many never make it.

All I know is that I'll be one of the ones that make it. I have to. It's my dream and no amount of rejection will stand in my way.

Prozyan
07-11-2008, 08:34 PM
Does it really matter how many actually make it? Nope. Just worry about yourself making it.

And just a note: Be cautious about praise. A good number of people can't tell good writing from a laundry list. They'll read something, proclaim how "good" it is, then promptly forget about it an hour later. Learn to be self-critical of your own writing. That's the single greatest skill you'll obtain.

Reilly616
07-11-2008, 08:40 PM
Does it really matter how many actually make it? Nope. Just worry about yourself making it.

And just a note: Be cautious about praise. A good number of people can't tell good writing from a laundry list. They'll read something, proclaim how "good" it is, then promptly forget about it an hour later. Learn to be self-critical of your own writing. That's the single greatest skill you'll obtain.

Trust me, I am very harsh on my writing. Verging on--not really verging though--self depricating.

:D

And I know it doesn't matter, but its the weekend and I'm bored. I was just wondering. One can never know too many figures.

Madison
07-11-2008, 09:30 PM
Honestly, lots and lots of people are 'good.' I got A's in advanced placement HS English. I got my high school's creative writing student of the year award this spring. And lots of people have told me my writing is good.

But that doesn't mean much. I'll bet there are thousands of teens like you and me, Reilly: straight A students, wanna-be novelists with lots of potential who are going to flood agents' desks with good manuscripts. And it's a great base, a good place to start. But writing amazing essays and winning HS awards isn't going to get your novel published.

You can't just be good at essays. That's not enough. Your novel has got to leap out of the slush pile and scream AMAZING! That takes time, practice, dedication (and more time, practice, dedication)... and of course fun! Because what's the point of writing if it's not fun?

So I guess this is all to say: don't let the praise and A's go to your head (advice for me, too :) ) because it's a huge publishing world out there and we're on the very bottom rung of the ladder.

(Of course, we're not going to stay there - we're going right to the very top - but for now, reality checks are good)

Reilly616
07-11-2008, 09:39 PM
But that doesn't mean much. I'll bet there are thousands of teens like you and me, Reilly: straight A students, wanna-be novelists with lots of potential who are going to flood agents' desks with good manuscripts. And it's a great base, a good place to start. But writing amazing essays and winning HS awards isn't going to get your novel published.




There's 3 at my school, myself included. Out of 700 students. Just sos ya knows :D

maestrowork
07-11-2008, 09:44 PM
But that doesn't mean much. I'll bet there are thousands of teens like you and me, Reilly: straight A students, wanna-be novelists with lots of potential who are going to flood agents' desks with good manuscripts. And it's a great base, a good place to start. But writing amazing essays and winning HS awards isn't going to get your novel published.

I wish they would teach fiction writing in HS or even college. I did a workshop at a HS for their special program students and they were surprised how little they knew about fiction writing and publishing. And these are advance students with a passion for writing, most of them in multiple writing programs. I'd say, out of the 20 students I met that day (and read some of their works), only one really stood out.

When I was in HS and college I didn't have any access, not even at the English Department. I suspected that "fiction writing" was only reserved for graduate students. We did write short stories, but without any clear understanding what what actually went into them. We wrote, we critiqued each other, but there wasn't really any instructions on how to do it. POVs? Plot movement? Characterization? Nope. And that was college.

Perhaps things are different now, but what I heard from those teachers told me: Not really.

bethany
07-11-2008, 09:51 PM
I wish they would teach fiction writing in HS or even college. I did a workshop at a HS for their special program students and they were surprised how little they knew about fiction writing and publishing. And these are advance students with a passion for writing, most of them in multiple writing programs. I'd say, out of the 20 students I met that day (and read some of their works), only one really stood out.

When I was in HS and college I didn't have any access, not even at the English Department. I suspected that "fiction writing" was only reserved for graduate students. We did write short stories, but without any clear understanding what what actually went into them. We wrote, we critiqued each other, but there wasn't really any instructions on how to do it. POVs? Plot movement? Characterization? Nope. And that was college.

Perhaps things are different now, but what I heard from those teachers told me: Not really.

I teach high school and my creative writing elective filled up in record time. When we align curriculum for regular English classes the consensus (and it's right) is that for college kids need to be able to write a good analytical paper, not a short story/poem). I work creative writing into my classes, but that's probably because it's the focus of my life. I teach 10th grade and my students are required to write and understand the editorial, persuasive letter, feature article, speech, personal narrative, and poem

dwellerofthedeep
07-11-2008, 10:17 PM
I learned about POV, plot movement, and a lot of other good stuff in a college creative writing class last fall. I think this particular line of thought: "Only so many make it." is a wee bit depressing. One fact I'd rather not know.

willietheshakes
07-11-2008, 10:20 PM
I don't know what this place is coming to: It took 16 replies for someone to mention slushkiller. Why I remember, back in the day...

job
07-11-2008, 11:02 PM
One way to look at the acceptance/rejection question
is to look at percentage of 'serious writers' who make it to 'publication'.

Somewhat arbitrarily defining 'publication' as both print-run publication and the lucrative parts of the e-press (where titles earn out at $1000+.)

Defining 'serious writer' as someone who
(a) -- spends time learning the craft,
(b) -- finishes polished manuscripts,
(c) -- submits them,
and does (a), (b), and (c) conscientiously for at least seven years.

Then I'd say the odds of a serious writer getting published are about one in thirty.


Of the 29 who don't make it, 5 are serious whack jobs. If you are not obsessed and weird, your odds get better.

This is half guesswork, half observation.

DeleyanLee
07-11-2008, 11:49 PM
I don't know about more recent years, but the RWA (www.rwanational.org) has a lovely breakdown of how many titles there are published and other market breakdown. Of course, their purpose is to show how popular their genre is, but their research can give us a little insight.

# of titles published in 2005 (% share of total output):
(Books in Print, RR Bowker)

Romance: 5994 titles (3.5%)
Mystery: 4441 titles (2.6%)
SF/F: 2918 titles (1.7%)
Literary Fiction: 4021 (2.3%)
Graphic Novels: 2639 (1.5%)
Religion/Inspirational: 9949 (5.8%)
Total fiction published: 29,962

Now, that's everything that got published, including reprints, so it's hard to gauge how many were new titles, so consider that.

Just as an example of how many people are writing novels, 111,767 people signed up for National Novel Writing Month last year and I know not everyone writing a novel participated in that annual activity.

And that's just assuming each person has a single book to submit.

Odds are against us writers, but, hey where would the challenge be if it were a guarantee?

job
07-11-2008, 11:54 PM
Those percentages don't seem to add up to 100%.
Just saying

They count graphic novels as 'books', but not YA or kids books?

maestrowork
07-12-2008, 12:01 AM
Almost 10,000 religious/inspirational FICTION? I find it hard to believe. I've heard that Romance novels take up about 55% of the fiction market.

job
07-12-2008, 12:12 AM
I do think those figues were incorrectly copied.

Bookscan lists the topseller Romance author for the week ending July 6 as Catherine Coulter, who gives a one-two punch in first and second place. She sold over 66,000 copies of those two titles combined in the week ending July 6. The week before, those two titles sold 84,000 copies.

Total sales for the top 100 Romance writers for the week ending July 6 were over half a million books. For the year so far, the top hundred author sales have been over 4,500,000.

MumblingSage
07-12-2008, 12:17 AM
There's 3 at my school, myself included. Out of 700 students. Just sos ya knows :D

My HS of 1400 students had a writer's club of about 12--heck, I'll say 14. So that's 1/100. However, many of them were poets, and most of them were not much good.

But then, they were teenagers :D

DeleyanLee
07-12-2008, 12:28 AM
Those percentages don't seem to add up to 100%.
Just saying

They count graphic novels as 'books', but not YA or kids books?

That the Adult Fiction market share of the entire number of titles published for the year--so it wouldn't add up to 100%. The remainder is non-fiction and Children/YA titles.

Almost 10,000 religious/inspirational FICTION? I find it hard to believe. I've heard that Romance novels take up about 55% of the fiction market.

These numbers came from the Romance Writers of America themselves, so I figure they'd get their own percentage right.

And I was rather blown away by the number of religious/inspirational titles too, FWIW.

I do think those figues were incorrectly copied.

Bookscan lists the topseller Romance author for the week ending July 6 as Catherine Coulter, who gives a one-two punch in first and second place. She sold over 66,000 copies of those two titles combined in the week ending July 6. The week before, those two titles sold 84,000 copies.

Total sales for the top 100 Romance writers for the week ending July 6 were over half a million books.

http://www.rwanational.org/galleries/default-file/2005_ROMStats.pdf (last page) if you'd like to double-check my transcription.

And you're talking COPIES. That link is talking TITLES. So for Coulter's 66,000 COPIES sold, that's only two TITLES.

veinglory
07-12-2008, 12:31 AM
It's also not everything that got published if you count any process that puts a book on sale. These days you need to specify what kind if 'it' you are trying to 'make'. Type of publisher? Level of sales volume?

Shadow_Ferret
07-12-2008, 12:32 AM
Of all the novels completed and submitted. What percentage actually end up getting published? I know it is difficult to get an accurate figure. But since you folks have so much experience, I would value your estimates.
Don't torture yourself so.

As Han Solo said, "Don't tell me the odds!"

goldenquince
07-12-2008, 02:05 AM
Knowing the exact odds isn't going to magically make them improve. You can't control whether someone accepts your manuscript or not. All you can do is write the best damn books you can. Nothing else will work. Get to it.


This is my kind of answer.

Clair Dickson
07-12-2008, 02:36 AM
Don't ask me how it was calculated, but some time ago I read the odds were 32,000:1 against.


Well, that's fine with me. Because I'm the 1. =)

(okay, so it may take enormous amounts of hard work, honing and shaping my craft, enough query letters and rejections to wallpaper my house, and all that, but I will be the one. I will be published. It's not about the odds against, it's about being that one, somehow. =)

Reilly616
07-12-2008, 02:44 AM
Not really an answer though...

Clair Dickson
07-12-2008, 03:03 AM
But it can be YOUR answer too... that's what most people here are trying to tell you. It's not about how many make it, it's about whether you're going to make it through your determination, hardwork, and perserverence.

If you're worrying about the odds, are you also worrying about how to make your novel better?

Why does it matter how many get published? If you want to, then work for it.

maestrowork
07-12-2008, 03:20 AM
The odds don't really mean anything in this case. It's not like buying the lottery, because not every ticket has the same chance.

freezer burned
07-12-2008, 03:32 AM
One way to look at the acceptance/rejection question
is to look at percentage of 'serious writers' who make it to 'publication'.

Somewhat arbitrarily defining 'publication' as both print-run publication and the lucrative parts of the e-press (where titles earn out at $1000+.)

Defining 'serious writer' as someone who
(a) -- spends time learning the craft,
(b) -- finishes polished manuscripts,
(c) -- submits them,
and does (a), (b), and (c) conscientiously for at least seven years.

Then I'd say the odds of a serious writer getting published are about one in thirty.


Of the 29 who don't make it, 5 are serious whack jobs. If you are not obsessed and weird, your odds get better.

This is half guesswork, half observation.
I think my odds just went down...

Reilly616
07-12-2008, 03:32 AM
But it can be YOUR answer too... that's what most people here are trying to tell you. It's not about how many make it, it's about whether you're going to make it through your determination, hardwork, and perserverence.

If you're worrying about the odds, are you also worrying about how to make your novel better?

Why does it matter how many get published? If you want to, then work for it.

Noone's worrying :D

Danger Jane
07-12-2008, 04:15 AM
I've heard that 2/3 of Americans (200,000,000) "will write a book someday".

2 million actually do.

Of these, around 90% will be unprofessionally presented, perhaps ignoring submission instructions or the rules of grammar--either way, there's no way this is getting published without some serious learnin'.

So let's say 10% of those 2 million manuscripts are readable. We're down to 200,000 manuscripts now. Many of these will be readable and fairly coherent, but still not sophisticated enough for most agents and editors. If 90% of these are "not quite ready" for publication (but certainly they might be, if the author works hard) that leaves 20,000 manuscripts jockeying for attention from various markets.

Honestly, seeing as I know I can string together sentences that mean something into paragraphs that mean something...those odds don't really faze me.

I can't find the site I read this from, sorry. Slushkiller does have a breakdown, and yea, according to that breakdown, only around 1% of novels are really great and marketable enough to be enthusiastically snatched up by a happy little agent or editor.

scheherazade
07-12-2008, 04:35 AM
Well... having just started yet another community education night school class, that 95% crap statistic doesn't surprise me any more. At the beginning of every writing workshop I start, there are a lot of terribly written short stories and novel excerpts. Fortunately, most writers improve over the weeks of the course.

But the $500 cost of the workshop is a lot more expensive than what it costs just to fire off a manuscript or a proposal to a publisher. So I'm guessing there are more underdeveloped writers outside of writing classes than there are in week 1 of an intro-level workshop. Still... it surprises me how many people who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of their lives on a writing course are surprised to learn the concept that a writer should show, not tell. I suspect there are tons of people who will spend hundreds of dollars sending out half-baked manuscripts because all they really want to do is Be A Published Author.

Danger Jane
07-12-2008, 04:50 AM
Well... having just started yet another community education night school class, that 95% crap statistic doesn't surprise me any more. At the beginning of every writing workshop I start, there are a lot of terribly written short stories and novel excerpts. Fortunately, these writers improve over the weeks of the course.

But the $500 cost of the workshop is a lot more expensive than what it costs just to fire off a manuscript or a proposal to a publisher. So I'm guessing there are a lot more underdeveloped writers outside of writing classes than there are in week 1 of an intro-level workshop. Still... it surprises me how many people who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of their lives on a writing course are surprised to learn the concept that a writer should show, not tell. I suspect there are tons of people who will spend hundreds of dollars sending out half-baked manuscripts because all they really want to do is Be A Published Author.

It surprises me how many people would put $500 into something in which they've invested so little of their own time. A simple Google search for "novel writing advice" brings up 6000 results, and I bet a lot of them explain in detail "show don't tell". For free.

scope
07-12-2008, 06:19 AM
I don't know the real numbers, but let's play around.

First of all we have to confine your question to books published by traditional houses. For obvious reasons we can't include self-published books.

Let's say the average large to medium sized publisher receives 8,000 queries a year. Of those let's say 2,400 are novels (1/3rd of the submissions).

Let's say this average publisher publishes 200 new books a year (probably high). If 1/3rd are novels that mean the publishers brings out about 75 novels a year.

So, we have 2,400 novels submitted and 75 of them published. That's about a 3% approval rate for all novels submitted in one year.

Now agreed, these are made up numbers, they are in no way accurate, but I don't think they are that far off base. In any event, why don't we use these numbers, discuss others, and see how far off 3% actually is?

SPMiller
07-12-2008, 07:23 AM
There are actually websites out there for tracking short story submissions (e.g., Duotrope (http://www.duotrope.com/)), but I'm not sure if there are similar resources for novels. I'll have to research that immediately after this post. That said, the short story numbers are incredibly depressing if you actually look at them, so I'd recommend staying ignorant.

blacbird
07-12-2008, 07:51 AM
This question is entirely dependent on what the definition of "it" is.

caw

job
07-13-2008, 12:02 AM
That the Adult Fiction market share of the entire number of titles published for the year--so it wouldn't add up to 100%. The remainder is non-fiction and Children/YA titles.

Ah. I see the source of my confusion.

I automatically started thinking about 'market share', (that is, the percentage of the retail market,) rather than just the number of raw titles put out.

Number of titles is important to look at if the goal is just to get published. Obviously it is easier to get published in a field that prints many titles.

Cranky
07-13-2008, 12:30 AM
To be frank, I don't waste much time worrying about what percentage of books out there get published.

If I did, I suspect I'd be crushed, and quit trying. Which would be a silly thing to do, imo. All I can do is write the best book I am capable of writing, do my homework on agents and publishers, and let the rest take care of itself.

*shrug*

I don't mean to be a downer or anything like that, I hasten to add. I just think it adds stress to the situation for no good reason. IMO.

Bubastes
07-13-2008, 02:17 AM
To be frank, I don't waste much time worrying about what percentage of books out there get published.

If I did, I suspect I'd be crushed, and quit trying. Which would be a silly thing to do, imo. All I can do is write the best book I am capable of writing, do my homework on agents and publishers, and let the rest take care of itself.

*shrug*

I don't mean to be a downer or anything like that, I hasten to add. I just think it adds stress to the situation for no good reason. IMO.

I agree with Cranky. Focus on the things you can control and work on them. Worrying about things you can't control is a waste of energy that could be put to more productive use.

blacbird
07-13-2008, 10:01 PM
Worrying about things you can't control is a waste of energy that could be put to more productive use.

Or at least no worse than alternate but equally unproductive use.

caw

Megaera
07-14-2008, 09:24 AM
Remember, this is a game of skill, not a game of chance. If you write an excellent book the odds of getting it published are excellent.

I don't see how anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the query process can truly believe that.

Really. On the one hand we're told what you've just said, and on the other there are agent laundry lists that basically say, over and over and over, that it's a crapshoot, that no matter how good you are, all it takes is one assistant/agent/editor/gatekeeper saying no, and you're out on your behind and have to start completely over again. Who's to say that even the world's best writer might still be unpublished, because they haven't been able to lace their way through the labyrinth, and not for lack of perseverence?

It's not possible to have it both ways. You have to be a blind optimist with the hide of an elephant in this business. Which I am most emphatically not, except for the fact that I can't stop, darnit. Even though the whole process makes me miserable.

Anyone have any ideas on how to make the "getting published" lottery less like running the world's most self-confidence smashing gauntlet?

blacbird
07-14-2008, 10:36 AM
If you write an excellent book the odds of getting it published are excellent.

I hesitate to express disagreement with someone I greatly admire and whose comments I always respect, but this one drifts into that circular reasoning mode: The only real way to judge the excellence of any writing is if it, in fact, does get published. Ergo, if Thing X gets published, it is at least "good enough", if not truly "excellent"; if it doesn't, it isn't "good enough", let alone "excellent".

caw

billyf027
07-14-2008, 03:36 PM
Steps (1968), a novel comprising scores of loosely connected vignettes, won the National Book Award (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Book_Award) in 1969.[8] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Kosi%C5%84ski#cite_note-nba-7)
In 1975, Chuck Ross, a Los Angeles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles) freelance writer, conducted an experiment with Steps by sending 21 pages of the book to four publishers under the pseudonym Erik Demos (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pseudonym_Erik_Demos&action=edit&redlink=1). The book was turned down by all of them, including Random House (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_House) (which originally published Steps) and Houghton Mifflin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houghton_Mifflin) (which published three of Kosinskiís other novels). Ross revealed his findings in New West magazine four years later. His article includes Kosinski's advice that next time he should offer the entire text. Ross repeated his experiment by submitting the entire text of Steps to literary agents in 1981, with equally dismal results.[9] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Kosi%C5%84ski#cite_note-Ross-8)

Linda Adams
07-14-2008, 03:59 PM
Steps (1968), a novel comprising scores of loosely connected vignettes, won the National Book Award (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Book_Award) in 1969.[8] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Kosi%C5%84ski#cite_note-nba-7)
In 1975, Chuck Ross, a Los Angeles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles) freelance writer, conducted an experiment with Steps by sending 21 pages of the book to four publishers under the pseudonym Erik Demos (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pseudonym_Erik_Demos&action=edit&redlink=1). The book was turned down by all of them, including Random House (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_House) (which originally published Steps) and Houghton Mifflin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houghton_Mifflin) (which published three of Kosinskiís other novels). Ross revealed his findings in New West magazine four years later. His article includes Kosinski's advice that next time he should offer the entire text. Ross repeated his experiment by submitting the entire text of Steps to literary agents in 1981, with equally dismal results.[9] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Kosi%C5%84ski#cite_note-Ross-8)

This kind of thing turns up every couple of years, usually with the reporter's goal to show that "publishing is broken." But what never gets mentioned:

1. Is the reporter able to write a good query? The skills that make a good reporter don't translate as well to making a good novelist.

2. Did the publisher recognize the material and reject it based on that without bothering to say he did?

3. And the doozy--Readers' tastes change! What gets published ten years ago might not be published as a new novel today.

It was most noticeable to me when I picked up a new thriller called The R Document, listed as an "International Best Seller." When I started reading, it became apparent the writing style itself felt dated. It just didn't fit what was being published in today's market. The copyright date? 1975. The publisher had reprinted it because of the current political situation. The topic was current, but the style in the book was dated.

Priene
07-14-2008, 05:28 PM
Several people have commented on this, but I often see people getting terribly demoralised by these statistics, so I'm going to explain a little about statistical inference.

Let's say one in a thousand books get published. Put a thousand randomly selected manuscripts in a big pile. Now take one out. What's the chance it's publishable? One in a thousand. 0.1%. That's what agents and publishers have to do, and that's probably why they often don't have the sunniest dispositions.

(Actually, it'd be worse than that for agents and publishers. Good manuscripts will go through the hands of one or two agents before being picked up. Bad ones may go through dozens. Any given agent might only be receiving one decent manuscript in five thousand, or one in ten thousand. So bear that in mind when you hear agents talk about manuscript quality. They've got a biassed sample. They're experiencing an excess of dross due to decent manuscripts being picked out of the slush pile by other agents before they can get to them.)

Back to our thousand. Even though agents have this one-in-a-thousand problem, that does not mean we can infer that your manuscript has a 0.1% chance of publication. The 0.1% only comes in if the units in our sample (the manuscripts) are all of the same quality. Which quite clearly they're not. Manuscripts are not lottery tickets, where each number has a theoretically equal chance of collecting the prize. Give an awful manuscript to a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million agents and (almost certainly) every single one will reject it.

Reading around, it's clear that manuscripts do not cluster around a mean, the way, say, human heights do. There are only a few very short people and only a few very tall, but most of us are around mean average height. Manuscript quality, though, probably clusters around the bottom. Most are awful, as can be gleaned from any agent's blog. Stretching away from this are a few higher quality ones. If you can improve your writing by learning the craft you'll leap past the writers - most writers, probably - who have no idea about how to write a book. Your manuscript might not be publishable (yet), but if you keep improving as a writer, you'll find your publication chances will be far higher than that 0.1%.

To sum up: the moment you say "one in a thousand manuscripts are published, therefore I've a 0.1% chance of publication", you've made an invalid statistical inference. Quite simply, you're wrong.

ChaosTitan
07-14-2008, 07:32 PM
I don't see how anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the query process can truly believe that.

I was in the query game for over two years before I finally got an agent. I have more than cursory knowledge of the process, but I still agree with Uncle Jim. YMMV.


Anyone have any ideas on how to make the "getting published" lottery less like running the world's most self-confidence smashing gauntlet?

1. Publishing is a subjective business. Fifty people may not like it, but you just need one to say yes and champion your work.

2. A rejection of your manuscript is NOT a personal rejection of you. See #1.

3. Trying to read between the lines of "not right for us" or "I didn't fall in love with it" will only make you crazy. See #1.

4. Don't put all of your hope, faith, and love into one manuscript. While you're querying that one, write another book (not a sequel to the first!). Few people publish their first manuscripts.

5. Don't look at query as a "self-confidence smashing gauntlet." It will only make you crazy. Look at it as a learning experience and face it head-on.

6. Don't throw yourself a pity party every time you get a rejection. Learn what you can from it, then move on to the next editor/agent. Wallowing in your rejections will only make you crazy (or depressed). See #5.

maestrowork
07-14-2008, 08:16 PM
Let's say one in a thousand books get published. Put a thousand randomly selected manuscripts in a big pile. Now take one out. What's the chance it's publishable? One in a thousand. 0.1%. That's what agents and publishers have to do, and that's probably why they often don't have the sunniest dispositions.

Usually it takes only a few pages or even just a few paragraphs to weed out the 95%. The shush is THAT bad. So if you write well, you only have to contend with the 5% to get the agent's attention. And sometimes it's not about whether you're a good writer or not, but simply the wrong material for the wrong agent.

No one says this business is easy -- otherwise, everyone who can put two sentences together would be doing it. And it does take perseverance. If you expect to have few rejections then you're bound to be disappointed (only a few extremely lucky writers would be accepted from the get go. Even JK Rowling and Stephen King had some war wounds).

And let's face it, not everyone's work is publishable. We may ALL think our work is the best thing since sliced bread, but we're also often warped by our own vanity. How many writers -- new writers especially -- can really objectively evaluate their own work? So, when you submit an unpublishable work to an agent and end up in that 95% constantly, it doesn't mean the business is a joke. It just means -- well, you should consider writing another book.

Even a ms. that constantly lands in the 5% pile doesn't get picked quickly. There are a lot of reasons. Perhaps it's not the story the agent hopes for. Perhaps there are enough problems with the ms. that the agent doesn't feel enthusiastic about it. Perhaps the agent has only one slot and someone else's ms. is better. There's a lot of perhaps. That's why we need to persevere. And I believe Uncle Jim is right in this one: if your ms. is really good, the chances of publication is excellent (but not guaranteed -- nothing is guaranteed in life). It may take you 50 tries, but all you need is one "yes."

And if this one book ends up a truck novel, write another one. Write three. Keep improving your craft. That's what being a writer is about.

Priene
07-14-2008, 08:24 PM
Usually it takes only a few pages or even just a few paragraphs to weed out the 95%. The shush is THAT bad. So if you write well, you only have to contend with the 5% to get the agent's attention. And sometimes it's not about whether you're a good writer or not, but simply the wrong material for the wrong agent.

That was the point of my post. Just because an agent has a 0.1% chance (say) of finding a gem on a slushpile does not imply that any given MS will have a 0.1% of publication.

kzmiller
07-14-2008, 08:54 PM
Steps (1968), a novel comprising scores of loosely connected vignettes, won the National Book Award (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Book_Award) in 1969.[8] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Kosi%C5%84ski#cite_note-nba-7)
In 1975, Chuck Ross, a Los Angeles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles) freelance writer, conducted an experiment with Steps by sending 21 pages of the book to four publishers under the pseudonym Erik Demos (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pseudonym_Erik_Demos&action=edit&redlink=1). The book was turned down by all of them, including Random House (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_House) (which originally published Steps) and Houghton Mifflin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houghton_Mifflin) (which published three of Kosinskiís other novels). Ross revealed his findings in New West magazine four years later. His article includes Kosinski's advice that next time he should offer the entire text. Ross repeated his experiment by submitting the entire text of Steps to literary agents in 1981, with equally dismal results.[9] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerzy_Kosi%C5%84ski#cite_note-Ross-8)

One of the potential flaws in this process is that often agents will reject because something sounds like it's been done before and better. One agent I know did a podcast about her rejection process and commented that people would be shocked how much overt plagiarism there is. The agents may simply have thought he was plagiarizing (oh, the irony) his own book.

Megaera
07-15-2008, 12:20 AM
Like I said, I'm not an incurable optimist with an elephant's hide. The only way to do the things you recommend is to belong to that group. It's not something I can change in me (nor is it someone I would want to be), it's something I'd have to change in the system. I am aware that it's not possible to do that. Therefore it makes me miserable. I would appreciate not being spoonfed answers that don't work, thanks. I know you were not aiming for condescension, but that's what it came across as. How do you know I haven't been trying to do those things for years? For that matter, how do you know that I've only written one manuscript? (the one I'm currently shopping around is my sixth -- admittedly, I've only tried to shop this and one other around, but the others were for learning my craft).

Please don't make assumptions without checking them first. To quote one of my favorite authors, check them at the door.

maestrowork
07-15-2008, 01:08 AM
And how would you like the business to change, considering tens of thousands of people want to be published every year, and not everyone has the goods?

We've all been through the query process, and we've all been unpublished at one time. Yes, that includes Uncle Jim and many first-time authors here (JJ, Toothpaste, ORION, Jamie Ford, Liam, me, to make a few). It's not about condescension. It's about facts.

blacbird
07-15-2008, 02:16 AM
To sum up: the moment you say "one in a thousand manuscripts are published, therefore I've a 0.1% chance of publication", you've made an invalid statistical inference. Quite simply, you're wrong.

Correct. In my case it's worse.

caw

Toothpaste
07-15-2008, 02:24 AM
Megaera - Well if you think I'm an incurable optimist, I'm obviously not doing my job right. I'm darn right cynical. No one here is being ridiculously positive about the situation. Everyone is saying that it is really hard. No one is trying to be condescending, and I guess you have made it quite obvious you don't have an elephant hide if you are finding our responses somehow personally offensive.

Look, I'm pretty sensitive. I always have been, never could take teasing, and you better believe every time I get a rejection I cry. So I don't have a thick hide at all. But I do have a quick recovery rate. I'm sad for an afternoon and then I get over it. Was I always this way? No. But I had to make a choice, do I want to do this with my life, be a writer, an actress? And if so am I just going to be miserable all the time because it is a really tough path to follow? I'm upset a lot. About my writing. About my acting. I get so frustrated and angry sometimes. Life seems incredibly unfair. But so what? In the end, so what? What does the industry care if I feel this way? Does my indignation help me get work? Only if it fuels me to write another book, or produce another play. Otherwise it's just wasted energy.

If you want it, really want it, you have to teach yourself coping mechanisms. No one is trying to tell you to change your personality, but simply find a method of dealing with the difficulties of this business. Something as simple as instead of thinking "all it takes is one assistant/agent/editor/gatekeeper saying no, and you're out on your behind and have to start completely over again" instead you think "I could send out hundreds of queries, be rejected by every agent on the planet, feel like something on the bottom of someone's shoe, and then one agent, only one, says yes. And suddenly I have a real shot in the industry." Think about it. What does it matter if 80 agents reject you, if one says yes? It's a simple change of view, not one that I would consider incurably optimistic, but rather logical. If you can think the former thought, there is no reason you can't think the latter. It's a logical conclusion to draw. If one agent has the power to say no to you, another has the power to say yes. If one editor has the power to shut you down, you could also find that one editor who becomes your champion (I have a friend who has found just such an editor, an editor on the lower rung of the ladder, but who has managed to push her book through to not only publication but huge in house buzz). Instead of looking at thinking these thoughts as being optimistic, think of looking at them as a pragmatist. That change alone could help you cope a lot more and make you less miserable.

Or you could put all that effort into changing the industry, something I consider an even more monumental task than getting published, but people have affected change in the past, maybe you will too!

t0neg0d
07-15-2008, 03:06 AM
If you haven't yet read Slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html), now's the time.

While you're at it, read Myrtle the Manuscript (http://www.sfwa.org/writing/myrtle2.htm).


Remember, this is a game of skill, not a game of chance. If you write an excellent book the odds of getting it published are excellent.

I found both of these very informative and actually enjoyable to read. Though, I have to ask... doesn't it bother anyone, that in the age of "The Information Super-highway"--dun-dun-duuuuuuun--, snail mail would create issues like that of Myrtle the Manuscript?

With that said, would you truly feel comfortable being considered for publication, represented or even going to lunch with someone who has not fully grasped the power of e-mail?

maestrowork
07-15-2008, 04:49 AM
Toothpaste brought up acting, and I think it's an apt comparison to the business of publishing (although they're different). I'm also an actor and have a tinny tiny bit of success, but I'd say that business is so much more brutal and not for the faint of heart. That doesn't stop aspiring actors to jump into the fray every day, does it?

And really, just because the odds look so bad doesn't mean everyone has the same odds. Not everyone can be an actor -- the business is very realistic. It's all about skills, talent and looks. Right place at the right time, blah blah blah. Is it fair? Of course not. Some of the best actors don't get the kind of chances some no-talent starlets are getting. But people keep going. They keep going to auditions and getting rejections. Maybe 1 in 50 auditions would lend you a part, and maybe 1 in 50 parts will get you some attention and notice. Many of the world's working actors have been doing it for decades. There's no "overnight" success.

So what do you do? You work your way through and be PERSISTENT. There's nothing more important that perseverance if you want to succeed in a business like these. I've gone to numerous auditions and learned to brush aside all the rejections. And occasionally I get something, and I would work damn hard at it whether it's a good role or an extra. That's called professionalism.

But you really have to stop taking it all so personally and persevere. In acting it's even more brutal. There would be 500 people at the open call and everyone seems to have the looks and skills and you feel crummy and you start to doubt yourself but you want to do your best anyway and maybe the casting director will see something in you. There's hope, but never a guarantee. You keep doing it. "Why not me?" And then there's a role you really, really, really, really want and you know you can do it well, and they give it to someone else. How is that fair? Well, it may not be, but you keep going.

At least in the land of publishing your book will always be yours. You're not trying to sell yourself (as in acting) but you're trying to sell a product. You can have 80, 100, 300 rejections and it still doesn't change the fact that your novel is still the same novel, and it only takes one agent or publisher to say yes. But the flipside is: No matter what you do, your novel will still be either brilliant or a piece of crap. No amount of submission is going to change that. So you really need to look at your work and see if it's the best it can be -- and if it's not, can you make it better or do you have another book?

You keep going if it really means that much to you.

Not everyone can be an actor -- it doesn't mean you can't keep trying. Not everyone can be a novelist either -- but it doesn't mean you can't keep trying. Just know what you're getting into and be persistent.

Talking about the "odds" or how "it only takes one casting director/agent/publisher to say no..." is self-defeating. Why not say, "It only takes one casting director/agent/publisher to say yes"? I think that's more productive and you will feel better, too.


(And if you think I'm being condescending -- well, it comes with having 60 rejections for my first book and over 100 failed auditions to my name, and I still don't have an elephant hide)

Mr. Fix
07-15-2008, 04:54 AM
95% rejected and the remaining 5% published? No way, madam - not in most places anyway.

Don't ask me how it was calculated, but some time ago I read the odds were 32,000:1 against.

But who cares about odds?

A good story, well-written will certainly put you ahead of 95% of the majority of manuscripts submitted.

Then you have to compete with the 5%.

Good luck.

Never tell me the odds...:Hammer:

Nateskate
07-15-2008, 05:11 AM
I once heard an agent say that only 5% of queries sent will ever pass her desk. (Something of that sort)- I guess the rest are screened by the little publishing gnomes.

Lol- I think one of her gnomes ate my query, even though she personally requested it. (Clearly marked) Then again, maybe she changed agencies and didn't leave a forwarding address? Or maybe...it just wasn't meant to be?