What are the odds of getting published?

How many times have you plugged the question: ‘What are the odds of getting published?’ into google? Me – an innumerable amount. There is nothing more mesmeric than seeing that ‘magic’ number of new authors who manage to score a publishing deal or literary agent in any given year.

And nothing gives more of a thrill of excitement than reading the Writer’s Digest ‘How I got My Agent’ series, or the query appraisals over at Call my Agent! I am also constantly searching and devouring success stories direct from the writers themselves, like Louise Allan and Paula Weston, who both signed with literary agent Lyn Tranter in 2016 and 2011 respectively.

All these success stories are well and good, but what percentage of new authors actually get published from the initial query stage? Chip McGregor, at McGregor Literary, tells us in his article ‘Ask the Agent: What are my odds of getting published?’, that about 65,000 new books appear in the market in any given year, and (very roughly) about 10 million proposals a year are sent to editors, publishers and agents. That makes the odds of getting published very dismal, at a very low .0065%!

This number is both depressing, and surprisingly tantalising. Being the ever hopeful writers that we are, we believe there is every chance that we will be that .0065% that does make it, that soars above the slush pile with our sparkling manuscript to score that publishing deal we’ve been dreaming about since we were ten.

But there is a problem with these numbers. There are countless articles titled ‘What are the odds of getting published’ – full to brimming with insightful information, wherein the experts tell us that there are no odds. That not every submission or query is made equal.

McGregor provides this invaluable pearl of wisdom: ‘publishing isn’t a game of chance.’ But what kind of game is it exactly?

McGregor makes a very valid point that it’s all a game of improvement:

…my advice would be to stop thinking about the overall odds of getting published. Instead, think about how to improve YOUR odds of getting published. I can tell you that the majority of proposals sent to MacGregor Literary are almost immediately rejected. Why? Because the writing isn’t that great, or the story premise is bad, or the genre is one we don’t represent. So, for example, an author would greatly improve the odds of landing with me if they have a great story, it’s in a genre I represent, it’s a type of book that is currently selling, they’ve completed the manuscript, and they’ve spent time learning the craft of writing and really polishing the work. You see, most writers won’t do that. They’ll have a weak story or weak craft, they’ll be about halfway there, and they’ll send it out. (And I’m not being negative — I’ve been agenting since 1998, so I’ve seen this same story play out time after time.)

Mark O’Bannon, over at Better Storytelling, tells us that

90% of your success depends on how good a writer you are

I think the question we really need an answer for is ‘what are the odds that you’re an amazing writer?’

Now this my friend, is a loaded question better left for another day.




58 thoughts

  1. My advice to people is don’t bother trying to get published, it’s not even worth the effort. I plan to quit writing once I finish my current short stories.


  2. You can’t control the numbers, but you can control how hard you work on your own ms. You can edit, edit and edit some more. Find beta readers and critique partners. Take it to workshops, retreats or classes. Read other books in your genre. Figure out what you like about them, and then use them as models for crafting a great book. Then go to conferences for agent or editor critiques. Then repeat all steps. Or even move on to the next book, and apply everything you’ve learned to the new one. If you are tenacious. Focused. Hard-working. Dogged. Then your scrap of talent may flame into a polished ms that is ready to set the world on fire. Use the numbers as motivation to do all the work rather than using them as an excuse to hang up your spurs. That’s how you get there. So I believe. Fingers crossed. Holy water sprinkled. Anti-depressants taken. 😉


  3. The Professor is quite right; most agents are in an impossible position, and often making judgements based on titles or something equally trivial. The hours in their day leave no choice. It would be nice to believe in a world where a writer’s ability dictates their chance of publication, but I’m afraid that all the tripe selling on bookshelves (and electronic metaphors thereof) completely disproves that theory. Yes, good literature sees print if the right eyes happen across it, but there is some other factor, perhaps formulaic, that dictates most of what is published traditionally. Milly, I thought you posted earlier that your goal was to self-publish? Have a look at my last (perhaps last-ever) post about the value of hiring an editor.


  4. I think ignoring the statistics is good advice. If you read what a lot of agents have to say about the queries they receive, there is a lot of nonsense and garbage out there that does not equate to competition for even halfway-decent writers. Just submitting something doesn’t mean it ever had a chance to be accepted. Same goes for short story venues. One of my college teachers won Writers of the Future. When we talked about it, he told me at that time there were only a few dozen real contenders, the rest of the submissions were completely out of the running, things like stories handwritten on notebook paper, things that weren’t even stories like lists. I agree, if you want to be traditionally published, your focus should be on being the best you can be and not considering potential competition.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Which leads to the question of how do truly atrocious books get published? Like I’ve read some YA that’s complete garbage that felt more like a summary than a story. How does that get published? Ugh. That’s both discouraging and encouraging all at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The problem is that there are more and more writers every day, and they flood agents and publishers with dreck. A Sea of shit. An ocean of Ordure. And they use either unpaid interns or dodgy macros to search for hot words in the manuscripts. Even if you had the next best thing, chances are it’s being drowned by the mediocre that floods in with it.

    A somewhat easier goal would be small presses, but they too are drowning in submissions.

    You could self-publish. It’s becoming more legitimate as time goes by, but let me tell you! It’s a LOT of work. Writing a book is easy compared to the hustling you need to do with advertising, branding, and social media.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. What I’m most afraid of is that I’ll spend months editing and polishing a manuscript, only for it to be still classed as ‘dreck’ hahaha. Yeah, I always revert to the idea of self-publishing when I see statistics such as .0065% !! But as you said, it’s a s— ton of work. Not sure if I’ll be able to handle it, but I may one day give it a try 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Also also also. Dont worry about tje insecurity. Its a sign you’re a real artist. I spend at least one day a week feeling like a hack, and five feeling like a fraud. So, don’t sweat it.


      1. I spent over a year getting my first book through its infancy and it was tedious to be kind. Now Ive had a famous author read it and comment well on it (piers anthony) book 2 edits went MUCH faster. (And it was literally twice the page count). If you’ve never heard of it, I recommend wwwm.scribophile.com . They’re a good community for writers.


  7. Reblogged this on Treeshallow Musings and commented:
    It is very tempting to rush through an edit just so you can sent it out, but in all the agent interviews I’ve seen and read, every one says that they always receive hundreds of queries from writers whose work just wasn’t ready yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have this horrible fear of failure…which I know is terrible in the writing world. I’m also my own worst enemy when it comes to writing, so I put off letting anyone read my stuff just because I think it sucks. I think the most daunting task for me would be writing a query letter because I have no clue what constitutes a ‘good’ query letter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh me too! Don’t worry. I still think my writing sucks as well (actually I know it does), but I think it’s a good thing not to think you’re an amazing writer – NO ONE likes a gloater. If you ever hear of someone larking on about ‘what a great writer they are’ it’s usually total bulls— and even if it’s true, they look so pompous and ridiculous that most publishers might not even touch them. Most of the greatest writers out there still believe ‘they need to improve’ – and that’s what makes them so great.

      There are a ton of examples of query letters out there, the writer’s digest has this awesome series called “Successful Queries” – and I was actually meaning to add it to this blog post but forgot! Here’s the link for you: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s some really good advice, actually! I feel like my writing improves when I read a little more.


  9. Interesting post. The statistics are quite depressing. What a writer should do is to keep on learning to perfect their craft. One edit is not going to do it. My last book, “The Wentworth Legacy” went through more than a dozen edits and rewrites before I found it ready for publication.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve finally evolved to enjoy the process of writing and taking in the peripheral benefits…like discovering and reading blogs like yours. If I get published, wonderful. If not, Que Sera, Sera.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true 🙂 I remember pitching my novel to a publisher and she flat our told me to my face that there was no use submitting it to her company as it would never get through an acquisition meeting. She told me what they were really looking for was ‘sweet contemporary romances’ – so I went and wrote a dark, psychological thriller 🙂 lol

      Liked by 3 people

  11. I love this post because it takes our success out of the hands of destiny and into our own. It’s so much better to feel like we have some control over our lives. We can all spend time growing and perfecting the craft and, although this sounds terrible, it’s nice to hear that many of those rejections come from a writer not taking the time to present a good product. That brings hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That is an interesting question.

    I’ve met writers who thought they wrote a first draft and then they did a single edit to catch punctuation and grammar mistakes.

    I can’t even imagine querying a half-finished manuscript for your first book.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Exactly!! Even after I had edited my novel Mesmerise, perhaps 2-3 times and also completed a major revision (that took forever), – I still felt like it was only half-baked. When I handed it to another friend to proofread I was like “don’t be too harsh, it hasn’t been professionally edited yet!”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For me, I don’t even bother much on punctuation or grammar on my first edit. So much is going to change. If I see something clearly wrong, yes, I’ll fix it, but I am much more focused on plot and characters.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. When I wrote my first book I was really excited. When I read it, however, I was horrified. My English teacher convulsed in her grave, it was . . . a mind opening – enlightening project. That book is still buried deep in a dusty drawer. Writing improves with practice, lots of editing, and reading. Don’t rush it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I really, really wish some of the agents I’ve been querying could give me more feedback then the usual “it doesn’t suit us at this time”. I’d love them to let me know either: ‘Hi Milly, great story, but sucky writing’ OR ‘Hi Milly, bad story, awesome writing’ – I just need to know!! Although I think i’d be devastated if they said ‘bad story, bad writing’ hahaha 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s because of the deluge of dung that they are sprayed liberally with. They simply don’t have time to give you a personalized whyfor. Not helpful, but it’s just what they can do and still get work done during the day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s