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.