I thought I'd blog today about getting published. Well, not the nuts and bolts of it. But the odds of it. I get a lot of despondent e-mails from teens who say that they want to be an author when they grow up, but they realize the odds are stacked against them, so they know it probably won't happen. So I went searching for odds, online. I found a bunch of unscientifically gathered ones that said that 5% of all books written were published, and then I found some statistics about how many books people had to write before they got published, and then I found Kristin Nelson's blog about literary agency statistics, which is the most scientifically accurate one, though not quite perfect.
Kristin Nelson is a literary agent and at the end of each year, she compiles statistics of queries read, etc. And she said that in 2009, her agency read 38,000 queries. Requested 55 manuscripts to read from those queries. And sold 15 books to publishers.
Basically, you stand a better chance of being killed by a blow from a ham sandwich than getting a book sold, is what that looks like.
And I think this is probably true. When you look at the numbers, I think it's probably true that the vast majority of people who put pen to paper never sell a book.
I never said that what they were writing was good.
I also never said that these people researched the market, read Writer's Digest, and figured out how to write query letters and where to send them to. I never said these people were voracious and critical readers and worked constantly on honing their writing craft. I never said that these people sat down and wrote four books and then wrote a fifth book and said this is the one, this is finally getting good.
Because I would venture to say that if we were talking about the publishing odds of that population, those people who live in that paragraph right above this one, we'd be having a different conversation entirely.
And that conversation would go like this: if you write a good book and follow the rules of submitting manuscripts and stick to it, you will eventually find someone who loves that book and will put it between real covers. The statistics might not be 100%, but I'm going to go with at least over 90%. Good books get found. Good books don't languish in agent slush piles.
I didn't get published before I wrote LAMENT, though I wrote 30 other novels from the time I was in my teens (why no, I had no social life apart from bagpiping, why do you ask?) And this is why: those novels weren't ready. It wasn't a flaw in the publishing system. It wasn't people failing to recognize my genius. It wasn't that I would never be ready. It's that I wasn't ready right then. There is no "no" in publishing. There is "not yet." There is "revise that manuscript." There is "write the next one."
There do exist rare manuscripts that don't find a home because they're highly unusual, not quite commercial, too genre bending.
But guess what, your unpublished manuscript is not one of them.
I mean, it might be. But I think the odds are better of you being killed by a blow from a ham sandwich. Most of us don't have the genius book that defies marketing in us. Most of the time, we don't get published just because the book isn't good enough yet. And the sooner unpublished authors realize that they have the control, that they can make a difference to when they get published, that it's about making your novel irresistible instead of finding the secret code word that will get you a personal audience with an agent, the better off they'll be. Don't lament the terrible statistics. Don't look for magic formulas to getting published. Just write better. Learn everything you can. Write the next book. Get published. The odds are with you, Jedi, if you do.
Still, watch out for those flying ham sandwiches.