What Are My Odds of Getting Published?

At the risk of being a buzz kill, let’s get real.  The reason for doing so is to make you understand just how high the bar is in the publishing world, and just how deeply you must dig to reach that level.  Too many writers with casual affection for writing and an equally soft work ethic still maintain the loftiest of goals.  This violates a law of the universe — you have to scratch and claw your way to the top.

This blog is for people who want their writing dream fulfilled that badly.

The odds of getting your book published by a legit New York house, the kind of contract that gets your work on the shelf at Borders, are about the same as someone setting out to play on the PGA or LPGA tour. In a word, miniscule. More realistically, in 2.5 words, almost non-existent. When you add up the new tour cards awarded at the pro schools, then add the new club pros hired in a given year, that roughly equals the number of never-before-published writers who land a New York contract for their first novel. Or, even more roughly, about one in a thousand submissions. The number goes up with small press publishers, and skyrockets when you count publish-on-demand, which you shouldn’t if it’s a bonafide writing career you’re dreaming of.

Are you that one in a thousand? That’s the tough question all of us at a writing workshop, or simply sitting in front of a blank screen with an idea and a dream, need to answer. And with the answer, while daunting, resides our hope: we could be.

All of those professionals who make their craft look so easy, be they artists or athletes, know one thing better than all of us sitting in the next writing workshop. Not to mention that every last one of them was where you are right now, sitting in a writing workshop fantasizing about seeing their name on a dust jacket. They know that writing at a professional level is about more than a killer idea and a knack for whipping out nifty little sentences. It’s all about craft. A craft that is deeper and wider and more challenging than you can imagine (the astute reader will realize that in that sentence lies the key to everything you want). And yet, a craft that can be packaged and taught, and therefore (unlike professional-level golf), learned. When practiced, it can even be mastered. Even if you aren’t blessed with athletic ability or the sensibility of an artist.

What you need — the ante-in to this businesss — is a willingness to learn and to work at it, to go deep and wide, and evolve your killer ideas and clever prose into something that becomes a symmetrical, structurally-sound, compelling story.

And that’s what this blog is all about. About packaging and delivering the nuts and bolts of that craft.  I’ve nearly been lynched for speaking this truth at a few writing conferences — other than the agents and publishers in the audience, who more often as not hugged me after my comments — but it’s the most precious gift I can bestow: the gift of truth.  And, the gift of hope that the dream is real if, and only if, you’re willing to do the hard work required.

Dreams are just that: they remain in your head. So let’s get real about turning your writing dream into your career reality, or at least (because the career part of the equation is largely out of your hands – more on that later), into the moment in which the book you hold in your hands has your name on it.

That moment is worth every sleepless night, every rejection and every new start, I promise you.

I invite you to stick around. That is, if you really want to navigate the complexities of developing and writing publishable stories to that place on the other side, where simplicity really does reside.


Filed under getting published

3 Responses to What Are My Odds of Getting Published?

  1. TNH

    This entry asks the wrong question.

    If you’ve written a book that people want to buy and read, your chances of getting published are very good indeed. If you haven’t, they’re considerably lower than Mr. Brooks’ entry would have you believe.

    Neither of these facts is altered by having other manuscripts by other authors added to or subtracted from the slushpile in which your manuscript resides.

    • You’re right, in once sense (you’re wrong about me asking the wrong question, though): if you write a book that people want to buy and read. Publishers decide if that’s the case or not, and their bar is very high, very undefinable and quite fluid and elusive. We, as writers, have no control over that stuff, we only have control over what we understand about writing and what we put into our work. And that’s the issue, and the question I ask here — are you reaching the bar?

  2. Doug

    “Dreams are just that: they remain in your head.”

    So true. Time to get writing!