Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Technical Topic -- The Odds of Getting Published

I was looking at the question  --
What are the odds of getting published?

And the answer, of course, is that if you write a super manuscript that makes folks laugh and cry and forget to feed the hamster,
the odds are very good indeed.

Which is an answer not so much brimming with The Useful, is it?
. . . Since it's hard to figure out how to write such a manuscript and if you know the secret would you please share it with me.

But when folks ask, 'What are the odds?'
They are really asking --
"Do I have a chance of getting published?
Is this is a wild, impossible dream
or hard but doable?

Is getting published like the odds of getting struck by lighning, or more like the odds of playing professional football, or is it an abducted-by-aliens thing, or what?

Answering in a simple, literal manner ... I'd point to  here where a reader for a literary agent looks at 'hundreds and hundreds' of slushpile submissions to find two writers who can be signed. 
Not so good odds, overall.

Trying to be helpful, I could go on to talk about football tryouts and being 6'6", 280 lbs and spending 40 hours a week thumping heads.
Or about standing on high ridges in thunderstorms holding a long metal pole.
I don't feel so competent addressing the whole abducted-by-aliens scenario.

But let's say I riff on the unspoken question.
Which is -- 'What are MY chances?'

It is very hard to get published. There's a lot of competition.

--You have to be persistent. (This is in your control.)

--You have to work your butt off. (This is in your control.)

--You have to learn your craft. (This is in your control.)

--You are more likely to succeed if you consciously produce something in a marketable field. (This is in your control.)

--You have to write better than what is on the shelves. (This is only partially in your control.)

-- You need an innate ability to write. (This is not in your control.)

--You have to be lucky. (This is not in your control.)

Maybe, 'What are the odds?' is not a useful question.
 'How can I improve the odds?' is.


  1. Anonymous12:34 AM

    Focusing on what one CAN control is perhaps the only way to stay sane in this business, lol. ;)

  2. @Sharigreen --

    I think that focus helps in getting the writing done, too. You need a daffy sort of optimism to finish a whole manuscript, or a half dozen whole manuscripts, 'on spec'. And that's what you have to do before you get the first ms sold.

    If you KNOW what's under your control, you can set everything else aside and keep going.

  3. Spot on, as usual. Isn't it funny how "luck" seems to strike the most persistent writers? Persistence helps greatly with that whole "learning your craft" thing, too. :)

    May I also add patience to the list? This is the most difficult for me to master. I am not patient by nature, but have had patience thrust upon me. There is so darn much _waiting_ involved in the publishing game.

  4. @ Linda --

    I don't have it just under my hand and findable, but I read an interesting article a while back that discussed differences in the way men and women see their own writing.

    The writer said women were inclined to modestly credit their success to 'inspiration' or 'my muse', while men would credit it to hard work or innate talent.

    This woman writer said, in effect, "No. My writing is not inspiration. Don't give me that modest girl crap. Nobody handed this to me on a silver platter. I WORKED for every line."

    So part of success in getting published may be a conscious recognition that writing doesn't get handed to you by some outside force. You have to do it yourself. Even if the prose is generated by the 'Boys in the Basement' -- it's your basement.

  5. Jo -- so true. I really like the boys in MY basement, but I've learned they won't work worth a damn unless I'm cracking the whip. (Or should that be WIP?)

    It is an interesting psychological nicety, though, between (some) female writers and (some) male writers. (I added the "somes" just to be fair--there are always exceptions.) I wonder if the passive nature of waiting for "inspiration" is somehow innate to the female gender? Is it akin to waiting for Prince Charming to come along and provide a lifetime of happiness? Or is passivity in girls subliminally reinforced from an early age? The old nature vs. nurture thing, I guess.

    Or I suppose it could simply be a way to deflect blame. "It's not my fault I'm writing crap--my muse deserted me!" Modesty is charming when you're successful; it also provides a great way to avoid responsibility when you're not.

  6. @ Linda --

    **so true. I really like the boys in MY basement, but I've learned they won't work worth a damn unless I'm cracking the whip. ***

    I don't have exactly this picture of the 'creative' part of me. But I do get a sense that 90% of my mind is buried away out of sight. I do think that that's where the pictures of the story come from.

    **I wonder if the passive nature of waiting for "inspiration" is somehow innate to the female gender?**

    It could be a we-are-subconsciously-trained-to-be-female thing. Women are trained to modestly attribute their success to 'luck' rather than to working like dogs and being smart.
    Certainly that's how I'm tempted to view it.

    But ... being fair, this 'waiting for the muse to show up,' seems to be what male writers do, as much, if not more, than feemales.
    And 'the muse' they're waiting for is female.

    So maybe, for both men and women, it's getting in touch with the nurturing and creative side of the personality??

    **Or I suppose it could simply be a way to deflect blame. **

    Writing is so scary. I truly understand wanting to split oneself into two halves and shift the blame to 'that part over there'.

    I wonder if this is akin to
    'I'm not responsible. I was drunk.'
    'I'm not responsible. The Devil made me do it.'

  7. @ Carolyn --

    Thank ye so much. I'm going to draw some of this up to make a posting on creativity, I think