Beating the Odds in Publishing

Thursday, August 10, 2023

I often catch up on my magazine reading in the summer and a few weeks ago, I came across an article about beating the odds in various situations. One of those situations was “A Publisher Publishing Your Book” (AARP, The Magazine, August/September 2022). The odds of that happening? 1 in 1,000. 

Now, I don’t want to alarm you but that’s only .1 %. According to this article, you have a better chance of catching a ball at a major league game (1 in 835)! 

But then I thought, hold on! That was this time last year. What about this year?

Know-It-All Google had this to say (as of February, 2023):

A publishing house of a medium/large size will often receive more than 5,000 unrequested manuscript submissions annually. Within the book publishing industry, it is agreed that the odds of an author getting their work published stands between 1% and 2%. 

It seems like the whole industry got together and agreed on that number. But 1 in 100? I suspect it’s more likely around 1 in 500, or .2%. Whew, that’s better, right? 

I’m kidding but I’m well aware it’s not a laughing matter to plenty of writers chasing the publishing dream. Only, I think it’s important to understand what writers are up against: the odds of getting published have been dropping drastically in the last ten, fifteen years. There are numerous factors to account for the challenge but how about we focus on the serious business of how to increase your odds of getting published?

 According to the AARP article, one can beat the odds by writing non-fiction, or developing a cookbook, or finally, self-publishing. 

Hmmm. No doubt about it, non-fiction sells well, whether it’s in children’s publishing or self-help markets, or cookbooks, especially if a writer has an established platform in their field. Come to think of it, that’s where I finally beat the odds (Educational market, children’s publishing). 

But my heart is with fiction. So how’s one to beat those odds? 

For me, and for many writers, it’s self-publishing, and it’s exploding as most of us know. Will your genre be a good fit? Series mystery does well, as does fantasy, especially in YA. The thriller/suspense genres sell successfully; all of these genres are perfect for ebooks. There’s romance, too, though romance is one of those genres that seems to sell wherever it lands. 

Can an outlier like contemporary women’s fiction thrive with self-publishing? I think so, if a writer is willing to put in the work to beat the odds. As with any writer on their own, here’s the short list: 

1. Write the book and then invest in yourself. 
2. Start with professional editing. 
3. Present a polished product. 
4. Develop a marketing plan. 

You can, of course, go the traditional route. Improve your odds with professional editing and plenty of opportunities to meet agents. But also do your homework! Research the smaller publishers who accept unagented manuscripts or try reputable royalty/hybrid publishers. The odds might be stacked against you but I still see writers getting contracts all the time. 

Or you can be a publishing entrepreneur. According to the AARP article, the odds that a “New Business Will Survive Five Years”: 503 in 1,000. I’ll take those odds every day!


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Solid advice. So many agents and editors talk about being sent or queried on types of work that aren't on their list. If you do your homework and hone your craft, I think it definitely improves your odds.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Cath, this is realistic advice. If you look at the numbers anywhere it's abysmal, lol! But those numbers include submissions that aren't ready for publication. I would like to see the percentages for publishable work. I bet that would change from .2 to around 10-15%. We get a lot of submissions that are not ready for publication yet or simply disregard guidelines, etc., so the percentage of what we publish compared to what was submitted has roughly the same percentage numbers - around .3%. So instead, I like to go by writers I know, and a lot of friends are garnering traditional publishing contracts, whether that is small press, university, etc. as well as Big 5. Even with literary journals, it's so competitive now that most have similar acceptance numbers, like .2 etc! I've also seen amazing debut manuscripts not get picked up by a publisher, even when the author has an agent. That is common. Self-publishing or hybrid is a solid option and shouldn't be considered a last resort, but rather a choice that allows authors to keep their artistic freedom and potentially make more than they would at a traditional house. I just love that there are so many options to get your work out there in the world, and we can tailor our targets to each project. Doing your homework is great advice!

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