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Against the Odds

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Catherine Ryan Howard

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For the aspiring writer, it can seem like the odds of publishing success are stacked against you. But what does ‘less than 0.001% of all books written get published” actually mean? And someone has to be published, right? So why can’t it be YOU? 

If there’s one thing I hate about this writing game, it’s the odds.

Everyone’s heard them: less than 1% of 1% of 1% etc. etc. of books written get published. The reality is probably even less than that. You are more likely, the experts say, to win the lotto or get struck by lightning than you are to see your novel for sale in Easons. (Excluding you sneaking in there with one you mocked up yourself and slipped on the shelf, of course.) If you were embarking on any other endeavour that had these kinds of odds, you’d think twice about even starting. What would be the point?

The thing is, these odds are irrelevant. True, yes, but utterly irrelevant. Because how many people who write books do so with the intention of getting them published?

And how many of those people have written a good, saleable book?

And how many of those people have written a book that no one else has already written?

And how many of those people have written a book that conforms to industry standards, such as 100,000 words instead of 25,000 or 250,000 words?

And how many of those people will be able to take on constructive criticism, and use it to improve their book?

And how many of those people try to get a literary agent?

And how many of those people know how to write a good query letter?

And how many of those people have a first three chapters that will get an agent’s attention?

And how many of those people get offered representation?

And how many of those people have written books publishers will want?

And how many of those people have written books publishers will want right now?

And how many of those people have written a book that will appeal to a large readership, large enough to make its publication commercially viable?

And how many of those people will keep trying even when the first (and the second, and the third, and the fourth…) editor says no?

If we were to take the number of people who do all those things and get published, I’m guessing the odds would actually be stacked in your favour.

In fact, I recently read that the number of submissions to agents that are coherent, free of spelling and grammar mistakes, correctly formatted, adhere to the agency guidelines and are crazy-free (have you ever seen that episode of Arrested Development where Tobias sends his CV to casting directors in a gift bag filled with glitter? Yikes!) is about 5%.

Think about it. For every 100 manuscripts the agent receives, only a maximum of 5 of them are presented professionally – and that’s before we even get to the writing.

So if you’ve edited your work, submitted to the right agent, followed the instructions correctly and made a professional impression, you’re already way ahead of the pack.

And if you’ve also written a good book? You’re leaving them behind in the dust.

Someone has to get published. It could be YOU.

  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
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