Monday, October 23, 2006

The numbers that make me feel better...

Numbers in any context usually scare the bejesus out of me - make my eyes glaze over and I instantly turn back into a freshman in Mr. Kerestes Algebra 1C class (math for idiots and, as it would turn out for the kid next to me all semester -- drug dealers). But as I go to conferences and get overwhelmed by the number of people making serious efforts to write romantic fiction -- any one of whom could be far more brilliant than me - I remember what someone told me....

Say every second person in North America wants to write a book - so you take 100% of those people. 1% will actually do it. Of that 1% only 1% will actually finish the book. Most get stuck around page 100 and they spend years talking about thier novel but never work on it (because writing is really hard). 1% of that 1% who finish will submit to a publisher -- now .00000001% will sell that first book - they don't add into the math here (because they are rare and they sold thier soul to the devil.) Now the 100% of people who submitted - almost all of them will get rejected in some fashion - some will get a great rejection letter with an invitation to resubmit but most will get a form rejection letter. And because it takes a seriously thick skin, the kind of which can only be built up by years of "good" rejection letters - most will only see the "no thanks" which will read in thier minds like "you suck." 100% will have wine or chocolate. Perhaps Margaritas. Perhaps pizza.

Only 1% of those who submitted will either make the revisions needed, or do the smart thing and hide that first manuscript, join RWA and start a second book. So, I don't know what our percentage is now -- but there aren't that many of us still standing and we've only really just started.

So, we've got 100% of people working on a second book, they're learning some craft things and realizing how much more fun it was to write when they didn't know anything - some will stop right now because it's not as easy as they thought. They thought people just sat down and wrote books - no one said anything about POV and character motivation. And frankly, it's been two years now and they only gave themselves a year to be a NYT Bestseller. Time to move on.

So 1% of people who finish a second book, working so hard on craft and query letters and that @#$% synopsis actually submit. And now, thier chances start to improve -- they might sell. They've put in some real time and sacrifice (and we all know that nothing good comes with out sacrificing something - TV, social life, time with family and friends, that olympic swimming career...) and now the publishing Gods smile upon them. Well, on .5% of them.

Of the other .5% only .1% (is this math even making sense anymore?) will be able to keep going. And some will have to keep going for fifteen years - through 10 manuscripts - each one better than the last and each one getting them closer and closer to the validation we writers NEED after spending so many years dedicated to this cause. It's no longer about the money at this point -- that's simply ludicrous. More and more people will lose heart as those rare stories surface about the lucky (devil worshiping) writers who sell thier first mms.

But the point of all this faulty math is -- if you stay in this business long enough AND if you work hard on improving your craft constantly (writing the same problematic stuff over and over again won't help your cause) and you get wise to industry stuff (stop sending out that western idea to editors who HATE westerns) -- the odds are actually in your favor.

See...totally heartening information. Right?

On an unrelated side note -- the TV show Dexter? Anyone watching this? I'm blown away. Seriously blown away by this show.


Sinead M said...

Great post and your math was dead on.

When you do the math, the tiny percent of us who actually persevere at this, are either insane, or crazy stubborn, or a mix of both.

Maureen McGowan said...

I met a new (and talented) writer this weekend who was shocked to hear for the first time, that it takes an average of 10 years of trying to get your first book published.

I attempted to share the info you have in this post with her. (but being a recovering accountant, I'm not so good at numbers)

But, bottom line, (see? an accountant phrase) by actually finishing a book and making an effort to learn about writing and actually submitting it and working on another one... The people who do this increase their odds so much.

PS. Molly... Aren't you one of the hated .0000001% who sold their first book? (and their soul to the devil?) Oh, no... it was your 2nd, wasn't it. Some day, I need to see that first one :-) Maybe when we're really drunk.

Christine said...

I've heard something like this before as well. It's still amazing to see it written out though. I'm happy to be counted amonst the crazies. :)

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