What Are the REAL Odds of Being a Successful Author?
I didn’t even consider becoming a writer until 1999 after my father passed away suddenly. Funny how death can make us take a hard look at life, right? Anyway, I recall feeling soooo overwhelmed. I mean my odds of even getting published were about as good as winning the lottery. And the odds of becoming a best-selling author? Well, mathematically speaking, I had a slightly greater chance of being mauled by a black bear and polar bear on the same day.
It was all I could do not to give up before I began.
But, after over 14 years doing this “writer thing,” I have a new perspective. Often it feels like we are the victims of fate, at the mercy of the universe, when actually it is pretty shocking how much of our own destiny we control. The good news is that if we can get in a habit of making good choices, it is staggering how certain habits can tip the odds of success in our favor.
Time to take a REAL look at our odds of success. Just so you know, this is highly unscientific, but I still think it will paint a pretty accurate picture. I will show you a bit of my own journey. And, to be blunt, this DOES NOT ONLY APPLY TO WRITERS.
Did you know most entrepreneurs fail at least three times before getting traction? Most new businesses don’t make it a year. They are fortunate to survive THREE years and if they can hit The Golden Six? Smoother from there. But WHY?
The 5% Rule
It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change.
I remember when I was a rather young writer and NYTBSA Bob Mayer introduced me to this idea. I was AGHAST! No, writers just needed nurturing, cuddling, and help. Trust me, it pains me to say he was/is right.
***But Bob is generally right and that is often why it ticks me off to admit this.***
I worked for years with self-professed writers who refused to learn, listen or even work. They had the skin of a grape and wanted to make it in an often undervalued profession that is NO place for the idle or thin-skinned.
Thus, with that in mind…
When we start out wanting to write, we are up against presumably millions of other people who want the same dream. We very literally have better odds of being elected to Congress than hitting the NY Times best-selling list. But I think that statement is biased and doesn’t take into account the choices we make.
As I just said, in the beginning, we are up against presumably millions of others who desire to write. Yes, millions. It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. And that is only ONE continent. Much of Europe, Australia and New Zealand are burgeoning markets in the new digital paradigm.
That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?
So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?
Of that 5%, how many will join a critique group—A GOOD ONE—and learn instead of sulking?
Okay, well now we are down to the tens of thousands. Looking a bit better. But, finishing a book isn’t all that is required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry/reader standards. When I first started writing, I thought that everyone who attended a writing critique group would be published. I mean they were saying they wanted to be best-selling authors.
But did they?
Or, were they more in love with the idea of being a best-selling author than actually doing whatever it took to succeed? I would love to say that I was a doer and not a talker, but I don’t want to get hit by lightning. There were a number of years that I grew very comfortable with being in a writing group as a writer…but not necessarily a professional writer.
I was still querying the same book that had been rejected time and time and time again. I wrote when I felt inspired and didn’t approach my craft like a professional. I was, at best, a hobbyist and, at worst, hopelessly delusional.
I didn’t need craft books *snort* I spoke English, so I knew how to write. Geesh! *rolls eyes*
I was a member of two writing groups, and had grown very fond of this “writer life.” We hung out at I-Hop and drank lots of coffee. We’d all chat about what we’d do with our millions once we were bigger than Dan Brown. We talked about new ideas for books that never seemed to get written. Or if we ever did sit to write one of these ideas, we would get about 30,000 words in and then hit a wall.
Hmmm…and I thought that idea had so much promise.
Yet, after four years hearing the same talk from the same people shopping the same novels, I had a rude awakening. Maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. Maybe being a copy writer and technical writer and editor didn’t automatically make me a novel-writing genius. Maybe I needed to take this dream of being a best-selling writer a tad more seriously and not rely on bluster, BS and glitter. Maybe I needed to read craft books and scrape up enough money to go to a conference.
So, of the tens of thousands of writers who write a novel, how many read craft books and get serious enough to take classes, listen to thoughtful critique, and attend conferences?
You guys are good….5%
And of those who attend a conference (and want to traditionally publish), who are asked to send in page requests, how many follow through?
How many will land an agent right away?
And of all of those authors rejected, how many writers, determined to impress, are willing to GUT their novel and wage wholesale slaughter on entire villages of Little Darlings? How many are willing to put that first novel in a drawer, learn from the experience and move forward with a new book…which they FINISH?
And of the writers who land an agent or are brave enough to go indie or self-publish, how many of them get dead-serious about building a large social media platform?
Again? Probably 5%.
And of those writers who are published and doing social media, how many of them are effectively branding their names so their name alone will become a bankable asset (versus taking the easy way and spamming everyone in sight)?
Of those who self-publish, how many will keep writing more books and better books until they hit a tipping point for success? (versus
beating marketing one book to death)
Of writers who self-publish, how many will invest in professional editing and cover art?
Thus, when we really put this dream under some scrutiny, it is shocking to see all the different legs we control.
Taking the Decision Seriously
Writing the Book
Editing the Book
Finishing the Book
Learning the Craft
Developing RHINO SKIN
Not Giving Up in the Face of Rejection
Writing More Books
Yes, Writing Even MORE Books
Doing Everything in Our Power to Lay a Foundation for a Successful Career
I am not saying that finishing a book is easy. None of this is easy.
This job is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which is exactly why most people will never be genuine competition. When we start out and see all the millions of other writers I think we are in danger of giving up or getting overwhelmed. Actually, if we focus on the decisions we control, our odds improve drastically.
This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.
In the Sahara there is a particularly long stretch of desert that is completely flat. There are no distinguishing landmarks and it is very easy to get lost. To combat the problem, the French Foreign Legion placed large black oil drums every mile so that travelers could find their way across this massive expanse of wasteland one oil drum at a time.
Want to be a successful author?
Take it one oil drum at a time.
What are some oil drums you now see ahead? Does your journey to author success seem easier now? What makes you feel overwhelmed? What inspires you?
And some HOLIDAY fun with KRISTEN LAMB!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.