What Are the Odds of Success? …Really?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons Hakan Dalstrom

Image via Flikr Creative Commons Hakan Dalstrom

A couple weeks ago, I taught at the DFW conference and someone mentioned this post I wrote a long time ago. For the benefit of those who’ve not yet read it…or those of you who’ve slept since then, I figured I’d modify it to make it current. I hope this helps ease the angst you might have about how hard it is to become a success.

What Are the Odds….Really?

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 almost 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.

The 5% Rule

It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change. 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. 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?

Statistically? 5%

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?

Statistically? 5%

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 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?

Likely, 5%

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.

We control:

Taking the Decision Seriously

Writing the Book

Editing the Book

Finishing the Book

Learning the Craft


Following Through

Not Giving Up in the Face of Rejection

Writing Books

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.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?


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?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!


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  1. Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

    • Sia Huff on May 21, 2013 at 10:58 am
    • Reply

    Thanks, Kristen, I really needed to hear that.”One oil drum at a time.” I’m going to copy your “We Control” list and pin it up.

  2. Thank you, Kristen. Your timing could not have been better for this woozy, wandering searcher. Your post provided the first oil drum I’ve spied in a long while.

    • Iris Gonzalez on May 21, 2013 at 11:04 am
    • Reply

    In other words, you make your own luck with persistence…thanks for the inspiring reminder!

  3. I so remember my first critique group, headed by a published author. Of those eight, several had really great ideas, one had her extremely well written book published (but didn’t write another) The leader of the group I don’t think published again. I gave up on them and kept writing. Not always great, and I doubt that first book will EVER see the light of reading. [Though the idea was good and I’m looking at eviscerating it and rebuilding]. In the meantime, yep I have two books published, and I’m moving on. Sometimes the competition seems impossible and I have given up comparing what I do with what anyone else does. My greatest competition comes from within, and I’m gonna beat that broad into the ground if she tries to stop me again

  4. It also depends on what you, the writer, define as success. Me, if one person reads one story, I am a success. If they come back and read another, I am a freaking famous. Money, you say there is real money in this? I am just hoping for pennies. 😉

  5. Great perspective on the actual odds of success. Now that was inspiring!

  6. Sometimes we writers lose our way and we forget about what it takes to succeed; this post outlined it all perfectly. Only 5% ever really follow through, PUSH through, and get there.

    “I see”, said the blind man. =)

    • Lanette Kauten on May 21, 2013 at 11:14 am
    • Reply

    Well, let’s see… I’ve read craft books, attended conferences three years in a row, read multiple blogs on craft, sought out critiques by both unpublished writers and industry professionals (the last one through auctions); I’ve written four books with the fourth one being the first that I think is ready for submission, and I have sent out pages to every agent who has requested them. Now I wait on those agents before I go through the next 5% hurdle. Come at me, bro, I’m ready.

  7. Just what I needed to hear today!! Thank you and bravo!

  8. This is amazing. Never though about it like this!

    Fingers crossed you pull my name out of the hat! 🙂

  9. Talk about wake up and smell the coffee! Great grab by the collar shake, Kristen!

    • Bev Stubbs on May 21, 2013 at 11:30 am
    • Reply

    A revelation indeed! Personally, a story sold in a magazine is success to me. I’m not looking for writing stardom (would be nice but I’m in the ‘you don’t scrub up to others’ stage). Slowly does it. Learn as you go. Late in life to ‘serious’ writing, I may be dead before any decent scribbling comes to fruition. Keep at it! Strive for it!

  10. I always enjoy your posts so much, Kristen — and this one is exceptionally good and inspiring. Kudos! I’ve been reading brain science books lately, and one tip on creating sustained change — adding to one’s stick-to-it-ness or whatever the change may be — is to change a simple, unrelated “cornerstone” habit, which helps your brain more easily accept change in other areas of your life, like tackling one oil barrel at a time. So, say, if a person never makes her bed, then she can start making her bed, or change her route to work or whatever ingrained habit she may have. Brain says, “OK, that wasn’t so hard,” so other change is easier on the gray matter (which is a very, very stubborn organ) to embrace. The good news is that this little simple process works. Now back to my writing….:) Cheers!

  11. This is why I read your blog, Your ability to inspire is amazing. Thank you.

  12. Hi Kristen, I have been trying to post a comment for this subject, but I don’t know what the problem is. I keep getting a message saying that I need to log into my wordpress account (which I have) but it still won’t let me post the comment. So in case you are interested it is following:


    Thanks Kristen, I really needed to hear that. I have been struggling with my book for the past few months now and am beginning to feel like I just don’t have what it takes. Now that I know I am not alone with these feelings, I am going to push on and get this thing done. Thanks so much for your words of wisdom. Maria


    1. Sorry for the difficulty. I have it set to approve people the first time, but after that you don’t need any approval. Happy the post helped and inspired you :D.

  13. Great article, Kristen!!! I re-blogged it on my site with probably too long of a lead in, but hey… Never let perfection be the enemy of good, right?

    1. Exactly 😉

  14. This is incredibly encouraging. I’ll need to print out a copy and keep it handy– not only is it a stellar self-esteem booster, it works as a checklist of things I should be doing.

  15. Thanks for the new metaphor! Never connected with oil drums before, but now I do.

    • Melissa Lewicki on May 21, 2013 at 12:30 pm
    • Reply

    This was a great post! Thank you so much. I needed this today.

  16. I’ve been “writing” for a lot of years. Yet I don’t finish enough books. I guess I’m not one of the 5% yet. I’ll keep working at it. I want to be there.


    1. You are one level of 5%, you started writing. Now to the next level :D.

  17. Thanks for this article. I don’t even have to be bribed to leave a comment; I am inspired to do so. 🙂 I’m about to take six months to a year off work to focus on writing and getting something of the three novels I’ve written published. It’s scary and I appreciate reading something like this right now.

  18. how many books does it take to be on the best-seller list ? Is that figured in relation to other books, or just upon reaching a certain total of sales?

  19. Of all your posts, Kristen, I really hope my hubby reads this one. I’ve spent my whole life being encouraged by my family to write. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s my hubby that now “overwhelms” me. He is the biggest skeptic. I keep telling him to try reading a few of your posts. When he sees the title of this one, maybe he’ll read it and start taking me a little more seriously. I wish he would at least read MY work before he passes judgement on whether or not I can succeed.

    1. Shea-
      I’m sorry to hear about your hubby’s skepticism. My husband is my biggest cheerleader, but I find plenty of excuses not to be in the 5% anyway.
      Best of luck and keep after your dream.

      1. Thank you Sharon!
        I have other writer friends with hubbies like mine, but they changed their tune after the wives started making decent money with thier books. I keep dreaming of doing that. 🙂 It will just take a bit longer than I’d like… lol

  20. So good & to the point. I keep pushing, making the numbers of combatants lower so my chance at 5% become better. Lots of work! Love the analogy of the bears.

  21. “Never tell me the odds,” said Han Solo. But sometimes it’s nice to know the odds. I have heard time and time again that the real key to success is to just KEEP GOING. And you’ve just shown how to keep going forward and how much of that we ultimately control. Most people don’t keep going. The rest of us are going to be overnight successes – even if it takes a decade!

  22. No matter how hard I have to work or how brutal I have to be on my edits, writing always makes me feel strong, exhilarated, and more myself than anything. My author platform, however, is another story. I am working my ass off because I understand it is necessary, but at times it feels so against my nature. I bounce back and forth between feeling like I’m doing my part, and feeling like I’m completely doing it all wrong. Some days I just have to put it aside and go back to writing because it literally starts to make me feel ill.

      • David Allen on May 22, 2013 at 2:59 am
      • Reply

      On your platform:

      Some people choose to only write about one thing.
      Others will write about whatever strikes their fancy.
      Others still (myself included) stick to a few big themes and topics.

      If you write about only one thing, you may get burned out and it will feel like work. If you can do it, though, then it’s easy to dominate very quickly and build traffic with the readers you want.

      If you write about all kinds of stuff, you rely on your personal writing style. If strangers end up visiting your site, they likely will not subscribe because they won’t know exactly what your site is about.

      Once you find that balance between (I can focus on this AND its varied enough so I’ll stick to it), you’ll be more consistent and find platform building a pleasurable activity.

      Best of luck to you!

      1. Thanks David. I think I just need to commit to a couple of themes for the sake of my sanity. It’s hard, though, when I am interested in so many things!

  23. Great article. Similar subject matter to my first postings on http://www.stonegreenwriter.com. Of course yours is vastly superior. I have much greening to do.

    1. We improve with practice. Any time someone feels overwhelmed, I tell them to look at my early blog posts *hangs head*

  24. Great article Kristen, ‘many are called but few are chosen.’ Determination is the key and I think it depends on how badly you want something, staying in that 5% bracket is the hard part. I just keep writing, I’m self published ( 2 novels in a series, #3 awaiting final edit, #4 a couple of chapters to go on first draft, #5 30,000 words in and a stand alone novel started) I have professional editing and book covers, so I think I’m on the way. BTW does getting struck by lightning increase or decrease your chances of staying in the 5%? Had to ask been struck twice. 🙂

  25. Reblogged this on kiralynblue and commented:
    Wow. The odds are pretty staggering. As always, though, Kristen comes to the rescue.

    • Paige on May 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm
    • Reply

    Loved that. thanks.

  26. Great post,Kristen. It really is much more in our lap than the lap of the Gods, isn’t it? I see that now. Focus! I’m going to focus better on my WIP and get it finished. That’s in my hands. I want to be in the 5% who finish their book. I’ve done it before, twice before, I can do it again. Thanks for the nudge to get on with it!

  27. It is SO much easier to keep talking about writing a book than actually doing it. I’ve commercially published two NF books and loved writing them (marketing, less so) but had spent many years before that as a writer, in journalism — so I understood many of the mechanics involved. Journalism is not a warm, huggy industry, so you get used to going big or going home.

  28. In games of chance, it’s a 50-50 bet. You’ll either win or you won’t. But being a successful published author? A whole lot better than that!

  29. Wonderful post here. Exactly what I needed to hear. 🙂

  30. Awesome post; thanks for sending it out again since yep, I missed it the first time. It’s always empowering to realize: “hey, wait a minute, I AM empowered – I DO control my destiny.” 🙂

  31. Wonderful advice and a great reminder of why I make time every day to write! I am looking forward to meeting you at the Crested Butte Writers Conference next month! Thanks for a great post!

  32. Regardless of whether 5% is accurate, this paints a bigger picture that is so encouraging. I heard an agent express something similar at a conference, that basically, because we were sitting there, having paid and traveled to get there, we were already ahead of half her agency’s slush pile.

    An agented writer recently asked me what was the benefit to attending a writing conference if you already had an agent. I suppose some people think it ends there, as if there is nothing further to learn? A good conference will have a variety of workshops and panels to attend. I’m going to a few this summer and I plan on skipping social media stuff, because I’ve learned so much online already from sites like this (and the book),so I can focus my time on the character development and story editing panels. You are so right that it’s the choices that we make that take us closer to success. I would like a publishing career, however it pans out. I’m not content to stop at one book.

    1. There is always, always more to learn. I learn something new every day. I think the best writers remain teachable. Sure, there are those writers who aren’t that talented who find success because they have strong story lines and work ethics, but the norm is writers who work extremely hard to be excellent. I go to writing conferences to sharpen up my skills. Iron sharpening iron if you will. There’s no way a person can know everything!

  33. Great post. Great encouragement. Thanks!

  34. I sincerely believe it’s not the most talented who succeed but those who work hard and persevere. I refused to quit! It took a lot of time and effort, but I finally got an agent and a contract. But hard work simply can’t be underestimated along with stubborn perseverance.

  35. Thanks for a post that made me think and will keep me going! I liked your lines “for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.” So true. I see many talented students when I teach, but I’d say it’s more like 1% that actually finish their novel.

  36. Funny how that happens, huh? It’s like the harder I work the luckier I become. Excellent post. I always gain something when I read your pieces. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rafiq on May 21, 2013 at 6:15 pm
    • Reply

    Well, I feel…slightly better? 🙂
    Thank you for the encouragement. Now I’m gonna get back to writing.

  37. I guess if I want to be part of this 5% I better stop making excuses and procrastinating and sit down at the computer and write.
    Thanks for the kick in the seat of the pants, Kristen. I’ll be back tomorrow for another one.

  38. The odds àlways seem to get better with hard work. Well said.

  39. Reached a new oil drum recently. Bathed it in the blood of a gutted novel.

    Moving on. 😉

      • Joanna Aislinn on May 21, 2013 at 7:32 pm
      • Reply


      1. Yea, Joanna… It smarts a bit. But will work out for the best in the long run.

          • Joanna Aislinn on May 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm
          • Reply

          It usually does, right? Hope all is well with you 🙂

    • Joanna Aislinn on May 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for this wonderful article and some serious can-do perspective, Kristen. Much appreciated. I might just print and frame this one, to read when I need a shot in the arm.

  40. Wow! This is brilliant! And It makes me feel so lucky to have the writer’s group that I do have! We’re a hard working group, who encourage, motivate, critique and help each other, and in less than two years have gone from (most of us) having nothing published, to having out short stories published in various places around the web, winning competitions, and this year alone we’ve had major successes with novels/novellas etc contracted for publishing.

  41. Hi Kristen, great article that really lifted me up *one of those days* I am doing nearly everything on that list. I am going to reblog for all my writer friends to inspire them.

  42. I do not consider success as a novelist and winning the big bucks in the Lotto the same thing. I support the Game of Chance Industry and it is by chance.

    My personal goal is not so much to be the best paid or on a New York Times and on a USA TODAY best seller lists. I am more interested in a yearly income to live on.

    $2K a month has been my goal, which will keep me writing for as long as I am capable.

    “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.” – This is what I had to overcome in my efforts to be successful at anything worthwhile.

    I love the movie Twist of Fate (1984) Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. I still listen to the title song on YOU TUBE when I write my romance novels.

    My life is like fighting the devil and the angels of god on earth manipulating my future for whatever reasons, good or bad for me or in line with my dreams and goals, similar to the storyline of the movie. Sometimes when I earn a minor victory like getting published for print with no money, I wondered if someone powerful put the devil in his place.

    But my chances of being a published with payment as a novelist have improved since I learned to deal with my fears of grammar and word count. It is a matter of writing the novels. I read what editors are wanting and read up on what readers are buying on the E-venues to learn, which will increase my odds for the future.

    “Success is a matter of time. Preparation determines the length of time.” – Daniel Escurel Occeno

    1. OOOPS, maybe I love the song because I forgot the title of the movie. The title of the movie is Two of a Kind (1983).

      • David Allen on May 22, 2013 at 3:03 am
      • Reply

      Might also be ‘Grease’, just kidding!

      1. Actually, I like the movie Two of a Kind (1983) better than Grease (1978). I am one of those who became really angry when Sandy changed for John. The character of Stocker Channing I liked – Beauty School Dropout. I really love the song Twist of Fate by Olivia Newton John. I could listen to it ten times a day over and over when I write my romance novels. Yes, I really like writing NO SEX romance novels. My writing E-friends, some are trying to convince me that Erotica is the way to go; but they might have problems just with the covers displayed on the Internet. So for E-venues, it might be better to write Rated PG. My suspense thrillers would be Rated R for the violence.

        1. OOOPS, not intentional. Stockard Channing. I really like her tough girl character, but I wanted Olivia to stay the same. You can do the Freud. I would be best friends with Stockard and asking her to introduce me to the sweet and innocent girl next door. I have asthma so cigarettes were a turn off. They had to quit. I know; the line: “But this is my house. You go outside.” Who needs Erotica? Back when, I tried to catch movies with Stockard like Olivia.

  43. Awesome blog. I never thought of it this way before and you are right on. Love the 5% comparison. It was a great encouragement at a time when I’m in the ‘building the marketing platform stage’ and was feeling like I was spinning my wheels. So it’s back to writing the next book and looking for that next oil drum. Thank you!

  44. Very good

  45. This is an awesome post. When I started writing I gave myself deadlines and so far I’ve reached fifty-five percent of them. I’m working on the other forty-five percent. 🙂

  46. This was a great post – I think first and foremost we must remember that it’s not about wanting to write a book, it’s about finishing it, working it, getting it professionally edited and then starting the next book. We also need to gage what we consider success. I think anyone that has taken that step and persevered enough to finish writing a whole novel should get a pat on the back… not a lot of people can say that, but so many say “I’d like to write a book one day.” Love when I hear that. My answer? “Well, go right it.”

    1. EDIT! Go WRITE IT! UGH – Rule #2 – spell check. 🙂

  47. Egads. I hate it. I hate every word of it. But you’re right.

    I love your blog. Strangely, it gives solace.

  48. Possibly not mathematically sound, but it gets to the heart of the matter.

    • DJ on May 21, 2013 at 9:44 pm
    • Reply

    very good way of looking at the competition. I do a lot of things that lots of other people think they can “never do” because they don’t have the “talent”. How many try? 5%.

  49. This is awesome. I saw this on a Facebook link. It’s not a hardship to link this article to my blog 🙂 Might as well up the odds!!

  50. Between your post today and Rachelle Gardner’s pist yesterday I am really hearing the message not to give in to the inner doubt that starts right at the beginning of a fresh new idea. So thanks.

  51. As a mathematician, I’m deeply sceptical – but I love the message 🙂

  52. As an editor and author, I agree with your 5%. It sounds about right to me. Love the post. Very well done and lots of lessons contained within. Thanks for a thought provoking post. V.L.Murray

  53. The message is lovely, but for the love of words and mathematics, please don’t use the word “literally” in a sentence like “We very literally have better odds of being elected to Congress than hitting the NY Times best-selling list,” because the word “literally” means the exact opposite of “deeply exaggerated and highly dubious claim used for figurative illustration of a point.”

    There is no possible way to calculate odds that will give better odds to a randomly-drawn individual of election to Congress versus NYT list.

    For instance: over the course of two years, there will be far more authors on the various lists of the NYT list than there are Senate plus Congresscritter seats up for reelection, and more importantly, if you consider the number of “open” slots (contestable slots not taken up by stable incumbents) in Congress versus the number of “open” slots (slots not taken up by perennial bestsellers) on the NYT list, it’s an even greater disjunct.

    Add in the fact that the vast majority of the people in this world have a literally zero chance at Congressional election because they are not US citizens, and a merely absurdly small chance at hitting the NYT list.

    The only way your statement could be literally true is if “We” was “We, the current members of Congress…” or perhaps (but still dubiously) “We, the young staffers of Congress who are the scions of great political houses,” because those are just about the only people who have a better shot at Congressional election than NYT-list hitting than the average Joe.

    The rest of the post is really easy to disprove. If you were right and only 5% of 5% of 5% (etc) of all the events you listed did all the things you listed, out of the population of the United States, only 0.000029 people would have ever been published. My existence means your estimate is already off by 10^5. The actual number is probably in the thousands if not tens of thousands. So your estimate is off by a factor of around 10^10.

    And so, as nice as this post is, the message–“almost nobody does the necessary things to succeed, and so if you keep doing them, it will happen to you”–is in my mind suspect. Because demonstrably, more people must be doing the necessary things than you think.

    I would suggest an entirely different message. If you are doing all the things you think are necessary, if you are doing them repeatedly and you are still not succeeding?

    Chances are that you are either (a) not doing all the necessary things, or (b) are attempting to do something that is not possible. A reexamination of your methodology is likely in order.

    1. It is a HUMOR BLOG, NOT a MATH blog. I write in the vernacular. Comedy employs exaggeration, hyperbole, and odd juxtaposition. Did you go look up the odds of being mauled by a polar bear and black bear on same day? Cuz I would totally love to know what areas to avoid, LOL.

  54. I like what you said in the beginning that death can make us take a close look at life. I’ve had too much of it in my life and am losing my husband as well, but it has made me closer to the important things in life. I may never be rich or successful, neither are my goals, but I hope to live life to the fullest and spend much of it doing things I enjoy like writing.

  55. As a writer and a technological idiot and a shy person, can I say that your book saved me? It confirmed everything I intuitively knew and noticed about writers who did well, and made me feel okay about social media. Thank you.

  56. Thank you very much for this. As you start getting more involved with other writers, it gets scary because you feel like competition is everywhere and that there is little or no space for your stories out there. Your post has reassured me that there is still hope. I want to be the 5%, all the way.

  57. VERY interesting and inspiring post! Thanks Kristen!

  58. Reblogged this on The-Valleys-WordWorks-Blog and commented:
    I have attempted to write a blog for several years but always believed I had to wait until I felt inspired, despite hearing writers talk about the discipline of sitting in front of a blank screen or piece of paper and making yourself write.
    Consequently, I have very few posts to my credit.
    As I was reading through some recent blog posts to gather inspiration or momentum, I stumbled across this one by Kristen Lamb, obviously meant for writers but very applicable to the discipline of continuing a business. As the director of a two-year-old company, with a great idea but no sales acumen and a very supportive husband, I would like to appropriate some of Kristen’s motivational talk for those in my own “business startup” situation?
    What are the odds of success, really?
    How many people think they have a great idea for a business and talk about starting one?
    Of those, how many actually get incorporated or become sole traders?
    Of those, how many are prepared to put in eighteen-hour days to try and find customers, rather than simply write off snazzy equipment on business accounts?
    And how many are willing to go to seminars and workshops to learn marketing, accounting, networking or social-media-inbusiness techniques?
    How many, either before or as soon as possible, try to fill in the charts for a business plan, profit and loss accounts or cash flow charts?
    How many, when the first flurry of the launch is over, can sustain the eighteen-hour days to gain more customers after the first, small mistakes have driven any would-be customers away?
    I’m sure the statistics are simolar, each number being diminished by%95 as the risks get bigger and the newness fades.
    So be inspired, whether writer or businesswoman, by this blog! Kristen says it much more eloquently than I can, but then, she’s the best-selling author!

  59. Very insightful. It hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned your father’s death, that I began making the changes that led to me writing after my mother died. I tweeted and reblogged.

  60. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Wonderful post by Kristen Lamb

  61. Thank you for posting this, your words are EXACTLY what I needed right now. Almost a month ago, on April 26th, my father passed away suddenly. I was actually writing with friends when I got the horrible phone call that changed my life forever. It has been a very hard month and more than once I considered pushing aside the pen because writing novels seemed trivial in the face of death. I have since come back to myself with a renewed passion to make my dreams reality – I know the formula for success is more hard work than luck, and I appreciate the fact you have reminded me that despite the cruel twists and dark surprises, we humans can still carve the path fate will take if we set our minds and hearts to the job.

  62. I loved this! It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when you begin this journey (yes, I’m a newbie). This made me think a lot! I’m going to attack this much differently now 🙂 Sharing this @ CelesteGrande.wordpress.com

  63. This is good to hear and encourages me to keep going. Thanks.

  64. Thanks! This is right where I’m at right now! Time to put my money where my mouth is and get serious about editing and plan plan plan!

  65. I’m no good with statistics but I like yours, Kristen. Your post is encouraging and endorses the importance of just doing it.

  66. i found your post interesting because, while I don’t consider myself a writer, I am a dreamer. And the problem with dreaming is that if you don’t do anything, your dream just stays there in dreamland. I’m also an engineer and the 5% statistic is interesting because that falls within what we call, the 3-sigma range which means that in any industry or skill, there is a small group that will excel or succeed dramatically. In the performing arts, I also heard that only 5% of of all performers actually get paid. Thank you very much for your post.

  67. “Never tell me the odds.” -Han Solo
    Seriously,though, very interesting post, and those numbers are better in favor of writers like myself than I thought they might be. I thought they would be much lower percentages. I agree that the harder you work, the luckier you get. Thanks fo all the great information you provide on your blog. I don’t often comment, but I try to read all your posts. Keep up the great work.

  68. I attended my writing group meeting a few weeks ago and commented that the odds of getting my YA book published traditionally…lol. Thanks Kristen. It isn’t such an intimidating thought now that you presented some facts and figures. Kudos!

  69. This blogpost is one of those books you can’t put down. I couldn’t stop turning the metaphorical page. Part of me said, “Uh oh, I do that.” Another part of me said, “I bloody knew it!” Here’s to aiming for oil drums.

    1. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the crap we can’t control. Best to focus on what we can and it is AMAZING how our odds improve.

    2. I decided to check your profile and I found your “My Books on Smashwords” link. I have been considering self-publishing E-books so I looked at Smashwords. It might be something to consider, for me. How are you doing with it, if you do not mind writing it on here?

      I am the same way. I want to be able to sing Frank Sinatra’s song “I did it my way”, if I ever get the big bucks.

      I want to write my novels the way I want to (without butchering the English language of course) and not what is selling right now.

      1. I am happy to share my experiences. I have only recently started the “platform/marketing” piece of my business. I am an SLP but I have wanted to be a full-time writer for several years. I had already self published my first book in 2010 (Call Me) and to date have sold 180 copies with zero marketing. Marketing is the big piece that I’m still trying to figure out. I set up a website this year, and established a profile on the relevant social networking websites, writer’s blogs, etc. I put my swallow guide up two days ago and have sold 1 copy however it is not in the premium catalog yet (and so not distributed to the major Smashwords affiliates yet). The way Smashwords is set up, you can let them handle the distribution to major players in the book market (Amazon, Kobo, Sony, Apple, etc.) or you can do some of it yourself. I’m not sure what the situation is with SW and Amazon at this point given Amazon is now promoting KDP select which requires author exclusivity with them for a period of 3 months. Mark (Coker) has a book called The Secrets to Ebook Publishing that details 29 best selling self published authors practices for increasing sales and success. He also has a report on his blog on the website that indicates that most books don’t sell well, but the ones that do, really sell well. I don’t buy into the idea that we can’t do it, I think part it’s a balance between providing a quality product to a target audience and figuring out the marketing piece. I don’t think you have anything to lose by establishing a Smashwords account (it’s free) and posting a book. Even though I haven’t sold many books, I have a sense of accomplishment and momentum that comes with seeing a project through and getting into the hands of readers. That last bit is the challenge. To that end, I have invested in professional covers, will invest in professional editing for my paranormal mystery series, and continue to learn the craft. This may be more than you ever wanted to know. Best of luck! I think you can do it. I think anyone can.

        1. Uh oh. Sorry for the typos. That’s what happens when an aging Irish Setter tries to help. Sure…blame the dog.

          1. I do, even if I don’t have one :D. I do now…it was just that awkward span in between dogs.

        2. I thank you. It was very helpful. Self-publishing was not my objective for this year. Now that I was confident in writing all the novels I wanted, 2013 was the year to submit to traditional publishers. But while I was writing my novel for JANO Writers on January, I found Kristen’s Blog. I do not even have an account with FACEBOOK or TWITTER so learning the Social Platforms was very valuable. Just recently two of my novels were rejected by a traditional publishing house, so of course learning more about self-publishing became important. It might be something to consider for my future. I agree; selling on the Internet with an E-venue is like trying to sell to an editor of a major house. You have to create a great product, but the market demands are less to self-publish. Big time publishers have to justify the expense to market a novel before acquisition.

          1. I think part of the problem is developing search engine optimization presence. My books have always been on Amazon & Smashwordsbut buying a domain & establishing a website, and paying to increase my Google SEO presence increased my profile considerably. We become needles in the proverbial haystack without platforms, but i think that’s only a part of the issues surrounding visibility or the lack thereof. Readers have to have my name or title of the book to find me. With increased SEO presence, I can find myself a little better. I think the sad fact is that I will have to pay more down the line to advertise new projects. I’m saving the money for my fiction novels because I expect those to be more profitable in general.

      2. Gabrielle, another one is NOOK Press but I cannot join NOOK Press because I do not live at the United States, after 36 years. I read on a news article of Pubit (Barnes and Noble) changed to Nook Press so I looked into it. I live at the Philippines to help care for my elderly parents. I am assuming that I can join Amazon and Smashwords, although they have not sent a confirmation E-mail since I inquired. The E-venues in the long run should help readers find you and your works. Self-publishing is something worth considering, but for now writing the products is my priority.

  70. True, Kristen. So true. We tend to be creatures of habit. Thinking that same old way; reinforcing old “bad” habits of thought. The post was inspiring, really.

    Off to WRITE 😉

  71. When an agent at Writers’ League of Texas asked for my packet last summer, she said that only 5% of the people she requested a packet from would end up sending her one. Right now, I am in the 95%, but I hope to be in the 5% by the end of the year, if not by the end of the summer. Thanks for everything, Kristen.

  72. Thanks for such an inspiring post! I especially found the advice to REALLY set boundaries with family and friends to be the “kick in the pants” that I needed right now….

  73. I just sent my critique partner a pity-party email all about widdo’ old me who just realized she can’t write worth a durn. She sent me your blog. Sigh. Okay. I’ll do it. What else am I supposed to do? Sell fruit?
    I am featuring a link to this fabulous blog as my “Blog du Jour”. It should count for the big three: comment, link, and book mention within my blog.
    Aside from that–thanks for taking the time to inspire. It worked for me. Pity-party is over! Back to work people!
    ~Just Jill

  74. Everything about writing, publishing and marketing makes me feel overwhelmed most days, but I’m beginning to take things one day at a time. Your excellent advice and your books have helped me muddle through. My debut novel came out on May 8, 2013. I feel I grow a little better at things, every day.

    1. How do we eat a whale? One bite at a time :D. Too many people underestimate the power of small, consistent actions of excellence.

  75. I have to admit, I got halfway through and was a bit worried where you were going with all these percentages. But I ended on a high realising how many ‘oil drums’ I’ve passed already. Hard work does pay off. Thank you for the pep talk today! 🙂

  76. I just completed my first novel and the process of getting published often seems daunting. I like your perspective because as with any task that seems difficult, it’s always easier to approach it when you break it down into manageable steps. And while there will always be competition, all the more reason to figure out what makes your book unique.

  77. Kristen (or anyone else who might have been down the road of struggling to get published),

    That parenthetical might have been overkill in length. Sorry 🙂

    But this:

    “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).”

    I think my question is in regard to your parenthetical…At what point would YOU say, “Enough!” when it comes to that first book? I began my first novel, just KNOWING that on its completion I would get it published and it would hit the NY Times Bestseller List. Well, I was younger, lol. I have completely rewritten it.

    A few years ago I said, “Scr** agents.” finally, and put it up as an ebook at Amazon. It’s languishing–not the breakout novel I envisioned. Sigh. And I STILL want to revise the opening chapter. Between completion of the first draft in 2005, and the re-write ending in 2012, I wrote two other novels.

    So, do I shine my firstborn (how I love it!), and move on again, or regarding the “…beating marketing one book to death.”, keep tweaking?

    1. I don’t rely a lot on marketing. It’s practically invisible these days. We are too deluged. Just keep writing books because you love it and (if you are a good storyteller) then what will happen is one day readers will “discover” you and buy everything you’ve written. That’s why we do this because we love it.

  78. Fantastic post, Kristen, both inspiring and a reality check. Gutting your novel has to be the hardest thing, having worked hard to craft it. But if it makes you a better writer, then bring it on!

  79. Thanks Kristen, great post.

  80. Great post, lot’s of good advice! I just keep reminding myself that it takes time. Keep blogging, keep writing books, keep making connections and keep learning 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! All the best 😉


  81. Hi Kristen – This was total serendipity for me today! It was a boost to see that I’m doing so many of the right things; not feeling quite so out in left field now. I actually linked to this post by accident. I had bookmarked one of your other posts (Sacred Cow-Tipping–Why Writers Blogging About Writing is Bad) to blog about tomorrow, and then I spotted this link. So now my blog tomorrow will actually link to two of your posts. 🙂

    • Rachel Thompson on June 3, 2013 at 11:36 am
    • Reply

    Success is in doing it, doing it because you love and want to be the best you can be; success is not becoming a best seller. Best sellers work hard first, for the love of it, and the rest follows. kill the ego and do the hard time. Some success stories, like James Patterson lose their way and become rich sell outs. Others like Steven King do it for love and achieve it without selling out. It’s up to you. You in it for the money or the satisfaction? Do it for love and the money won’t matter although it may well come anyway. The best writers work for excellence and that pays dividends not looked for.

  82. I appreciate your article. I missed it in May, but it encouraged me as a new self-published author. You confirmed I am doing what I’m supposed to do. I have finished three books, only published one two months ago, read lots of articles by professional writers on marketing and prioritizing my schedule, listened to lots of online writing conference sessions to learn how to market my book, and applying that training to blogging, connecting to other writers, going through a professional mediary organization for editing and designing my book (WestBow Press), and working everyday on some facet of writing and/or marketing. I must be in that 5%, but it’s moving slowly. Thank you for your affirmation and insight.
    Mary Martsching
    Author of Finding Heath Young Lighthouse Keeper

    • wordfoolery on June 7, 2013 at 6:29 am
    • Reply

    Great post. I’ve often thought about that 5% because I meet so many wannabe writers who don’t actually write anything. I’ll just have to keep working my way past those oil drums.

  83. This is going into my “inspirational quotes” document. Perhaps even (gasp) my desktop background!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Awesome post. Loved it. Now just gotta get that book edited!

  84. Reblogged this on LindaSTaylor and commented:
    Sometimes my ADD/OCD personality pays off, even for a writer!

    A couple of weeks ago I made a comment in one of the LinkedIn groups that I was most inspired and encouraged in my path to author-hood by a blog post I read several months back. Couldn’t remember at the time who’s blog it was in … couldn’t remember the percentages quoted (I’m not a numbers kinda girl) … Yeah, a really helpful and informative comment. I never should have stopped what I had been doing to check e-mail. Double never should have made that comment.

    But surprisingly several readers commented back, agreeing that it was inspiring and encouraging. That yes, they too wanted to beat the odds and be in the top XX% of those who worked hard and carried on when others didn’t. That continuing the effort gives them an extra boost up the ladder. As it turned out, the actual percentages didn’t matter. I received the important message. So I started researching to find that post again. First choice, knowing who I followed fairly regularly and most often opened their emails because of the headlines, was Kristen Lamb, WANA Queen. I was right, for once!

    So I’m reblogging her post here, with apologies for not giving her credit, and not singing her praises far and wide sooner. She does it all perfectly. And it’s interesting, and humorous, and sometimes shows her flaws and mistakes (really they’re nothing, hardly anything. Just because she calls her son Spawn doesn’t mean anything …).

    So enjoy what inspired me, and if you don’t follow her already, be sure to check out Kristen Lamb’s Blog WarriorWriters.wordpress.com. Then click the tab for #MyWANA. You know you’ll want to!

  85. Such a motivational blog, when am reading i was like now what next .. now what next. Good job. well done. keeep it up.

    Thanks for sharing

  1. […] What Are the Odds of Success? …Really?. […]

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