What are the chances of actually getting a publisher to accept a book?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Grand Lord BungleFic, Nov 12, 2012.

  1. Grand Lord BungleFic

    Grand Lord BungleFic Journeyman

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    I apologize in advance if this is one of those questions that's so common as to be annoying but I've worked so hard on my book for over a year now that I can't help worrying about this. I was recently reading a book of advice for writing science fiction and fantasy. The author said that he sees probably a thousand manuscripts for every one that gets published. Those odds seem depressingly long, though I realize that there are a number of reasons why it may not be that bad. (There are many publishers, most of the books have been submitted multiple times, a sizable percentage are very poor efforts, etc, etc)

    Still... if there are 10 publishers, that's still only 1 in 100. Ok, so let's say a typical book gets submitted several times to the same set of publishers before it finally gets through. That still only improves it to 1 in 30 or so.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    I think you're right, the odds are long. People rack up a lot of rejections, as a rule, before publishing a work. Looking at recent successes, I think Twilight and Harry Potter were both rejected about a dozen times before selling. The fact is, the vast majority of writers submitting their work to publishers will never see it accepted.

    Also, I don't know if this is your first novel or not, but you have to look at those odds as well. Stephen King had written three or four novels before he wrote Carrier, which was rejected 'dozens' of times before being published.

    Brandon Sanderson wrote five or six novels before he wrote Elantris, his first published. And in fact he'd written even more novels while Elantris was being repeatedly rejected, before it was finally bought.

    If you're looking to earn a living, almost any other job you pick will be a more sure and more lucrative way to make money, according to the odds.

    If you have a need to write, then I think you adhere to Heinlein's advice for success as a writer as closely as possible:

    1. You must write.
    2. Finish what you start.
    3. Refrain from re-writing, except to editorial order.
    4. You must put your work on the market.
    5. You must keep it on the market until it sell.
    6. Start working on something else.

    4-6 are most pertinent here, and you do them all at the same time, in my view.

    If your work is good, and you persevere, I think it will eventually be picked up somewhere.
     
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  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    Hate to bring up more discouraging news, but, even if your book is accepted to be published, you still face pretty long odds at it being a commercial success. I've read that the work of most new authors never earns back their advance. It's my understanding that publishers don't sink that much of an investment into marketing your book beyond:

    Making it available to be ordered by bookstores
    Sending out review copies

    I've decided to go the self publishing route. Though, honestly, the odds against selling a bunch of books seems pretty slim that way too.

    My plan is:

    Keep writing
    Produce quality work
    Step 3
    Make a profit
     
  4. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Dark Lord

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    While the odds are long, it's not impossible. But saying that, there are a lot of factors that cannot be easily accounted for. For example:

    The quality of the work (not only grammar but storytelling).
    How well does it match up with what a publisher publishes.
    Length.
    How well is that genre/topic selling (or anticipated to sell).
    Does a publisher already have a story/novel/series published or accepted that would interfere with this one's success.
    Has a publisher already filled the slots in the schedule for the next 18 or 24 months out.

    I think the first two are of primary importance. Luck is a factor too (sadly), and may fit with the latter two examples. And there are many more factors.

    The best thing you can do is to complete the novel, polish it through re-reading and revision and what outside readers suggest (where it fits into your vision/story), target the right markets (or agents), submit the work and then begin writing something else while you're waiting.

    Good luck and don't give up!
     
  5. Scribe

    Scribe Apprentice

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    I agree with all that's said above, but keep this in mind as well: getting an agent first will dramatically increase your chances of having your book seen by the editors of those publishing houses. An agent is like a stamp of quality--they're not going to risk their reputation with an editor on a book they don't think has "it". Right now is a tough time for the industry, but there are still agents out there looking to grow their list of authors. There are HUNDREDS of agents out there. So rather than thinking about it at the smallest part of the funnel (publishing houses), think about it in terms of the larger part (agents).

    If you're having trouble with one book, move on to the next, then the next a la Sandersen. I also recommend increasing your chances by shelling out for a professional edit, which is something I'm about to do myself.
     
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I totally agree with what's been said above.

    Yes, the odds are long. But don't worry about it too much. Control what you can control and that's your work. Polish it as best as you can, send it out, then write the next thing.

    Yes, there are lots of submissions, but from interviews I've heard from editors, they say just following submission guidelines puts you a position that's better than half (maybe even 75%) of what they get.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    That's a good point, Penpilot. I'd say over half of the submissions I received failed to follow the submission guidelines. In some cases I'd look at them any way, but in most instances it was a great reason to dash off a quick rejection and hit the delete button on the submission.
     
  8. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Wait... I thought you are a lawyer?!
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    I am. But I was on the editorial board of an academic publication (where the submissions did adhere to guidelines generally) and also editor of a fiction publication for a couple of years (where the submissions often did not adhere to guidelines).
     
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Okay, I was envisioning some feline lawyer/literary agent hybrid Steerpike. Guess that's not too far off the mark.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    No. I've represented authors, screenplay writers, and production companies in some things. But I don't have the contacts necessary in publishing to really be an effective agent.
     
  12. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    Hey guys.

    Seems we've discussed this same topic quite a few times but I'll give my usual two cents worth...

    The originally quoted odds of a thousand to one...are correct. Even if you are mega-talented the odds are almost impossible (for publication with a commercial hard copy publisher). Yes there are many lousy books that stand no chance (and presuming yours is not one of them) but there are squillions that really are excellent...squillions that will never be published because there just aren't enough slots.

    The only real way to improve your odds (in my experience) is to do the following:

    - love your writing for its own sake and just write for your own enjoyment
    - your first book will probably be garbage but send it out by all means (unless you know it's garbage)
    - you need to write to learn how to write. Once you've finished your first book you will know a great deal more about writing and will be in a far better position to start your second book.
    - expect to be rejected, but try to develop a relationship with professionals. Once the rejections go beyond the form letter and you start to get reasons and even suggestions...throw a party, you're on the right track. Do all you can to cultivate a relationship with anyone who shows interest. Ask if you can send them your next book. This is the way to get out of the slush pile and onto the desk of someone who is already taking you seriously.
    - be prepared for a long haul and never give up.

    It took me 18 years to get a book published in the mainstream and that book has now been read by several thousand people. I've since had another book published by a small epublisher but I've also recently had another book accepted by a small mainstream publisher. I really hope the new one is the one that takes me to a new level but it's still a big fight. Getting published is exhilarating but the exhilaration quickly turns cold when your book is swamped under the Darwinian struggle of the bookstore.

    Good luck, and if you truly believe in your talent...never give up.
     
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  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    I'm amazed at how much I've learned as a part of the process. Good advice.
     
  14. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Kevin O. McLaughlin Mystagogue

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    How long is a piece of string? ;)

    If your book is good, odds are good someone will eventually accept it for publication. If it's mediocre, you might or might not. If it's novice work, you probably won't. Most writers have to write a few books before they write one good enough to be picked up. Most writers give up trying before they get their writing to the quality level required.

    So simply by continuing to write, by continuing to improve your skills, and by finishing and submitting everything you write, you will eventually rise to the top few percent of novels submitted, because most people lack the perseverance to do so.
     
  15. The Dark One

    The Dark One Grandmaster

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    Maybe, but I don't think you'll get published (in the mainstream) just by writing something good. People have to know it's good and I believe 100% that you only get publishers believing in you (as a money making proposition) once you've developed a bit of a relationship with them (or your agent has done so for you).

    Also, people who persevere don't necessarily improve. I have a friend who's been trying for over 20 years - really devoted himself to it - but he has this odd quirk of character which prevents him from improving. He believes that whatever emerges from his muse is perfect and must not be tampered with. In other words, he refuses to edit. This is a real shame because he is (IMHO) a rarely gifted writer. But hopeless at creating a really compelling plot after (usually) a fabulous opening. I'm always seeing all sorts of possibilities and saying what if X happened here or what if Y character secretly wanted to do Z etc. He nearly always agrees that my suggestions would give the plot the kicks it so desperately needs...but then the story would no longer be the perfect gift bestowd upon his muse by the cosmos.

    Sigh...
     
  16. Grand Lord BungleFic

    Grand Lord BungleFic Journeyman

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    Thanks for the advice everyone. I'm not the quitting type so I think I'll keep trying until I get there.

    This particular book is one that I'm extremely passionate about because the story is one that has a deep relevance to me personally. I spend enormous amounts of time every day just thinking about it. I just want to do everything I possibly can to make this book good enough to merit publication. If I fail because I lack the talent to ever get close so be it -- but I don't want to fail just because I didn't do everything I can do. :)

    Are there people out there with expertise in writing fiction that can be hired to read a novel written by a newbie like me and give advice about plot/use of words/everything?
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    Absolutely. It's easy to find freelance editors.

    They are, however, quite expensive.

    My advice would be to develop a relationship with others here on this board. Find writers with different strengths who you believe to be about your same talent level. Offer to do a beta reader exchange with them. You read their stuff, and they read yours.

    Once you've filtered your piece through that level of critique, send it to an editor.

    The better your piece is before you send it out, the more you're going to get out of the editor.

    Note: that last is an opinion that I'm not sure is commonly shared. It seems to me, however, that paying an editor to look at your work if it's clearly not ready is a waste of money. I'm not sure that an editor would say the same thing.

    EDIT: A good place to start is the Showcase forum. Post an excerpt from your work and let us critique it. That should give you an idea of where you are.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2012
    Grand Lord BungleFic likes this.
  18. Grand Lord BungleFic

    Grand Lord BungleFic Journeyman

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    I'm in my second revision now and I know I'm still substantially improving it on my own. It'll be at least six months (probably more) before I reach a point where I can't improve it any more on my own. It does seem to me that there is nothing to be gained from getting someone else to find problems that I'm capable of discovering for myself. I'd like to get others to critique it when I reach the point where I actually think my book is good. :)

    Maybe by then I will have developed a relationship with folks on this board.
     
  19. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    I do see your point, and it is valid. You want it to be as good as you can get it before you share it with others.

    However, I offer you an opposing idea:

    Instead of trying to fix your entire work thus far as good as you can, fix just the first chapter. Then get others to see what they think.

    Doing it your way, you'll spend a lot of time getting your book the best you can get it. Doing it my way, you may learn a few things that will take the rest of your work to a higher level.

    Just a thought...
     
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  20. Xaysai

    Xaysai Grandmaster

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    Refrain from rewriting?

    Oh dear, I'm screwed...
     
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