• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Will I ever get published and become a successful author or am I a deluded fool?

Philip Overby

Staff
Article Team
I agree with some others that the idea of languishing in obscurity is the biggest fear for many writers. The only way to get out of obscurity is to...um, not be obscure anymore. This means writing, submitting, getting your name out there in as many ways as you can. Each small victory (and defeat) can build towards strengthening your persistence, which to me is the number one attribute to have as a writer. The fear of failure seems to be what holds back a lot of people. Or the fear of someone hating what they've created. I've been lucky in some regards to write fiction that is pretty divisive. That means most of the comments I've gotten are "I love this" or "I hate this." This has helped me as a writer because I realize that my style isn't for everyone, so I should only write with the audience I envision in mind.

For example, if you submit something to an agent or publisher, they have to think "Who can I sell this to?" If they think "A shitload of people" then you have a better chance. Whereas if you self-publish, it's up to the question you want to ask. "Does this make me happy?" "Can this make me money?" "Will this satisfy my writer itch?" "Will this be a fun side income?" It's up to you to figure out what you want your writing to be. Not to say traditionally published authors don't ask the same questions to themselves, but when dealing with a publisher, they're trying to run a business, so they have to take a risk on the people they sign if they're unknown.

At the end of the day, it's up to each individual writer where they put their focus. To me, the best advice I've seen is "Put one word after the other." Worry about all that other shit later. Then if what you have doesn't work, "Put one word after the other" again. Wash and repeat. You'll only reach goals by writing more. Writing more makes you better and also increases your chances of reaching your goals. Not writing puts the focus outside out of the writing (not succeeding, will it sell? etc. etc.)
 
IMO, anyone really serious about being published will read up about the writing process and try to understand all those basic errors that form 99% of manuscript rejections from agents and editors. They will also read up on the publishing industry itself, and understand that most writers do not earn out their advance, nor do most writers have financial security enough to write full time. And for those writers who do get regular publishing contracts, writing becomes a full-time profession, that requires hard work and deadline and stress - so if that's what you want to achieve, be ready to face that.

For anyone who wants to get an idea of what publishing entails, the first few chapters of Carol Blake's From Pitch to Publishing can be invaluable.
 

pmmg

Vala
A question from the past, but still relevant today.

I dont know which I will be, most likely a deluded fool. Thinking on the number of submissions a publisher might get a year, and how many get selected makes going that way seem like such a shot in the dark as it may be easier to win a lottery than make it out of the muck in that route...though, actually, winning the lottery is harder.

My plan is to start off on the self published path and see how far I can get. I am actually quite eager to start putting my energy into it, and start learning the ropes but....I ran out of $$$, so I am stalling at the gate. Maybe I should win the lottery first. (As one of my friends likes to say, the best way to earn a million dollars is to start off with tens of millions first).

No matter which way it goes, the odds of rising out of the mire are still small. But, I do learn from my mistakes, am teachable, am persistent, can support it with my day job, and I think I write pretty well. And I think my story(ies) are unique enough to stand out. So...I intend to give it a go.

Does this really make me a deluded fool? I think no, cause in the end, I'm gonna say 'I made that' and 'you can find that for purchase here' where as many who dont come as far, wont. Maybe it will be some other generation that strikes the oil with my stuff...you never know. But if its not out there, it will never do anything other than sit.

So for me, the question is still pending--though the odds are still on deluded fool side of the scale.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
It depends on what one considers success. The goals that I am passionate about are 1. deepening the field of Limburgish literature, 2. writing works that I find personal meaning in, and 3. writing works that I'd proudly pass on to my friends, family, land and the nebulous depths of the future. These goals do not necessitate monetary success or public acclaim, but instead provide purpose to my writing as well as a very feasible road to success. Although my poetry collection (3rd edition now) is by no metric a success in terms of profit or acclaim, I am proud of what I have written and derive meaning from it. I find solace, comfort, pride and excitement in my work. Hel, if the worst comes to pass I even have my epitaph taken care of in "The Lion brought Low," a poem I wrote for my beloved dog.

Now I'm partial to Elvish longevity and would rather live to the ripe old age of 400, but that example is just to say that one can find profound "success" in their writing far beyond the loftiest heights of the global publishing industry. I've had trouble finding my footing in regards to my place in the gargantuan ocean that is literature, and I am more than glad to have found a quiet bay I can feasibly explore. My goals may shift, I may decide to reclaim an old one or invent one anew, but for now I already consider myself a success, if only to myself.
 
Last edited:

kennyc

Inkling
It depends on what one considers success. The goals that I am passionate about are 1. deepening the field of Limburgish literature, 2. writing works that I find personal meaning in, and 3. writing works that I'd proudly pass on to my friends, family, land and the nebulous depths of the future. These goals do not necessitate monetary success or public acclaim, but instead provide purpose to my writing as well as a very feasible road to success. Although my poetry collection (3rd edition now) is by no metric a success in terms of profit or acclaim, I am proud of what I have written and derive meaning from it. I find solace, comfort, pride and excitement in my work. Hel, if the worst comes to pass I even have my epitaph taken care of "The Lion brought Low," a poem I wrote for my beloved dog.

Now I'm partial to Elvish longevity and would rather live to the ripe old age of 400, but that example is just to say that one can find profound "success" in their writing far beyond the loftiest heights of the global publishing industry. I've had trouble finding my footing in regards to my place in the gargantuan ocean that is literature, and I am more than glad to have found a quiet bay I can feasibly explore. My goals may shift, I may decide to reclaim another or invent one anew, but for now I already consider myself a success, if only to myself.
Agree completely! My self-published books on Amazon are not money-makers but I'm proud of every one of them!
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
A deluded fool? I should like to meet the fool who is undeluded, but that is perhaps a different thread.

pmmg said you've run out of money. But it can cost very close to zero to self-publish. I may well mean having to settle for a stock pre-made cover, do all the editing yourself, and run only the KDP Select promos, but it can be done. That's how I started and look where I am now! No, no, not there, further to the left. Back. Back further. Ah, yes, there I am.

But it can be done. Don't let mere money be a barrier.
 

pmmg

Vala
@pmmg said you've run out of money. But it can cost very close to zero to self-publish. I may well mean having to settle for a stock pre-made cover, do all the editing yourself, and run only the KDP Select promos, but it can be done. That's how I started and look where I am now! No, no, not there, further to the left. Back. Back further. Ah, yes, there I am.

Yes, I can. But I wont. I want to put my best foot forward. I plan to make it as professional as I can. Editor and cover art, and some extras. It will take some time and yes...some money. I'm gonna to give it an effort on the first and use that to gauge what is needed for the second. Right now, I am just plowing ahead in book 3. So far 38K words. I am very pleased with the pace I have set. I fear this one may be a little too hard to follow but, I've not edited it at all yet. Since I am shooting for 100K (or more), that would make it 38% finished.

Anyway, when I get going, I am thinking of putting up a place to chronicle the costs and efforts.

I should have the ability soon. Pending no car repairs, I am almost out of the woods.

What I want is a hard back I can hold in my hand. Not just a digital download. And I am already thinking of how to make an audio book.
 
Last edited:

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>Pending no car repairs
Oof, jinx! Cars have a built-in knowledge of how much money I have in the bank.

Yes, cover art will cost. And editors. But you know all that. It's great to hear you're on the third book. Your experience may vary, but I found I made a *ton* of mistakes on publishing the first book and was glad that it was one I deliberately did not intend to be my first big one. In fact, it's wound up being a giveaway for subscribing to my newsletter. It's a decent story, but I stumbled all over the place in the production process. And it can take time (which means money) to find the right editor, right artist, etc.

Audio book can be terribly expensive, or you can narrate it yourself. I'm headed for the latter option, simply because I can't justify the costs. But it's again one of the great things about the self-publishing process--you can make your own choices about how much is hired and how much is self.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I don't want to comment on this thread. I really don't.

............. . . . . . . . damnit.

Okay, look. I'm going to post a graph people have probably seen before.

1231px-Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_Effect_01.svg.png


This, of course, is the Dunning-Kruger effect. It's a measure of how confident you feel and its connection to how competent you are. You learn a little, feel like you understand everything, but in fact know very little about it.

So the question is: Am I deluded? Or, I'll rephrase the question a bit: How can I tell if I'm deluded?

Well, the answer is in the graph. You see, there are two peaks of confidence, and in between them, two points at you which ask this question - one on the descent from arrogance, and one on the rise towards competence. In between them is despair. If you're asking about whether you're deluded, the better way to understand the question is, which side of the graph are you on? Descent or rise? And do you think you keep at it long enough to make it through the rest of the graph?

But, 'cause life is messy, and popularity is hard, there's an extra trick to it. And it sucks, really, I'm sorry. But you're running through this graph multiple times at the same time, each at a different speed, and you might not even know it. In fact, you could be racing towards competence in one area but have no idea that you're trapped at the peak of Mount Stupid in another, and then fail because of that.

You see, being a successful author is a bundle of many different skills. Conceptualizing, plotting, worldbuilding, character development, research, technical writing, descriptive writing, emotional writing, life commentary, sales and marketing and editing and so on. Hell, just seeing the path clearly is a skill. I can't tell you how many people seem to think it's enough to just take maybe plotting, technical writing, and marketing to succeed, then claim the rest is luck. It's not. The book will be done, flow well, be put out on the market, feel good. But the concept will be cliche, the writing flat, the themes shallow, and book reviewers will ignore it because it wasn't sold to them.

That's the delusion: Being confident because you've beat the Valley of Despair in one set of skills while you stand on the Peak of Mount Stupid in another. You think you're over the hurdle, but you haven't built up enough of your other writing skills to make it.
 
Last edited:
It's a tough climb up the mountain, and everyone's climb is different. But I take heart from Brandon Sanderson. He's talked about the chance of being a succesful author multiple times. He teaches writing at BYU, and he's mentioned multiple times that each year on average about 1 student out of his small class of 15 becomes a writing professional (either author or editor). 1 out of 15 is pretty decent odds I'd say. The main thing is to stick with it. Keep writing, keep improving, and eventually you'll get there.

There's indeed some money involved self-publishing, though you can do it on a shoe-string. Another option is to publish your stories as episodicals first (on places like Kindle Vela, but there are a lot more places). They have slightly lower needs for editing I think.

In the end, the main reason to start publishing is to see your stories out in the world. As long as that's what you're aiming for then you'll be a success at some point.
 
So much good info in this thread! If the main concern is getting your work noticed, then take a dive into self publishing and e-books. Spend some money on an artist-for-hire to draw up some cover art and put it out there. I've seen plenty of people self-publish e-books on Amazon and they did quite well. I don't believe most writers do it for the money, but a little extra pocket change doesn't hurt.
 
I just recently came across some figures which put getting published by a big 5 publisher into a very different light. This figures were stated by the CEO of one of the big 5 publishers, under oath during a trial. So we can assume they're correct.

Apparently, of the 58,000 trade titles published per year, fully half of those titles “sell fewer than one dozen books.” (Not a typo, that’s one dozen.) More broadly, 90 percent of titles sell fewer than 2,000 units.

Those are some very sobering statistics.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I just recently came across some figures which put getting published by a big 5 publisher into a very different light. This figures were stated by the CEO of one of the big 5 publishers, under oath during a trial. So we can assume they're correct.

Apparently, of the 58,000 trade titles published per year, fully half of those titles “sell fewer than one dozen books.” (Not a typo, that’s one dozen.) More broadly, 90 percent of titles sell fewer than 2,000 units.

Those are some very sobering statistics.

Yeah, fair. I'm curious to know if those authors get an advance, and if that advance has to be repaid. Getting $5,000 for 12 books is at least something. Having to return it because you only sold 12 would suck.

What's kind of more crappy, though, are people who then buy 5,000 copies of their own book just to move the needle. You see that sometimes with non-fiction. People want the book as a credential for how they're an expert, so they buy their own copies just to make it to the top of a list, and then give them away to clients, which is where they make their money back.
 

pmmg

Vala
Yeah, fair. I'm curious to know if those authors get an advance, and if that advance has to be repaid. Getting $5,000 for 12 books is at least something. Having to return it because you only sold 12 would suck.

I am too. I suspect it just the cost of doing business. They give away 50 advances in the hopes that one hit it big.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I just recently came across some figures which put getting published by a big 5 publisher into a very different light. This figures were stated by the CEO of one of the big 5 publishers, under oath during a trial. So we can assume they're correct.

Apparently, of the 58,000 trade titles published per year, fully half of those titles “sell fewer than one dozen books.” (Not a typo, that’s one dozen.) More broadly, 90 percent of titles sell fewer than 2,000 units.

Those are some very sobering statistics.
That is, like so many of the statistics you have posted about traditional publishing, grossly misleading. Below is a link to an article explaining the figures:

No, Most Books Don't Sell Only a Dozen Copies

And here is what Kristen Mclean from BookScan (whose book sales statistics that claim was based on) had to say on the subject:

Hey y'all, it's Kristen McLean, lead industry analyst from NPD BookScan. I thought I would chime in with some numbers here, since that statistic from the DOJ is super-misleading, and I'm not sure where it originally came from, since we did not provide it directly.

It is possible it came from our data, and was provided by one of the publisher parties, but based on the 58,000 figure, it's not obvious what exactly it includes in terms of "publisher frontlist". 58,000 titles is way too small a number for "all frontlist books published in a year by every publisher"--that's more like 487,000 frontlist titles--so it's clear it's a slice but I'm not sure HOW it was sliced.

NPD BookScan (BookScan is owned by The NPD Group, not Nielsen, BTW), collects data on print book sales from 16,000 retail locations, including Amazon print book sales. Included in those numbers are any print book sales from self-publishing platforms where the author has opted for extended distribution and a print book was sold by Amazon or another retailer. So that 487K "new book" figure is all frontlist books in our data showing at least 1 unit sale over the last 52 weeks coming from publishers of all sizes, including individuals.

Lots of press outlets have been calling about it today, so I did a little digging to see if I could reverse-engineer the citation, and am happy to share our numbers here for clarity.

Because this is clearly a slice, and most likely provided by one of the parties to the suit, I decided to limit my data to the frontlist sales for the top 10 publishers by unit volume in the U.S. Trade market. My ISBN list is a little smaller than the one quoted in the DOJ, but the principals will be the same.

The data below includes frontlist titles from Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Disney, Macmillan, Abrams, Sourcebooks, and John Wiley. The figures below only include books published by these publishers themselves, not pubishers they distribute.

Here is what I found. Collectively, 45,571 unique ISBNs appear for these publishers in our frontlist sales data for the last 52 weeks (thru week ending 8-24-2022).

In this dataset:

>>>0.4% or 163 books sold 100,000 copies or more

>>>0.7% or 320 books sold between 50,000-99,999 copies

>>>2.2% or 1,015 books sold between 20,000-49,999 copies

>>>3.4% or 1,572 books sold between 10,000-19,999 copies

>>>5.5% or 2,518 books sold between 5,000-9,999 copies

>>>21.6% or 9,863 books sold between 1,000-4,999 copies

>>>51.4% or 23,419 sold between 12-999 copies

>>>14.7% or 6,701 books sold under 12 copies

So, only about 15% of all of those publisher-produced frontlist books sold less than 12 copies. That's not nothing, but nowhere as janky as what has been reported.

BUT, I think the real story is that roughly 66% of those books from the top 10 publishers sold less than 1,000 copies over 52 weeks. (Those last two points combined)

And less than 2% sold more than 50,000 copies. (The top two points)

Now data is a funny thing. It can be sliced and diced to create different types of views. For instance we could run the same analysis on ALL of those 487K new books published in the last 52 weeks, which includes many small press and independetly published titles, and we would find that about 98% of them sold less that 5,000 copies in the "trade bookstore market" that NPD BookScan covers. (I know this IS a true statistic because that data was produced by us for The New York Times.)

But that data does not include direct sales from publishers. It does not include sales by authors at events, or through their websites. It does not include eBook sales which we track in a separate tool, and it doesn't include any of the amazing reading going on through platforms like Substack, Wattpad, Webtoons, Kindle Direct, or library lending platforms like OverDrive or Hoopla.

BUT, it does represent the general reality of the ECONOMICS of the publishing market. In general, most of the revenue that keeps publishers in business comes from the very narrow band of publishing successes in the top 8-10% of new books, along with the 70% of overall sales that come from BACKLIST books in the current market. (Backlist books have gained about 4% in share from frontlist books since the pandemic began, but that is a whole other story.)

The long and short of it is publishing is very much a gambler's game, and I think that has been clear from the testimony in the DOJ case. It is true that most people in publishing up to and including the CEOs cannot tell you for sure what books are going to make their year. The big advantage that publisher consolidation has brought to the top of the market is deeper pockets and more resources to roll those dice. More money to get a hot project. More money to influence outcomes through marketing, more access to sales and distribution mechanisms, and easier access to the gatekeepers who decide what books make it onto retailers' shelves. And better ability to distribute risk across a bigger list of gambles.

It is largely a numbers game and I'm not just saying that because I'm a numbers gal. It's a tough business.

Hope this is helpful.

If anyone has questions, they are welcome to reach out to me directly at [email protected].
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Yeah, fair. I'm curious to know if those authors get an advance, and if that advance has to be repaid. Getting $5,000 for 12 books is at least something. Having to return it because you only sold 12 would suck.

What's kind of more crappy, though, are people who then buy 5,000 copies of their own book just to move the needle. You see that sometimes with non-fiction. People want the book as a credential for how they're an expert, so they buy their own copies just to make it to the top of a list, and then give them away to clients, which is where they make their money back.
In answer to your question, if you get an advance as an author you don't have to repay it if the book is published. You keep it even if the book doesn't sell well. BUT, you don't earn any royalties until the book has sold so many copies that the royalties you would have got for those sales equal the advance. The point at which your book sells enough copies for the publisher to start paying royalties is known in the trade as "earning out". This is the big gamble for publishers, that the books they publish will earn enough to recover the costs of production and the advance they paid. (Self-published authors take a smiliar gamble, the difference being that the authors concerned pay all the production costs up front and then hope to recover those costs and make a profit on the subsequent book sales.)

And in answer to the unspoken question I know some of you have, yes all except my most recent book have earned out. My most recent book hasn't earned out yet because it hasn't been out that long. Please note however that I don't make that much money from the advances and royalties, certainly not enough to live on. Be warned that unless you are a super best-selling author it can take some time for your book to earn out - but at least you got an advance...
 
That is, like so many of the statistics you have posted about traditional publishing, grossly misleading. Below is a link to an article explaining the figures:
I just give the numbers as I come across them, I don't make them up. I'm happy to be corrected. Though your numbers don't change the fact that it's a very sobering number. Even 14.7% of books selling fewer than 12 copies is a lot. I would think that an author could sell that many to friends and family. And to me 87% selling fewer than 5000 copies is still a shocking number.

And by no means is indie publishing any easier. I'd think that those figures are just as terrible, if not worse for indie authors. It's very easy to drop a book on amazon and watch it sink without any sales. The only advantage an indie author has is that since you earn more per book (70% vs 10% in royalties) it's easier to run ads. The downside is that as an indie author you will probably pay $1500-$2000 just to get your book in a state where you can actually sell it.

My main point was that authoring is a tough business. And even getting a publishing deal from a dream publisher would not guarantee succes as an author.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
The only advantage an indie author has is that since you earn more per book (70% vs 10% in royalties) it's easier to run ads.

This is the first I've seen somebody suggest this.... and it should be true. :) Since your royalties are higher with self-publishing, the beak-even point on Facebook or Amazon ads is a lot fewer sales. To my knowledge people still struggle to break even on ad sales, but it wouldn't even make sense to try at the lower royalty rate from a publisher.

I know I'm just repeating you, but it's a new point in a long series of discussions for me, so I thought it was worth a little emphasis.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
That advantage has some modulation to it. If I'm with a traditional publisher, then in my ad I get to say I've been published by Orbit or Tor. That's going to make that ad more effective than a similar one from a self-pub. In addition, the publisher themselves are doing at least a modicum of promotion. If nothing else, my book appears on their company site. So there are more points of marketing contact than I have if I'm self-pubbed.

The ads are subject to so many variables that it's impossible to say what sort of percentage differential would be at play. I still think there's probably a bit of an advantage, but I doubt it could be reliably measured. But it's another a factor, as Devor says.
 
Top