Your Odds of Getting Traditionally Published

Your Odds of Getting Traditionally Published

Your Odds of Getting Traditionally Published

by Donny Bailey Seagraves


Getting Published: Me

I knew the odds were against me when I decided to seek publication for my books way back in 1989. Still, I decided to go for it. Twenty years later, in 2009, I held my first published novel in my hands. My book, Gone From These Woodsa children’s middle grade novel for younger readers 9 – 12, actually was purchased on July 13, 2007. Between that time and publication day, August 25, 2009, I experienced eight months of rewriting and over a year of waiting.

Was it worth the seemingly endless rewriting and the long wait? Yes! For me, having a novel published was a lifelong dream and my top goal. Getting the call from Michelle Poploff, Vice President and Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books, was like winning the literary lottery.

Getting Published: You

You might be wondering what your odds are of getting the call and holding your published book in your hands. As you probably know, they aren’t good. In fact, the odds of getting published are dismal. According to industry professionals, your odds of getting published by a traditional New York publisher like Random House (now Penguin Random House) are about the same as becoming a professional baseball player on a major league team.

In other words, your odds are almost non-existent. On top of that, the odds of seeing your book in print (via a traditional publisher) in today’s rapidly changing, digitally evolving world of publishing are getting worse. What can you do to improve your odds of getting published?

What It Takes and the Statistics

According to author Sheryl Gwyther, “Writers who succeed are those who persevere through first drafts that feel like pushing jelly uphill; refuse to take second-best for the multiple rewrites; do the spit and polish at the end; then cope with rejection letters and emails, and rewrite and edit again.”

Another blogger, Ray Wong, says less than 5% get published. There are hundreds of thousands of writers trying to break into the business every year. But there simply aren’t that many publication slots available.

Laura Backes, publisher of Children’s Book Insider, says editors at mid to large-sized publishing houses get upwards of 5,000 unsolicited submissions a year. About 95% are rejected right off the bat. Most of those get form letters. A few promising authors get personalized notes stating why the manuscript was rejected.

Of the 5% left, some are queries for which the editors request the entire manuscript. Others are manuscripts submitted in their entirety. Those go to the next stage of the acquisitions process. They get passed around the editorial department, presented at editorial meetings, perhaps looked at by the sales staff to get a sense of the market for the book.

The end result is that 1 – 2% of unsolicited submissions are actually purchased for publication. 

That sounds like horrible odds, doesn’t it? 

Beating the Odds

Here are several ways you can beat the odds and get your book published.

  • Hone Your Craft. It’s a phrase you’ll hear over and over again. It means read a lot, especially in your chosen genre, and write, write, write, and write some more. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite some more.
  • Read and study writer’s reference books and how-to guides. I have a list  of books I recommend here.
  • Join a writing group and get critiques.
  • Join a professional group like SCBWI and read and learn from the reference material on their website and network with other members.
  • Go to conferences and listen to what editors and agents and published writers say. Network at these conferences and use the privilege you may get there to submit to the editor and agent speakers. This may be your best shot at getting your submission actually read. (Read how this worked for me here.)
  • Get an agent. They’re generally harder to get than an editor, but if you get one, you automatically rise to the upper 5% of submissions — if your agent agrees to market your manuscript.
  • Persevere. The number one way to beat the odds and get published is to persevere. Generally, the writers who put their butts in the chair and write every day for years and years and years are the ones who get published. If publication is what you want, do the work, do the time, and beat the odds!

 This post originally appeared on April 9, 2016.

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