Monday, January 12, 2009

On 'The Odds'

Agent Bransford defended the publishing process today and in doing so sent a very blunt message to wannabe authors. In his words:

"It is hard coming up with a good idea, it's hard writing a novel, it's hard to find an agent, it's hard to find a publisher, it's hard for the publisher to convince booksellers to take on the book in the numbers they want, it's hard for the bookseller to sell the book, it's hard for a book to become a bestseller.

It's one big obstacle course in which you have to beat out other books every step of the way. To use a sports metaphor, it's March Madness with a 1,000,000 book field. Make it to the next round and there are 500,000. Make it to the next round and there are 250,000. And you have to win every game."

In other words, you ain't got much of a shot buddy.

Many of the comments reiterated the view that getting a book published (much less penning a bestseller) was about as likely as a Jim J. Bullock comeback. Unpubbed writers could easily read through the comments and conclude they are wasting their time slaving over word choice, comma placement, and whether or not to include that awesome fart joke. Luckily for all of my future readers, I view things differently.

What Agent Bransford fails to mention is that of those 1,000,000 people, I would guess fully half couldn't write a coherent interoffice memo. Everyone who has read more than a handful of books has thought, "You know, how hard can it be to write one?" and so they do.

Also, of those 1,000,000 people, a good 10% are probably like that infomercial guy, Billy Mays. They're very excited about their product, but their product sucks. So that's the first thing: the competition isn't quite as stiff as it would appear, unless you're the guy who can't write the office email. Or Billy Mays (What do you bet he's the type that writes in ALL CAPS, ALL THE TIME?)

Another reason I write, in spite of the supposed odds against my ever getting pubbed, is that I've read a lot of pretty cruddy books. (No, I'm not naming names or linking to an image of Dianetics (haven't read it) because I don't want to offend a publisher who is just sitting in New York waiting for my manuscript.) Now, I don't intentionally try to find bad books, which means that I'm probably missing out on some real stinkers. So, no offense, but if your crappy book (couldn't help it) got published, then why shouldn't mine?

I also look at it this way: Readers need publishers. Publishers need writers. This year, a lot of writers will publish their debut novels. Someone has to write these things, so why not me?

The odds might be long, but there's one surefire way to guarantee you won't get your novel pubbed: Stop writing it. (Really, stop. Right now. The rest of us would appreciate the diminished competition.)

Blogger's Note: There's also that little thing called enjoyment. Most of the time I like writing. Why else would I have a blog that no one reads?

Twilight Quote of the Day (You'll notice a change here. Fact is, there's way too much comedic gold to be mined in the quotes of Twilight characters for this blogger to pass up.)

"I hope you enjoy disappointment."

--Edward Cullen, Twilight, Chapter 3, p. 65


Angela said...

"coherent interoffice memo"
You're not advocating for coherent interoffice memos, are you?
I think that might upset the order of the universe!

I plan to write and write and write whatever the odds. I once thought this biz was a numbers game. But I'm starting to catch on that it's a word game.

Thanks for entering my contest!

Dad said...

Probably not a member of your target audience, but I read all your stuff! That's what family members do!

Ben Esch said...


My dad reads my blog, too. I think that's awesome.

Anyway, great blog. Personally, whenever I was getting down about the getting published thing I liked to think of that quote from "The Wild" (wicked movie by the way)

And the quote: "What one man can do, another man can do."

Okay, but now imagine Anthony Hopkins screaming that in the middle of the forest with Alec Baldwin. Yeah. Now that's an inspirational image.

All the best,


Lily Cate said...

I think I have more fun writing than I ever would being published. Not that I won't keep trying.
I asked Harold Underdown about this on a thread over at Verla's. I figured that if you had done your homework, spent a good deal of time developing your craft, polished your work, and then researched specifically which houses/agents to submit to, you were really only competing with about 25% of those 1,000,000 other hopefuls.

He said it was probably really less than 10%.

So we've got that going for us!

Paul Michael Murphy said...


I advocate for coherency in any form.


Thanks. You know, for lots of stuff, but also for reading.


I like the quote. Interesting how small words can convey such large ideas, eh?


Good to know. Having read so many blogs where agents decry much of the glut they receive, I sort of suspected as much.

Thanks for the comments, all.

Kelly said...

Many times the competetiveness of this business makes me all the more determined to keep going and succeed.
Ha! Love the Twilight quotes!

pocketfulsofsunshine said...

I have to agree with you. All good reasons to keep on typing!