Normally I only post one blog entry per week, but for some odd reason (maybe it’s all this wonderful sunshine) I needed to get something off my chest.
Last winter, I joined the ranks of my fellow writers in Brenda Drake’s AMAZING #PitMad tweet-a-thon. I followed the rules, crafted a wonderful set of tweets, downloaded tweet deck and varied the times of my tweets by 30 minutes and went at those agents with everything I had.
Now today, some three months later, I participated for the sake of moral support (and happily retweeted my fellow writer friends).
Today, after the twelve hours of #PitMad was over, I did some rough (and I mean very rough) calculations. I surveyed a random half hour period across three random times in the morning/afternoon/evening and I found out that something like 1 out of every 450 tweets ended up getting an agent favorite.
Stick with me here. Because things are gonna get bleak, and when they do I don’t want you to run off and wallow; my point isn’t to preach despair, but to preach hope.
So, that would mean about half of 1% of people were feeling good about their shiny yellow stars. Now these figures aren’t even remotely accurate, as they don’t account for re-tweets or multiple book submissions or people who don’t follow the rules and spam the feed ect, but the point is, those who garnered interest may be feeling like special unicorns.
Statistics were on your side. Or maybe it was those fickle Fates.
Further digging into the trenches of statistics, I started reading things on agent blogs that seemed to indicate (and again we’re dealing in faux numbers here just to get a general sense of a thing) that agents will get around 30,000 queries in a year.
Let’s be generous and say they read every query and request 2,000 partial manuscripts from that pool. That means to get from query to partial, you are in the top 6%. Of partials, they may reach out for (again being generous) 100 full requests. Now we’re in the 1/3 of 1% range.
And of these full requests, some agents will sign a grand total of zero new clients in a year. If we’re lucky, let’s say they sign two. So from query to signing, we’re looking at a VERY rough estimate of 1 in 15,000 people. That’s six-ten-thousandths of one percent. And that’s just to get in the door.
When you keep tumbling down this rabbit hole, you find out that very few agented authors are making their living purely from their writing. I won’t bore anyone with more fictional numbers, but even for these lucky authors — there’s a planet-sized gap between the top and the bottom of the pile with a whole lot of people not making crazy money in the middle.
Remember when I said things were going to get bleak? I promise, I’m getting to the good stuff.
By the numbers – us writers aren’t looking so hot.
In fact, if a doctor gave you equal odds on living after acquiring some sort of flesh-eating virus as authors have of becoming the next John Greene, our friend the doctor would probably just round up to less than zero percent and hand you a gun to let you down easy.
The statistics say we’re screwed.
But let’s say you don’t believe in statistics. Say you’re a fate person. You believe you can see through the garbage and tell what’s coming next. You think the statistics don’t matter because the stars and the moon are aligning and you’re a special butterfly, or a Virgo, or part Lumberjack (and everyone knows Lumberjacks are damn near indestructible).
So you see the recent trend in the Twilight era, the Hunger Games craze, and you love The Walking Dead, so you decide to do something unique. You combine all of those genres into one epic trilogy. Your main character fights Zombies and then Vampires and then the apocalypse destroys the world but s/he survives to build a new society which ends up being a dystopia after all and viva la revolution!
What could go wrong with that?
But then the market dries up, because everyone and their mother had the exact same idea you had – and they all started creating the same type of book. Sure, the characters are different and the plot isn’t quite the same, but that’s not what an editor sees. An editor hears the mere mention of something vampire-like and goes running. So those wonderful literary agents follow suit as the market wanes, and they start avoiding anything with a dystopia or a zombie or an apocalypse or vampires or trilogies, and your book is literally all of these things.
And here’s where we pause.
Today I had to remind myself that my blog – this thing that is supposed to contain habits and traits I am trying to embody and share to work towards my own success and help others with theirs – was pretty worthless if I wasn’t going to apply it.
It’s not called Statistics & Fates.
It’s not about the numbers or about the stars.
You see, by definition, when we look at the bestselling novelists or the award-winning musicians of the world, we’re looking at the exception – not the rule.
For them, the statistics didn’t matter. They overcame them. They made their own luck and they made it count. They didn’t give a crap about current trends because when you pay attention to trends, at best you’re chasing ghosts. Because when a book hits the shelves, it was in an editors hands two years prior and maybe even written two years before that.
So when the statistics say we’ll lose, why should we listen?
If we don’t believe we are the exception… well then we might as well let the numbers run us into the ground. To be successful, you have to believe you ARE the exception. You have to say “Sure, it looks bad, but you know what – screw it. I don’t care. I’m better than that.”
Because the best that we can do — the very best — is put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed and throw caution to the wind.
Great agents, great authors, and great editors all resound on this topic in a heavenly chorus. You can literally hear them for miles. They say things like:
Go write the best book you can write.
Great voice trumps everything else.
Don’t rush. Submitting your novel too early is bad.
Great books will always be needed.
And you know why they all agree on these things? Because a good book isn’t written as a response to genre trends, style trends, because the stars have all lined up and Mars and the Moon are perfectly in sync or because statistically you have a high chance of success if you do (a) (b) and (c).
None of that makes for a good book.
I guess my long-winded point of the night is this – if you’re anything like me and you question whether or not you’re writing the right genre or with the right voice or in the right market at the right time — just stop yourself.
If writing to you is the same as gambling, then go to a casino.
But if you’re with me? Slap yourself in order. Tie your shoes and walk outside with your laptop in hand and enjoy some sunshine while you do what you were born to do — write the best (insert genre mashup) book the world has ever seen.
Because you don’t ask to be the exception to the rule — you just are.
So go be exceptional.
And go write the next greatest book the world has ever seen.