The Only Statistic You Need to Worry About

I often talk with authors who want to pursue publication but worry about the sometimes-overwhelming odds involved in finding an agent and a traditional publishing house. Some of them turn to self-publishing, not because they want to self-publish, but purely because they’re overwhelmed by the odds.

In the immortal words of Han Solo, “Never tell me the odds.”

And don’t let them be the reason you change your publishing path.

Self-publishing is a fantastic option for people who want to self-publish. People whose talents (and time) are a match for the process, and who want to become an author-publisher. Self-publishing isn’t a good decision for people who want to publish traditionally, but get overwhelmed or “tired of waiting.”

And, as for those “overwhelming” odds…the only statistic that matters to you is binary, and answer is “yes” or “no.”

15L16 Irish tunnel

Let me explain.

Either you have an agent right now, or you do not.  Six months from now, or a year, or ten, the same reality is true. You will have an agent or you won’t. Your book will be published or it won’t. Your work in progress will be under contract, or you’ll still be waiting.

Binary. “Yes” or “no.”

The real question, then, is how you got to that position. Did you continue to work on your craft, to improve with every book you wrote? Did you let yourself stagnate in a single manuscript, or did you finish one and begin on the next (while you queried the first one, of course), committing yourself to writing as many books as it took to find the agent and publisher you wanted?

Statistics about numbers of queries, percentages of authors who find representation, and all the other piles of data boil down to a binary too.  Either an agent is drawn to a  manuscript, and an author, and offers a contract (a “yes”) or the author and work wasn’t right for that agent (a “no”).  The other numbers are helpful, to the extent they help authors evaluate larger questions, like the average quality of writing offered to agents (fairly low) or whether an author should send out a query or manuscript that’s anything less than the absolute best, most polished work the author can produce (this should be a no-brainer…but the answer is ALWAYS POLISH).

The problem with other people’s numbers and averages is that they tell you nothing about the status of your manuscript, whether query reads like a siren’s song, or if your agent-selection process has honed your choices to agents who might truly relate to your work. 

For that, statistics can’t help you, though other things can. 

Critique groups, conferences, and learning to make an objective analysis of not only your writing but the responses you receive from the people who read it (including agents) offer an author important signposts on the difficult road to success.

And writing is difficult. Not only before you find an agent, but afterward, and forever. If you want an easy path…do something else.

However, if writing is your path, you can’t let other people’s statistics get you down. At the end of the day, the only statistic that matters to you is binary – you succeed or fail by your own efforts–or lack thereofd.

That doesn’t mean “don’t pay attention to the industry” or “ignore the facts.”  Information will help you learn and improve your chances of success, provided you use it properly.  

But don’t let the numbers make you despair. Remind yourself that the only statistic that matters to you is binary, and find a way to shift it from the lonely 0 to the much-celebrated 1.

Then come back and tell me you got there. I’d love to hear about your success.