by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy
I'm sure you recognize the title of this post. It is one of my favorite movie quotes and is from the original Star Wars (now called Episode 4). C3PO has just told Han Solo the statistical probability of successfully navigating through an asteroid belt (a truly astronomical number) and Han snarls in reply, "Never tell me the odds!"
In my previous career, I toiled as an analyst for the State of California. I played with numbers and statistics every day and got to do fun things like budget change proposals and cost benefit analyses. Ah yes, Aunty loved to 'run those numbers' and make them yield answers!
Then I entered the crazy world of writing for publication, and numbers ceased to be my friends or even my friendly tools. The numbers I discovered in my pursuit of publication were not the answers I wanted to hear. "Never tell me the odds!" became my rallying cry!
If I had stopped to think about the odds, I probably would have never entered the Golden Heart. Only 70 entries were selected as finalists out of 1000. My manuscript had to be judged in the top 7%. YIKES! And yet all 20 of us Banditas beat those odds and went on to final in the Golden Heart in 2006!
A few days ago, our talented Bandita (and my wonderful CP) Jo Robertson beat some very significant odds and became a semi-finalist in Amazon's Break Out Novel contest. Jo's historical manuscript Frail Blood became one of only 100 entries out of 10,000 to be selected. Yes, Jo's manuscript is in the top 1%! I remember when we discussed whether or not she should enter the contest. Since there was no entry fee and the entries were electronic, I remember telling her, "What do you have to lose?" We did not discuss the odds!
But Jo's recent success and the many other successes we Banditas have had since 2006 led me to start thinking about the odds. I found some very interesting "food for thought" and I'd like to share a little hypothetical situation and the resultant numbers:
Let's pretend that there are 1 million people who decide they are going to write a romance novel for the very first time. (Yes, the number is probably much higher but play along with me for now.) Based on what Aunty has seen and read over the years, out of those 1,000,000 only 10% (or probably much less) will ever finish writing that novel. (It's a lot more work than most people think!)
So in our imaginary sample, we now have 100,000 finished (at least in the first draft) romance novels. Probably only 25% of those will ever be submitted anywhere. I'm not talking queries or partials here, but full manuscripts. And out of those 25,000 only half or 50% will be submitted to someone who even publishes romances (sad but true, I've read this on many editors' blogs)! Or if they do publish romance, they don't accept the sub-genre of romance the writer has written.
We are now left with 12,500 novels that have even a glimmer of a chance of being published out of our original 1 million hopefuls. Or slightly over 1%! Only 1 out of 100. So now you know, if you have ever finished writing a manuscript and submitted it somewhere, you are very special indeed!
But if you think those numbers are depressing, consider this. There were slightly over 8,000 romance novels published in 2007 (according to the ROMStat report in the Sept. 08 RWR). Now before you tell Aunty that 12,500 books vying for 8,000 slots doesn't sound that bad... REMEMBER: these are first time novelists. The vast majority of the 8,000 romances publishers will buy are written by existing authors. Someone with a 'track record.' Someone with a 'readership base.'
Aunty's best guess is that only about 5% of those 8,000 books published will actually be by first time authors. Those 12,500 hopefuls are vying for 400 slots. Yes, dear readers, only about 1/3 of 1% of those 12,500 writers will ever see their book published! But in the spirit of Han Solo, some new writers will fill those 400 slots. Someone will beat those odds!
Writing is definitely not for the 'faint of heart!' Nor is it for those who are intimidated by long odds. After all, 1/3 of 1% might be an abysmally small number, but it is still better than the probability of successfully negotiating an asteroid belt!
Have you ever done something even though your chances of success were extremely small? Run some numbers by us. Dazzle Aunty and the rest of the Banditas and BBs with your daring exploits!