1 in 1000.
That’s a commonly cited rate for an author’s odds of publication.
But those odds don’t scare me. I’ve already beaten those odds. I’ve been the 1 in 1000 before. I’ve actually been the 1 in 50,000 before. Chances are, you have too. Everyone has had something extremely unlikely happen to them, something monumentally unusual (my dad survived a place crash when he was 19. I like flying with him because the odds of him experiencing that twice in his life are astronomical). Everyone has accomplished something despite life being stacked against them.
I got into my NASA internship by the skin of my teeth. Sure, I had a good teacher recommendation, which probably helped me get into the top 50 candidates (out of about 1500, I’ve heard). But the SC Space Grant can only send 6 people per year to NASA internships. It doesn’t matter if NASA program wants you if SC’s funding runs out. And by the end of March 2012, when I was selected, all six slots had filled.
Literally fifteen minutes before Marshall called SC Space Grant to request me, one of the slots freed up. A Citadel student revoked his acceptance. I was pulled out of Physical Chemistry to chat with the Space Grant ladies upstairs, who told me I had to make the choice immediately. If I didn’t take this slot, another student would probably be summoned by one of the Academies to replace it. Some luck, huh?
As for the 1 out of 50,000, I placed 2nd in a pool of 100,000 students when I was in 7th grade. I had the 2nd highest score on some national math competition. I still think that was a fluke, and just a result of daily practice (thanks Mr. Derrick), but hey, I’ve still got the plaque. (I also think that I may have that ratio wrong, but I’m going with the “odds of placing 1st or 2nd in a pool of 100,000” line of thinking. Which I suppose would be 1 to 50,000. As you can see, I was better at math when I was 12 :P)
Let’s also consider that the odds of getting a novel published, for skilled writers who actually know their craft, is not far off from the odds of getting a job any other field. I’ve heard that “1 in 20” is the magic ratio for “full requests per group of queries.” If you send out 20 queries, at least one agent should request a full….and that’s how you know you’re on the right track and have a publishable book. After 50-100 queries, a marketable author should have an offer of representation.
I’m amused to say that those odds are identical to how my chemistry job search went after college. My odds were almost consistently “1 interview per 20 job applications.” By the end of my 5 month search, I submitted about 60 applications. I ended up with three interviews, two of which turned into job offers.
They want you to believe that publishing is competative…and it sure is. But so is everything else! No one approached me and threw dollar bills at me to be a chemist. I had to bust my butt to find a job, particularly because chemistry is a scarce field in my town. There are maybe two dozen chemists in Charleston who aren’t Ph.D professors or managers. And you can bet that The Citadel, CofC, and CSU all graduate a few dozen chem majors every year. I certainly beat the odds and came out on top in this field….so why not writing too? All I have to do is be as marketable an author as I was a chemist. ;)