Beating the Publishing Odds

Yes, you CAN beat the odds.  You already did.

Yes, you CAN beat the odds. You already did.

What are the odds of getting a book published professionally nowadays? I’ve read everywhere from one in 5000 to one in 12,000 to one in 100,000.

They’re high. Not quite win-the-lottery odds, but high. You think you’re lucky enough to beat them? I do.

Consider this.

You are the product of 100% survivors. Since the dawn of time, every single one of your ancestors survived droughts, plagues, fires, earthquakes, meteors, Ice Ages, floods, wars, genocide, homicide, witch-burnings, Inquisitions, jihads, and in the last thirty years, Roe v. Wade, to bring forth at least one offspring that was fit to reproduce.


100% of your ancestors were winners playing at a brutal global table with odds considerably higher than it takes to win the lottery jackpot, just to be breathing in the first place.

And they had you. The two cells that got together to make you are full of winning genes. Spectacular, luckier-than-shit, magnificent genes that came together at odds of anywhere between 40,000,000 and 100,000,000 to one (any of those other sperm would not have resulted in you, nor any of those other eggs). The baby that resulted from that conception then survived a risky nine months (or thereabouts) just to be born, and however many years following that moment. To arrive here. Now.

The odds of your being YOU, and being alive to read these words at this moment are so astronomical you might as well be counting atoms in the planet to figure them.

And yet here you are. You beat all the odds to get here. You want to write, you want to sell what you write, and you’re getting a certain amount of crap from people telling you that you can’t do it, that the odds are too high, that it’s too hard.

Gimme a break. You’re HERE, dammit. Breathing, kicking, with a dream and a vision and a hunger, having passed through millennia of dangers and suffering and struggle just to get here. If you want to beat puny publishing odds: You. Will. Find. A. Way.


And then ACT.

(Wrote this in 2005. Needed to bring it to the front, because I keep hearing despair, and this is a time for challenge, and endeavor, and effort, and triumph.)

Print Friendly


Beating the Publishing Odds — 16 Comments

  1. You are right Holly! Not only did I overcome the odds of the sperms and the eggs but also getting hit in a car by a train on a rail-crossing. I have just finished my Children’s Novel and after I receive comments from the three teachers I have given it to for critique comments, make any changes I consider relevant, I will send to 5 publishers. I did self-publish a book in 2009 with some success. Thanks for your positivity and encouragement.
    Regards Colin

  2. I could not agree more with everything you said.
    I can add this small input that could help many writers.
    Don’t sweat the pressure of being published, do your best, write your best and you will progress.
    To me writing is a little more like searching for gold, sometimes all you get is sand, but if you persist you will gather some nuggets and might even find the mother lode.
    Writing also has an element of magic, that can only be reached by writing.
    Sometimes everything just falls into place in the mind
    Writig, besides all skill, has an element of magic

  3. Great that your son is home from Afghanistan – we Mum’s worry, it’s in our contract, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.
    And Yes! I’m a winner, and I WILL be published – probably not this year as December starts next week! Thanks for your inspiration!

  4. Dear Mrs. Lisle,
    I’ve enjoyed this article greatly as well as your whole website. I’m sorry, but to be true to my calling as a scientist and math teacher I’ll have to disappoint you.
    You’re using wrong statistics here. The odds that you are here is not one against I-don’t-know-how-many-billions. It’s equal to one. It’s certainty. You’re not addressing yourself to me, you’re addressing this to a random human. It’s equal to saying to a gathering of lottery-winners: oh boys, you are lucky. But you did choose lottery-winners to say your message to, and the odds that you’ll find them somewhere is one. Every lottery has “A” winner.
    The odds of beating the publishing industry actually is one against Huge Number. Because this time, you’re addressing yourself to all players, not only to the winners.
    That being said, your article is highly encouraging and I guess I understood the actual meaning: believe in yourself, use your unique experience, don’t be let down. And while the statistics were wrong, the message is true.

    • I thought I made it clear I KNEW I was addressing the lottery winners.

      To be the individual people we are, our ancestors had to beat impossible odds over and over and over. From the beginning of time.

      Being born is winning the lottery. You had no hand in it. It depended on everyone’s skill and intelligence and luck BUT yours. Getting published is the end result of acquiring a skill through persistence, and applying it diligently. It took me seven years and more than a hundred rejections. Some of them pretty nasty. But I did it.

      Anytime you’re involved with anything where your own intelligence and effort can improve your odds of winning, you can tip the odds massively in your favor.

      Writers who are willing to learn the skills are like card counters in Vegas. Except what we’re doing won’t get us dragged out the door by a big guy named Vinny.

      • Thanks; while I thought this was indeed the message, it wasn’t clear from the text itself. At least it wasn’t to me ;-) I like your comparison with card counters!

        • On card counters…I liked that too, actually. It’s the first time I found that particular metaphor for going into the game knowing what you’re doing. :D

          • Taking the card-counter metaphor a step further, one can actually control even more of their publishing destiny these days by doing their ‘writing business’ homework, making it more like being a card-counter at a table where you know all of the other players and their tendencies. I agree that the odds can be made to be reasonable by figuring out what’s important and then putting your primary efforts in that direction (e.g., story-telling vs. technically good writing).

  5. When people ask me about the chances of being published in the traditional way I tell them I won’t think about that until I’ve completed HTRYN. But, of course, I do think about it. Frequently.

    Thanks for pushing the 800 lb publishing gorilla back in her cage with your sensible and inspiring comments.

  6. Hi, Holly!
    Just a quick “thank you” for your encouragement as always – vitally important as you are aware – and your coments are so down to earth, right on, Lady! Have your formatting guidelines and am using them along with other golden words of wisdom on your website. Well, back to editing and I’m looking for the words that will trigger my prologue because I feel I do need one.

  7. I’ve read somewhere that if you look at all the possible ways human genes can combine, there are more ways of being human than there are stars in the universe. We are all unique. Mostly, that’s a good thing.

  8. Hi Holly, Thank you so much for a fantastic website. Big help to me. Would like to converse with you when your son leaves. I am so happy that he is home and you can hug him daily. Hug him for me and tell him I am just a mom in the midwest raising ” rascal” teenagers but I am so very proud of him and he will be in my prayers often. Sincerely, Lia Crull

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>