Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are There Really That Many People Out There Writing Books?

I've been getting this question quite a bit lately. I guess it's a bit boggling to the mind to think about the queries agents receive and to contemplate the authors behind them, and the sheer number of people out there working on books.

Are there really 15,000+ people a year querying agents? Are there really that many novels and memoirs and self-help books and alien encounters of the dubious kind? There are really that many people writing books? Really?

There's only one way to answer this question: yes, there are. There really are.

But there's a Part II to the answer, which is, as Kristin Nelson recently wrote: don't worry about those other books out there.

It's so tempting to feel as if your books is in competition with all of those other books on submission, not to mention the ones coming out by already-popular authors, and to be bogged down by the sheer impossible odds of it all. It's temping to want someone else's success story to be yours and to measure whatever success you've achieved against someone who has "made it."

Don't do it. The only person you're in competition with is yourself. You can't control how many people are out there, how many queries agents are getting, how many celebrities are writing books, etc. etc.

All you can control is your own work. Focus on that. The odds are just numbers. Don't let them get you down.






111 comments:

Krista V. said...

Of course, how do we know it's not just 5 people querying 3,000 manuscripts apiece (and all under different pseudonyms)? :)

Joanna St. James said...

ha ha Krista, 15000 queries does not seem a lot compared to the world's literate population.

Phil said...

Excellent advice, Nathan, and really, if you're writing for the sole reason of being published, then you're in for a tough time regardless. Anybody who quits writing because they think the odds of their getting published are too high probably wasn't that passionate or dedicated to begin with.

My creative writing teacher in college said on our first day, 'If you can do anything else other than write, do that.' I thought it was harsh at the time, but see now that really, the only people brave/foolish enough to commit to the long haul are the ones who love writing too damn much to quit.

Steppe said...

I almost got first comment on this because my other post on the Beatles controversy got zapped by your super-user privileges as editor.

This is the crux of it all no?
It is all about the power of the story and the amount of craftsmanship applied to it's execution. I'm satisfied with my storytelling but willingly improving my craftsmanship and execution in service to the storytelling. Most books are retreads.
The stories people desperately want to read always end up encoded in subsidiary works because telling the whole story is as difficult as writing The Odyssey and Wuthering Heights simultaneously plus throwing in six million zombies. As Tony Soprano would say to his cohorts every other episode: "fuhgeddaboudit"
At least until my skills improve/


Looking for the official spelling? Forget about it.

Consensus is definitely for "fuhgeddaboudit." But at least 53 different spellings can be found on the web. As of December 2004, here are the top ten...
spelling -- (google hits) -- (nytimes.com hits)

fuhgeddaboudit (82200) (20)
fuggedaboudit (6760) (14)
fuggedaboutit (6040) (4)
fuhgeddaboutit (5770) (35)
fuggetaboutit (3760) (0)
fuhgetaboutit (3430) (2)
fuhgedaboudit (2530) (8)
fahgetaboutit (2470) (0)
fugedaboudit (2240) (0)
fugetaboutit (2010) (0)

Geoff said...

Great reminder, Nathan. Thank you for sharing.

Remilda Graystone said...

Loved this post. So true. I also read somewhere that there really is no competition between books because, as a reader, you don't have to choose between two books. You can get both--or all twenty. It's not an either/or thing.

Remilda Graystone said...

Er, my first comment was a bit confusing, but I still hope people get the gist of it.

Rachael Harrie said...

Great advice Nathan. And once you stop worrying about what all the other writers out there are doing, you free up heaps of extra energy to focus on your own writing and on making it better. I've always approached my own writing with the philosophy that I'm in competition with myself rather than anyone else - in other words, every time I write, I need to improve on my previous writing pieces...

Mira said...

I so agree with this post! You really are only in competition with yourself, because if you write a killer book, people will want to read it. No matter how many other books they also want to read.

It's not like people say to themselves "Oh, no. I won't read Harry Potter, because I'm busy reading the Da Vinci Code." No, they say, "I need something new to read once I'm done with the Da Vinci Code. Heard that Potter book is good."

Like most everyone, I have my days of failing courage and jealousy of other writers. But I try to keep two things in mind. The first is the more good books people read, the more good books they want to read. A good book will leave the reader wanting more, more, more. So, that's good for everyone.

Also, I love to read good books. Love it. I'm not just a writer, I'm a reader. In fact, I'm a reader first. So, bring on the great books. The more the merrier. I'll read them, love them, learn from them. They'll enhance my writing, and my life.

So, the more the merrier! I can't always remember that, but when I can, I feel much better.

And the last point - every piece of writing, even when it's derivitive, is unique. No one can write the books you write. No one. Not a single person on earth. So, no one can really compete with you, because you're product is one of a kind.

Phew. I went on a typing flurry here. :p

Thanks for the post and the encouragement, Nathan! :)

Brown Bear said...

Oh thank you for the post!!!

This did always cross my mind. You're words of encouragement put me at ease.

LTM said...

wow--thx, Nathan! I was actually struggling w/this very problem and telling myself your very words. Natch it works better when hearing it from a "pro"~ ;p

M.A.Leslie said...

I don't disagree with you in any way Nathan, but like you have said in the recent past. We are dreamers. It is really, really, really hard to keep those thoughts out of my head. I try but by nature I am an extremely competitive person. I'll just have to do like you said and face off with that guy in the mirror. As usual, you chimed in with a post when it was needed.

Josin L. McQuein said...

15,000? Pfft. That's nothin' Try writing screenplays. The estimate there is 50,000 per year.

See? I just made your job seem easier. :-D

*ducks flying tomatoes, and possibly copies of Jacob Wonderbar*

Anonymous said...

Its really difficult to be supportive to other aspiring authors and still not view them as competition. I struggle with that because I know how much I enjoy writing and I appreciate others who share that joy. And when people post cheerful announcements of manuscript requests I grit my teeth and type congratulations. Jealousy is an ugly thing.

Nathan Bransford said...

josin-

Ha! True, though I actually get at least 1,000 of those screenplay submissions a year myself even though I don't rep them.

Catherine A. Winn said...

I needed to read that. Sometimes thinking about the competition out there is very discouraging. It's nice to be reminded to focus on my own work ;)

Stephanie said...

On a day when one could be discouraged...say, because your youngest is home sick with diarrhea and your water company tells you AFTER they've turned the water off, "No water all day for maintenance,"...your post gives me a warm fuzzy inside. Or possibly, I'm getting the crud too.

Either way, you are so supportive. Thanks!

Down the well said...

I was in the workshop that Kristin wrote about. It really is daunting to hear that her agency gets over one hundred queries a day -- 36,000 a year -- and of those they only request about 600 partials. I think the request for fulls is in the double digits.

It's tough.

But instead of thinking about the odds of failing, you put your head down and keep writing. Hard work and perseverance sometimes have a way of making all those scary numbers go away.

Travis Erwin said...

I needed to hear that. Thanks.

Sam Hranac said...

That was a kind and generous thing to say. Thank you.

Nicole MacDonald said...

Focus internally for your own writing and always wish others the best. It's NOT a competition :)

www.damselinadirtydress.com

patlaff said...

Thanks for the salve.

Allison M. Dickson said...

I think I might have to somewhat disagree with Mr. Bransford on this. Excellent writers are getting turned away at the gates every day, either by paranoid publishers who won't buy anything that isn't a guaranteed commercial blockbuster, and they'll even buy sub-par writing with commercial concepts, hoping or even counting on the fact that audiences these days are less and less discerning about the quality of writing out there. They tell otherwise great authors, authors who have agents even, that while their work is enjoyable and well-written, it isn't "suited to the market" right now. This translates to: "Your name isn't Stephenie Meyer or Snookie, so we're gonna have to pass."

It isn't enough to be an excellent writer. You have to have your excellent book be deemed suitable for "the market," which as we know is changing daily and is being controlled by an industry that is by and large terrified of those changes and loathe to depart from its wasteful excesses of yesterday.

Not to say that I don't believe in the publishing industry's ability to right itself. But let's not kid ourselves here. If all it took to get published was to write an awesome book and be an amazing writer, well ... Twilight. Need I say more?

Allison M. Dickson said...

Though I will add that I will not let anything stop me from getting my work published. I believe in it, and I believe it will find an audience and I believe I will only become better the more I continue to write. But I make no illusions about who all the key players are in this fight to the top. And it isn't just me.

Nathan Bransford said...

allison-

What I'm saying is that Snooki's book deal does not mean that someone else then doesn't get a book deal. That's not the way it works. The number of books publishers publish, and the number of books readers read is elastic, not static.

It's obviously not endlessly elastic, and there are books that get crowded out and overlooked, but it's completely outside of an author's control.

Rick Daley said...

If the odds get you down, don't get mad, get even.

WORD VERIFICATION: lochsi. A Spanish affirmation of a Scottish lake.

Steppe said...

@Allison M. Dickson...

That's true but somebody sold The Event to NBC and LOST to ABC so the pendulum is swinging back towards innovation.

Anita Saxena said...

This post confirms I'm not crazy, because I stopped worrying about the competition a long time ago. When I was a competitive ice skater, my primary goal was to put out the best program possible. Land my jumps and put my heart and soul into skating the program. The judges will do what they do. There will always be subjectivity. I guess I've taken that mind set with writing. My goal is to write the best book that I can, what happens after that is not in my hands.

swampfox said...

I can't imagine a better scenario than to be in competition with yourself. How can you lose?

Phil said...

Oh! Reminds me of a favorite saying of mine:

"Strike not when the iron is hot, but make the iron hot by striking."

Perseverance and diligence win out!

Marsha Sigman said...

There is room for all of us and everyone has a different voice so how can we be in competition?

If you work hard, and are persistent, then your work will stand out.
And telling myself this over and over is what makes me feel better!

Ian said...

@Allison: Well said.

I too must respectfully disagree with Mr. Bransford. I'm agented, and we've been told numerous times by numerous editors that they love the writing, but can't buy it because of some thinly-veiled excuse which really means "We're afraid to take a chance on it." And when I see writers who aren't very good getting deals because they wrote something deemed commercially-viable, how can I help but see them as direct competition?

Clearly, excellent writing isn't good enough in the current publishing climate. You must be commercially-viable first and foremost, and that means a competitive industry where the best commercial manuscript gets the nod, whereas a possibly better-but-risky one gets passed over.

Tina Lynn said...

I heart you. In a very, "professional" way. :)

The Red Angel said...

Wow, this post had a really significant impact on me. I recently just changed my major from Psychology to Journalism after realizing that writing was truly what I wanted to do...not just as a side job, but as a career.

Writing has always been an iffy thing with my family since they think it's an extremely competitive avenue of expression. But I've decided I'd rather be working hard and happy than getting bucks for a job that I dread going to each day. :) Thanks for reassuring me, Nathan.

Honors Code said...

Two quotes that I find helpful when the odds start getting to me are:

1."Never tell me the odds!", Ham Solo, The Empire Strikes Back

2."All things being equal, attitude wins. All things NOT being equal, attitude sometimes STILL wins." - Dave Ramsey

J. Stryker said...

I agree...time spent worrying is time wasted in all areas of life. I liked Phil's comment from the writing professor. I've tried doing other things and have been miserable. Being miserable is also a waste of time when it's limited by the fact that, last time I checked, I'm moral and the clock is ticking.

P.S. I'm not a fatalist...just a realist.

Joann Swanson said...

Between this post and Betsy Lerner's recently updated Forest for the Trees, I feel positively validated!

Marilyn Peake said...

Wow, I'm surprised to hear it's only 15,000. Lots of companies and certainly the film business (including the indie film business) which actually has to audition people receive A LOT more applications than that.

J. Stryker said...

Haha...had to laugh at myself. I'm mortal. With the t. Should have editted more closely...

Malia Sutton said...

What I'd like to know is how many people realize that writing might not be for them after they've pursued it for a length of time?

In other words, I believe everyone has a gift of one kind of another. Everyone! But that doesn't necessarily mean it's writing.

I tried painting; it didn't work. I tried sculpting; it didn't work. I tried a few other things and they didn't work. I moved on and found that I loved working in publishing, and I've been happy.

You have to *love* what you do.

Marilyn Peake said...

I agree with Allison and Ian. I know quite a few authors who have received personal emails and phone calls from agents, telling them how wonderful their books are, but how they can't take them on as clients because they're not sure their books would sell enough copies. One of the emails was so full of praise for the book, the author at first thought it was an acceptance letter.

Modern Military Mother said...

120,000 books per year published in the UK alone. Brand is everything.

Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, the only way is up.....

Mira said...

Although I understand that folks may be receiving rejection letters based on the current market, I don't think that contradicts this post at all!

Just because your work isn't being publishing NOW doesn't mean it won't be published at some point. And when it is published, if you have a good product, it will be successful.

Please understand - I'm not defending publishing for tightening up - in fact, with respect, I think they are nuts to push away good authors with self-publishing waiting to welcome those authors with open arms. I'm just saying - look at the big picture.

Options are only going to expand, timing is only going to get better, and if your work is good, it will find a home - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

So, here's looking at us, sweethearts! Ha! Couln't resist. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

Ian and Marilyn-

Like I said, lists and readership are elastic. Not endlessly so, but the main variable is a publishers' enthusiasm. I don't see how deciding about a project because of lack of commercial viability relates to this post, except in the abstract.

And really, I'm not saying that there's no competition between books period at all period, but rather that you don't have control over it so there's not much sense in worrying about it.

Scott said...

It's kind of like playing a good round of golf, Nathan; it's you against the course, everyone else is superfluous.

Liberty Speidel said...

I love the quotes that Phil and Honors posted:

Strike not when the iron is hot, but make the iron hot by striking.

and

Never tell me the odds!

Nathan, I think you wrote this at just the right time. Very encouraging. Thank you. I think the intimidation factor (that and trying to have my book just right) has kept me from querying right now. One out of 15,000 seems daunting, and makes me that much more crazy to want to make sure my work is as up to snuff as it can be. I want to impress an agent (maybe you!) with my writing; I don't want to be one more of the idiots pitching their stories who don't know how to craft an artful, intriguing yarn.

Chris said...

I needed this today. Badly. Thank you. :)

David Klein said...

Writers will write whether or not they can get published. But if they want to get published, they are in competition with those 15K and more.

T. Anne said...

Thank you for being so encouraging! Each time I sit down to write I put forth my best effort. My dream is very much alive and l look forward to publication. If we don't believe in ourselves the battle is already lost.

Ian said...

@David Klein: I agree.

@Nathan: I believe it is a valid consideration. Where's my incentive as a writer to write something off the beaten path when that's not what the publishers are buying? If I want to have a chance at consideration, I have to write what's selling-urban fantasy, for example. Then I'm competing with everyone else submitting urban fantasy. If mine is better, maybe it gets picked up over someone else's. That's what I mean by the industry makes writers compete against one another.

Sara Flower said...

Great advice! Yeah I don't let stats get to me. There are a lot of different factors influencing those. The bottom line is that someone will eventually see something in your book when it is ready.

I should also add that a perfect query letter is essential!

J. R. McLemore said...

I think it's actually a double-edged sword for a writer. I mean, sometimes when I stand around in a Barnes & Noble and look at all the books surrounding me, I feel like my chances of making it are daunting, that I'm just not worthy. Of course, there are other times when I've had a super writing session that I find myself in the same surroundings thinking, I can do this! If all of these people can do, so can I!

Thanks for the encouragement, Nathan.

Nathan Bransford said...

ian-

Well, I don't agree with the strategy that one should write what's selling at that moment. Chances are you're going to be too late. It's better to write what you love and write a great story even if it's not in a genre considered hot. Sure, you may still miss the market, but trying to time the market is impossible.

Katie said...

Thanks for that encouragement, Nathan!
<>< Katie

DeAnna said...

On the one hand, if you're trying to sell oranges to an apple distributer - doesn't matter how good the orange is.

On the other hand, if the apple sellers are like, "Sheesh, oranges, who wants those?" then perhaps it's time to look to someone who sells oranges, or sell them on your own.

Writers are in competition with themselves? Really? Who loses? I thought we were all in this together, trying to find our readers. Every person who reads Snooki's book is more likely to read yours than someone who doesn't read, eh?

StaceyW said...

I'd never thought about that question before I started writing myself. But now, when I tell people I'm working on a novel, it's amazing how many people say either (A), that their cousin's friend's uncle's neighbor just got published or (B), that they want to write a book, too.

And the online community of writers is pretty staggering in and of itself. Yes, there are a whooooole lot of us out here.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Thanks for this! I needed to hear it today! :)

Vee said...

Honestly, I thought I was in competition with way more than 15,000, since one out of every two Americans feel they should write a book--and only 15,000 in one year did? I actually feel ENCOURAGED by that number.

Ian said...

In re: market timing

I haven't seen any indications over the past few years that the publishing markets are prone to wild flights of fancy. Urban fantasy isn't going to go away tomorrow to be replaced by ninja sheep fantasy (although how cool would that be?). Slap a YA together and it will have a better shot than the same tale with a 40-ish character. Science fiction is dying off by leaps and bounds. You can write to the market, and most people do. If you write faster, perhaps you can take advantage of rising trends like steampunk, but I bet steampunk is still trending in a year, maybe longer.

A writer who can crank out a book in less than 12 months will be able to write what's selling and still have a better shot than one who just writes great ninja sheep tales and waits for them to become hot.

I guess my point is that yes, the market changes, but like anything else, it does so slowly and somewhat predictably

Kristy said...

You're absolutely right. Only you have your own voice. Own it.

Les Edgerton said...

The Question: Are there that many people out there writing books?

The Answer: There are that many people out there typing...

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

This post made my whole day! I just submitted a manuscript yesterday (ah, the agony of waiting!) and all too often, I tell myself I'm going to fail just from the sheer number of other authors out there vying for the same thing.

:D You can get rejected 1000 times but it only takes 1 acceptance to hit the top.

Joshua Peacock said...

Besides, we're writers, right? We don't deal with numbers. So keep on truckin'.

Liz Hollar said...

But how many people are regular readers? What's the writer to obsessive reader ratio?
Wonderful post. It's nice to remember that we're writing because we enjoy it.

Scott said...

I was going to use that question as my crutch and limp away without making a comment becasue, you know, 63 comments. How can my comment be noticed among so many. Of course that would have meant that I learned nothing from your post. Well said. Very positive.

Steppe said...

My heart goes out to anyone who has worked really hard on a well crafted original tale with solid writing skill that can't get it published.
At that point you have to take stock of your own soul and sense of purpose and pat yourself on the back for having the courage to dream the dream and see it through. You truly become a writer when you have pieces of work you have declared as "finished."
The rest to phrase it harshly is cult of personality bullshit compared to dreaming the dream all the way to completion. I enjoy N,s board because its a good cross section of people-artists and he also has taken the plunge into dreaming a dream and working it to the finish line.
Eventually we all get old and die. Maybe our stories live in our (hopefully) eternal souls like gardens of dreams we had the courage to build and one day own forever.

Anonymous said...

I was also surprised that it's only 15,000.

If you chunk it down -- consider the market segmentation (fiction v. non-fiction, all the genres) you will realize that there are very few you compete directly against. How many are actually writing what you write (paranormal romance, cozy mystery, police procedural thriller)?

If you look at specific audiences and genres you really are talking about 10-50 other writers dominating your specific market (in most cases). Study their work and write to their standard (or higher, in some genres that's not hard to do).

15,000? No, not even close. Seriously. It's all in how you look at those numbers. For each one of us -- depending on what we write -- it's far less. In my genre it is only about 20-3 active good writers, so the door is wide open. Readers are searching and snapping up everything they can find. That's why my books are selling so well.

Take a look at your real competition, and I think you'll find it isn't nearly as daunting.

Oscar said...

With 300 million people just here in the U.S. your chances of someone buying your book looks pretty good, even if less than half are the type who buy a book now and then.

abc said...

Coach Bransford, I need you to help me tell myself (whom I'm in competition with) to get my ass moving. It's getting late. I've wasted so many years not doing what I should be doing and instead trying to do that other thing and being stressed out about not doing what I want to be doing. Tell myself to just do it already. Thanks, coach.

Amanda said...

Such a true post. I find myself freaking out because I see all of these people pumping out books and querying multiple projects over the course of the year and I'm just trying to get a first draft completed!

I had to really take a step back and realize that my book will be better if I follow my OWN pace and not the pace of others. I have to remind myself of that every so often, though...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's how I looked at it!

So, how many are querying publishers? I bet that number is even higher.

His Lobster said...

I agree with writing the story you're passionate about *when* you're passionate about it. If you don't, if you write based on a trend (even *if* you could predict the market, publishing takes time)your work will be sub-par because your heart wasn't in it. If you're writing just to make a name for yourself or the money (yes, I heart $ just as much as the next median income girl does) then you're in the wrong business, in my opinion anyway. When I write, I live and breathe my story, the characters, and their lives...because that's what *I* love in reading a book. I want to read a book that catches me up in a current so strong that I forget I'm not really there, that it's fiction. You can't do that if you're writing something you feel "Eh..." about. And yes, the numbers can be daunting and getting rep-ed/published sometimes feels this side of no way in hell, but, really, ask yourself, "Why am I writing and who am I writing for?" If I love the story, that's what ultimately matters, if I get published, well, that's a freaking hell of a bonus!

Maggie Dana said...

Nathan:

That photo on this post ... Churchill and Atlee on VE Day, perhaps from balcony at B. Palace?

Seabrooke said...

JK Rowling submitted to 12 agents before the 13th took her. I think Stephanie Meyer submitted to 15 before one took her. Twelve people told JK Rowling, "We can't take a chance on this, it's not commercially viable."

The fact is, no one knows for sure what's commercially viable. A funny, charming, intelligent book about boy wizards that one might think would do fabulously as a follow-up to Harry Potter might do only so-so for no reason anyone can easily discern. On the flip side, fourteen years ago someone said "Whoever heard of wizard school? That's not what's selling right now. But... I love this story, maybe it's worth a shot."

I think that if you have a good book, and you have a rather liberal measure of patience, it will find a home no matter what the market currently is.

D.G. Hudson said...

A lot of people talk about writing a book, but few of those complete the task.

Some of these new writers swelling the query lines are from other professions and are experts in their fields. Time will determine if they can succeed in writing fiction.

I don't let the numbers get me down. I just keep writing.

lahn said...

Thank you.

Nancy Thompson said...

So glad to hear this Nathan. Yesterday's blog had me down, but this one pumped me up, so thanks for that!

Morgan said...

I definitely freak out about the number of writers out there sometimes. Maybe it's because I'm so involved in the young adult writing blogosphere with my own blog, but I feel like EVERYONE is writing YA right now!

Still, you're right. You can't worry about what you can't control. The best thing is to relax, try your best, and just write!

wendy said...

I'm glad that so many people are spending time writing and building hopeful aspirations. The happiest times of my life were when creating, and I think this is true for others as well. It's great that so many are tapping into their creative and spiritual sides as this is surely where all true inspiration comes from. I think the writing process is good for us: encourages us to think and not merely follow trends and current philosophies without thinking for ourselves, but to add to the culture ourselves. It encourages us to believe in ourselves and our talents and also helps us to understand other people. The whole creative process is a win-win, I think - as long as we don't allow ourselves to be defeated by despair if success doesn't come. It's the journey where the true rewards lie on many levels.

J. T. Shea said...

15,000 queries a year sounds overwhelming, and no doubt FEELS overwhelming when you’re on the receiving end, like Nathan. But compared to the US population (300 million) it’s just one in 20,000 people, or about six people in the city of Cork, where I live (and which is in Ireland, but will serve as a statistical example).

The photo? Nathan most famous client, of course. Who was written off by his teachers as an idiot but became one of history’s greatest leaders. Who had a very obvious stammer but became possibly the greatest orator ever. Not to mention one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and successful authors.

Ian, Ninja Sheep Fantasy? Definitely The Next Big Thing! BAAAAHHHH!!!!!

Yvonne Osborne said...

It seems like a lot more than that.

bethhull.com said...

Thank you for posting this. These are the right words at the right time for me.

Theresa Milstein said...

I appreciate the pep talk. Thank you.

Matthew Rush said...

15,000? Per year? Really? It cannot possibly be that low, can it? For some reason I thought one agency was fielding that many queries every year.

Are you people inflating how hard you're working Nathan?

Just kidding. As usual you make a great point. And your sage advice is very factual and makes much sense. But you also manage to tap into a writer's heart and soul as only you can do my man.

Thank you so much for motivating us to do our best over and over again. And I know it's not just smoke. You really do believe what you write here.

I've been following long enough to know that for sure.

There is only one person who cam write my novels, after all, and sometimes it takes a little reminder that the numbers and the chum don't mean spit when it all comes down to the marrow.

Bravo, sir, and thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...

The 15,000 number is very unscientific. That's just my very rough estimate for the number of queries I receive each year. It doesn't count all the other people out there who are moving to self-publishing, who don't query me, etc. etc. There are way more writers out there than that. Should have been more specific.

Jil said...

A kindly message. thank you,Sir, I needed that!

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan,

I wasn’t disagreeing with your post. I was in a hurry this afternoon, and was just responding to something that Allison and Ian said because I think their point was also relevant. When a writer’s struggling to keep on going, it isn’t enough to keep in mind that you only have control over your own writing. A writer really needs to keep in mind that, even if they exert tremendous control over their own writing and raise their skill level to an excellent level, it might not matter. The book might still only be eligible for a drawer or self-publishing because it’s not a popular enough topic or style.

As for myself, I’m actually practicing what your Blog recommended today. I’ve been writing and editing like crazy, have pulled myself almost entirely off the Internet for a while, and am determined to concentrate as much as possible on the novel I’m writing. I’m not thinking about the competition or anything else like that. It’s been fun!

Anonymous said...

"Don't do it. The only person you're in competition with is yourself. You can't control how many people are out there, how many queries agents are getting, how many celebrities are writing books, etc. etc.

All you can control is your own work. Focus on that. The odds are just numbers. Don't let them get you down."


Thank you!!!!

I may have to write a book right up your alley so I can query you one day. Even if I don't, I will send you a nice thank you note when my ship comes in. You certainly make the voyage worth all the fiery hoops that we must jump through.

Thank you, again and again.

Steve Masover said...

Two thoughts:

If you don't play, you can't win.

And if you don't enjoy the game, you might want to quit playing.

Of course I want to be published, to have my work read. But whether or not that happens, or happens soon, or happens in the way I expect or hope? I won't regret a single revision. Not a word, even. The thought of not writing is what really gives me the creeps.

Anonymous said...

Remember Larry, the Billy Crystal character in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN? He was a teacher of creative writing. Every day, he told his class, "Writers write." 'nuff sed?

When I read how many tens of thousands of books are published every year, and I see some of the absolute crap hitting the shelves, it seems to put the odds into perspective.

Old Salt

Anonymous said...

"There are way more writers out there than that"
Man, what's up? Stop freaking people out. Go take your vacation, my man. Relax.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I found this strangely depressing and comforting at the same time. There really are 15,000 people querying out there? Crap. But phew, I don't have to worry about them - I can just focus on writing the best book I can.

I guess I should get back to writing the best book(s) I can, then.

Anonymous said...

Only 15,000 per year? Is that an accurate figure for number of queries that an agent receives for an entire year? That sounds so low. From the way agents discuss queries, I always assumed it was much higher than that. In independent film companies, producers receive a higher number of complete scripts per year.

agatha82 said...

Wise words Nathan. Easy to get caught up in the "competition" thing in the beginning. Now, I don't pay attention. My novel and what I do to make it stand out and well written it what matters to me. It has to pass my own "reader" test and I'm one tough customer.

Hillsy said...

Lets get the headdesk out of the way first.

*Headdesk*

15000 to ONE AGENCY! say there are 150 agencies in the US (god knows how many there really are) of differing sizes and workloads. Guestimate that 1 in 10 of that 15000 haven't been shopped to another agent.....do the maths....it equals 225000 novels a year plus the initial 15000. 240K, or about 1 american in 1250.

Secondly: how does one know books better than what is being published are getting turned away daily? (Aside from the odd one that slips through the net, which, statistically, there always will be in a rejection pile of 214900, and is successful through self publishing). How do you KNOW there are soooo many good novels remaining unpublished?

And lastly: Can we PLEASE stop using Potter/Meyer's rejection folder as evidence that publishers know nothing. As rebuttal, I give you....(drum Roll)...Kurt Warner!!!
Considered the Greatest undrafted player of all time, was stacking shelves prior to winning the Superbowl, valued MVP and breaking the Superbowl passing record in the process, 12 year career and now has more money than god.

So using this fantastically warped logic:
- The NFL draft system is broken and should be scrapped
- The dozens of scouts working for each of the NFL teams obviously know nothing and should all be sacked
- The NFL should be going back to every player who went for a trial between the ages of 10 and 16 and re-evaluating them based on their technical skill, not their effectievness in game situations.

Is that what you're saying? No? Didn't think so.

Supply, Demand, Choice. There are as many hopefuls applicants to the few NFL places as there are authors to the shelves of the bookstore. Sometimes someone slips through the net because a HUMAN BEING has to choose between 1000 people to fill 1 spot.
Nathan's point is that the fluid nature of publishing means that that 1 slot today could be 6 tomorrow, improving your chances. So just be glad you aren't looking for a certain number on a jersey.

I Leave you with Stephen King, oracle of all things great - "[To get published] you have to be at the right place, at the right time. As we can't know when the right time is, our job [as writers] is to get to the right place and stay there."

Hillsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elie said...

Thanks, Nathan!

D.R. Chisholm said...

I agree. Mind and experience is as individual as the fingerprint. No matter how many people are writing, no one else can say what I have to say the way I will say it. Say, say, say what you want (per Paul McCartney).

Put that together with talent and skill and I ain't a-sairt.

Anonymous said...

compare pimp my novel's contra:

it's who you know.

Rachelle said...

Of course, 15,000 is a super low number. There have to be way, way more writers out there than that. One of my friends who's an author and writing teacher has more than 25,000 subscribers to his newsletter. Just looking at the follower count on popular writing blogs and Twitterers - and knowing there are thousands of writers out there that aren't even visible on the internet - leads me to believe that there must be a half a million writers at any given time pursuing publishing.

But maybe I'm just biased because of the overwhelming nature of my personal inbox each day.

Jenny said...

98% of those writing books are doing so in the erroneous belief that publication is the royal road to riches.

If the public knew the truth about how poorly compensated most authors are, including the ones whose books appear in stores, there would be a lot less people writing them.

But agents and editors hide the truth about the size of most deals and the public hears only about that handful of authors receiving the multimillions.

mfreivald said...

The odds are never what they seem.

Mira said...

J.T. - I think the 15,000 queries sent to Nathan has been mentioned on this blog previously as daunting, in terms of getting Nathan as your agent.

But I truly think these numbers are very deceptive. You don't just get one shot at publishing your book - you get tons of shots, hundreds if we are talking over years. Maybe awhile ago the door closed after a certain number of attempts, but not any more.

Other people's good books strengthen the industry and keep readers coming back. I continue to insist that we, as authors, need each other.

We do. We need other authors.

As much as I enjoy a fantasy of being the only author in the world who people want to read, I honestly think I'd have alittle trouble meeting the demand.

Other authors are not really our competition. Everyone can publish one way or another, everyone can reach an audience if their work is good.

Other authors are our comrades-in-arms.

Nathan Bransford said...

Jenny-

If by "hiding" you mean keeping our clients' financial matters confidential as a matter of ethics, then yes. Authors are welcome to reveal the size of their advances and royalties if they choose to do so. It's not my place.

lotusgirl said...

With the answer to that question being "yes," it's amazing that this post was still very encouraging. Thanks.

Leslie said...

Thank you that is exactly what I needed to hear today.

Ben Ellis said...

Needed to hear that. Too much pessimism in some circles.

J. T. Shea said...

I'm open to correction, but Hillsy's calculations seem to suggest 94% of novels (225,000 of 240,000) are only shopped to ONE agency apiece each year(!?)

Jenny, only someone shipwrecked on a desert island would be so ignorant of publishing in this year of 2010. As far as I can see, most writers have low expectations, and some agents and editors (and other writers!) are all too eager to lower those expectations even further.

Anonymous said...

Know what? I think they are copying and pasting. To those who are "saving" maybe that's a good deal. Writing books as a writer? Oh my real hard you have to be inspired all the time if not all you can write is probably bigotry, hatred and racism.

Curmudgeon said...

I am not an English major, have never taken any writing classes. I'm fifty nine years old but pretty well read. Currently I can't sit for more than two hours a day. Only in the last four months have I discovered a writing community or peers.(hardly peers I'm not that good.) I'm aware the average book only sells 180 copies.My wife has been a typesetter for thirty years.) Whats my motivation? I write about me to me.Ultimately who else are you going to write about? People seem to like it.I have fun. I learn. Why would anyone do this for money?

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