Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Attending two writing conferences this year,  I was surrounded by nearly 3,000 writers altogether. At such events, it’s easy to think that everybody in the world is writing or wants to be. To a new writer, this can be discouraging, making you feel as if the odds are well and truly stacked against your success.

What will be the secret of your success?

The reality can be very different. Many times I’ve been told  that I’m the first writer someone has met.  With so many of my friends involved in the publishing world, that can seem unlikely. Yet the truth is, like any creative artist, we writers are relatively rare. I was given evidence of this while working with a charismatic editor at Mills & Boon, Luigi Bonomi, one of the few male editors in the romance field. He went on to found a successful literary agency. I urge you to check his website if you’re interested in submitting material to the UK. Click on submission guide and authors to see the kind of writers and material the agency handles. While Luigi was visiting Australia, I asked him about a statistic I’d heard many times – that Harlequin Mills & Boon in London received something like 4,000 manuscript submissions a year, and were doing well to accept 10. Luigi soon put these daunting odds into perspective by pointing out that the total included poetry, war memoirs and a great deal of other material the company did not handle. Removing them from the statistic left a much smaller “slush pile” of books and the odds suddenly became much more attractive.

But publishers don’t deal in odds. They deal in individual books and authors and they say over and over that they don’t want clones of the authors they already publish. They want fresh new voices with something new to say, even in a tried and true field like romance. This means you’re only competing with one person – you. By submitting a story that you’re passionate about, written with skill and care, and submitted to the publisher most interested in what you write ie no war memoirs to HM&B, you greatly improve your chances of success.

The other statistic leaving me gobsmacked was quoted by Bob Mayer at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. Bob said that 90% of pitch requests are not followed up. In other words, if you make an appointment with an editor or agent to “pitch” (sell in a few words) your writing project, and the agent or editor asks you to send them a full or partial manuscript, if you follow through you’ll be in the tiny 10 per cent of writers who do.  These days, with more small presses and online publishing opportunities, there’s no need to fear the odds. It’s far more important to write and keep writing so that when you do sell, you have more to offer your eager readers.

You need to be like Judy Garland. When asked the secret of her success, she replied, “I practiced when the others had all gone.” What can you do or are you doing to improve your own chance of success?



Comments on: "As a writer you have less competition than you think" (12)

  1. Excellent post VP! So many newbie conference goers get the pants scared off them by statistics like that. It is nice to have the numbers whittled down a bit. And the pitch statistic left me a little gobsmacked although after my first conference I didn’t sent to one of the eds who requested. Guilty =) Now, I send it all to everyone! You have to be in it to win it!


  2. I was really surprised about the low number of follow ups. And it is good to hear that all 4000 submissions were not in the same genre or style. This was very informative, and encouraging.
    Now, if I only could magically find some more hours in the day to actually write…

  3. I decided this year I need to be writing for me… for the pleasure I get from telling stories and acheiving what so many people would like to do – write a 115k novel – complete!!! Sure I want the dream – the book contract – but I have to know that if it doesn’t eventuate (I’m still being positive here – really I am) then I will still enjoy the writing. My worst fear is throwing in the towel becasue I’m so disappointed. So while I believe ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me”, I also know “If it’s not to be, I’ll still write for me.”

  4. Gia Murphy said:

    Thank you for putting it into perspective.

    I think that the problem is that we tend to listen to the wrong people. The ones who haven’t made it with all their negative reasons why they haven’t.

    Better to hang with the ones who have made it, who know the truth, the positives. And VP is definitely at the top of that list.

    Thanks again

    • Thanks Gia, I prefer to inspire than tear down. There’s so much negativity in the world today, not only in publishing, that we need to keep a balance.

  5. Bronwyn, Angie and Jenn, glad you’re inspired to be in that small number of writers who follow through. Angie, I’m sure you don’t need me reminding you that you have the same number of hours in a day as Nora Roberts, Dan Brown and any other successful writer. What can you rearrange, cut out, combine to give you the time you need? Jenn, I love your new motto, “If it’s not to be, I’ll still write for me.” Valerie

  6. Wow! Thanks for the insightful post. As a beginning writer, this puts it so much more in the achievable column than before.

  7. Great post! I wince at that statistic quoted by Bob Mayer whenever I am tempted to fall behind on requested material.

  8. Enjoyed reading your post. I think I’m doing most things to network and get my name out there, at least I think I am.
    Thanks for the link. I always wonder what agents, publishers take Australian set stories. Off to take a look. 🙂

    Thank you,
    Suzanne 🙂

    • Harlequin never has a problem with Australian settings, Suzanne, except for their American line. Keri Arthur made Vampires in Melbourne work in an urban fantasy. I think a lot has to do with creating an Aussie setting that international readers can relate to, as Crocodile Dundee managed to do. Also don’t overlook the number of Australian publishers asking for women’s fiction set in both rural and urban Australia.

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