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.
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 http://www.bonomiassociates.co.uk/ 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?