Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

What Are A Writer’s Odds of “Success”?

“Pollsters report more than 80 percent of Americans would like to be an author, and in 2011 statisticians counted 329,259 books published in the United States, and 2.2 million books published in the world. Google estimates 130 million books have been published in human history.”

That quote is from an article by author William Dietrich called The Writer’s Odds.

“Books” in the quote would be more properly called “Unique Titles”.

That figure of 2.2 million/year might be a bit high since Bowker says it was more like 1.5 million

But, if we take the higher figure, each day, world-wide, some 6,027 books are born

The lower one gives about 4,110 books a day

Either way, what are the “odds” any one of those books will bring its author “success”?

In a post I did back in November of 2011, How Do You Measure Success?, I said:

“Who made it seem success wasn’t merely the next stage, from which further action becomes possible, but rather a pinnacle of achievement that leaves all other contenders breathless on the sides of the conquered mountain? So, who did that? Business people? Fundamentalist religious folk? Football coaches?”

“Success” comes from roots that mean “come close after”.

Society has boosted its meaning to something like “beat all the odds”

Mr. Dietrich’s article is written from the standpoint of traditional publishing so having a book rejected by an editor is considered not succeeding.

From that article:

“…rejection counts: Gone With the Wind, 38 times, Dune, 20 times, A Wrinkle in Time, 29 times, Lord of the Flies, 20 times, Kon Tiki, 20 times, Watership Down, 17 times, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, 18 times, Chicken Soup for the Soul, 33 times, James Joyce’s The Dubliners, 22 times, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, more than 100 times, MASH, 21 times.

“C.S. Lewis got 800 rejections, and Western writer Louis L’Amour 200. Even The Diary of Anne Frank got numerous rejections.”

And, a bit later in the article:

“As instructive as all this is, the odds of any author making it big remain very long, rejected or not. Nielson Bookscan reported in 2004 that of 1.2 million books tracked, only 25,000 – barely more than 2 percent – sold more than 5,000 copies.

“In 2006, Publisher’s Weekly said the average book sells less than 500 copies.”

So, if you’re a writer, do you want the success of being accepted by a traditional publisher?

Do you want the book to sell more than 500 copies?

If you were to self-publish, how many books sold would count as success?



In that past post of mine I quoted up there, after talking about the state (at that time) of my own book, I summarized my success with these words:

“I’ve written and published a book that is the core of my life’s work, begun 23 years ago and extending toward my last breath

I haven’t sold very many copies and I’ve given away around 323 copies

But, I’m still succeeding—taking the next steps—moving forward with my own brand of promotion—feeling like my efforts will, in and of themselves, constitute my own “success”

And, in the swirling frenzy of the current book-wars—the straining for the bestseller and the blockbuster—I can relax, do things my own way, and say, in the words of a character in my book:

“Patience is our weapon of choice.”

Would you like a free copy of my book?
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For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
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2 responses to “What Are A Writer’s Odds of “Success”?

  1. Pingback: Want To Be A Bestselling Author? ~ Don’t Read This Blog . . . | Notes from An Alien

  2. Pingback: Writers & Money ~ What A Lovely Affair | Notes from An Alien

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