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If a person writes a novel, grammar alright, decent story, word count, etc. everything okay,

Is it a crap shoot for that person to get published? Is it just like the lottery or maybe better chances? Is it like a band hoping to get discovered or a little better than that?

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No one forum thread has ever been this enoucraging and discouraging at the same time. But I'll take all this on board and see how far I get. I hope I don't have to do all the marketing stuff myself. If I was good at that I would've gone into advertising, not writing. –  user1147 Feb 8 '11 at 15:52
    
Maybe your real question is: How much work is involved in having a good chance of being published? Most of my favourite authors a) loved reading b) really wanted to be writers, and c) wrote for many years, improving constantly though practice and study, and d) completed dozens of short stories and/or 5 or so complete novels, before they became good enough to be published. They also read lots about finding agents and editors and sent out dozens of query letters and manuscripts, networked at conventions, and racked up dozens of rejections, before finding a publisher. –  MGOwen Sep 25 '13 at 1:59
    
...So the bad news is: it's way more work than you think and you may put your heart and soul in for hours and still produce crap. BUT: the good news is, if you're willing to put in the work, and can improve (i.e.: be humble enough) you have a good chance of success. –  MGOwen Sep 25 '13 at 2:02
    
I have almost given up on my first try. I did lots of rewriting. It's an OK story but it is fully of technical problems. I think it is time to move to my next idea. –  johnny Sep 25 '13 at 2:06
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7 Answers 7

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Anyone who actively pursues publication can get published. Sometimes it can happen easily, other times it may take month or even years. Just because it's well written and is a decent novel, doesn't mean every publisher wants it. It may not be right for some publishers, and others may not think they can market a certain novel well. But if you keep trying, eventually someone will give you a shot. Sometimes you need to put that novel away for a while and work on another one; maybe that one will have better chances.

The trick is to try your best and never give up. Make sure your novel is well written, make sure you're querying the correct publishers, make sure you're being professional, and make sure you do your homework.

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Add "luck" to the tricks... –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 8 '11 at 18:22
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There is a certain amount of luck to it, but not much. There's always the chance that the acquisitions editor was cranky that day and their standards were a lot higher or the editor that picked your manuscript out of the slush pile prefers mysteries instead of the guy next to him that would rather read your sci-fi story. But over all, persistence and quality trumps luck. –  Ralph Gallagher Jan 9 '11 at 0:51
    
+1 Thats a very encouraging answer to someone like me who's just starting out. –  Peter Jan 11 '11 at 2:06
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To answer your question literally: most novels that are written will never be published. Thousands of people write a novel every year, and probably less than 1% of those novels are ever read by anyone other than the author's friends and family. Publishers and agents turn down many thousands of manuscripts a year.

However, it does not follow that publishing is a matter of getting lucky. The novels that are published are the ones that are at the top of the heap in terms of quality, so you can vastly increase your chances of being published by writing a really spectacular book. It's not enough to make no mistakes--you have to absolutely kill at some aspects of your story. (And if your story is very strong in some areas, weaknesses in other areas may be overlooked.)

Nonetheless, there is an element of luck: there are all kinds of reasons that a publisher may turn down your story other than the fact that it sucks. But this is not really a big deal. If you've written one professional-quality novel, you can write another, and once you're writing at a professional level, it's only a matter of time before someone stands up and takes notice.

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The thing with most novels that go unpublished is either the novel genuinely did suck, or the author didn't put enough effort into pursuing publication and gave up after a few rejections. –  Ralph Gallagher Jan 8 '11 at 0:57
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This is certainly true. The difficulty being, most amateur authors are notoriously poor at figuring out whether or not their novels genuinely suck. –  Standback Mar 5 '11 at 19:52
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While quality has something to do with getting something accepted, it's certainly not the only thing and for many a publisher probably not even the main thing. Instead the work has to fit into the "formula" for what that publisher has found sells. The very best novel won't get accepted if it's too different from mainstream simply because the economic risk to a publisher may be too great. A lackluster one by another author who already has a few books to her name may be accepted instead because it's almost certain to at least break even. –  jwenting Mar 7 '11 at 7:23
    
It would probably be more true to say that the novels that are published are generally toward the top of the heap in terms of quality. There's tonnes that aren't anywhere near the top, and there are probably tens or hundreds of thousands of extremely high quality novels that will never be published. –  naught101 Aug 1 '13 at 10:57
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Everything I ever needed to know about these topics is contained in two free pdf downloads by respected UK author Michael Allen. One is an actual book, the other an extended essay.

They're not pleasant reading but for any writer they are essential:

The Truth About Writing, On The Survival Of Rats In The Slush Pile

EDIT 03-02-2012: As the old links no longer work here is a link to the author's Smashwords page. Where all of his work can be found.

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/michaelallen

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On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile is interesting but too pessimistic. He tries to argue from the fact that there is some element of chance in getting published to the conclusion that getting published is all chance. –  JSBձոգչ Jan 8 '11 at 16:12
    
@JSBangs: I found it to be just about pessimistic enough but maybe that's just me. I think there is a difference between the US and UK markets. I think there are more authors trying to sell to fewer publishing houses over here. It is a nightmare. –  One Monkey Jan 8 '11 at 16:35
    
@JSBangs "some" or "all"... well, it's certainly not all chance, but how big or little is "some"? I think it's humongous. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 8 '11 at 18:24
    
How much chance is going to be based on the house you're submitting to. If you're submitting to a Big 5 publisher, there's a lot of chance involved - mostly on their side. Will they take a chance with a new author? Smaller publishing houses are based more on quality than chance. Their goals are a lot lower than a Big 5 house. A Big 5 house wants to make thousands if not millions on profit off one book. A smaller house might have a more realistic goal of making a few thousand profit. –  Ralph Gallagher Jan 9 '11 at 0:54
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There is clearly a very large element of chance in the publication of any particular novel. Once you've written a professional-quality novel, if you're a new author you still have a 90% chance of getting rejected, and getting into that other 10% is largely a matter of luck. We agree on this. However, the point I tried to make in my answer is that if you just keep writing, you'll eventually write something that hits the right place at the right time. Persistence wins out over probability. –  JSBձոգչ Jan 9 '11 at 21:45
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The truth is that most novels never will be published by another party. There are a limited number of publishers in the world and only a very few books will be selected to be published.

As an alternative in the last few years self-publishing - particularly in e-books - has become a viable and cost-effective measure for new writers to ge their works out to as wide an audience as possible. There are many sites in the world that will allow you to upload your own novel and release it as an e-book for free, then pay you a portion of every sale.

Sites such as Amazon.com and Smashwords.com will both do this for free.

If you just have to see your book in a printed and visual form, look up Do-it-yourself book binding and bind your own copies of your books. It is labor intensive, but you can make a paperback form of your novel for just a few dollars and sell them yourself, but your audience is much smaller.

As an example, I bound my own novel Future Useless and made 75 paperback copies. Each copy cost me about $1.50 to print and bind, and took many hours from start to finish. I sold most of them for $5.00 each and gave away about 25. Still, I managed to clear a good profit from the books and it helped pay some bills.

Online I published both at Smashwords.com and Amazon.com. So far I've managed to sell over 150 copies of the novel and didn't have to pay a dime to do so. It took me less than five hours to prepare the manuscript to their approved formats. Much more profitable.

More importantly, After trying for 5 years to get published, my book is being read, and I'm receiving valuable feedback on my writing.

There is a stigma to self-publishing that carries over from older times and regards the quality of the books, but in the last few years, the digital revolution and the sale of more affordable e-reader devices have started to change that perception. Now a self-published novel is not just due to poor quality, but can be seen as the author's choice of marketing instead.

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"So far I've managed to sell over 150 copies of the novel and didn't have to pay a dime to do so." If it's costing you money to publish your book, you're doing something wrong. –  Ralph Gallagher Jan 9 '11 at 21:55
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+1. I thought that was the whole point. Someone else recognizes the work as something worthy of publishing and they do all the money. –  johnny Jan 10 '11 at 22:43
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Ralph: many publishers will require some up-front money from unpublished authors. And then of course quite a few people eventually (after dozens of rejections) will take their work to a printer and cover the cost of that first hopeful printrun themselves, then lug boxes around to bookstores hoping to sell something (and eventually handing them out for free because noone will buy from an unknown author with no connections to a publisher). –  jwenting Mar 7 '11 at 7:25
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I suspect Ralph was talking about self-publishing as an e-book or print on demand. Either avenue will allow you to create and publish a book at no cost and start selling it within a week after you decide it's ready. I've sold over 150 copies of my first novel, and my only cost was the $100 I spent for a professionally designed book cover. I broke even after selling 50 books, so it's all profit from here out! –  Steven Drennon Jul 23 '11 at 4:14
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May I ask how much effort you spent on marketing? –  Tannalein Nov 20 '12 at 23:10
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eBooks are not all self-published. There are a number of legitimate publishers out there who publish eBooks exclusively, or predominantly. They may be a bit easier to get published with, as their costs are lower and they can publish more in a given time period. Some of them, in fact, may have pretty low standards, which isn't necessarily good for those who get published through them. However, others are perfectly respectable. And all of them are, imo, preferrable to going the self-published route. At the very least, they'll provide a credential for other published works, and if you're lucky, you'll get one that has good editors. (One of the hallmarks of eBooks seems to be bad grammar and overlooked typos.)

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It depends on what you mean by published.

Today more than ever there is a continuum of publishing options. What used to be called self-published is often referred to as independently published now. (This can get confusing because there are also independent publishers--a whole other thing--more on this in a moment). If you choose to publish independently, you no longer have to use an expensive vanity press or bang your head against the brick walls of the chain bookstores, which tend not to carry so-called indie titles. In fact, you don't have to print your book at all. Authors like Karen McQuestion have hit the publishing jackpot after self-publishing their novels on Kindle, promoting on the Kindle boards, seeing their sales figures rise, and ultimately receiving offers from agents, publishers, and in some cases, Amazon's own publishing arm, Encore.

So any novel can be published today by the above criterion.

If what you mean is traditionally published, there are at least three different paths.

There are the majors (Random House, HarperCollins, etc., which add up to the so-called Big 6, although imprints within these 6 bring the total to between 20 and 30 depending on what you write).

And then there are the well-established independents (Counterpoint, Overlook, Milkweed, Algonquin, Grey Wolf, Sourcebooks, Poisoned Pen, to name just a few).

Finally, there are ever more brand new, very small ("micro") presses cropping up. Four of these are Krill Press, Oak Tree Press, Echelon Press, and Wolfmont, but there are many others to check out.

If your work is good, falls within required word limits, and you have a good marketing sense and platform established by the time you begin submitting your novel, I'd say there is a much better-than-the-lottery chance that you can at least interest the publisher of one of the new, small presses in you and your work.

The majors will always be something of a lottery. In addition to an absolutely top drawer manuscript (ms), you have to get many people along the way to fall in love with your novel. First an agent, then other agents at that agency; then an editor; then everyone else at the publishing house, right up to the publisher him or herself, plus the marketing departments.

You have to have a project that hasn't been done recently or isn't forthcoming at the house, while simultaneously not being different or unusual enough that it would be hard to slot into a niche. You have to have enough of an identity that you are a good marketing bet. And then there's the intangible fact of that "falling in love" thing. We all know love is hard to find, and subjective. The requirement that 6 or more people fall in love with the same novel sets the bar so high that I'd say getting an offer from the majors is much, much less likely than not--and that's even if you're a stellar talent.

On the other hand, less than stellar stuff is published all the time--again because there's a certain capricious factor that comes of requiring so many stars to align.

My short answer is that if you're willing to entertain some of the brand new presses appearing on the scene, you should be able to get your novel published, provided it's good.

If your heart is set on the majors, you just might be better off buying that lottery ticket.

If you win, you can start your own publishing house ;)

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Luck, as in most other aspects of life plays a major role in getting published whether people want to admit it or not. Just look at the crappy novels that are famous and popular and you will get the point. On the other hand I have read some novels by unknowns that are very good and in some cases great and they will never become popular or known. even though the author has fought tooth and nail trying to make his work known. It's a crap shoot.

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