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I did some research for my blog today. Excitement abounds. (Normally I just wake up with a rant on and shove it on the page.) I typed the question 'What are the odds...?' and added some writing parameters.

Since I wouldn't want to take this research palaver too far I opened the first of links. Let's see:

Odds of being published - fewer than 1%
Odds of getting a literary agent - anywhere between 1 (2/2000 mss) and 10% (3% is pretty well known. Essentially 97% of submissions either don't follow the guidance, aren't in the agent's field, or are just too riddled with errors to be salvageable)
Odds of your agent getting you a good publishing deal (all right, all right, it still stings :D) - 1-10%.

I could go on, through pages and pages and pages of these responses, and they'd all tell me the same thing. Chances of selling a million, of making money, of giving up the day job.... I'm facing impossible odds. I may as well spend my writing time Spreadbetting.

None of this is helpful. None of this aids creativity.

More importantly - none of it reflects the reality that I've seen. 

I started writing 5 years ago. In that time, I've had many, many writing friends, some of whom I've met after they're published, some before. But, going back those five years, I had 6 writing friends who were all at a similar part of the path as me (some had been writing longer, but all were at the we'd-like-to-make-a-go-of-it-stage.) Of those 6, I was by far the most inexperienced and the one still being giving masterclasses on such matters as Point of view and conflict.

Of those 6 writers, 1 is published, 2 have offers, 1 is agented and two have had/have interest from agents. (I've been agented, and I'm published, so there's the odds blasted a bit more.)

That's right. 6 writers. All breaking the odds. Why?

Here's where I'm going to irk some people. Sorry. (Well, I'm not really, but it's good to be polite. Even in ranting blogs.) They worked. Damn hard. Without that, a writer is relying only on luck and, with the sort of odds above, you might want a little more in your pocket.

Here, then, is my guide on how to beat the odds. (With the proviso, as ever, that this is my opinion, I know nothing etc etc.) 

1. Get the right sort of feedback  - post for critique. Take on board the guidance given. Seek knowledgeable beta readers and listen. Hang around writing sites and absorb what's relevant. Writing groups, critique circles, forums - all have their place.

2. Give feedback - critique and beta read. Because, here's the thing - what you can't see in your own work stands out in other's. Things like how to show not tell is so much easier to grasp in someone else's excerpt. Pacing and what works, point of view and what pulls a reader from the story. A writer who critiques learns the self-editing skills they'll be expected to have when they do beat the odds.

3. Research.

What makes a good story - Some people read books (Save the Cat gets recommended a lot, although I'm not a big book-learner. I did enjoy King's On Writing, however). Some study books they read and work out where the conflict is. However they do it, they find out what makes a good story and they try to apply it. (Have I mentioned application? This blog is all about application.)

The business - Learn what openings to avoid*, what cliches make agents shout 'Next!', what markets are on trend, what word counts suit certain age groups. Figure out who's writing stuff like you and look at how their's works. Learn what a good cover looks like. Learn enough about contracts - or find out where to get them checked - to understand the business.

* Not-a-great-opening: (Daniel Cody ran, sure he was going to be killed by the ravening hordes, fell and found himself sitting up in bed. The rain was falling outside, a wind howling. Shaking, he got up and went to the mirror. His blond hair was plastered to his scalp, his blue eyes wide and fearful. He had a day-old beard in place.)

4. Seek editorial guidance. This point is controversial. As much as I say 'get an editor', others say 'learn to do it yourself!' I agree. Learn to do it yourself. But learn to do it properly and, to do that, a developmental editor can be gold, but only if you take what they suggest and apply it to that, and later, mss.

5. Learn to write queries. And a synopsis. Read Queryshark's blog (the inimitable Janet Reid, no one submit without a readthrough). Perhaps visit Query Letter Hell on Absolute Write. (I did. It's brutal. I can now write a draft query in around fifteen minutes. And finish it six months later... Joking! I'm joking! mostly...)

To get an agent or a publisher you have to make the book sound interesting and enticing. That's not a black art you have to sell your soul to master. It's another skill. It's hard to learn, it'll make you weep, but it has to be done. Get on with it.

6. They learn about 'platforms'. How to interact with agents, and writers and publishers. (Note, this may not be a social media platform. Some writers - many, in fact - are pretty shy and retiring types.) They find out where to find information, how to submit, what etiquette to follow.

In short - but that makes for an unsatisfying blog, I find - people who beat the odds are professional. It's not about shoving a book out. It's not about rushing it. It's about learning how to be a writer. About learning how to do so professionally. All writers I know who are successful - from published to self published, from household names to niche-but-chic - are professional. Some learn it as they go. Some learn it first. But all of them take it seriously.

So, there you go. What odds? Han was right - being told them doesn't help. Having the knowledge to overcome them does.

More about Jo can be tracked down from her website:


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