This information comes from a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and writer, William Dietrich. He wrote an article about the odds of success as a writer in 2013 for Huffington Post. He speaks of the millions of dollars writers made in 2012 (yes, I realize it is now 2019), according to Forbes, but he also talks about the rejections they all got before they became a household name. I’m focusing on the rejections and not the amount of money made because let’s not make it too depressing.
Before I begin with these statistics, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, out of the 145,900 American people they consider writers and authors, the median wage earned was $55,420. For my comparison, according to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2018 the median wage was $36,483 for actors and the median wage for writers and authors was $62,170. The good news is it seems an American has a better chance of earning money as a writer than as an actor. Sorry for those not living in the U.S. (note some sarcasm), but let’s be honest, it’s tricky and not an easy task no matter where you live.
Dietrich goes on to say the most successful authors have a combination of talent, persistence, and luck. How it is broken down, I’m not sure. I would say people need a lot more persistence and talent because as they say luck is not a common occurrence although in some cases it’s the other way around. I’m not mentioning any author names, but let’s be honest here. A Harlequin romance novel is simpler to write about than a historical novel. Google estimates 130 million books have been published so far and let’s hope yours and mine will be added to the list later.
Janet Evanovich wrote 10 years before getting published. She wrote romance first before changing it up.
Stephen King was rejected 30 times for Carrie. He threw it away, only for his wife Tabitha to take it out again.
John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill (great book and movie) was rejected 12 times and unsuccessfully tried to sell it out of his car. At least he had his daytime job as a lawyer to support himself.
Judy Blume had nothing but rejections for two straight years, but since has sold over 80 million copies of her books.
Rex Pickett was rejected 16 times for Sideways and received an advance of only $5,000 before being picked up for a film.
J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times by British publishing houses for Harry Potter. It was printed for a £1,500 advance after a publisher’s eight-year-old daughter pleaded for it. Damn smart kid, if you ask me.
Dan Brown sold less than 10,000 copies of three book before The Da Vinci Code.
C.S. Lewis was rejected 800 times.
As if you haven’t heard enough of the daunting task of getting published, Dietrich lists even more rejections. Here they are in no particular order.
Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times.
Dune was rejected 20 times.
A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 29 times.
Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times.
Kon Tiki was rejected 20 times.
Watership Down was rejected 17 times.
The Dubliners was rejected 22 times.
As you can see, these numbers are staggering, but shouldn’t be surprising. Okay, maybe for C.S. Lewis. Often it is the right time at the right place or the up and coming writer, but also as Dietrich notes the right person on the right day. Of course, having a great story helps and adhering to as many writing rules as you can contend with, but at the end of the day it’s essentially your story (every freaking bit of it).
If I took away anything from this, it’s to keep going no matter what the hell happens 20 years from now or how damn little progress seems to be made. Because if the odds are so low to begin with getting published and sell thousands of copies of your book, you might as well more focus on the parts you can control. There is nothing wrong with thinking and dreaming big because we’ve all done it and more than once. I would probably have been decent in other traditional jobs where writing is involved, but that obviously isn’t what I wanted. The reality I hold onto is the ability to still write even though I bitch and moan about it off and on. With this in mind, I’m going to write now.