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Writing Success – Against All The Odds?

Writing Success – Against All the Odds?

headshot of C Lee McKenzie

C Lee McKenzie, hybrid author and key member of the Insecure Writers' Support Group, goes back to the start of every writer's story

No matter how long or short your self-publishing career has been to date, and no matter how many or how few books you have sold, chances are that at some point – maybe at many points – you've asked yourself “why do I bother?

C Lee McKenzie, hybrid author and part of the management team of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, takes a clear look at the odds of success, rejects the role of chance in the writer's career, and goes full circle to why we started our author journeys in the first place, ending with an uplifting message.


Against All the Odds – that’s not just an 80’s movie and Phil Collins song. It feels like our chances to make it in this industry.

What are our odds? Slim at best.

Consider this:

  • Agents get around 5,000 queries a year
  • 90% of those queries are weeded out immediately
  • Between 600,000 and 1 million books are published every year – in the USA alone
  • The average book sells 3,000 copies in its lifetime
  • Authors making $25,000 or more a year – less than 700 big five, less than 500 small press, and over 1,600 indie authors
  • Authors making $100,000 a year – fewer than 160 traditionally published and 425 indie published
  • As many as 50% of all books fail

Excited yet? Ready to query and market your heart out? Or do you just want to throw in the towel?

Publishing Is Not a Lottery

cover of Double Negative by C Lee McKenzie

C Lee McKenzie writes middle grade and young adult novels

When we look at these statistics, it’s depressing. But they’re just numbers, like the lottery.

But in the lottery, it’s sheer luck and nothing else. In the writing business, we have more options than those numbers. We can base the odds on our own merits and efforts.

Of course, sometimes that’s not much better. Consider my own journey, and I’m only sharing this because, after several years of associating with other authors, I know I’m not alone. My story can represent a lot of others.

  • I sold my debut novel 2009 with an advance $5000.
  • I sold my second novel 2012 with an advance $6000.
  • My publisher then went out of business and it took me 6+ months to get my rights back, and it wasn’t easy or pleasant.
  • I re-published the first two books, but sales were miserable because I didn’t know how to market. I’d expected help from the publisher, but that didn’t happen.
  • I placed a third and fourth book with a new press. Sales are steady, but not brilliant.
  • I self-published three middle-grade books with moderate sales.
  • I placed a fourth middle-grade book with a small press. This one’s not published yet.
  • I signed with an agent, but she hasn’t landed any contracts for me so far.
  • My tax guy is now using words like “hobby” when he comes to my writing expenses.

If I had to depend on book sales to eat, I’d be very thin. 🙂

How to Beat the Odds and Keep Writing

How do we stay motivated through all of that?

What can we do to succeed against all odds?

We can play a lot of motivational music. I Believe In You comes to mind.

Or we can go back to the beginning of our journeys:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Why do we write?

The answer’s easy. We write because we love it.

Despite what we might want to achieve now that we’re in the middle of this business, we began writing because we enjoyed the excitement of creating something out of an idea. We wanted to share our stories with others. Even if it was just one other person. It’s that joy of someone “getting it” – and “getting us” – that keeps us at the keyboard or with pencil in hand.

And that’s what will keep us going. Despite those odds!

OVER TO YOU What keeps you motivated to keep writing when you're feeling discouraged? Do you have any top tips to share on keeping going?

Why indie #authors keep writing against the odds - and why successful #selfpublishing is not a lottery - by @cleemckenzie Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Author: Lee McKenzie

I love to write for young readers, and I write both young adult and middle grade fiction. I fall into the hybrid author category with four traditionally published young adult novels - Sliding on the Edge, The Princess of Las Pulgas, Double Negative and Sudden Secrets - and three self-published middle grade adventure/fantasies. Sign of the Green Dragon is my third Indie. Alligators Overhead and the sequel, The Great Time Lock Disaster were my first two. It’s fun to know both sides of this writing business. Italia Gandolfo represents my young adult books.


This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. You said it. I write because I love it. This isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation. I live for story, I consume stories (by reading or watching them), and I offer up stories to others in turn. I’m hoping to make a living at this because I love doing this more than anything. This is what I want to devote my finite life span to, creating, crafting, and releasing stories.

    1. Hi Kari,

      I’ve been forever in getting back here to reply to comments. My computer took a nose dive last month, then I became involved in a couple of book launches. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in the very thing I love to do, even with all it’s frustrations and miseries. Your comment was perfect here. I hope you get to do exactly what you wish for.

  2. Thank you for sharing this article and the specifics of your personal publishing journey! Knowing the truth is a great help, even if it isn’t always what we indie authors want to hear.

  3. Part of it, is the joy of creating and inhabiting a world for awhile. I love it when my characters come alive and visit me in the quiet of the evening. At those times, the story writes itself and there is nothing quite as powerful. Writing helps me make sense of things and gives me purpose.

  4. Hello Lee, and thanks for your post. Perhaps writing for young readers is part of what motivates you. The idea of engaging and inspiring young readers sounds good to me.

    But I write for adults, and speaking for myself I am no longer motivated to write because I love it. I write because it’s pretty much all I know how to do. If as an older writer I had a clue as to how to market myself and my work in the age of high-tech, I might also love writing for the satisfactions that come from having readers. Those techniques have eluded me, but still I write. And then I pay professionals to design my covers, lay out my novels, and publish my work. Again, other than its being the one thing I’m any good at, I no longer have a clue as to what motivates me to do this.
    Thanks again for your post.

    1. Experience helps a lot, Barry, and you have it. You might need motivation in the beginning, but with momentum, you just go full speed ahead because that’s the way it is.

      I do write for younger readers at the middle grade level, but guess my surprise when I discovered that my young adult readers were often 50+ men and women. Yep. They love YA. I didn’t have a clue that would happen.

      Here’s to continuing on your path of writing!

  5. This is so true. When I am feeling the despair, I go back to why I started this madness: the story. I have been trying to hit my word count this month/week/day and I was writing and thought, I’m having fun. I’m not going to rush this. And the word count has been hitting anyway. But I’m having fun.

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