How Many Books Do You Have to Write?

I recently stumbled across a web page (linked here) that charted the number of books authors wrote before their debut. The author of this post, Ava Jae in 2015, conducted her own research on this topic, posting a twitter questionnaire for writers.

Below is a pie chart of the answers:

Now, I don’t know about you, but I was definitely taken by surprise when I saw 16.3% of authors had debuted with their first novel (and not to mention the 17.1% of authors right behind, publishing their second book). You might be thinking “But all of these authors could’ve self-published” therefore eliminating most of the validity of this chart (as anyone could self-publish any book at any time). However, Jae claims that the 200 authors who responded to her poll were traditionally published. She then combined the poll information with some specific cases she read about online, and wola, this graph.

So, taking that the stats in Jae’s post are pretty right-on, two thirds of these authors debuted by their fourth book. I think that’s pretty impressive, but here’s my question: Where do the teens fall in this study?

I, by sixteen, have written two books. So that should put me at a 63 percent chance of publishing my fourth book. Sounds great to me! Only two more books to write! Not so fast, however, because this graph doesn’t display the author’s age at publication. In fact, I don’t believe that this study relates to teen authors at all.

In my mind, the books a person writes as a teen don’t really count. As a teen you’re still in high school. You’re just entering college. You haven’t learned enough of how to write. You don’t have enough experience to really, actually consider books written in those years for traditional publication.

I can hear you now, teens, who are reading this going “What are you talking about? Of course teens can publish books, of course they count!” But I, as a teen, am only telling you that often the books you are writing now don’t count towards publication the same way adults’ books count. Like I said, when adults attempt a novel, they have their schooling behind them, and they have life experience on their side. The books you write do count, but they count not towards publication, but towards experience. Your books count because, when you are an adult ready to write a book to be published, it will be easier, better, and more satisfying. Because when you’re older you may only have to write one book, instead of four. “But you’re still saying that teens can’t publish a book.” I’m not saying that they can’t. Of course a teen can publish a book, they do it all the time. And of course you should try to publish your books, but I’m just saying that it’s a different sort of game you’re trying to play (different from the sort of things adults are facing when writing a serious book). And of course, you could always be an amazing teen who traditionally publishes—so you should definitely try. Anyway, teens, all I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t get too excited about this pie chart.

Furthermore, what about the people who have never published a book? Who wrote thirty novels and tried to publish every one and never did? These people, obviously, are not represented on this chart. This pie graph only tells you about the authors who’ve published (i.e. a very, very small percentage of the writing society). Research tells us that agents reject 96% of submissions, leaving an incredibly small amount of 4% of authors to be picked up by a publishing house, and an even smaller amount met with success upon publishing. Therefore, this chart is dealing with a very specific breed of semi-successful authors.

I understand that this might make you feel hopeless, but don’t succumb, and here’s why: Publishing might be a subjective industry, but it’s not pure luck. While it may feel like it, publishing is not like trying to win the lottery. All you have to do is be a really good writer. If you can write well, like, really, really well, and you have the grit and determination to keep going, you can and will make it.

And the only way to get better at writing is to write and read more. So what are you waiting for? Get back to it! 🙂

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