As aspiring authors, we know the odds of getting published are against us. And breaking in as a debut author is so much more difficult. But how difficult, exactly? And can debut author statistics help us better understand our chances of getting a good book publishing deal with one of the Big Five?
Getting published is a lifelong dream for many, but the reality is, very few actually make it. It takes years of rejection, heartbreak, and unrelenting perseverance. Because – here’s the truth – if publication is what you want more than anything, if you have an excellent, unique manuscript of publishable quality, and if your manuscript hits the right editor at the right time, your book eventually will get published.
There are not a certain number of book-shaped slots to be filled. Neither it is a meritocracy; you’re not winning a writing competition where your book is better than someone else’s. Getting a book deal comes down to three things: talent, perseverance, and timing. Editors are simply looking for books they love that they can sell and make money from.
21 debut author statistics
Let’s break down the numbers:
Publishing landscape statistics
- Between 600,000 and 1 million books are traditionally published every year. Even without including self-published books, that’s a hell of a lot of books on the shelves. (Forbes)
- Publishing is a $29 billion dollar industry in the United States. (Association of American Publishers)
- As of 2023, the global book publishing revenue stands at $129 billion. (WordsRated)
- Despite the pandemic, 750.9 million printed books were sold in 2020, which marks the biggest increase in a decade. (Publisher’s Weekly)
- Yet the book marketplace has hardly grown in the past 20 years in terms of revenue, with a decline of nearly 70% between 2000 and 2022, despite so many more books being published. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers)
- Print books still dominate the market, with 77% of the market share (WordsRated)
- There are nearly 50,000 writers and authors writing and working in the United States alone. (Statista)
- Between 95 and 99% of manuscripts submitted to editors are too poorly written, have a bad or unoriginal premise, or are irrelevant. These will get an instant pass or ghost. (Slushkiller)
- From the remaining 5% of high-quality manuscripts left for consideration, most are still rejected due to timing, similar books on their list, or the state of the market. (Wordsrated)
- The popular industry statistic is that between 1 and 2% of manuscripts that a publisher receives is published. In other words, they accept one or two of every hundred manuscripts they receive. (Fiction Writers’ Mentor)
- However, of those 1% and 2% that will make it, they amount to 20% of serious contenders (i.e. 1% of 5% under consideration). Much better odds! (Fiction Writers’ Mentor)
- Since agents send out to at least 12 publishers, and each publisher has a 1% success rate, the overall success rate of a debut author getting a book deal is more like 10%. Yay. (Jericho Writers)
Debut author statistics
- 8% of debut authors write at least one novel before writing what becomes their published debut, with an average of 3.24 books written before debuting. (Writability)
- The average age of debut novelists is 36. (Jim C. Hines)
- It takes about 70% of YA authors four or more years to publish their debut. (Hannah Holt)
- The average advance for a debut author is $5k to $10k, also known as a “nice deal,” with 5% to 15% royalties on print books, and 25% royalties on eBooks. (Reedsy)
- It can take debut authors a long time to earn $100k a year from book sales, with 48% taking 3-5 years, 32% taking 5-10 years, and 7% taking 10 years or more. (WrittenWordMedia)
- During the pandemic, even with a major publisher, the chance of selling more than 5,000 copies of your book was less than 2%. (BookStat)
- The backlist accounts for nearly 67% of sales, making it more difficult for debut author with just one book to sell meaningful volumes. (Third Place Books)
- Of all the fiction authors on the New York Times bestseller lists, only 14% published just one book. (EPJ Data Science)
- On a sunnier note, 41% of authors picked for Reese Witherspoon’s book club were debuts! (Kasia Manolas)
How can you increase your odds of getting published?
Some of these debut author statistics are pretty bleak, huh? So what can you do to take back control? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: write the best book you can write, that only you could write. Write the book that sets your soul on fire. Ensure that it’s grammatically correct, that the plot is robust, and the quality is exceptional. You can also work closely with your literary agent on ensuring that they submit it to the right acquisitions editors at the right publishing imprints. But aside from this… you can’t game this industry. It’s really a matter of luck, numbers, and timing. Waiting for the economy to improve, or a certain genre to bounce back in fashion, or switching genres because you think it’ll increase the odds of getting published is a fool’s errand. These are variables that can change at the drop of a hat. Focus on what you can control: your writing.
Publishing is a fickle, subjective mistress. From the above debut author statistics, it may look like the real odds of getting published are slimmer than becoming a professional athlete or making it into the Olympics. And – they are! However – and I say this as someone who has performed in an Olympics Opening Ceremony – once you are near to greatness, you only want it that much more. Yes, acknowledge the odds, but don’t dwell on them. If you fixate only on the odds, you will inevitably start spiraling.
Why the odds of getting published don’t matter
If an editor loves your excellent manuscript, the editorial board loves it, and they think that readers will love it, your odds of getting published at the moment in time become 100%. This excellent manuscript may have been rejected dozens of times, or not at all. It may be your first manuscript, or your seventeenth. It doesn’t matter; your debut novel is the first one that gets that one yes, and that one yes skyrockets you to 100%. This is why the odds don’t particularly matter. All that matters is that you keep pushing and pushing until you eventually get a yes. As we like to say here at Aspiring Author: quit when you’re dead.