Will All Good Writers Be Published?


My query box is getting filled faster and faster these days. I never cease to be amazed at how many people are writing books.

Someone recently asked whether I thought that, with all the competition, will all the good writers eventually get published? With persistence and continued improvement of their work, will there be success for everyone?

I have to admit it’s one of the most difficult questions I’ve encountered, and I’ve been considering my answer for a while. The truth: I just don’t know. But there are a few things I THINK:

1. I think there are way, way more people writing books than the market can ever support. At least this is true within traditional royalty-paying publishing. So the option of self-publishing is becoming more viable, more necessary, and can definitely represent writing success for some people.

2. I think most the truly terrific storytellers will eventually be published; I think the nonfiction writers with significant platforms and winning ideas will be published. Meanwhile, countless good books may remain unpublished because they lack a certain spark that puts them over the top or captures the attention of the publishing community.

3. I think that in many, many cases, persistence WILL make the difference. Giving up too soon will guarantee you’ll never get published; pressing on is no guarantee, but at least it keeps the possibility alive and if you are constantly working on your craft and/or platform, your chances of publication increase considerably.

4. I think the ongoing challenge of the writer is to persist even with no guarantee of reaching your goal. This is where it’s really important to have deep reasons for writing that go far beyond financial success or notoriety. The challenge of persisting even without guarantees can be so difficult that you probably won’t persevere unless you simply can’t NOT write. It really has to go deep.

5. I also think there are many ways to define success, as I’ve written here before. There are so many ways to share your work, either with your family or maybe through your church, community or professional network, or through self -publishing. Each writer has to decide for herself or himself which way to go.

Wish I could give a definite YES and declare, “Of course, all good writers will eventually get published!” I don’t personally feel confident saying that.

What do you think?

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  4. Kenner R. McQuaid on January 3, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    >There is ZERO chance that all good writers will be published. I know from my experience playing music that there is some guy singing on a stage in Casper, WY right now who is twice as talented as a singer and songwriter as bands headlining arenas. But chances are that no one will ever hear him, no matter how hard he might try to market himself given what limited means he may have.It’s all who you know and what the market dictates.

  5. Amy on January 2, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    >I don't know. I've been writing for half my life. Is it worth it? Probably not, but it beats pretending like I could stop whenever I want.

    Also: Hi Rachelle! Just letting you know I'm not dead…I think.

  6. Katrina L. Lantz on December 28, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    >Very thought-provoking post, Rachelle! I agree 100% with Cynthia Leitich Smith's comment. It's my goal every year to be more driven and focused on becoming a better artist and business person. The writing. The pitch. Both sides are important. I believe all those who persevere AND improve every year will eventually get published. The key is not to fall stagnant.

  7. Amanda Daubenmeyer on December 27, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    >I have poured myself into my book and yet I have found that trying to get my book published has been harder than actually writing the book.

    My book is non-fiction and the thing that is stopping me is that I am just a stay at home mom with no platform. I am emailing my book to others to read and it is touching lives, saving marriages, bringing people to Christ and it is all completely led by God, yet I can't get it published because of no platform.

    That part was a bit frustrating, but I pressed on and God has now made a way. Someone read my book and was blown away by it and wants to donate all the money to me to self-publish. Pressing on and relying on God to make a way is key.

    All the best to all of you who are frustrated with trying to get published. Keep pressing on! If it's God's will, HE will make a way. God Bless:)

  8. Maureen on December 22, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    >My quick answer is that good storytellers will be published. It isn't enough to be a good writer. Oh and I'm definitely a number 4!

  9. Timothy on December 22, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    >Dear Mayaah and others:I take a different view about getting published. Perhaps not everyone will get published. So many authors hobble themselves with beliefs such as your list of wrongs, which to my mind add up to “it’s all a matter of chance.”I hope you will see my blog on the top five getting published myths that defeat authors.Tim

  10. Kathryn Magendie on December 22, 2010 at 8:06 AM

    >All true. And being published, even by the Big Guys, doesn’t mean all your dreams of success will necessarily come true! You still have to work work work and work somemore – unless you are very lucky and somehow hit some tidal wave at just the right time.But still, it’s the best dang job in the world.

  11. Mayaah on December 22, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    >Unfortuantely, I do not believe that all good writers will be published. *pessimist here*. Wrong timing, wrong submissions, wrong person, wrong alignment of the stars, wrong ANYTHING could prevent a novel from being written. Undoubtedly luck has a play in getting published also. Who knows what great works of literature we missed out on because they simply were not published?However, I do agree and believe that persistence is key. If a writer gives up too soon, he/she may miss his/her great chance. Though the authors that really do sparkle and shine, yes, those will have a greater advantage at getting published. Simply because they are good. 🙂

  12. B.E.T. on December 22, 2010 at 1:50 AM

    >Regardless of this not being a solid yes or no, I still found this very encouraging. Thank you very much! 🙂

  13. saffinadesforges on December 22, 2010 at 1:36 AM

    >Great blog (as usual!)…opens up a lot of discussion.I agree with most of the above comments; if you’re determined and have a voice, there is no reason that you won’t be published. If not, you can self-publish and still enjoy success, so there is an out if all else fails. The problem there is that ANYONE can publish ANYTHING (good or bad) and then the better writers are competing against others. Who will triumph?Who knows? Those who take the time building their platform, learning their craft and maybe have a little bit of luck on their side…

  14. Edward G. on December 22, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    >Here’s the caveat: If I had a platform and was great at storytelling, why would I need to be published?If I had people coming to my website to read my stories and telling me they loved them, why would I need to be published? If I won some contests, why would I need publishing?Money? Now you’re joking, right? Working at Macdonalds will pay more in the long run than novels will. Besides, there are no midlist authors anymore. There are NYT bestselling authors and first time debut authors. You’re either a hit right out of the gate, or you’ll never publish a second novel.Please correct me if I’m wrong, here.If a story is really good, and if a writer has a platform, it’s time to talk movie rights, not book publishing rights. The author with a little help from his friends can self-publish to Kindle. There’s no need anymore to be published in books.Am I right?

  15. Martha Ramirez on December 21, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    >Totally agree with you, Rachelle! Persistence WILL make the difference.

  16. Cre8tve1 on December 21, 2010 at 9:42 PM

    >Budd Schulberg, after reading some of my draft notes, gave me his card, telling me that when the ms. was ready for viewing to send it to his agent, which I did. A couple of weeks later, I received a boilerplate “we don’t accept unsolicited submissions’ letter. Since then I have had no reason to change my less than warm feelings about literary agents. Being the archetypal fool (refer to Tarot Major Arcana), I am willing to be shown another side of the industry.

  17. Sarah on December 21, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    >Seeking publication is definitely a difficult and often depressing process.I’d also like to point out that the more people buying and reading books the more room there is for more books. So everyone go buy lots of books! (It’s called suffering for your art.) 😉

  18. Beth on December 21, 2010 at 7:40 PM

    >Writing is not for the faint of heart. Because of this, many will give up. You better your chance to make it by writing daily, reading daily, paying the price to improve your English skills, and having a thick skin but a teachable heart. Most people are willing to dabble, but few are willing to see the process through. However, I believe every writer who tries, even if it’s only for awhile, will be better for having done it.

  19. Dorci on December 21, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    >I think the more I read about the million-mile high mountains there seem to be to climb in order for an unknown yahoo like me to get a single book published the more I feel like I’m getting closer to that moment where this dream is going die like the rest of them. Right there in Dorci’s Dream Cemetary, along with having one big, happy family and living on ranch. Well, who knows, maybe in heaven there are ranches and publishers for everyone who wants one. I know there’s a big, happy family.

  20. The Desert Rocks on December 21, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    >While talent, luck and persistence are all very important, I personally hope that we write to inspire, to teach, to make people smile. Yes, of course we all want to be published and successful, but if our central position and desire reflects nothing but financial gain or ego boosting fame, then we might want to review our personal goals.

  21. Michael K. Reynolds on December 21, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    >Persistence when combined with ignorance and stubbornness produces a sore cranium and bitterness. Talent is an absolute must and has almost become the commodity of the market. But with talent, persistence and the humility to learn, adapt and grow, I believe doors will always remain open.

  22. Keith on December 21, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    >I especially like what you said about the definition of success. Even if you never become famous, if you write something helps a few people, or changes a life for the better, then, in my view, you're successful.

  23. Tom Honea on December 21, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    >Damn find question!
    i have several thoughts on this subject.
    … submitting queries is too easy. anybody with a computer can type up a query letter and hit the "go" button: send it off to an agent. my guess is that agents get five or eight times the number of queries they would have gotten ten years ago. does anybody know the percentage of "good" manuscripts submitten now as opposed to then.

    … "good sellers" get published as opposed to "good literature". the most recent NY Times B/S list had: Cornwell, Grisham, Patterson, King, Larrson, Baldacci, Follett, Cussler, Sedaris, & Sparks comprising the top ten. only Kathryn Stockett and Jonathan Franzen bring a fresh voice to the top fifteen! there is little room for new writers.
    … if i, Tom Honea, submitted South of Broad and Pat Conroy submitted my novel, ( and, we are both southeners ) which would get published and immediately hit the best seller list?! … and which would get the polite rejection letter?
    … some precentage of us ( 10% ? ) are really good writers. and, as rachael says, some of us will have the patience and presistance ( stubborness ) to see the process throught. there are still some Stockett.s and Sara Gruen's out there.

  24. MJR on December 21, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    >Persistence is important. It's too easy to get discouraged and want to give up. But I think more important than persistence is the ability to separate yourself from your work. If a novel is getting a so-so reaction, go back and rewrite it from scratch, or better yet, start a new novel. I like to think of myself as a writer/apprentice who is on a loooong journey (obviously a few writers are lucky and that journey is short, but I don't think that's the case for most of us).

  25. Katherine Hyde on December 21, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    >I think you're quite right, Rachelle. I think there was a time, maybe 50 or even 20 years ago, when one might have said with confidence that all good writers would eventually get published (given sufficient persistence), but that time is gone. The ratio of writers to readers has gotten too high, and publishers have gotten too cautious. Now only those manuscripts that have "SALES" written on them in letters of fire make the cut.

    We need a new publishing model, but I'm not sure self-publishing as it stands today is the answer. I'm putting my money on authors' collectives that will provide some kind of quality control while taking advantage of inexpensive distribution methods (POD, ebooks), and thus will be able to take a risk with books that fall outside the obvious-bestseller box.

  26. D.J. Morel on December 21, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    >I agree that persistence is critical. How many writers do you know who have finished ten manuscripts and who aren't published? I don't know a single one, and I know a lot of writers.

    I met one writer at a conference who was unpublished with six finished manuscripts, but even he's the exception. For the most part, the writers I meet who aren't published haven't finished writing anything. And then there are many who have finished one manuscript, but then are so sick of it that they don't revise it all that much.

    The key really seems to be to write, finish what you start writing, and then market it relenetlessly… all while honing the craft. Then move on, and write something new.

  27. My Close Strangers on December 21, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    >This sentence is a brilliant summation of the writing life, "I think the ongoing challenge of the writer is to persist even with no guarantee of reaching your goal." Like all artists, we do it because we cannot not do it and be ourselves. Like everyone else, I want to be published, I fret about the time and money I'm investing in my project, I build my platform and move my research forward and every day I get to do that is a gift. How I cover the mortgage is a whole different question than whether the work is paying off. Thank you for this post, it is profoundly encouraging.

  28. Norma Beishir on December 21, 2010 at 12:57 PM

    >I have to agree with you, Rachelle. I know many talented writers who never got published, and so many more with such unrealistic expectations that they can't avoid eventual disappointment.

    After fourteen commercially-published novels, I opted for e-publishing for a number of reasons. I've never regretted the decision.

  29. Marilee Brothers on December 21, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    >Ditto to all you said, Rachelle. I'd like to add one more element: luck. Sometimes, it's a chance encounter. Sometimes it's catching the beginning of a wave. In my case, I entered a contest with the first chapter of my YA novel, not knowing one of the judges was Debra Dixon of Belle Books, a fantastic small press. Months later, that connection led to publication and a 5 book contract. I'm pretty small potatoes in the publishing world, but I still marvel at the serendipity of it all. Bottom line: you never know what's around the corner, so don't give up!

  30. Robin on December 21, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    >Great post as always, but here is my question, what is a "significant platform"? As a humor columnist and non-fiction writer I wonder where the bar is? I know what I'm supposed to be doing but not sure when it's enough? Especially interested in regards to CBA non-fic publishing!!
    Thanks and Merry Christmas Rachelle!!

  31. Lawrence W. Wilson on December 21, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    >Rachelle … I don't think all good writers will be published. One reason is that not all good writers have the potential to become good authors. The words alone are not enough.

    That said, I think most good writers do get published if they're willing to do the work.

  32. Rachel Olsen on December 21, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    >Several years ago I heard Barb Sherril (of Harvest House) tell a crowd of aspiring writers, "If you are a good writer, and you persist, you will get published."

    I knew I could write. And I figured persistance was just a matter of choice. So I chose to believe her. My non-fiction book "It's No Secret" was published this fall.

    But it certainly was not the first proposal I wrote.

  33. Jessica R. Patch on December 21, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle, for your honesty and encouragement. I keep persevering and believing because of #4. At the end of the day, God has the final say. At least, that's what I believe and it motivates me to keep doing what I feel He's led me to! Merry Christmas!

  34. Jon Sprunk on December 21, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    >I would have to say that, for me, persistence was the key. The journey from first novel to publication took me almost twenty years. There were many times I wanted to give up, but I couldn't. I always came back to the writing and the belief that I would one day see my book up on that shelf.

    Don't give up until they pry the keyboard from your cold fingers.

  35. Marilynn Byerly on December 21, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    >You've left small epublishers out of the equation entirely.

    I'm not familiar with the Christian market in epublishing, but there are some very good genre publishers who pay royalty, have slushpiles, and editors who edit out there. Some offer small trade runs of paper books and others do print-on-demand trades.

    They do all the heavy lifting of cover, editing, and getting the book out at all the sites which allows the writer to concentrate on promotion and the next book, and they offer a platform of respectability and presence that self-publishing doesn't.

    You really have to do your homework to find a good epublisher, there are lots of bad ones out there, but it is a viable option.

    If this seems a market to anyone, I suggest they join EPIC (epicauthors.com), check out Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com/), and ask around before signing with anyone.

  36. Marilynn Byerly on December 21, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    >You've left small epublishers out of the equation entirely.

    I'm not familiar with the Christian market in epublishing, but there are some very good genre publishers who pay royalty, have slushpiles, and editors who edit out there. Some offer small trade runs of paper books and others do print-on-demand trades.

    They do all the heavy lifting of cover, editing, and getting the book out at all the sites which allows the writer to concentrate on promotion and the next book, and they offer a platform of respectability and presence that self-publishing doesn't.

    You really have to do your homework to find a good epublisher, there are lots of bad ones out there, but it is a viable option.

    If this seems a market to anyone, I suggest they join EPIC (epicauthors.com), check out Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com/), and ask around before signing with anyone.

  37. Cynthia Leitich Smith on December 21, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    >In children's-YA writing, I expect that the vast majority of those who give it their all will be published.

    I'm not saying they'll be able to break in huge or they won't have to adjust their format, age market or other expectations. But if they're deeply dedicated, yes, most will achieve publication. Perhaps not a career. Maybe they'll be one book wonders, but publication.

    That doesn't necessarily include the every-conference attendee or workshop junkie or a whole lot of folks who're basically just playing writer. Including some MFA graduates.

    It certainly doesn't include the writer who's been dragging around that same novel manuscript for the last ten years or keeps bemoaning how "hard" it is or consistently talks themselves out of succeeding.

    I'm talking about folks who're driven, determined, and willing to try new things. Who cut their losses and challenge their comfort zones and realize that it's both an art and a business and ensure that they become experts on both fronts. Them, yes.

    I do believe so.

  38. Anonymous on December 21, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    >If a writer has tried other avenues, what about e-publishing w/ Amazon and sharing the profits? I hope to be traditonally published, but I'd consider it as a last resort (not vanity presses). I think it's better than nothing and I hear e-books are selling well now. Why not?

  39. Margot Galaway on December 21, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    >Another agent I follow, posted her annual statistics.

    Queries received: 37,000

    New client signed: 9

    From a writer's perspective,
    sobering indeed.

  40. Gabrielle Renoir-Large on December 21, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    >J.K. Rowling received many rejections, Kathryn Stockett did, too. In fact it took five years to place her book, and look at its success now.

    Unfortunately, I don't think all good books, or even all very good books will eventually be published. While persistence is needed, many books will go unpublished simply because there are only so many books that can be published through traditional publishing. Editors have to choose which ones they feel will make the publishing house the most money because without money, nothing would get published.

    On the other hand, if a writer is able to connect with a potential reading audience, his or her book could sell in days. Even a debut novel. Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" sold at auction for two million in two days. Diane Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale" sold at auction in ten days for more than one million. And neither book is an example of the best in prose, but the do connect with readers. That connection is important, and so is a little luck.

  41. Melissa on December 21, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    >I agree with Ms. Gardner that persistence doesn't guarentee publication, but in my darkest moments of self-doubt, I remind myself that there is a kind of triumph in simple, continuous act of pursuing the greatest dream of my life.

  42. josie on December 21, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    >I'm wondering if the new digital age will make it easier for more people to get published.

  43. Linda Jackson on December 21, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    >And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    Unfortunately, all good writers will not eventually get published simply because they lack one or more of these three things. And even if they self-publish, without these three-faith, hope, and love-the book won't go very far.

  44. Laura Marcella on December 21, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    >I really like what you say in #3, 4 and 5. Those are great, positive, and encouraging answers!

  45. Caryn Sullivan on December 21, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    >Persistence…Kathryn Stockett received more than 60 rejections for The Help, which ultimately was published – and the rest is history. I appreciate your honesty.

  46. Martin Rose on December 21, 2010 at 7:48 AM

    >Amen to number 4.

  47. Kathleen@so much to say on December 21, 2010 at 6:40 AM

    >I think it's important to remember that not having a book published doesn't mean you have to stay unpublished. I aspire to publish a novel, but in the meantime I'm doing lots of paying writing work –for magazines, for Chicken Soup, etc.

    DC, I have to say this. Please don't use the word "retard." Joke or not. Please. If I wasn't the parent of a child with Down syndrome, I'd ignore it, but having been placed in this position, I feel compelled to spread the word. Please–excise.

  48. Book Maven on December 21, 2010 at 6:36 AM

    >It IS a hard question and you have answered it honestly and well. Like you, I am astonished by the number of people writing books.

    But I am grateful that there is also a majority of people (talking that part of the population interested in literature of course) NOT writing books but very eager to read them.

    And of course writers are readers too – it goes with the territory. You can't be the one without being the other.

    And the writers who aspire to be published and are acting responsibly by reading your blog and others like it and taking their job seriously are far more likely to make it into print than the ones who just fling the words down and hope for the best.

    It's hard work, very hard work, and the best job in the world. So have a wonderful Christmas, Rachelle and all the writers out there. I wish you the necessary smidgeon of luck to go with your talent and dedication.

  49. Sharon A. Lavy on December 21, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    >Thanks for keeping this blog going in a time when others are burnt out. We need this.

  50. Sharon A. Lavy on December 21, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    >Publishers are still publishing so there is always hope. And a reason to hone our craft.

  51. T. Anne on December 21, 2010 at 3:14 AM

    >I think persistence pays off. It pays off better with a little divine intervention, but in the end a publishing venue in some shape or form awaits. Persistence plus passion is a powerful combination even for the meager. I'd like to think my novels are spectacular, that they can ignite an all consuming desire to be read from start to finish in one sitting alone. However, I accept the fact my biased has skewed my vision and that my books remain unpublished, unread and unloved, but that doesn't stop me from believing in them and in some distant reality where they WILL BE published, read and loved.

    A little self confidence doesn't hurt either. 😉 Yes, there's plenty of room at the trough.

  52. Rachel Searles on December 21, 2010 at 3:04 AM

    >Thank you for this. It's nice to hear an honest opinion.

  53. Michelle on December 21, 2010 at 2:33 AM

    >It's scary – even when we have the talent and the persistence and the storytelling savvy, if we lack the luck NOTHING will happen.

    Oddly enough, I'm still not deterred. 😉