Why Getting Published is Like Winning the Lottery… and Why It’s Not

The publishing world is tough. So tough that it seems like the chances of being published are the same as winning the lottery. This is how I used to view it, anyway.

Does your writing journey look anything like mine?

You’ve written a story. You revise. Your critique group picks it apart. You revise some more. You polish a query letter and send it to agents.


You revise your query and send it out some more. You get a form rejection. Bad news feels good because you are moving in the right direction. A personalized rejection feels (almost) like a windfall.

Years have passed. Many stories have been written. Finally, it happens. An agent is interested! She wants to sign you! Now the fast-track begins, right? Not quite. There are gate-keepers. Lots of them. Then there is the snail’s pace at which publishing moves.

Now your agent is giving you revision notes. Your story gets subbed. Rejections collect. A request for a revise/resubmit feels really good. You revise again. The publisher likes it. On to the editorial meeting. They like it! It moves to acquisitions. And FINALLY, your number has come up! An offer is made!


Well, not quite. This metaphor doesn’t really hold. First of all, an advance would never be mistaken for a lottery jackpot. Secondly, while there is some amount of luck involved in having your story in the right place at the right time for the right eyes, your story wouldn’t be there at all if you didn’t write it.

Disregard the passive lottery metaphor. YOU are the primary actor in your publishing journey. Getting published is not just dumb luck. But it does take patience, perseverance, and good, old-fashioned work.

If you seriously want to get published, you have to take yourself seriously.

Prioritize writing time: ignore social media, dirty laundry, lawn mowing, and the like. Yes, it’s hard to do. I have trouble ignoring those things, too. But you can do it… For 45 minutes a day… or 1 day a week… Whatever schedule you choose, hold it dear. Do not take phone calls. Do not make appointments. You are working.

If it helps, keep a sticker chart or mark big red X’s on a calendar every time you stick with your writing schedule. You can see yourself making progress and developing a new habit.

Surround yourself with writerly mentors and critique partners. Join SCBWI and online writing groups. Challenge yourself with a class or commit to a writing challenge. Learn, practice, and improve your craft. Be creative everyday. Set aside time to learn about writing as a business, too.

The more you write, submit, and connect with other writers, the more likely your story will be in the right place at the right time for the right eyes. And your work will have made all the difference.

Forget the lottery metaphor. Publishing is a journey; a road trip. You may find the perfect parking spot in a busy city one day and run out of gas the next. With pitstops, unexpected detours, and serendipitous scenic routes, the journey can be slow, but the view from the top of the mountain? It’s going to be spectacular.

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