Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Call Me C-3PO

Though I do like Mr. Bane (thanks, Harley :)... Well, today, Mr. Bane (I could get used to talking about myself in the 3rd person) is going to combine his love of basketball with his frustration of writing, and his somewhat questionable skill at Math.

Now that my Mr. Bane's bracket has been riddled with holes (thank you Villanova and Pitt -- stupid Pennsylvania... but how sweet it was to see No. Iowa take it to the Jayhawks), it's time to move on to the NBA (that's National Basketball Association). One of the questions many a schoolyard boy will ask: "what are my chances of making it to the NBA?"

Google this and the answer will be some variation of "pretty low." Mr. Bane prefers real answers. So, let's do some quick math:

Each year, there are roughly 100 roster spots open for new players (via the draft, older players retiring, etc.).
The max lifespan of a basketball player is roughly 20 years, so for a particular wannabe, there are potentially 2,000 spots available (that's 100 roster spots/year * 20 years). Stick with me  Mr. Bane, we're almost done w/ the math.

Now, assume there are 1,000,000 kids who want to make it to the NBA and the answer to the bolded question would be: 100*2,000/1,000,000 = 0.2%.

In reality, this is EXTREMELY optimistic. First, there are way more than 1,000,000 grunts out there who dream big. Next, your chances of making it to the NBA outside of the age range 18 - 22 are almost 0. Third, unless you're a FoN (Freak of Nature), your chances are further reduced. So, let's divide that 0.2% by a factor of 100. That gives us a still  highly optimistic chance of 0.002%

Now, on the bright side, one can still play basketball and make a living. Play in one of the minor leagues or in Europe. Mr. Bane has a friend who played in a British league. He didn't get paid much and needed an extra job (as a Nurse), but he was still a professional of some sort. A mid-list basketball player.

SEGUE -- This odds breakdown is, of course, analogous to what writers face. In our battle to become relevant, here's what we've got in our favor over the hoopsters:
 - We don't have age limits.
 - There's a much larger market (according to Wikipedia, about 172,000 books are published each year in the US) for authors than hoopsters.

Here's what we've got against us:
 - The pool of competitors for publication is potentially significantly (that's 2 adverbs for the 2 orders of magnitude) larger than the one for basketball roster spots.
 - The payoff is significantly lower - almost every NBAer is a millionaire; almost every author (even some who've hit the NYT lists) needs a second job.
 - Fewer people are reading, or at least willing to pay for reading.

This is grand simplification, but Bane put the odds of becoming an independent author (i.e., one who can support oneself without secondary means) at 0.001%, or 1 in 100,000.

Replace independent with successful, and the odds change, depending on how you define success. If you're never published, but happy in what you write, your odds are 100%. Is that good enough? Are you playing for the love of the game? What are your goals? Remember, not everyone who climbs the mountain, no matter how hard they perseverate, will get there. Some will perish. Don't let the destination destroy the journey.


L. T. Host said...

Great post, Mr. Bane!

At first I was like, oh no, basketball (strong in the force of sports I am not [did you see what I did there?]) but then you brought it back around to writing like a pro! A pro writer!

I've had too much sugar for this early in the morning.

Natalie said...

Ha, ha. That was great Bane. I like the way you make statistics.

Wikipedia is the end-all encyclopedia, but 172,000 books a year! They must be counting self published and vanity published. I think would guess there are only about 20,000 books published by real publishers (the ones who pay the author instead of visa versa). I'm basing my statistic on Publisher's Marketplace numbers (they have 7800 sales last year) multiplied by about 3, because 3 seems like a good number. I love statistics. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Wow. That was, um, really encouraging. Can I please be one of the 1 in 100,000? Please? :-)

Matthew Delman said...

L.T. --

No such thing as too much sugar too early in the morning (says the guy who wakes up at 4 am and downs two cups of coffee by 6).

I love these stats, Bane! I also wonder, like Natalie, how many of those 172,000 are traditional publishers; and also how many of them are new authors or multiples/reprints from established authors.

Of course, that might be getting too detailed.

Joshua McCune said...

LT - you are such a sweetheart

Yeah, Natalie, I'm definitely an off-the-cuff researcher... you're probably right about 20k (I found 130k somewhere else, but they didn't delve into the breakdown of non-fic, fic, SP, etc.)... See, I was actually being optimistic :)

Shannon, I think the solution is winning the lottery and then starting one's own press... similar odds maybe? PS - 'encouraging' is my middle name :)

Joshua McCune said...

And I'm with Matt -- the only way to avoid the sugar crash is to have more sugar.

L. T. Host said...

Okay, fine, I'll have more sugar.


Stephanie Thornton said...

Excellent post, Mr. Bane. Although I think it should have been accompanied by some cheerleaders to life our spirits.

Elana Johnson said...

I like the comparison. It makes me feel five feet too short, but it's accurate. :)

Michelle D. Argyle said...

The journey is everything!

Susan R. Mills said...

Great post! I don't like the odds, but it's just something we have to live with. As a K-State fan, I am also thrilled about the KU loss. Go Cats!

dolorah said...

Thanks for the pep talk Mr Bane. It was a pep talk, right? lol.

That lunch time sugar isn't kicking in yet. But I'm with Shannon in I'd like to be added to the 1 in 100,000. I guess that means we have to break the odds though, because we'd be 2 in 100,000.

Hey, I'll share the glory!


Libbie H. said...

Take me with a grain of salt, since my march toward a career as a writer has so far been more of a sprint. I started my first novel in June of 2009, finished and revised it in September, queried it over the holidays, and signed with an agent at a big agency by the end of January. After four weeks of revisions, we went on submission and my agent's outlook is rosy.

I admit, I write FAST. But I write fast because I've put in so much practice that I have trained myself to write voluminously and well even when I don't feel like it.

I have a different perspective on the process, which may be as rosy as my agent's prospects for my career.

Many an agent and editor has said that their slush piles are anywhere between 95% and 99% totally unsaleable crap. Trite, overdone stories. Impossible-to-read moon-man gibberish instead of correctly employed English. Stuff that reads like it's from people who have never really paid any attention to books, to story structure, to language in their lives -- and they probably haven't.

So write a tight book with a decent plot and use English the way your mama taught you (or, better yet, the way your English teacher taught you) and you're already ahead of at least 95% of the competition, possibly 99%.

Of the remaining 1-5% of submitted books that are not total crap, a good fifty percent will not be right for that agent or editor. They don't do the genre, they don't do the subject, or their lists are already too full of the same-old, same-old. In short, they may be good, but the person on the other end of the slush pile doesn't think he or she can sell it right now.

So target your agents or editors carefully, select only those who you think will be most likely to be interested in your manuscript AND best able to sell it (this requires some serious research) and you are in the top 2.5-.5%, and virtually guaranteed representation and/or sale.

Personally, I think every single person here is capable of writing a novel that can sell to a big publisher. What's required is the gumption to sit down and do it. And then the girding of the loins to research agents or editors, and submit, and deal wit all the rejections, and keep going.

Whether you'll make a full-time career of it does depend on several other factors that most of us can't control. But can you be a published author? I think your chances are SIGNIFICANTLY better than a kid's who's hoping for a shot at the NBA.

If you write a quality book, you're like the seven-foot lad who's been playing center since he was six, is a hard worker, is dedicated to the game, and gives a knockout tryout. You're virtually guaranteed a spot.

Happily, writing a great book is something all of us can control. The genetics that make us the stuff of the basketball court isn't something anybody can control.

So, if you're wondering whether you've got the right stuff, the only question worth asking yourself is...how many words did I write today? :D

Joshua McCune said...

Stephanie -- you know my thoughts on cheerleaders (*cough* Tony Horton *cough*).

Elana, google Mugsy Bogues -- 5"3 and NBA player for several years.

LG - something I too often forget :)

Susan - K-State is looking golden to reach the FF.

Donna, you know pep defines me :)

Libbie, my next post will be about those who make it (and will also involve basketball -- last one for awhile, I promise :). PS - I am extremely jealous of your career arc so far :)

erica m. chapman said...

Great post Bane!

Yeah, odds shmodds - as long as we're enjoying it, right? LOL. Guess we all just have to write awesome books then.

Thank you for doing the math for me - it's not my strong suit ;o)