I was an avid reader in my early years (as in hard copy - books), and I still am (just now via computer)... and I never got wind of such difficulties in publishing, until now. Is it like going up against a proverbial dragon dressed in nothing but a helmet? If it is, I'm not that interested.

Anyway - the question.

Is it really all that difficult to get published by traditional means? In 2011? Or is all of the negativity just done to scare off potential competition?

  • 3
    possible duplicate of Do most novels not get published?
    – Standback
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 13:14
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    Short answer: it's really really tough. It's doable, with skill and dedication. Expect lots of rejections - until you've got enough ability and experience under your belt to clear the bar. And don't expect the professionals who have spent decades building up craft and career to be impressed because a fledgling unfamiliar with the difficulties of publishing accuses them of "constipated thinking" in big bold letters.
    – Standback
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 13:24
  • @Standback - that was intended to be light hearted ;)... Rule of the internet - always assume the best intentions first. For your sake, and to avoid further confusion, I removed that part :)...
    – RolandiXor
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 13:53
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    Short answer: It's still possible (my wife is publishing her first book this summer), but my understanding is that it's as much luck as talent (right person at the right place at the right time, that sort of thing). But definitely not impossible. Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 18:40

5 Answers 5


I think it's just negativity. People ask "What's the secret to getting published", as if there was some secret sauce!

While it's true there are thousands of potential authors, it's also true that:

a. Most of them (I've heard figures like 90%) never finish their 1st draft.

b. Of those who do, a huge percentage are unpublishable - either their grammar is bad, they don't correct all the spelling mistakes, they can't write dialogue, or more simply, they can't write at all.

I can't remember where I read this, but this quote stayed with me:

If you want to get published, write something that is publishable first. Then worry about other things.

  • wow... nice one. I'll mark this as accepted (although I am open to other opinions) I cannot up vote right now because I'm out of votes for the day.
    – RolandiXor
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 20:14
  • You ran out of votes??? What have you been doing?? Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 10:30
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    @Aerovistae , he has been spreading the love :) Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 13:49

Computers and the internet have opened up writing tools to a wider audience than ever before. This means that where a publisher used to have a steady stream of manuscripts showing up from unknowns, they now have a veritable tsunami.

If nothing else, the physical process of typing up, editing, proofreading (and copying) your manuscript before paying postage costs just to put it into an editor's hands, used to keep the flow of new stuff down to a reasonable level.

These days, everyone has a printer and FedEx office nearby, and e-mail costs almost nothing. So you not only have to compete with the current economic conditions (the downturn in general, and the rapidly changing world of publishing), you also have to compete with every other person out there who can now write their novel and get it out the door.

In short, you can get published, but the sheer volume of competition is making it harder and harder. If you really want to do it, persevere - keep writing, keep submitting — and make sure you follow any relevant guidelines!


Sometimes, it is a pleasant reading, how to attract and keep reader's attention, comparing this to a some sort of thought transference or even magic. But it has nothing in common with being published in "standard way".

Reader is not a writer's customer, definitely. Reader is a bookseller's customer. Bookseller is a publisher's customer. And publisher is a writer's customer. Reader is not purchasing quality product, reader will pay for well-marketed product. Publishers and booksellers do marketing, they state what is worth paying for. This is an open secret and we have to repeat it - again and again - till we are blue in the face. (With all respect, It makes me wonder if Mr. King's novels would be so successfull without the barrage of marketers.)

So we need to decide for either we want to write to earn our daily bread (and - possibly - become rich and famous) or wheter there is an inner urge making us to write. At least, when this decision is made, we should be set free from an - maybe - existential dilemma.

Want to being published? Be nice to publishers. Being infamous and "controversial person" would help. Want to being read decades after your death? Forget about making money by writing. Mrs. Rowling, Mr. King or Mr. Brown are just exceptions proving the rule. (They are still alive, I guess.)

So that's it.

  • Who is Mr Brown?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 7:17
  • @Pacerier The Da Vinci Code ring a bell? Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:19

It's not impossible it's just getting more and more difficult.


Competition mostly - there's too many others out there all wanting to do the same thing. Competition raises standards, creative writing quality improves and you're already competing in an over-saturated market. There's already a huge number of very high quality books in the market why would a publisher want to invest substantial sums of money into a unknown author?

Any new author a publisher would be interested in would need to put in an awful lot of time and effort in writing their first manuscript at a very high level. Not only that will need to have done extensive and authorative research into their chosen subject. Not many people have the time, effort, motivation or ability to be able to do that.

For someone prepared to put that kind of work in and be prepared for an awful lot of rejection afterwards but is willing to doggedly persevere there's no reason why they wouldn't ultimately be successful.

You can now see what you're up against. The time input v return is going to be very much in the negative in the early days. But hope springs eternal – it's not impossible.


While it is not "impossible", I would venture to suggest that it is "improbable". Publishers are like any other business in that they are looking for the next big product that will make them money. They very seldom take risks on new writers because they will have an easier time selling writers who are already known. If you have published short stories or other works that might help you to be recognized, you would likely have a much better chance. Personally, I gave up on trying to go through "traditional" publishers and chose to self-publish. Rather than go through all the explanations of why, I would suggest you visit the web site of an author named Joe Konrath. He presents many arguments in favor of self-publishing.



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