Writing is Like State Speech–many will enter, few will win.

For the record, my speechie pulled sixth place at the state speech tournament two weekends ago.  After a grueling day of four rounds, he received a medal.  A nice big medal.  Belt buckle size.

I’m super proud of this accomplishment, and I hope he is, too.  You see, first doesn’t mean that any place behind it is null and void.  In fact, over 330 schools participated in Class 1A speech this past season.  Three hundred and thirty some.

Sound a little bit like writing?

If 330 aspiring writers sent off their manuscripts to an agent, the agent would request to see about 33 of them–or 10%.  In speech terms, this would be the narrowing down of kids via subsections and sections, where only 24 brave and articulate souls made it to state in each of the 13 categories (think genres).

While there, they had to perform in front of peers and judges to earn a spot in final rounds.  Only the top eight speechies in each category advanced to the stage to present their speech in front of a panel of judges.

Again, just like writing, the estimate on the streets is that two percent of writers will garner agent representation and make it to this prestigious round.  330 x 2% = 7ish.  I know.  Scary and disconcerting, right?  Yet my speechie didn’t choke and quit halfway through.  No, he prepared speech after speech after speech to make it into that elite 2%.  In writing terms, he nabbed his agent.

But lest we believe garnering interest of an agent is the end of the odds, consider further.  Of the 2% of writers who receive representation on a first novel, only half of them will get published.  ONLY HALF.

Holy crap!  Why bother, right?  I mean, of those 330 speechies writers, only 3-4 of them will get published.  With odds like that, we might as well dance in an electrical storm holding metal umbrellas.  At least then we’d have something to jolt us into reality.

But reality is that the top ten percent is something to be proud of.  It means we’re doing something right.  It means we’re getting closer.  It means we have a chance.

Garnering the backing of an agent is incredible.  It’s amazing and thrilling and wow…just wow!  Making it to final rounds during State Speech is incredible.  The top two percent of anything is outstanding and a great accomplishment.

Sixth in State.  It gets us a medal.  It tells us we’ve  wowed a panel of judges and deserve to be recognized.  The only thing it doesn’t give us is a publishing contract.


Next year.  Next season.  Next manuscript.

Ten percent, two percent, one.

Dearest writers, how do you feel about where you’re at on the journey?  Have you cleared sections and made it to state?  Did you break finals and get to compete for that medal?  Have you missed it by *thismuch*? 

What are your plans for continuing?  Does this post make alternative publishing routes sound more appealing to you, or have you already begun walking that path?  If so, what are your experiences?

Curious minds want to know.


4 responses to “Writing is Like State Speech–many will enter, few will win.

  1. Oh, Cat, don’t kill me, but… I really wonder why writers still want AGENTS for their publishing career! 😉 If you change that word of your post with TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS or EDITORS, I’m with you, although I do not plan on sending anything to a traditional publisher at this time.
    I just got my first tiny Smashwords payment and I’m very happy I don’t have to share those earnings with an agent or a publisher. Please read David Gaughran’s story – OK, he’s one of the exceptions and I didn’t do as good as him, but you might get the point of what I’m trying to say! 🙂
    NOT trying to bring down hopes of writers who want to go traditional, just trying to deconstruct the agent’s myth (although Dean Wesley Smith is much better at that than me, LOL)! 🙂
    Oh, and congrats to your son! 🙂

    • LOL, Barb.

      My commentary is simply on the statistics that are out there. In other words, writing to get published the traditional way is a daunting path and one where only the right novel at the right time makes it, and that if writing for traditional publishing is a dream for anyone, they need to know that success does happen, but only with hard work and perseverance.

      It was also to highlight that NOT nabbing the agent or editor or book contract doesn’t mean your writing stinks. It simply means that you could have been two manuscripts removed from traditional success. Which still means you have a rockin’ novel and that you are talented and worthwhile in your endeavors.

      Which leads to the question, what do we do with *thisclose*? Do we push harder with the next manuscript or do we find an indie press or self-publish? In other words, when we acheive sixth place with our writing, what is the next step in the game?

      With so much to-do with Barnes & Noble and the e-publishing revolution, writers need to really understand what they are up against. On the other hand, standing in the middle of a street with 330 other speechies, reciting your speech in your loudest voice won’t necessarily get you heard when everyone else is doingthe exact same thing. And this is the self-publishing end of it. The slush pile of published works is huge and finding the gem in the midst of it can be nearly impossible.

      *le sigh*

      In the past few years, the landscape has changed so dramatically and we need to fully understand what our options are, what the reality is of each path we consider taking and what we need to do to stand out–traditionally or otherwise.

      And I know many writers who have self-published and are thrilled with their success. I applaud them/you for your hard work and perseverence on that end. I don’t believe there is any right answer in publishing any more. Just what is right for each individual writer and each individual project. Knowledge is paramount these days.

      I always enjoy your commentary and never fear, I encourage all viewpoints on my blog. It’s the only way to better understand the arena we choose to call home!


      • Aw, thanks, I didn’t want to bash anyone’s dreams! 🙂
        Thanks to the internet writers can be immediately updated on all the changes in publishing and as long as they don’t think they can be the next Amanda Hocking or Stephenie Meyer (which covers both sides of publishing) without the hard work those two put in their books, well… to each his or her own path! There’s no true path, only what works for you! 🙂
        Still you see dumb young men who sign with Publish America and then whine on Goodreads that “their publishing company” is asking them money for e-book formatting etc… Probably these writers don’t know what “research” means. Which is something all your students did before the speech I assume? (sorry, not American, not sure of your education system)
        Happy writing!

      • Very astute commentary and important no matter which path we choose. Your PA comment is right on and would require very little research for anyone to fully understand the deal that comes with a PA contract. But, as you said, my speechies probably do far more research for a seven minute speech than some writers–giddy with the knowledge that they just finished a book and excited to send it into the world–ever will.

        Hugs and happy writing back at you!

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