top of page

What Are the Odds You’ll Make It Big as an Author?

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

How many people play the lottery?

According to a Gallup poll a few years ago, “Roughly half of Americans say they have bought a state lottery ticket within the last year…” And since there are more than 300 million legal citizens in the U.S., that means about 150 million buy a ticket at least once a year.

Yet your chances aren’t 1 in 150 million if you decide to try it out as well. They're better than that. It depends on which state you’re in – a few still don’t do the lottery last time I checked – and what its population is.

Wyoming, the smallest state in that regard, had less than 570,000 regular residents as of two years ago. So if it follows the national trend, that makes your odds approximately 1 in 285,000.

That’s not very inspiring. And yet people buy them up anyway.

Now, I’m not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination. I can barely add 2 + 2 somedays. But your odds might be about the same or worse if you want to make it big as an author.

In 2013, William Dietrich – novelist, naturalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist – wrote this for The Huffington Post:

Thriller author James Patterson… [is] one of 145,900 American “writers and authors” counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a quarter of them part-time, two-thirds of them self-employed, and with median earnings of $55,420.

Before you get too excited about those odds… note how Dietrich cited people who list themselves as authors in a professional capacity. In 2013.

Dates and time passed also need to be taken into serious consideration with the following snippet:

… the odds of any author making it big remain very long… Nielson Bookscan reported in 2004 that of 1.2 million books tracked, only 25,000 – barely more than 2 percent – sold more than 5,000 copies.

That tragically outdated information is why today’s Writing Rule is what it is.


Most published authors don’t sell a lot of books.

I don’t want to discourage anyone here, but the statement above is accurate. I won’t give you average numbers for the simple reason that I don’t want you getting caught up in them. You’re more than a number. But most authors, self-published or traditional, don’t get to quit their day jobs.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. Just that you should plan accordingly. Strive to make your goals a reality! I genuinely wish you the best in those endeavors. But don’t go into the publishing arena thinking it’s going to be easy.


The chances it'll be a snap are the same chances as winning the lottery.

Here’s the thing… If you really want to be a writer, then write. And if you really want to be a published author, then publish.

I think both pursuits are very worthwhile, and I wish you the best in them.

But while you pursue that best, understand that you shouldn’t quit your day job right away. Understand that even after writing and editing and re-editing and re-re-editing your manuscript, there’s still a lot of work up ahead.

And understand how that work comes with no guarantees whatsoever. As I said on Tuesday, “You’d better be prepared to work for everything you’re going to get. And not get.”

Of course, the better informed you are, the better your chances of making something of your publishing pursuit. That’s why the next four weeks’ worth of writing Definitions, Challenges, and Rules will focus on educating you about:

  • Your publishing options

  • The pros and cons involved in each

  • Which one is right for you.

So stay tuned for October… It all starts on the first.

10 views0 comments


bottom of page