Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Drake Equation for Navigating Editorial Asteroid Fields

k swum in July: 9.75 (24.2 to go!)

I don't often mope around the house and eat frozen yogurt, which I'm not supposed to eat, anymore. That's the problem with OA. After a few meetings, you completely lose the illusion that eating something will make it all better. You know it won't, so it's no fun eating whatever you would ordinarily eat when you mope around the house. Doesn't stop me from doing it, just stops it from being fun. You might say OA has ruined food for me, the same way that AA ruined booze for me. Forget about me ever joining SA. But anyway: Moping about the house. If I'm doing that, and it's not a direct result of my aunt and uncle selling their house in North Dakota (still waiting for somebody to offer me that $1.8 million), then it must be that The Odds have crept up on me again.

Now, I know I'm not supposed to pay any attention to The Odds. The Odds, as Boss Jason would say, do not exist. (As C3P0: "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3720 to 1!" As Han Solo: "Never tell me the odds!") But The Odds of successfully getting a book published around here have to be a lot higher than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field. The Odds of just getting an agent are worse than the odds of surviving a night unprotected on the ice fields of Hoth (725 to 1; actually, Artoo, I don't think we needed to know that).

Now, I used to have an agent, so technically speaking, my odds should be somewhat better. I am, after all, agentable. So maybe only like 625 to one or something. But then, okay, let's say I make it past that first unimaginable hurdle and actually hook up with an agent. Now I'm like just one of hundreds of agented writers who have manuscripts they are trying to sell. There's only a certain number of publishers, and they only put out a certain number of books a year. So all the agents are taking all these manuscripts from all their writers and presenting them to all these editors who are going to look at, say, these hundreds of manuscripts and winnow down the pile to the, let's say, twelve manuscripts they're going to accept for publication in the year, say, 2013. And, let's say, things go well and they make a few bucks and their stockholders don't vote them out of existence between now and then, and they actually go to press with my book and it actually hits store shelves the year it's supposed to. Are you starting to get the idea?

There's this cosmic equation, called the Drake Equation, about the odds of the human race ever encountering an intelligent alien species, which has to do with how many planets there are and how many are within a certain amount of light years of travel and how many of those are e-class planets within a certain distance from their stars and not too cold and not too warm and not too violently tossed about and how many of those start communicating with radio waves and similar signals, and how many of said radio signals come into our quadrant of the galaxy and cross our wave of orbit, and anyway, after you plug in all these numbers, the answer is one. One. One lousy communicating intelligent alien civilization. I hope they are friendly.

Similarly, you could craft a cosmic equation for the odds of me ever getting a book published. You'd have to start with me writing a book that's good enough for people to actually pay money for, which I'm not sure I have, and I'm not sure I have because I'm in this mopey and eating-frozen-yogurt frame of mind, but just for the sake of argument, let's say I have. And said book would have to be represented by a fine query letter that really pops, which, again, I'm not sure I have, but let's just say I have, again for the sake of the argument. And then you'd have to calculate the number of literary agents who rep my type of fiction, and assume that the query letter would land in at least one of their laps (or on their laptops) on a day when they were in a good mood. And then you'd have to assume that, of the ones that were in a good mood, at least one of them would request my manuscript, like it, and decide to rep me. After which, you'd need to calculate the number of publishers in (just to keep this from getting totally out of hand) New York, the number of those that published suspense thrillers, the number of those that were accepting new submissions, the number of those that were willing to have lunch with this theoretical agent, the number of those that would then take a look at this theoretical manuscript, and...

And at that point my brain kind of bogs down. I mean, I can only calculate about fifteen equations at a time in my head before I get confused. But I think the answer is, uh, one. Or maybe one and a half. Or the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field.

No wonder I say never tell me the odds. Clearly I need more frozen yogurt.

No comments: