I aspire to make a living one day from writing fiction. It’s something I’ve aspired to for most of my life, but never pursued because I was always told the chances of success were so slim, and therefore it was prudent to pursue something that would actually earn me a living (so I went into marine biology, which probably has about the same odds of success and level of pay).
So what are the odds of becoming a professional fiction writer vs. just being a fiction writer (by “professional” writer, I mean one who makes a living selling fiction)? This is not an easy question to answer, because most professional fiction writers are working at the novel length, but I only have decent acceptance rate data for short story publications. I’ll have to assume these rates are comparable (you do know what happens when you assume). According to Duotrope, the “big three” in speculative short fiction (Analog, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s) have an acceptance rate less 0.2%. Of the writers that sell a story to a professional publication, only a small percent continue to sell at a rate consistent enough to make a living from their fiction. Hmmm…it sounds like the odds somewhere in the range of 1 in 1,000,000 or so. According the Book of Odds, the chance of getting stuck by lightning is higher (1 in 835,500).
Chance is a funny thing, however—it assumes randomness and that all subjects are the same. Yet writers vary in talent and drive. I’d like to think that talent and drive increase the chances of professional success (I think they would!). I wonder how many with the talent and drive to make it? What about those writers with less talent, but lots of drive? I’d like to think I have above average talent and drive, but maybe I’m delusional.
I guess I’ll keep my day job for now, at least until I have a better idea what my chances are of success. I better not wait too long, however. My chances of getting eaten by a shark are 1 in 251,800,000, but they are probably higher for me because I work in the ocean. Hopefully it’s not higher than my chances of becoming a professional writer.