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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where are you?

This rating system is not based on any hard data. It's my take on various observations. You aren't required to agree, although I'd like your thoughts on this.

Stages of Writing:

1. Reader- In most rating systems of a writing career this is the most overlooked stage. And, according to this, only 82% of adults are functionally literate. Of those, about half don't read for fun. To get to any functional stage of writing, you first have to read. Percentage of the world in this category: 40%

2. Fan Fiction Writer- Somewhere between age 4 and 94 a reader will progress from just reading to manipulating favorite stories. Small children will act out favorite books and movies, and then ad lib away, using their imaginations and creating something new. As the child moves into functional literacy this ad libbing often takes the form of fan fiction. Either scribbled stories in a notebook or postings on a fan site. This is the basic learning stage where a writer learns how to manipulate a character and story line. Percentage of the world in this category: 38%

3. Derivative Writing- Not every writer makes it to this stage because it takes more work. A Derivative Writer takes elements of other stories they like and then starts to make their own story. It's a step above fan fiction, even if some derivative work looks like fan fiction with the names changed. It can also look like plagiarism! A big no-no! From reading agent blogs, #queryfail, and other insider sources I'm guessing about 10-15% of the slush pile is made up of people at this level of writing. Someone manages to get to "The End" and they rush off to make an editor read their work. Scary! Percentage of the world in this category: 20%

4. Independent Writing- If you've reached this stage you deserve congratulations and kudos. You are rare and unique! You've gotten to the point where you can create something completely unique! Hooray! When a writer progresses past derivative writing into the realm of creating something new they've reached a major milestone. I'm willing to say this is where people switch from Hobby Writer to Amateur Author. I suspect that this category is split 50-50 between people who are writing for fun and those who are now writing with the intent to publish. This is a good place to be. It is not a good place to query. I estimate about 70% of the slush pile is made up of author's in this category though. They mean well, they've finished a book, but they aren't in the best possible place to publish from. Percentage of the world in this category: 10%

5. Career Writer- At some point this hobby writer decided that there, without question, dead set on publishing. They read up on the publishing industry, have set hours for writing every day, know how to edit, and participate in some form of critique group. What's more, the Career Writer knows what they are doing. They have a plan. They know what shelf in the store their book goes on. They have done more the finish a novel, they've plotted out their attack on the literary world. When an agent calls and asks, "So, what do you see yourself writing in the next few years?" this author has an answer. This is where you query from. You are prepared. You have a battle plan. You have a back up plan. And you're manuscript shines. These are the gems in the slush pile and make up about 15% of the queries an agent will read during the course of a year. Not that the agent will accept all of these. Having a great book and being a Career Writer doesn't mean every agent will love you. That's okay, you only need one. Keep querying! Percentage of the world in this category: 5%

6. Paid Author- Finally! All that hard work has paid off and your book is on the shelf. Now you really have to work. In publishing, the reward for a job well done is another job. I think it's probably like that in a lot of industries though. The paid author is a busy bee. To keep a steady fan base and keep your name in circulation a paid author usually publishes every 6-12 months. Depending on the genre, and how well previous books have sold, you might have some more wiggle room to play with. But that doesn't mean a paid author is sitting in the lap of luxury as royalties pour in, they are working! Most paid authors balance a day-job with family obligations, writing, and publicity. Unlike a career author who can put everything aside for an emergency the Paid Author is on a deadline. They have contracts. They have to keep editors and agents happy. It's a bumpy, rough ride. And for many authors this is where the end it all. An author can be here for decades, doing well, but never escaping. Percentage of the world in this category: 2%

7. At-Ease Author- At some point a rare few authors escape being Paid Authors and become so popular and wide read that they can not only write whatever they like, but they can make a profit writing whatever they like. It's almost a working retirement for authors. Instead just writing in their established genre these authors will branch out and write some really random things: cook books, self-help, poetry... and their fan base will snatch it up. They've become a household name and a brand in their own right. We hope any of our favorite authors who reach this stage remember to KEEP WRITING! I mean, sure, the cookbook is awesome, but the fans still want the writing that made you big to start with. Percentage of the world in this category: 0.005%

*Note* This is for fiction literature. Non-fiction is a whole other species entirely.


  1. Wow. Great post, Lei! I hope to make it to the Paid Author someday. I'm trying. I'll start querying. And I'll keep doing it until I get there.

    Now I know what to call those people who look at me and say, "Oh, you write novels? I'd like to write a novel." They seriously have no idea. :)

  2. Heh, interesting breakdown. I think it makes sense...

    Speaking of fanfic... *breaks her brain again* There are reasons I should not browse...


  3. More brain breakage???

    We may have to take you to the ER. Or get you some Zaphod glasses, the kind that go black before you could see anything that might alarm you.

  4. I love the theory, but gotta call you on those numbers. Are those for really or just OMAFs?

  5. You do realize that it adds up to 115% don't you?

  6. Does it? No, those are just random guesses. Sarah, which numbers add to 115%?

    My guess is that of the 82% of people who can read, about half (40%) read for fun and count as readers of some kind or another.

    From there it breaks down. A good percentage of readers have some form of fan fiction, either written or acted out. A smaller portion of the fan fiction writes derivative fiction. An even smaller fraction writes something unique. And so on and so forth.

    So it shouldn't add up to anything.

    Unless you mean the queries. And the query percentages were very random guesses. I've never been able to dig through a slush pile for any literary agent or publishing house so I'm not sure what the numbers are. That's an estimate based on rants from agents. Which could be exaggerated. No one rants about the ordinary.

  7. My kids are all book fanatics...it'll be cool watching to see if they progress through your stages...they have already tried short stories and have started chapter books...we'll see...I'd like to give them some inspiration from personal experience, but I have made it to the paid author thing, yet.

  8. Interesting ideas but I'm not sure I buy any of the numbers. 40% reading fiction for pleasure seems high to me...per http://www.readforpleasure.com/2007/01/how-much-do-we-read.html , 43% of (American) adults reported reading for pleasure, but I'm guessing that counts magazines too. In my circle of acquaintances, probably only about 20% read fiction for pleasure.

    You explained here that you meant it differently, but from the way the estimates are phrased, 38% of "the world" writes fanfiction (just 2% fewer than read for pleasure). I don't think that would be true. :)

    By my back of the envelope estimates, if we follow the "percentages of percentages" logic, then the true percentage of "the world," based on 38% out of the 40% of the world, would be 15.2%. Does one in seven people in the world really write fanfiction? (That would be about 46,000,000 Americans.) Wikipedia claims Fanfiction.net has 1.3 million users worldwide. I have a hard time imagining that only one out of 40 fanfiction writers, or even fewer, have an account there.

    Then if 20% of the people who write fanfiction move on to derivative fiction, 3% of the world writes derivative fiction, or more than 9,000,000 Americans.

    If 10% of people who write derivative fiction move on to independent writing, then 0.3% of people write what is considered independent writing--fewer than 1,000,000 Americans.

    Following along, 0.015% of the world are considered "career writers" (fewer than 50,000 Americans) and 0.000304% of the world (fewer than 1,000 Americans) are "paid authors."

    At every office I've been to, when I work on my writing in the lunchroom, people assume I am doing "homework." Every time I've told someone I'm writing a novel, they look at me in astonishment or confusion. So I don't think writing is a very common hobby. If it were my list, I'd lump "fanfiction" and "derivative fiction" together, at maybe 0.5% to 1% of the total world population, and go down from there.

    Though I don't know how many authors actually follow that path. While I have written fanfiction, the first things I ever wrote were derivative fiction, and even an unfinished work of independent fiction, before I went [i]back[/i] to fanfiction, and then forward to independent fiction. So the progression didn't work that way for me, and I know a lot of writers never touch fanfiction.

  9. Me, I'm gonna get me to the At-Ease Author stage!! lol. One day...

    For now, I'm a career writer.

    And for the record, I skipped fanfiction too...