Publishing Stats and Banning Books

March 11, 2024

As Sofie and I have just published our first book, I thought it would be interesting to think about this generally accepted statistic from and other writing websites. They state: Within the book publishing industry, it is agreed that the odds of an author getting their work published stands between 1% and 2%.

Ponder upon that for a moment. There’s another statistic out there gained from a number of surveys that state that 81% of the American population wants to publish a book. However, if the above is true, that leaves 79 to 80% of Americans with ideas floating around in their heads, manuscripts that have been lovingly written, only to be rejected, or to have never really taken flight.

Writing is hard work, as is engaging in any art form. It’s exposing, leaving one raw and vulnerable, yet writers feel compelled to share what’s on their minds. Sharing that work is akin to standing naked in a crowded theater in which everyone is equipped with high powered binoculars to inspect every flaw in your less than perfectly fit and toned body under extremely bright lights. When a writer’s work is submitted to publishers and the response is that they’re not interested, it’s soul crushing. Which makes me wonder why and how any books get published at all.

There’s probably nothing I love better than to walk into a library or bookstore and imagine all of those writers sitting next to their works, beckoning me to read each and every one of them. However, I do what everyone else does. I pick up books that look interesting, turn them over, find out what it’s about, then flip through the book to see if I really want to read it. All the other little writers sitting next to their books breathe a collective sigh, light their little cigarettes, and hope for another patron to come in and pick their work up.

I’ve been following Marty Dodson on Instagram and he’s been highlighting some of the books that have been put on the banned list. (You can see what books have been challenged by going to the American Library Association website and looking under the banned and challenged books.) Several of the books that Marty Dodson has reviewed are beautiful picture books for children. In my opinion, these are good stories and nothing that I would be concerned about if one of my children had brought them home or my students read those books. I would rejoice to the heavens if my students brought books to class.

Here’s the really confusing part to me. Children have way more terrifying and legitimate fears in their lives than a few books that seem to upset a small, but incredibly vocal minority of people. I was teaching in a school when a student brought a loaded gun into school and terrorized the entire school for two hours. Every person who lived through that day will never forget it, nor will they enter a school without identifying the exits first. Guns are a real fear and an ever present threat to our children and every employee in a school. Books are not the threat here.

Another mystifying concept is that these books will somehow indoctrinate children into a lifestyle or way of thinking that is unacceptable to some people. The content that is on their cell phones is far more dangerous and explicit, but no one’s taking away kids’ phones. I know this because I am a teacher and the fight over cell phones is real, every day, every class period, multiple times during each and every class period. I can count on one hand the times when I had to ask a child to stop reading a book and pay attention.

Then I think about the 1% ratio of books actually getting published. That 1% of books has been through editing, design, reviews, gone over with a fine tooth comb multiple times by multiple people prior to being put out in the world. That’s why it’s so hard to publish a book. It’s a very long process that is not embarked upon lightly. So I find it really disturbing that these works of art are tossed aside so easily as being unfit for children. The author who wrote that book most likely has the heart of a child and remembers that if someone had written a book like this, it would have been helpful to themselves, or at the very least, they would have enjoyed it and that’s why they want to share it!

As I’ve begun this writing journey in my later years I am reminded of a conversation at a writer’s workshop that I attended. The class was geared towards teaching us writers how to promote our work to get it published and sold. There was a lot of talk about promoting yourself on social media, starting with at least 100 query letters for each manuscript, designing the perfect pitch, creating a website, and then selling yourself on your website in order to become an extrovert in one easy lesson.

One gentleman in the audience at the workshop asked the question that every other writer in that room was thinking, but what no one actually voiced, until he bravely did it for all of us.

He stood up, cleared his throat and said, “I hear a lot of talk about promoting ourselves and putting ourselves out there, but look at us, look at this group of people. We’re writers, I think I can safely say that the vast majority of us are introverts and that’s why we write. How do you propose that we change our very nature to suddenly become extroverted people to sell our work?” The entire room burst into applause. As one more introverted writer, I very much appreciated his candor. I honestly do not remember what the presenter’s response was. That wasn’t the point, really.

So, I guess my thought of the day regarding this ridiculous notion of banning books is that these are works of art. And like any other work of art, you can choose to enjoy it, or not. Just because you don’t want to see a teeny weeny on a replica of a David statue doesn’t mean you get to take your baseball bat and destroy it. You just move on, teeny weeny, noted. That’s it.

If, by the extremely off chance that your child comes home with a book that you disapprove of, just return it. No harm, no foul. Better yet, read the book with your child and talk about your values with your child. As a teacher, my biggest struggle is actually getting students off their phones and into the books. Rest assured, teachers don’t have the time to push a certain book onto a child. All they want is for that child to at least pick out a book and walk out of the library with it before lunch, recess, the next class period, or the end of the school day.

Teachers just want kids to read books, because reading books is good for their brains, and it’s a primary method of learning new information. Literacy matters. Writers want kids to read their books because they want to share their art form with them. Given the 1% publishing ratio that’s out there, imagine all of the stories that we have not heard! It’s OK, they’re books, and books are good to read and discuss.