Writers’ Primer: Ratios, the Sure-Fire Way to Get Published

Ever heard of ratios? I mean, outside of middle school math.

Ratios are a simple, effective way to quantify your effort as a writer. And if your primary goal is getting published, knowing your ratios is essential. It’s been said, “It’s all a numbers game.” Don’t let an expression’s overuse dilute its merit. It’s cliché in part because it’s accurate. There’s a reason people cite the effectiveness of numbers.

I used to be in sales. It paid the bills while I wrote. One of the best tools I took from that career was knowing and understanding how to track activity. It applies to writing as well. We simply can’t afford to ignore numbers. The best writers know this. They’re disciplined. They write consistently. It’s exercise. The most active – the healthiest – are the fittest. 

Some writers write a daily minimum word count. For others it’s ensuring a story, article, poem or song gets completed. They may not care about labeling their activity, but it’s a form of maintaining ratios.

Are you submitting your work? Putting it off? Sick of rejections? (All of the above?) Most of the prep’s already been done for us with itemized online lists of where best to publish and when. The digital version of having your own personal trainer – a coach who’s already done the heavy lifting – planning your program, tailoring it to your goals, arranging the equipment needed. All you have to do is show up and put in the effort.

If getting published is your primary goal, pull the list that fits your objectives and go to work. Here’s where your ratios come in. If your list of suitable publishers accept five percent of the work submitted, assuming you’re submitting your best work, twenty submissions should result in you having a submission accepted. Not five. Not ten. Twenty.

Subjectivity aside, the odds are in your favour. Numbers work. And rejection’s part of the equation. If you’re not getting rejections, you’re not submitting. And without submissions, you’re not getting published. A co-worker once said, “I make a sale at every meeting I book.” To which I said, “Then you’re not booking enough meetings!”

Life isn’t a series of yeses. Nos are part of the deal. If someone hears nothing but yes they’re surrounded by liars. Using our five percent acceptance example, every nineteen rejections should result in you having an accepted publication. If you’re not getting rejections, you’re not submitting enough. Simple as that.

Still, choose a rifle over a shotgun. That’s where your trainer comes in. In our case, targeted lists – isolating for best results – efficiency along with effectiveness. Identify magazines, journals or manuscript publishers congruent with your writing, your genre and style, then go to work. As much as we might hate it, queries and submissions are essential. You can’t stay healthy without hard work and some sweat. Consistency creates results. Keep improving your craft. But never underestimate the importance of repetition, perseverance and the power of ratios.

(To my delight this article was rejected by Authors Publish Magazine.)

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land. 

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