That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's another math-centric spiel on probability.
We all know why casinos work and make money, right? It's because they know the odds are stacked in their favor. They go to great lengths to safeguard against cheating. As a player, some games have better odds than others, but the numbers are what they are. You can't change them—all you can do is know the parameters, consider your choices within them, and take a chance.
As writers, we talk about trying to increase our odds of getting an agent, getting published, making a bestseller list, etc.
It seems a natural statement, but we can't do it. There are no odds. Odds assume all things are equal—the dice aren't loaded, the roulette wheel isn't rigged. In the writing and publishing world, nothing is equal.
We're all have different strengths and weaknesses. We're all at different stages of progression. Some have a story agents/editors want right now; some have a story they might have wanted a year or two ago; some have a story agents/editors won't want for a year or two (or five) yet.
Seriously, no probabilities or odds out there at all.
I can understand the urge to think of it that way, though. Just like the casino, much of what happens is out of our control. And like the casino, there is some luck involved, if only as far as timing—getting the right agent's (or editor's) attention at the right time with the right project.
When things aren't within our control, we tend to think of them in terms of chance, odds, hoping the cards fall our way.
When we think that way, we may forget things that are within our control. Working hard to continually improve our craft. Looking ahead to the next project (and the next, and the next) when the stars don't line up for one, rather than staying stuck on that one, never moving forward. Educating ourselves on the industry and our options within it.
There is no magic bullet or shortcut, no counting cards or rigging the machines. We can do everything right and still not "win."
Because there are no numbers to work. There is only work to be done.
Well, there's one number out there. If we quit—or never get out there in the first place—our "odds" of success are precisely zero. As long as we avoid that number, we're on the right track.