When I was a young man, I would read Analog magazine – every issue. In one issue, there was an editorial by Robert A. Heinlein.  He wrote about a time he was invited to address the cadets at the US Naval Academy.  When he got to the Academy, he found out that he was expected to speak on how to be a published author – not what he had planned for.

However, he gave the cadets five rules that he guaranteed would result in getting published.  The five rules were:

  1. Write.
  2. Finish what you write.
  3. Rewrite only for editorial purposes.
  4. Submit what you have written.
  5. Keep on submitting it until it sells.

Heinlein asked the cadets who wanted to be published authors – about half raised their hands.  He then extended that number to the American public and gave the following:

  1. Approximately 100 million adults will state they want to be an author, BUT only 1 in 10 will start writing, so you have 10 million.
  2. Of those who start writing, only 1in 10 will finish what they started, so you now have 1 million.
  3. Of those that finished writing, most will continually go back and tweak what they wrote, trying to make the manuscript “perfect.” But only 1 in 10 will make just editorial corrections (misspellings, typos, grammar, etc.), so you now have 100,000.
  4. Of those, very few – 1 in 10 – will have the courage to submit their manuscript to a publisher, so you now have 10,000.
  5. But most manuscripts are rejected, and it hurts. But 1 in 10 will keep on submitting their manuscript until they find some publisher that will accept it.  So, you have roughly 1,000 people who are published authors.

Heinlein pointed out that the professional writers group he belonged to had approximately 500 members – so his numbers don’t seem to be that far off.

I can personally testify to the power of Heinlein’s 5 rules.  I have been published in scientific journals, computer magazines, woodturning magazines, newsletters, books and websites.  Just by following Heinlein’s 5 rules.

Because his 5 rules are all about persistence.  Keeping at something until you are successful.  It’s Thomas Edison trying a thousand materials as a filament in a light bulb – and failing – and keep trying.  It’s Colonel Sanders going from restaurant to restaurant with a recipe for “fried” chicken – being turned down, then going to more restaurants.

It’s really about being stupid – that’s what we think of those who keep persisting after failure following failure.

But it’s the only recipe that has any real chance of success.  And it’s only that – a chance.  You likely will fail much more – but success only comes when failure is not allowed to stop you.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.