The title of the post echoes a plaintive wail from the comment column on my year end stats for full novels.
It's actually more like 1.6% (2:124) but you're in the ballpark.
But I don't think of the 122 novels I did NOT sign as failures.
For starters, 9 of them just weren't right for me but got a referral. If you think of that as failure, we've got a very different perspective on what failure is.
9 got sent back with detailed notes and an invite to resubmit. That sure as heck isn't failure!
1 got "not this, but the next one", and that's sure as heck also not failure.
But more important than the numbers, it's what you do with them.
There are two ways to look at these results: you, the writer, made progress toward your goal, or you didn't. If you didn't, you use the information you learned in the process to figure out what to change so you'll make progress the next time. If you define failure as not achieving your goal, even good progress is defined as failure, and that's just a recipe for total frigging insanity.
If I were a writer looking at those stats, the first thing I'd want to make sure is that I'm writing something fresh and new. So, how do you know that? You don't just write something and assume its fresh and new cause you've never seen it used. Nope.
What you do is what Joe Finder did when he started his writing career. He read 200 thrillers. He researched what his genre looked like. Lee Child did the exact same thing. He had a very measured, thoughtful approach to creating Jack Reacher, from his name to his background. And Lee Child continues his voracious reading to this day. I purposely stalk him in the dealer room at Bouchercon to hear what he has to say about authors: he's an excellent writer, but he's a GREAT reader.
If I were a writer looking at those stats, I'd make sure I had fierce beta critics on my team. Fierce critics who would make me want to bathe in medicinal scotch at the end of their critique, but critics who would identify structural problems or voice problems, or plot problems.
If I were a writer looking at those stats, I'd say "Good. Now I know what the challenges are." And then I'd make my 2010 resolution: Get Fierce.