Novel Survey Results, Part I
Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/
Last month, I began collecting information from professionally published novelists. The goal of the survey was to learn how writers broke in, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist.
My thanks to everyone who participated, as well as the folks at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Book View Cafe, SFWA, SF Novelists, Absolute Write, and everyone else who helped to spread the word.
The survey closed on March 15, 2010 with 247 responses. There’s a great deal of information here, so I’ll be breaking the results into several blog posts. At the end, I’ll combine everything into one big write-up and post it on the web site for future reference.
So let’s bust some writing myths. Today I’ll be looking at:
The Raw Data
Short Story Path to Publication
Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel
The Raw Data:
For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more. This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers. No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.
247 authors from a range of genres responded. One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was for a nonfiction title). A random audit found no other problems. The results were heavily weighted toward SF/F, which is no surprise, given that it was a fantasy author doing the study. But I think we’ve got a respectable range here:
The year in which authors made their first sale covered a range of more than 30 years, with the earliest being 1974. The data is heavily weighted toward the past decade.
When I do the final write-up, I’ll also include a spreadsheet of the raw data (with all identifying information stripped out).
So there’s the background information in a nutshell. With that out of the way, let’s get to the first myth…
The Short Story Path to Publication:
I received a great deal of contradictory advice about how to break in, back in the late 90s. Many writers told me you had to sell short stories first to hone your craft and build a reputation so agents and editors would pay attention to you. Others told me this was outdated, and these days you could skip short fiction if you wanted and just jump straight into novel writing.
So do you have to sell short fiction first? I asked how many short stories people sold, if any, before making that first professional novel sale. Answers ranged from 0 all the way to 400 short fiction sales. On average, authors sold 7.7 short stories before selling the novel.
Next I looked at the median, the midway point in our sample. The median number of short fiction sales was 1, meaning half of the authors sold more than this many, and half sold fewer.
But let’s make this even simpler. Of our 246 authors, 116 sold their first novel with zero short fiction sales.
Possible Data Quality Issue: The question was “How many short fiction sales, if any, did you have before making your first professional novel sale?” Several authors noted that they only included “professional” short fiction sales, which might reduce the numbers. But even so, the idea that you must do short fiction first? Totally busted. Not only that, but looking at a scatterplot of the number of short fiction sales and the year of the first novel sale, this appears to be busted going back at least 30 years.
I do believe that short fiction sales can help an author. One author noted that they were contacted directly by an editor who had read the author’s short fiction and wanted to know if the author had a novel. Personally, I found that short fiction helped me a lot with certain aspects of the craft. And of course, a lot of us just enjoy writing short stories.
Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel:
For as long as I’ve been writing, some authors have been announcing the death of traditional publishing. Especially with the growth of print-on-demand and electronic publishing, I hear that self-publishing is the way to go. The idea is that if you self-publish successfully, you’ll attract the notice of the big publishers and end up with a major contract, like Christopher Paolini did with Eragon.
One of the survey questions asked how authors sold their first novel to a professional publisher. The options were:
- Self-published, then sold the book to a professional publisher
- Published with a small press, then sold the book to a professional publisher
- Submitted directly to a professional publisher, who bought it
- Submitted to an agent, who sold the book to a professional publisher
To those proclaiming queries and the slush pile are for suckers, and self-publishing is the way to land a major novel deal, I have bad news: only 1 author out of 246 self-published their book and went on to sell that book to a professional publisher. There was also 1 “Other” response where the author published the book on his web site and received an offer from a professional publisher. (It should be noted that this author already had a very popular web site, which contributed to the book being noticed and picked up.)
Just to be safe, I ran a second analysis, restricting the results to only those books that sold within the past five years. PoD is a relatively new technology, so it’s possible the trends have changed. But after looking at the data, the results are pretty much identical.
This does not mean self-publishing can never succeed, or is never a viable option. (I.e., please don’t use this as an excuse for a “Jim hates self-publishing” rant.) However, for those hoping to leverage self-published book sales into a commercially published breakout book (a la Eragon), the numbers just aren’t in your favor. For the moment at least, the traditional pathways — submitting to an agent, submitting directly to the publisher — still appear to be the way to go.
Thus ends part 1 of our episode. Tune in soon, when we take on the myth of overnight success, and the myth that you have to know somebody in order to break in.
March 16, 2010 @ 9:10 am
This is really interesting Jim; thanks.
I’m one of the 116 who sold a novel without selling a short story. A thought: there are way more short story markets surviving in F/SF than in other genres. So if the survey had been less F/SF skewed, I bet the results would have shown an even greater proportion not ssselling short fiction.
Bah. My sssss key is sstuck. Ssssound like Gollum.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 9:17 am
Thanks for participating! I’m not familiar enough with the short fiction market in other genres, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you were right.
As for that S key, it sounds like you’re ready for a promising career in COBRA 😉
March 16, 2010 @ 9:27 am
Guesss there are also still short story markets in literary fiction (whatever that is) but that’s about it.
In middle grades, where I’m at, there are maybe four short fiction markets? Counting as one a company that owns several magazines and basically wantss submissions from Newbery winners :).
Yesss, a sssnake. That’ss it.
Genreville » Blog Archive » Jim Hines’s Survey Results Are In!
March 16, 2010 @ 9:44 am
[…] been looking forward to this for quite a while: the first results of Jim Hines’s survey on first-time novel sales are finally in. Jim has some lovely little […]
March 16, 2010 @ 10:13 am
I was unduly worried about the whole short story sales thing when I was selling my first book, because “everyone” knew that you had to have a track record, just as “everyone” knew that it’s easier to get an editor than an agent, etc. Looking back, I think I heard this most from people who wrote short fiction.
What I’ve learned to my despair over the years is that I’m not very good at writing short stories. It’s a skill in itself. It’s not just like a novel only easier because it’s short. It takes a much different view and pacing and I have boundless respect for those who are good at it. I’d like to write short fiction, one day, but when I say that, I’m echoing in reverse some of my friends who are brilliant at the short form, but long to write a novel one day, but who aren’t very good at the long form.
Bottom line: They are different and just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you’re good at both. Therefore, to impose such a rule on new writers can be not only daunting, but unfair. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to lay that myth to rest, though. It’s been around as long as I have, and I go back a ways.
March 16, 2010 @ 10:55 am
Interesting study Jim. Couple of issues/questions I have with your analysis though – does the first of those last two graphs also include 2005+ data (as the large number of first sales in this period will weight the chart otherwise). Second, as the data is so heavily skewed in favour of recent sales, does this mean that it is now easier to get published (or are newer pros more likely to answer surveys…)?
March 16, 2010 @ 11:30 am
I think that Karen Schwabach is correct, and that the “have to sell short fiction first” is a phenomenon unique to SFF markets (and probably, to older lit fic markets). You certainly aren’t told that if you’re writing romance or YA. The only “short story” markets open to romance writers are the “true confessions” magazines, but that is a very limited one, and not necessarily conducive to whatever kind of long-form romance you are writing. Also, there are no bylines involved, because the entire idea behind those confessions is that you’re pretending they are “true.” I also know a few erotica writers who wrote Penthouse letters. Same idea.
Though in romance — especially if you write contemporary as opposed to historical — you are very much encouraged to “break in” by writing Harlequin category novels. I know a bunch of writers (myself included) who tried for years to break into Harlequin unsuccessfully, because, like short stories, category novels are a specific form, and it might not be your natural strength.
March 16, 2010 @ 11:32 am
Not only do I htink newer pros are more likely to answer surveys of this nature, I also think newer pros have more valuable insights to offer for TODAY’s market. Older pros might say “well, not going to get into this, because my path isn’t really valid anymore, what with publisher consolidation and the lack of short story markets…”
March 16, 2010 @ 11:34 am
Jim, thanks for this. I’m heading in exactly the opposite direction from the way your research suggests I should. But that’s exactly why your input is important – helps me to keep a sense of reality and balance. Looking forward to the next part.
March 16, 2010 @ 12:11 pm
My own case is a weird one. Four novels published between 1988 and 1993: one fantasy, one historical fic/fantasy, one horror, one literary spec fiction. Took ten years off because I really didn’t like the way the industry was headed (and still don’t). Picked up again in 1993, and have since published nine novels, mainstream press.
I didn’t sell short stories first.
Not sure if any of this is helpful.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 12:22 pm
Both of those graphs inlude the 2005+ data. The second one is restricted to only 2005 and beyond, to see if that made a significant difference.
I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier to get published today based on these results. Only that more recently-published authors were more likely to respond to the survey. That may be because I know more new authors, or because newer authors are more likely to be active online … could be any number of factors going on there.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 12:25 pm
Also keep in mind that there is no one Right way to break in. A lot of people added comments to the effect of “Well, I didn’t go about this the normal way…”
Bottom line, the statistics might be nice and useful, but everyone’s career is different.
March 16, 2010 @ 1:58 pm
Thanks, Jim! I’ve been looking forward to these results for a while.
To further bust the short fiction myth — I was one of those who sold a novel after publishing short fiction, and I am fairly sure my short fiction sales had nothing to do with my novel sale. I don’t think my editor even looked at my published stories until after she had decided she wanted to make an offer. (This is for YA fantasy.)
So even for those 130 authors who sold short fiction and then novels – for many of them it may have been more coincidence than anything else.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 5:09 pm
I don’t know that the myth is as strong as it used to be, but it’s definitely still out there. When I brought the survey up in the SFWA newsgroups, one of the comments was that I was wasting my time, because everyone knew the short story myth had been busted years ago.
I eventually taught myself to do both, but I do tend to prefer novels. I should have known from the fact that I’d much rather *read* a novel than a short story or collection of short fiction. But sometimes I’m a little slow 🙂
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 5:11 pm
Agreed. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, and all that 🙂 In my case, I think working on short fiction helped me polish some of the tools in my writing toolbox, but I didn’t really learn how to write a novel until I sat down and, well, wrote a few novels.
March 16, 2010 @ 5:12 pm
Heh, took me a while to figure than one out, too, and along the same path.
March 16, 2010 @ 5:16 pm
Very interesting! I’d never really thought outside the sf/f genre. I think there may still be at least as many “literary” (just hate making that distinction) short fiction markets, if many small ones, as sf, though.
March 16, 2010 @ 5:45 pm
This is great info, Jim. Thanks for putting it together. I found this Joshua Bilmes’ Twitter account.
Five years from now, I’d be very curious to see how the same study looks. I wonder if we’re just on the brink of the era where self-publishing an ebook will be a viable path to landing a good publisher. The next five years could be quite different from the last five years in this regard. We’ll see.
March 16, 2010 @ 5:48 pm
To me, this also busts the myth (or at least gives a run for its money) that you *have* to have an agent, rather than work directly through a publisher. Based on what everyone has been telling me forever, you are basically screwed if you don’t have an agent, but I have always had better responses from editors than from agents. Which I guess isn’t surprising, as I sold my first novel to a publisher, and I haven’t had an agent for any of the novels I’ve sold since.
Though actually *having* an agent would be kinda nice.
March 16, 2010 @ 5:58 pm
Excelent post, Jim. Kudos for taking on such a perennial topic and presenting it in such a journalistic way. I’m glad, for one, that you took a glance at short stories published before the first novel. Short Story writing and Novel writing are two TOTALLY seperate art forms. (as is Blogging)
As for the death of the publishing industry: Remember when computers were going to take over, and we were all going to live in a paperless society? *Gasp* not even Kindle can emulate the sexy warmth of a good book. Cheers!
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 7:38 pm
Thanks, Moses! I’m still getting used to the idea of Joshua with a Twitter account 🙂
Anything’s possible, but I’m a little skeptical. Partly because people have been predicting that self-publishing would become a more viable path — or the only viable path — to publishing success for almost as long as I’ve been writing.
That said, the technology certainly is evolving and improving, and I’m not going to try to predict what the industry will look like 5 or 10 years from now….
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 7:39 pm
I’d also want to know how many of those authors who sold their first book directly to the publisher went on to get an agent for the second or third books. But I do know a few working authors in addition to yourself who continue ot sell to the big publishing houses and do it sans agent.
I wouldn’t want to try it, though. Contracts and negotiations scare me 🙂
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 7:41 pm
Thanks, Randal. My agent said something similar in his blog just today:
“I’ve been in the business 25 years, it’s been dying for that entire time, and it’s many years ago that I started telling people that if that’s what it was really doing it would need to have actually died by now.”
Things are certainly changing, but dying? I think not.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 7:42 pm
It definitely helps to confirm that you don’t *have* to sell short fiction in order to sell novels. I wish I’d known that a decade ago when I was trying to figure out how to break in…
March 16, 2010 @ 7:47 pm
My agent has been very good at selling my work to foreign markets. I have no idea how I would to that on my own, and it’s a very good “manna from heaven” extra bit of revenue.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2010 @ 8:20 pm
Oh heck yes. My agent has either doubled or tripled my writing income through foreign sales, and I’d have no clue how to get those deals on my own.
March 16, 2010 @ 8:37 pm
Hi, Jim! I was one of the authors who went through slush, no agent. And it isn’t a small press publisher. I sold my first MS, and have since sold a second and received a four book contract..no agent. But this is category romance and the contracts are a bit more standardized than most, also the publisher (Harlequin Mills and Boon) is very willing to take unagented, unsolicited MSs for their category romance. I also published no short stories beforehand. Very interesting survey!
Erik Scott de Bie
March 16, 2010 @ 8:48 pm
Hey, they kinda scare me too–I’d love to have someone do them for me! 😀
It’s all just a matter of finding the right agent.
March 16, 2010 @ 9:06 pm
Wow. Excellent stuff, Jim! Thanks so much for putting this together. Can’t wait to see the rest of the results.
John Brown – the author’s official site » Blog Archive » How people actually break into writing novels
March 16, 2010 @ 9:09 pm
[…] writers, Jim C. Hines is starting to release the results of his how did you break in survey. Go
March 16, 2010 @ 10:24 pm
Consider; short fiction markets either establish or keep a writer in the limelight between novels. Short stories are like calling cards for a reception. Marketing. Novels are like dining at the head table.
March 17, 2010 @ 3:25 am
Very interesting survey. I’m 47, and discovered my love for reading just 5 years ago. I read about a novel a week, about 70% SF&F, along with lots of short stories. So recently I thought I would try my hand at Writing short stories, just as a hobby. Of course, I would love to have something published. I’m working on my second one right now. I check out all sorts of website articles on writing, and have read several books on the art, so I know the difference between writing novels and short stories. But still, I always assumed that short stories were the best way to ‘practice’ writing. I realize that you are talking about being published, but I also know now, thanks to your article, that if I don’t have success with short stories I don’t need to give up.
Jim C. Hines
March 17, 2010 @ 7:28 am
Thanks, Maisey. Me too, actually — submitted to the slush pile, and got an offer directly from the publisher. Then turned around and took the offer to an agent.
I don’t think I’d go that route again, though. It took 2.5 years to hear back from the publisher. But it worked, so I’m not going to complain 🙂
Jim C. Hines
March 17, 2010 @ 7:30 am
I think it depends a lot on the short stories, and where they’re published. I’ve found that many of mine, even those published in pro-paying markets, tend to disappear without much of a reaction. Even the pro short fiction markets don’t always have great circulation.
I’m not saying it isn’t worth it. I know my short fiction has brought in some new fans and readers, which is great. But while they can be effective as a marketing tool, I’m not sure *how* effective they are, if that makes sense?
March 17, 2010 @ 8:12 am
This is lots of fun to read, and I look forward to the next.
One has to be careful, though, about drawing conclusions from this sort of data. Of course it’s easy to dismiss any rumor that one “must” do X in order to get Y, because that sort of thing is self-evidently false in the absence of formal rules (e.g., you actually must be 16 to get a driver’s license in most states).
So the real question isn’t, for example, whether you “must” publish short fiction in order to publish a novel, but whether publishing short fiction increases the statistical likelihood of success in publishing a novel. Unfortunately you can’t determine the answer to that question by surveying only those who succeeded.
Success rate is those who succeeded divided by those who tried. (For example, if we see that 50% of the people hired at a firm are female, and then we learn that 90% of the applicants were female, we would conclude that males are actually more likely to succeed in getting jobs at that firm.) Since we don’t know what proportion of unsuccessful novel writers (those who completed novels but failed to sell them) published short fiction first, we don’t know whether publishing short fiction increases the success rate of novel sales.
If you asked your respondents how long it took them to sell their first novels, then we might be able to correlate that data with the presence or absence of prior fiction sales, and some interesting results might result.
Still, this is fantastic stuff. Keep it coming.
March 17, 2010 @ 9:09 am
Yeah, effectiveness is always hard to gauge with marketing, except nothing succeeds like success. The only usual useful marketing feedback is incoming benjamins. However, name brand recognition is about being the buzz on the tongue in word of mouth. “_Did you read so-and-so’s latest short in X-digest?” “Yeah, it was So Cool. I can’t wait until so-and-so’s next short/novel/film comes out.” “Any word on the grapevine when that is?”_
March 17, 2010 @ 10:46 am
Thanks for the info. That must have been an incredible amount of work. I have one self-published novel and know that that the bookstores wont even consider them, although I did get the store in Highlands Ranch to take a copy of it to put on their shelf. I dont know if it is still there or not, LOL
Writer Wednesday Blog Tour #9 « By W. J. Howard
March 17, 2010 @ 12:06 pm
[…] Novel Survey Results, Part I on Jim C. Hines blog. “The goal of the survey was to learn how writers broke in, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist.” […]
Jim C. Hines
March 17, 2010 @ 1:15 pm
I don’t believe short stories are worthless, or that you can’t learn a lot doing them. (I certainly did.) But I was told you *must* publish short stories first before trying to do novels, and I wish I had known better at the time.
My advice these days would be to write whatever you love writing.
Erik Scott de Bie
March 17, 2010 @ 2:50 pm
Kudos to the wise folks who posted about how novels and short stories are completely different animals.
Some people are far better at one form than the other, and it takes different styles/training to do either one well. (For instance, though I love his novels, I consider Neil Gaiman to be better at writing short stories.)
So, in addition to being busted by the numbers, the myth of honing your craft and training yourself to be a novelist by writing short stories is pretty illogical, IMO.
March 17, 2010 @ 9:44 pm
As a research geek, I love anything involving graphs and statistics, so thanks for this! I also believe in sticking to what you love, thus these results were encouraging as I’m just not drawn to writing short stories.
Mid-Week Links Round-Up | Absolute Write
March 18, 2010 @ 1:11 am
[…] a lot of deeply interesting information from over 200 writers about first novel sales, and he’s posted part one of the survey results. For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where […]
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2010 @ 8:36 am
I do think that *some* of the skills transfer from one to the other, but they’re definitely not the same thing. I remember asking one fairly well-known author if he’d write a short story for me when I was editing Heroes in Training. I was surprised when he told me “I can’t write short stories for sh*t.”
But they’re not the same thing, and success in one doesn’t guarantee the same in the other.
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2010 @ 8:39 am
Thanks, Kristi. Looking back, I’m happy with where I’m at in my career, but I do kind of wish I’d started focusing on novels earlier instead of feeling like I had to do a short fiction internship…
I was bummed I couldn’t come up with a good graph for the second myth I posted about today 😛
March 18, 2010 @ 10:52 am
Interesting study, Jim – thanks for your hard work. Just a note-I couldn’t see the far right graphs on my screen…it cut them off at 2005 or earlier, depending on the graph.
March 18, 2010 @ 11:39 am
Thanks for the info! Lots of literary short fiction markets and bunch of people in that genre still say you have to do the short story path and it seems that most people have to work at that quite a while until they can get a short story published in one of the lit mags that count. I just sent a book manuscript which I hope will get a reading even though I haven’t hit the top tier for lit mags yet. I’m not really into short story format so hoping this works. But have frequently been told that it’s not necessary for other genres like mysteries of fantasy/sf but still is for literary novels.
March 18, 2010 @ 12:04 pm
I wasn’t part of any community, so I never heard whether you needed to do a lot of short story sales first; it was just that for a long time short stories were easier to write. (Would that it were still true, that they were easy, at least!) I actually sold more articles than short stories, and I didn’t sell anything in my genre (my first two short story sales were to what was called “confession magazines!) until one of my book publishers asked me for something after I’d published three books. My policy then was, if I had something complete, be it short story, article, or–at last–a book, out it went. It wasn’t doing me any good sitting on the desk.
By then it was getting far easier for me to write novels, and now short stories are a Labor of Hercules for me. I learned a lot of skills from them early on, but now my brain is so much in the habit of spinning long that reining it in repeatedly as I write a short story is a chore. I still do it when asked (when I have time) for the discipline, but I sweat blood over them!
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2010 @ 12:04 pm
Thanks, Janet. Sorry about that — if the graphs aren’t showing here, you can try LiveJournal at http://jimhines.livejournal.com/496760.html I’ve got the post mirrored there, and it might show up better with LJ’s layout.
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2010 @ 12:06 pm
Mary — I only had a small number of literary novelists, so I can’t guarantee that the results apply to all genres. But I was told the same thing about fantasy novels and having to prove myself in short fiction first, and from everything I’ve seen, that’s simply not true.
Editors *want* good books. If they find one, they’re not going to ignore it just because the author doesn’t have a long resume of short fiction credits.
March 19, 2010 @ 9:41 pm
One would also have to know how many of those ‘unpublished’ authors failed to produce a valid publishable book – and likewise failed to publish short stories because they failed to produce valid publishable short stories. If I am an ‘unpublished’ novelist because my so-called-novel is written in crayon on take-out bags, then I am in all probability going to be ‘unpublished’ in the short story market as well.
The difficulty is going to be in establishing the population of actual ‘writers’ in the absence of publication.
March 20, 2010 @ 11:58 am
“My advice these days would be to write whatever you love writing.”
I think this is some of the best advice out there. I always cheer enthusiastically whenever I hear it said.
Jim C. Hines
March 22, 2010 @ 9:04 am
I struggle with it sometimes. I look at my friends writing steampunk or zombies or urban fantasy or paranormal romance — whatever’s hot and selling like mad — and it’s very tempting to try to write the popular trend.
I just don’t think it would be as satisfying. And given that I only have time to do about one book a year, I have to trust that the stories I love to write will also have an audience.
First (Pro) Novel Survey Results at SF Novelists
March 24, 2010 @ 10:40 am
[…] http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/novel-survey-results-part-i/ http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/novel-survey-results-part-ii/ http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/novel-survey-results-part-iii/ […]
March 24, 2010 @ 11:07 am
This whole thing is fascinating. Thanks, Jim.
March 24, 2010 @ 3:06 pm
I will let you know why bookstores don’t like self-published books, from the point of view of a bookseller. In the early days we would get saddled with multiple copies of books that authors or friends of authors ordered and then never picked up. Most of those titles would be non-returnable. At first we could order anything into the store, even if it was print on demand. Now the majority of POD and self published books are pre-paid only. If a reader wants your book they have to pay for it to be shipped to their home, and they cannot return that book. We do this to protect ourselves from sitting on inventory that doesn’t sell.
Another reason we don’t like this kind of book is the overall look of the book. These books are made as cheaply as possible. Most of the time they don’t look good. The glue that binds them together breaks easily. In general they don’t appeal to the reader or the bookseller as well as a professionally published book. I am not saying that what is inside isn’t a good read. I’m just saying that they don’t sell as well.
The best way to get your book on a store shelf is what Jim’s friend James Owen has done at my store. Talk to the community relations manager at your local store. Talk to the booksellers. Get them to be as passionate about your writing as you are. I read Jim’s novel The Stepsister Scheme because James Owen gave us a copy. I really enjoyed it and now have that book and the Mermaids Madness on my suggestion endcap.
Jim C. Hines
March 24, 2010 @ 3:16 pm
Thanks, Lorien! And I think I owe James Owen a drink 🙂
Sterling Editing » Written on the internet
March 26, 2010 @ 4:29 am
[…] posts from Jim C. Hines (hat tip to http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/) on how writers broke into novel publishing, notions of overnight success, and boosting the […]
March 26, 2010 @ 10:08 am
There is another way at looking at the short story route: the potential novelist gets short stories published to stop himself crashing and burning, to stop himself falling into despair and just giving up – rather like a crocodile keeping itself alive snacking on fish until that wildebeest comes along.
March 26, 2010 @ 10:56 am
That’s a brilliant analogy! I’m a short fiction-incapable novelist, but those short term goal shots in the arm would sure be great.
March 26, 2010 @ 4:17 pm
Jim, this is such terrific information, I had to read it twice. Great job and thanks for putting this information out there.
Breaking Into Publishing as a Writer : This Writing Life
March 31, 2010 @ 4:36 am
[…] Jim C. Hines » Novel Survey Results, Part I Published: March 31, 2010 Filed Under: publishing Tags: Jim Hines Leave a Comment Name: […]
World Wide Wednesday: Associations and Unreliable Narrators | Fantasy Literature's Fantasy Book Reviews
March 31, 2010 @ 11:10 am
[…] about making it as a novelist. The results so far are extremely interesting – take a look here and here for the two part article. Hopefully this will be helpful for all you budding novelists out […]
April 4, 2010 @ 11:34 pm
Jim – I just wanted you to know that I’m linking to this study in my blog later this week. Fantastic post – thank you!
April 5, 2010 @ 8:54 pm
The effort you put into your research was impressive; I had to comment and say thanks. As a writer who is just now attempting to be published after writing three novels, the data was encouraging. It’s nice to know there’s hope for me without trailing into writing short stories. My mind doesn’t seem bent in that direction.
Jim C. Hines
April 6, 2010 @ 8:13 am
You’re not alone. Heck, even just in the comment threads here, you can find at least one successful and very good novelist talking about being short fiction-incapable 🙂
Jim C. Hines
April 6, 2010 @ 8:13 am
April 7, 2010 @ 3:03 am
Mark Jeffrey self=-published the first of the Max Quick books with Lulu. He shamelessly self-promoted himself for the years, peddling the book like it was the next Harry Potter. Heck, he hooked me line and sinker. I went out of my way to buy it, regretfully, only to discover that it wasn’t so much as a “debut novel” as it was an “okay first draft of a midlist-type writer, in desperate need of an editor, and several rewrites.” The book is rife with every error imaginable, spelling and grammatical erros in paricular. I remember marverling at just how poorly written, and published, for that matter, it was. It wasn’t even right justified!?
Then the unimaginable happened. From his website:
“Max Quick 1: The Pocket and the Pendant was just acquired by HarperCollins.”
April 8, 2010 @ 3:13 pm
Self-publishing as a general trend certainly will not replace traditional publishing. But taking the self-publishing route for a particular book is another story. There is no particular reason why a good self-published book cannot be successful. True, there are very few of those. But good books published traditionally are also very few, compared to how many are getting written and submitted for consideration. They all have gone through a very individualized process. So why generalize the self-publishing route too?
April 12, 2010 @ 9:15 am
A friend pointed me towards this survey – very interesting, thank you. I wasn’t one of the authors you surveyed, but my experience was the small press route for about five years followed by submission to slush piles and eventual publication in 1999 on a children’s list, making the crossover from the adult sf/fantasy genre into YA fiction and (much to my surprise!) winning an award for children’s fiction at the same time. I also sent my mansucript to agents during this time, but found a publisher first.
Jim C. Hines – First Novel Survey Results « Lester Godsey's Blog
April 20, 2010 @ 2:43 am
[…] http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/novel-survey-results-part-i/ […]
You Can’t Handle the Truth « Wicked Writers
April 28, 2010 @ 8:14 am
[…] Some writers are also following this path in hopes of being noticed by large publishers. Reading Jim C. Hines novel survey results shows this isn’t the case. But what will the future hold with more self-published novels out […]
May 3, 2010 @ 3:45 pm
I think data like this is enlightening. As an aspirant writer, however, I think drilling deeper would be even more helpful. For instance, there are numbers floating around the web about how much you can expect to get paid for a novel/short story/what have you, but how many writers out there have a “day job” other than writing and how long did it take them to make a living from being a full time writer? What sort of backgrounds do published writers have? How many have a BA? Anecdotes like it took 2.5 years to hear back from a publisher are telling, and perhaps among the most important for unpublished authors to hear…
Erik Scott de Bie
May 3, 2010 @ 4:09 pm
Well, a BA is not required to be a writer, but a college education definitely helps you develop the construction/organization/writing skills that will be helpful to you.
So much of writing is, however, social/life experience, whether you get that through college or somewhere else. Listening to people talk, experiencing new/cool things, going to outrageous parties, etc., etc. And while college is quite good at that, there are lots of avenues.
I would hazard a guess that 80% (or more) of published writers have a day job or are at least supported by a spouse/partner who makes a boat-load of cash. It is extremely hard to make a full living as a writer. Those who do usually broaden their work to include advertisements, marketing stuff, etc., things that are less cool than novels but more often than not bring in the bucks. I’m not sure if you’d consider that a day job or not.
The biggest myth is the overnight success, i.e., that once you get a novel contract you’ll be a full time writer in no time. I mean sure, it *has* happened (though extremely, extremely rarely, and usually only to people who have substantial publishing/marketing connections like Chris Paolini, etc.), but you’re more likely looking at the slow build/creep. I published my first novel in 2005, and I still have my day job.
The thing is, if you’re going to write for the money or the glory, don’t do it. You are opening yourself up to a world of hurt and heartache. Only write because you love to–or because you *have* to, because you just feel compelled. Then, at least the painstaking process will be personally rewarding, in addition to painstaking.
Erik Scott de Bie
May 3, 2010 @ 4:26 pm
Oh and the reason you’re not seeing hard numbers about compensation is because how much you can get paid really, really varies, and I for one wouldn’t want to tell you something that’s wrong.
Also, few authors work for multiple publishing houses, so they can’t compare how much they are offered for each book–some people might pay more than others.
On average, I suspect that for a novel (depending on genre and publisher), you can expect something below a $10K advance against a fairly low royalty rate (“advance against royalties” means your book has to “earn out” before you start taking in royalties). $10K might be a really generous estimate–like I said, it depends a lot on your publisher. Assuming your book sells well (say, at least 10,000 copies in the first year) you might be looking at earning out in the first year, and collecting $50-60 each quarter thereafter, diminishing until the book is out of print. And that’s REALLY not enough to live on.
As Mercedes Lackey once told me, do NOT quit your day job until: 1) You have 5 books in print, each doing better than the last, 2) You have 5 books in contract, 3) You have enough money (including health insurance) on hand to live for an entire year without income.
(Also, I’ll add, if you have a sugar daddy/mommy who can support you during your quest to be a full-time writer, that will grease the skids, but don’t forget about your financial responsibilities to your family.)
So yeah, there we go.