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First (Professional) Novel Survey

We talk a lot about how to sell that first novel to a major publisher, but it’s hard sometimes to draw any real conclusions on the best way to break in when all we’ve got is a lot of anecdotal data.  Everyone’s path is different.  The experience of someone who broke in twenty years ago might not match the realities of publishing today.  For that matter, the experience of someone who broke in today might not match the realities of someone else who broke in today.

So, taking a page from Tobias Buckell and his first novel advance survey, I’ve put together a survey about selling that first novel.  I would love it if anyone who has sold at least one novel (any genre, including tie-ins — there’s a question where you can enter genre) to a professional publisher (for at least a $2000 advance1) could take a few minutes to click the survey link and answer about a dozen questions.  If you don’t have exact numbers, please give your best estimate.


The survey will remain open through March 15.  Pass it on.  The more data I can pull together, the more useful the results will be.  Please send people to this post instead of directly to the survey, so they get the introductory info.

I’ll post the results next month after the survey closes.  This is rough, Mythbusters-style science — it’s not going to be a truly random sample, and it’s not a controlled experimental design, but it should give us some results.  And it’s far better than “Well, this one guy who wrote a book once told me this is the way to sell your novel…”

If any of the survey questions are unclear, or if the survey itself gives people any trouble, please let me know ASAP so I can get that fixed.

ETA 1: For purposes of this survey, I’m not counting coauthored novels.  I’m looking for the first professional novel sale where you were the sole author.

ETA 2: I do ask for book titles for verification and deduplication, if necessary.  This and any other identifying information will be stripped out before anything is made public.

ETA 3: I’m looking for brand new authors and grizzled veterans alike.  The broader the range of data, the more likely we’ll be able to see if certain trends have changed over time.

Thanks in advance!

  1. The minimum $2000 advance is an arbitrary cutoff point, which I took from SFWA’s guidelines for professional publishers.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 18th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Wonderful idea, thanks Jim. As an aspiring author with a novel to sell, I'm very interested in real numbers.
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
You and me both!

Only 10 responses so far, and it's already interesting. Some of my guesses look to be correct. Others, not so much :-) (3 of 10 people sold their first completed novel, which is making me jealous.) Still need a lot more data before I can draw any conclusions, though.

And I just realized I should go do the survey myself!
(no subject) - kyrielle - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
errrr... original or media tie-in, or co-writtten... ? Because the stats are different, and the media stuff might skew the response...
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
Hm ... I don't think I want to include co-written, because that's a different "break-in" path.

I think original and tie-in both count though -- that could be something to note in the genre question.
(no subject) - ex_rolanni - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jhetley - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nightwolfwriter - Feb. 18th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
Good idea, Jim! You recognize that this isn't goint to be scientific by any means, but it's better than pure anecdotes. I'm curious about the results.
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
Definitely. It will be heavily skewed to SF/F authors, given my readership. And it won't do anything to show causation, but even the rough correlative data should be better than what I find myself using now :-)
(no subject) - mtlawson - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Feb. 18th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
Jim, if your actual first sold novel was below your cutoff, but a later sale say a second or third was above grade should people use that for the purposes of your survey? Or should they not post, since the literal first novel sale didn't meet the spec? (Mind you, I'm just thinking out loud here, as I don't have any novels sold.)
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
Use the first novel that meets the criteria. In my case, I sold Goldfish Dreams to a royalties-only press, sold Goblin Quest to Five Star for $1000, and then sold Goblin Quest to DAW.

I would count the DAW sale as my first professional novel sale.
(no subject) - temporus - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a fascinating survey. I look forward to reading it (and one day being able to take part in it).
Feb. 18th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
As I noted, I made three small press novel sales before my first professional sale by these standards, however, one of those novels made the Locus list and I was somewhat known because of these novels before I made that big sale--those novels are in part why I made that sale. So I don't feel like this is a fairy survey, as it doesn't take into account the experience of those who used the small press as a stepping stone, but didn't self publish early on. The Orphan's Tales was not my first novel.
Feb. 18th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
I'm not looking for first novel, but for first professional novel. I've tweaked the title and first paragraph to try to clarify that - thanks!

You're right that the survey doesn't take into account every possible path to publication.

Edited at 2010-02-18 04:33 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - catvalente - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
Hmm. The "did you have connections" question should have had an option for "I had no connections."

I'm curious to see how this comes out.
Feb. 18th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
I assumed those without any connections simply wouldn't check any of the boxes.
(no subject) - burger_eater - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
I always enjoy these surveys and will retweet it. A couple of the questions I wasn't sure about...how many rejections, I wasn't sure if you meant agents and editors or just editors. I went with the former. And how many years have you been writing...I've been writing my whole life, but I put down the number of years during which I was writing with an eye to professional writing, because there was a huge change in how I approached writing at that time.
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
Re: rejections, I meant from editors and agents both.

As for how many years of writing, that one's going to be subjective. Technically, I wrote a few stories back in high school, but never did anything serious with it. It wasn't until 1995 that I started with the goal to be a "real" author, and that's the year I went by in the survey.
(no subject) - lianemerciel - Feb. 18th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
I saw Jackie's tweet and took the survey - v. interesting! Mine is edgy YA, not SF/F, so that might change things a bit.
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad to get some non-SF/F responses. The results will definitely be skewed toward SF/F, given my readership here, but if we get enough other data we might be able to see if it suggests any differences, or if the process works about the same across the board.
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Took the survey -- I realize my experience is a little different so I also left you a long note. *G* Thanks for doing this! I'm interested in the final results.
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Now I want to go pull the results and see what you wrote :-)

Everyone's experience is going to be a little different, and there are always going to be outliers. That's one of the reasons I'm hoping for a large pool of responses -- the outliers are just as valid as anything else, but the larger sample size should give us a good overall picture.

I hope.
Feb. 18th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
I tried to do the survey but I found it hard to quantify some things as precisely as the thing wanted. How long had I been writing before my first professional sale? I DON'T KNOW, Jim, not to a "valid integer" required by your form. Forever. Language and I met, and I started writing. I don't know when that was, or if that counts. And if it doesn't count, what counts? The first writing award? The first publication...?

I know it's too hard to tabulate results when you don't have valid integers. But my writing life isn't governed by valid integers. It's governed by the things I did, not by when I did them.

I'd be more than willing to share any of my data. I just can't do it on that form.
Feb. 18th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Is it something that you can guesstimate? I know the data aren't going to be as precise as I'm asking for. A lot of people won't know exactly how many times they've been rejected, for example. I had to estimate short story sales, since I wasn't sure exactly how many sales I had made before the book deal went through.

If not, that's okay too :-)
Feb. 18th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Added my data points. Good project, Jim, and I'll be interested in the results.
Feb. 18th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Much appreciated.

I'm thinking I should write up the results in full Mythbusters style. I just can't decide whether to dress up as Adam or as Jamie...
(no subject) - barbhendee - Feb. 18th, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbhendee - Feb. 18th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 18th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 09:38 pm (UTC)
What about books bought as work-for-hire by a book packager that weren't media tie-ins? How do those fit in?

Feb. 18th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
So long as it's fiction and meet the $2000 advance criteria, I'd say it counts.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 18th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
Not at all. Others may score a few envy points at the idea of being solicited by a publisher, though ;-)
Feb. 18th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
First (Professional) Novel Survey
If it's Mythbuster-style, what blows up for it?
Feb. 18th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
Re: First (Professional) Novel Survey
I'm told I blew up the blogosphere last week. Does that count?
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( 71 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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