Friday, March 26, 2010

Three Writing Myths Busted

I like encouraging folks to write. It gives me warm fuzzies. I think most everyone has a story to tell, and if they want to work at it hard enough and long enough to tell it very, very well, then they should be able to find an audience for that story and someone willing to pay them for it.

But it can be discouraging, I know, to work for so long on a project with no certainty of it ever sitting on a bookshelf with its own cute little ISBN barcode.

Luckily, there's some encouragement to be had. Fantasy author Jim Hines recently conducted a survey of 246 published sci-fi/fantasy authors about how they sold their first books, and the full results of that survey are now posted on his blog. Here's the link to his awesome work, please check it out.

Though it's obviously skewed toward sci-fi/fantasy authors, it contains information that should be useful to everyone, and busts a few pervasive myths. I'll highlight a couple of them here and throw in my personal, anecdotal info.

Busted Myth #1: You have to sell short fiction first. 
Out of 246 authors, 116 sold a book without ever selling a short story. That includes me. (I participated in Jim's survey.)

Busted Myth #2: Traditional publishing is dead, self-publishing is the way to go.
Not so much. There are huge, isolated success stories—Christopher Paolini is the one that comes to mind—but the key word here is isolated. Those kinds of success stories are anomalies. Out of the 246 surveyed authors, only one self-published first before getting picked up by a major publisher.

Busted Myth #3: You have to know someone in the business to get published.
140 of the authors (over half) had no contacts at either their agency or their publisher before making their first book sale. I'm one of those. I know four whole people in the industry now, but I still haven't met them in person: I know my agent and a colleague of his, and I know my editor and assistant editor at Del Rey. But I "met" my agent through a query letter. And I didn't "speak" to my editor until my agent made the deal. So the proof is there and it's solid: you can get into this business based solely on the power of your written words.

There are many more nuggets of golden info to be found in the survey—I highly recommend it—but here are the last couple of stats I'd like to point out: It seems most of the authors sold their first books in their mid to late 30's. (I was 38 at the time of the sale.) And while 58 authors sold the first book they ever wrote, many wrote 2-4 books before they got their first sale. I wrote two other books before I wrote Hounded and learned so much in the process. I also learned quite a bit from the process of writing Hounded; I wrote the next book in the series more quickly and it didn't require as much editing.

Hopefully this info will encourage some of you on your journey to getting published!

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