First (Pro) Novel Survey Results

We talk a lot about how to break in as a novelist, and every working author has a story.  Many of us will offer a disclaimer up front: “The way I broke in isn’t the normal route…”

But then, what’s normal?  A month or so back, I decided to do some research on how authors actually sold that first professional novel.  I collected data from 246 published novelists, the majority of whom come from the SF/F field.

I’ve posted the results, broken down into three parts:

 The results look at the following myths and information:

Part I:

The Raw Data
Short Story Path to Publication
Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel

Part II:

The Overnight Success
You Have to Know Somebody

Part III:

Can You Boost Your Odds?
Survey Flaws
Other Resources
Final Thoughts

The study isn’t perfect, but I think it provides a lot of good data.  My thanks once again to everyone who participated, including many of the authors here at SF Novelists.

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  1. 1. Elias J. McClellan

    Mr. Hines, this is very (gulp) informative. I have a couple of off topic, (but what is new, right?) questions. What is your opinion of the importance of an agent in cracking the business?

    I’ve read both pro and anti as well as ‘you can’t get an agent ’til you’re published’ and/or ‘you can’t get published without an agent.’ Your examples shoots rat holes in that arguement but I’m interested in your opinion.

    My writer’s group is sponsoring a meet and greet with four agents and two buying editors. Aside from listing two completed novels in my genre of choice and the writers I studied under at university, what else would you consider to be important?

    Maybe this falls under ‘knowing somebody,’ I don’t know. Just trying not to spaz and/or self destruct as I prep for this thing and it’s still three weeks away!

    As always, thank you for your patience. Any information you impart will be truly appreciated.



  2. 2. Jim C. Hines


    Personally, if I were trying to break in all over again, I would try to query agents first. There are more agents to query, and you can query them simultaneously. In reality, I actually got an offer by submitting directly to the publisher, but it took 2.5 years for that publisher to respond and make the offer.

    It’s possible to break in either way, but that’s the path I’d follow. In addition to helping with sales here in the U.S., I’m also fond of my agent for all of the overseas deals he’s ogtten for me.

    Not everyone agrees. Dean Wesley Smith has offered some less positive thoughts about agents on his blog at I disagree with a lot of what he’s saying, but I do think agents are different, and not every agent will be a good match or helpful for you and your career.

    I’m not sure what exactly the format is for the meet and greet, but I’d probably practice a few times to pitch the novel (or both) so that you can sum it up and make sure it sounds awesome in a few short sentences.

    Best of luck!

  3. 3. Elias J. McClellan

    Jim, THANK YOU. Just re-read your article and realized you answered my question of importance of agent in ‘Raw Data.’ Now, I have a god-awful two sentence statement that our coach says is good.

    Follow up questions you/all:

    Cite the authors I’ve studied under even if they’re lit-folk or not at all?

    In my leave behind, I’ve referred to my work as influenced by Richard Stark and Elmore Leonard and informed by my dad, an old time heist artist. My Mrs says no, it doesn’t work. Your opinion?

    Should I pitch my book as a potential trade paper back a la “Wheelman,” or “The Electric Church,” as well as the series potential or is this too presumptuous?

    Again, thank you.

  4. 4. Jim C. Hines

    Elias — at this point, I’m gonna have to say I don’t know. I never actually did an in-person agent pitch, so it’s not something I’m familiar with. My gut says not to go overboard with it. Present the book and the idea, share your excitement, but don’t try to oversell it, if that makes sense? Specifics though … I’m afraid I just don’t know.

  5. 5. Elias J. McClellan

    Jim, I’m spazzing, I know; reeling it back in now. Thanks, as always, for your kind patience. And I know you’re right.

    Everytime I’ve ‘made’ something happen, I’ve really regretted the results. I’m gonna try to relax and talk to this folks and not try to sell them.



Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.



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