For about half a year, Jim C. Hines has been running First Book Friday, which I've really enjoyed reading. They're posts by various authors--usually fantasy authors, but not always--talking about their first sales and how they came about. In my memory, all the stories are atypical--no one ever does what we're supposed to do: writes a good book, finds an agent, and the agent sells the book to a publisher. This afternoon (because, you know, I don't have enough to do) I went through all 33 posts and reread them, and actually kept track of how each author got his or her first book sale.
It actually was pretty surprising, although admittedly it's a small sample. I made very broad categories as I went, and here they are:
Got an agent, got a publisher - 14
Approached publisher directly - 5
Tie-in novel/revived career in different genre - 3
Helped by established pro - 8
Self-published/got small publisher first, then agent - 2
Self-published only - 1
Where there was a year mentioned, I jotted it down--1985, 1987, 2000 (three reports), 2003 (two reports), 2004 (two reports), 2007 (two reports). A few authors mentioned how much easier it was to find a publisher ten or fifteen years ago compared to now.
So after reading all those accounts, I'm now bitterly depressed (although breaking the stupid lawn mower earlier today probably didn't help). While many authors said that they'd written lots of books before they sold their first one, I don't think anyone has written as many unpublishable books as me.
Seriously, here they are--and these are just the ones I can remember, and doesn't even count the awful books I wrote when I was in middle school, high school, and right after college:
late 1990s - The Ghost in the Snow, The Rooftops of Simminee Soo, some book about a dragon I can't remember the title of, Weaver's Shroud
early/mid 2000s - a different book about a dragon, Evil Outfitters Ltd., The Weredeer, Jack of All Trades
late 2000s - Stag at Bay, Stag in Velvet, The Taste of Magic, Blood and Taxes, The Dragon Whisperer
2010/2011 - The Trickster Society, Shadows over Oakhill, Bell-Men, Bloodhound (well, Bloodhound will be finished this week, anyway)
That's 17! And yes, I've sold three to small publishers with two more under contract to other small publishers. But where's my big payoff for years and years of hard work? I've queried 43 agents about Bell-Men, which is easily my strongest work, with only two partial requests and no interest whatsoever. Yeah, Angry Robot still has the full, but the odds are very slim that it'll make it to the next tier of reading. Meanwhile, I'm writing more books and editing/revising old ones, and working hard all the time to improve. I know I'm not a bad writer. I know I'm writing at a professional level. I just wish someone else would see that.
Hmm. I didn't actually mean to end up ranting. I really, truly meant to just give some interesting statistics about those First Book Fridays. Oh well.