Saturday, April 23, 2011

Heavy sighs all around

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.


Michael McClung said...

Food for thought:

If you have that many novels completed, you really should consider self-publishing. Just think about it.

K.C. Shaw said...

I have thought about it for one of those older projects that I think is good. But then I think about the formatting and cover art and so forth. I'd rather write a new book and let a publisher take care of that stuff.

Diana said...

KC, you're a very talented writer. And yes, damnit, someone is really dropping the ball in not offering representation or publishing your work.

If you do consider self-publishing go read Amanda Hocking's blog post about how hard she's had to work to be successful. And then keep in mind that most self-published authors sell less than 200 books with many in the very low range of that (like two books). Konrath and Hocking are the exceptions not the rule when it comes to self-publishing.

You might take a few days or a month and pull out all those old stories and see if there is anything that you can do with them. Maybe there is a new twist or angle that you can give one of those stories which will be THE ONE that gets the big publishing contract. Just a thought

K.C. Shaw said...

Thanks, I appreciate the kind words. My small press ebooks are selling pretty well and it's always interesting to see the bump of sales for previously released books when I have a new book come out. I figure if I keep selling to small presses, eventually I'll build up a fanbase and maybe that'll interest a large publisher. It just feels like I'm nibbling away at something that most people get to eat in big bites.

Aaron Polson said...

E-books are the exception to the self-published rule, not Hocking and Konrath. I've read the 200 book scenario before, but it's a reference to print books. Once upon a time, self-publishing meant spending a huge amount of cash up front for layout, cover, editing, and printing, with little or no hope of recouping on the sales of the books. Distribution was a problem. Bookstores wouldn't carry your stuff.

Distribution isn't a problem any more. and Barnes & Noble have a branch on every internet-ready computer on the planet. Because your market is online, your marketing is online. You have sooooo many ways to reach readers. Likes this (your blog). I think you could do well with your self-pubbed e-books, K.C. You are a very talented writer with some serious fantasy chops and a unique voice.

Just my two cents. ;)

K.C. Shaw said...

Aw, thanks. I'm still probably going to stick with small presses so I don't have to worry about formatting and things. Then again, if Evil Outfitters doesn't find a home soon (it's on sub now, but it's such a quirky little story that I don't have much hope for it) I may self-publish it. Then again, I may just keep subbing it until someone wants it.

Cate Gardner said...

I'm lagging behind you with 11 books written and only 1 sold to a small press. I need to catch up.

You are awesome, Kate. Keep plugging away and at some point, people in power will notice.

Jim C. Hines said...

Interesting to see that breakdown, thank you! I hadn't gone back and analyzed the different posts like that.

"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."

Heh. Check the raw data from my First Novel Survey last year. Looking at the question about how many books people had written before selling one to a big publisher, answers included 30, 20, 55, and even 100.

K.C. Shaw said...

Cate--But several of the books I listed are truly awful (the older ones, anyway) and probably don't count. Your overall quality-to-book-numbers is undoubtedly much higher than mine. :)

Jim--Cripes, I didn't think you'd notice this post or I'd have deleted all my whining. I'm not sure if I believe the guy/gal who claimed to have written 100 books before getting one published. Then again, I'm well on my way....

Paula RC said...

Well Done, KC you are pure inspiration!

K.C. Shaw said...

Except for the complaining part. :)

Jim C. Hines said...


Didn't strike me as whiny :-) And I definitely understand the need to vent sometimes.

I'm not entirely sure about the 100-book author either, and I wonder if that was a typo for someone trying to enter 10 books. But I doubt they were all data entry errors...


K.C. Shaw said...

Well, I can just say I'll be in the elite category of "wrote way too many books before selling one." I'll be able to sneer at everyone except the 100-book guy. :)