Tuesday, June 15, 2010

State of the debut authors

The other day I was bored. Now, I love numbers, and like many debut authors, I wonder how I'm doing compared to my debut author peers, and spend more time than is necessary trying to collate data based on various sets on numbers. It's easy to freak out because there are SO MANY debut authors in a year...OMG, the Tenners group has 95 members, and even noting that some of them are duplicate LJ-names and some of them I have nooo idea who they are, that's still a lot of debuts. And not every single 2010 debut author is a Tenner.

That got me wondering just how many debut authors become career authors. It's WAY too early to truly tell this from the Tenners group. I mean, WAY. Someone who is struggling with their second book today could be celebrating bestseller status in five years. Such is the nature of creative business! But, we're halfway through 2010 now and everyone is thinking about their second books, and it certainly bodes well if you have already written and sold that second book at this point. I think a lot of writers who are just striving for the agent or the first deal think that debut authors have it made in the shade.

Well, they don't. But it's hardly hopeless either.

I made a very vague list of 2010 debut authors and how they're doing. Note: Very vague list. It would be creepy and wrong to get specific and name names. And obviously my data is not terribly specific. We have a weekly check-in at Tenners, but only about half the members actually check in, and then it's not like they go into huge detail. So these are HIGHLY UNSCIENTIFIC statistics. But interesting nonetheless.

About one third of 2010 debut authors have a second book completed and sold.
Of this group, some have completed revisions, some are revising with their editors right now, and some are waiting for editorial notes. In some cases, it was part of the initial deal and in other cases, the option book. Contrary to what some may imagine, not all the authors in this group had big breakout debuts. Some have just been working hard and well and their editor is happy to continue working with them and building their career.

(About a quarter of 2010 debut authors, by the way, have gotten a second book deal. For some, this was their second book, for others, more books in a series or similar genre, and for others, a branch into a different genre (YA author doing MG series, etc).)

About one third are still writing the second book. More of these are unsold than sold, but there is a decent group struggling with the second book of a contract. This surprised me a little because I didn't think I wrote THAT fast, but I guess I do write fast; most of my second book was written while waiting for Magic Under Glass to sell, and then while waiting for edits, so it was already with my editor months before Magic Under Glass was released. There is a lot of pressure and panic in writing a second book. (Yeah, I dealt with that too...and now with the sequel.) Seriously, the biggest favor an aspiring writer can do for oneself is working on another book while the first is on submission, or while they're waiting for edits. (But even so, you can run into trouble if your editor doesn't like that book, or wants a sequel, etc.)

About a fourth are waiting. The second book is done, and their agent has it on sub, or they're waiting for their agent to read it, or they're waiting for their editor to read it. In most cases it isn't sold yet, but a few are waiting to see if their editor will accept their second book as the next book in their deal. The waiting room, as we know, is always a frustrating place to be. You can sit there a long time. (Hint: Write a third book!)

The remainder have been pushed back to 2011 or other situations. In any given debut year, a group of books will be pushed back from the initial planned release date. Sometimes this is because of unexpected editorial trouble, other times trouble with the marketing/packaging of the book, perhaps most often just a strategic decision to place the book in a different season. Absolutely no shame in it, but it can be a frustrating delay for a writer who wants a career and now must wait longer to sell future books. It's good to be prepared for the possibility when you first sell your novel.

As far as I can see, there are two major lessons in this.

One, WRITE MORE BOOKS while you're waiting. If you can. Some people just have a slow muse and that's fine. It by no means dooms you. After all, you want quality over quantity. But if you can be ahead of the game, it does not hurt one bit.

Two, be prepared for the unexpected. Being pushed back a year. Having your editor quit and your new editor say "nah" to your option. Getting frazzled by promoting one book while trying to write a second. Things happen to everybody at some point. Everybody. I promise.

That's it. Let me add again as a final word, HIGHLY UNSCIENTIFIC STATISTICS.


  1. Wow, this is fascinating info! Thanks for the post!

    My debut is slated for August 2011, and I feel lucky that it's the first in a three-book deal and doubly lucky that the first two are already written. Even so, I understand the stress you're talking about. What will happen after the first comes out? Will other dominoes start to fall, or will things just fizzle? There's no way to know at this point, but you're absolutely right -- the only thing I can really do is keep writing!

    Great post!

  2. The two points at the end are ABSOLUTELY true, and they apply more and more when "career writers" go from having two books to being decades in the business. One of the smartest things I ever did for my career is join NINC as soon as that second book hit the shelves, and talk to authors who'd been in the trenches for decades. My seventh novel will be published this fall, and I still consider myself a baby compared to a lot of the writers I know, and their insight is invaluable.

  3. Great post! I'm in one of those categories (ahem) and I totally agree.

  4. Great post! I know one of the things that makes me nervous about selling a book is that whirlwind--knowing you're going to have to figure out how to do publicity for one book and revisions on another and maybe first drafting another book. Nice to see a sample (no matter how informal) of how current authors are facing this situation and what is working for them. Thanks!

  5. Awesome post! Stats are always interesting, eh? While waiting to hear back from agents, this is some motivation for me to get back to writing the next one!

    ... see ya! :D

  6. Excellent post, Jackie! I am in none of those situations, but it's good info to know. :)

  7. Tawna: Sounds like you're as prepared as you possibly can be. Yay!

    Diana: Thanks for stopping by! I had never even heard of NINC. That sounds like a very valuable organization, since so many other writing organizations have more newbies than not, and you're right, there is SO much to learn from people who have been in the business for decades.

    Everybody: I'm glad you found the post as interesting as I found it to write.

  8. This IS interesting. I guess it's always a waiting game. No matter where you are in the process. This is excellent advice, Jackie. Now I've just got to get my muse to listen to it. :D

  9. I feel a little jealous. Some are comparing themselves to being babies in the publishing industry -- but, following along with that analogy, I haven't even been BORN yet in this industry. Maybe one day it will come.

    Very interesting stats, though, however unscientific they may be. ;)

  10. Thanks so much for the post, Jacyln! My debut was a '09, so it's interesting now seeing what the other '09s are up to and when their second books are coming out.

    My first book sold in a single book deal. My editor didn't like my option book, or the one we showed her after that (both of which were already written, so this all happened very quickly) but she did like the third (again, already written) and we sold it to her in a two-book deal, the first of which is coming out Spring '11. We still haven't decided what the 3rd book is going to be; I have a few possible mss sitting around.

    So for me, it's always a case of publishing being too damn slow for me...

  11. Awesome post, Jackie. Thank you! I'll debut in 2011 and just turned in my option book to see what my editor thinks. I'm in that weird place, wondering if and what kind of career I'll have! Definitely prepare for the unexpected and keep writing - that's all we can do!

  12. JSavant: Well, it's cliche but true, we all start somewhere! But there is a lot more internet discussion of the pre-published state than the post-published...once in awhile I like to throw some of what I've learned so far out there.

    Hannah: Sounds like you are very fast! And it definitely worked out, I guess. The agony of having an option book turned down when you don't have anything else is a fear that keeps me motivated to stay ahead of the curve...

    Sara: Good luck with the option! Getting a second book deal might not be a full-blown career yet but it's certainly another big step and a huge relief.

  13. JSavant, I think that Jaclyn is right, that there is a definite chicken-and-egg effect. Before I was published, there seemed to be a LOT of resources out there for me to read. But things dried up a lot when you were no longer talking about your debut, or no longer talking about what came AFTER the first contract, or the first multi-book contract, or etc. (That's why I really appreciated NINC, though you can't join until you have TWO books out, which doesn't help those looking at single-book contracts.

    The other side of that, though, is that MOST readers don't tend to be as interested in hearing about this latter-day stuff. I see a TON of comments on industry posts by a debut or just-sold novelist. It's all the unpublished writers coming on and looking for "the secret" I guess.

    It's also a self-selecting thing. There are also a LOT more unpublished novelists looking for advice from folks who JUST made their first sale than novelists with one or two books out looking for advice from folks who have made ten sales. I know in my case that when the comments and the hits go down on my industry posts, I stop doing them. I imagine there are a lot of other authors who have had similar experiences.

    I understand that making a first sale in 2010 is a very different prospect than doing so in 2005, so first timers are probably not as interested in what I have to say about that part of the business.

  14. Thanks for posting this! I'm still very grateful when I see people talking about post-publication writing stuff, since as others have said, there's much less out there. And even over a year after my debut I still feel like I've only figured out a tiny fraction of this stuff.

    Based on my own highly unscientific guesstimates, I think we had similar proportions on the 2009 Debs at this point last year -- since then there have been quite a few more sales, though, including a bunch of multi-sales. I think your last two points are dead on.

    It's going to be really interesting, I think, to see where everyone is ten (or even five) years from now, with all these debut author communities that have formed and which make it easier to see the range of publishing experiences we all have.

  15. You're definitely right, Diana...before I sold a book or had an agent obviously all I wanted was info on that, not on second books or options or royalties or school visits or anything like that. OTOH, I was pretty frustrated once I did sell a book and information was much harder to find. I love hearing about the business from more veteran authors, whether it's the Debs or people who have been writing for 30 years. People in my shoes aren't as big of a blog audience as aspiring writers, but...this post has been popular!

    Deva: I agree...there's still sooo much to learn. SO MUCH. In some ways I feel more overwhelmed now than when I was just looking for an agent because a lot more of it is out of my hands now. I, too, am curious how things will go with the debut author groups...it's kind of like graduating with a high school class or something. And I think we'll be seeing a lot more sales out of the Tenners too, since many people who are waiting or struggling will get good news at the end of the road. It's exciting! (And sometimes a little scary...)

  16. whew, great post! I did take that advice to heart after I sold my debut book. I'd read on Verla Kay boards to WRITE YOUR NEXT ONE NOW! so I did, and now have a rock-star agent! I'm sadly waiting for the next awesome premise to occur to me. I'm trying not to panic. Love your posts!

  17. Great post, Jackie! And I completely agree with your last two points of advice, even though I'm experiencing a little of the promotion vs. revision frazzle right now. I'm so glad groups like the Debs and the Tenners exist, so authors can collaborate and give each other a hand. Don't know what I'd do without them!

  18. Terry: Yay! Glad it worked out so far. I've always been one of those "too many premises, not enough time" people, but if you're not, you're not. No use writing something that doesn't inspire you. Some people will always be book-every-few-years people and that's okay.

    Karen: Well, it's TOTALLY understandable to be a bit frazzled in your shoes. You have had a lot going on around your book release!