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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

after the Ides

Some little tidbits today.

Our client Jim Hines has been surveying authors on how they sold their first novels, and he's put out his first set of results here. There are two main takeaways. First, the odds of your novel being the next Eragon are not very big. Self-publishing your way to a major publishing house is far and away the least likely route to success. This is one of those myth paths that will never go away because we'll always hear about the Eragon story, but we hear about them because they do't happen very often so it's newsworthy-ish the rare times it does happen. Jim also says "totally busted" on the idea that you have to sell short fiction before selling a novel, which I've known and said for 20 years. The split is 50/50 or so on the JABberwocky client list. But this myth will never die. It will be alive and well in some back corner of the room at the meal after my funeral. But I'll say it again: if you want to write a novel, write a novel. If you want to write a short story, write a short story. Do not feel in any way, shape, manner, or form that writing short stories is some kind of necessary apprenticeship to writing and selling a novel.

VOYA and Teaching Librarian are the latest old-line review publications to change hands.

On the e-reader front, the Alex Reader from Spring Design, which is similar enough to the Nook that Spring Design, which had consulted with B&N and then sued B&N, is now taking advance orders. The Plastic Logic Que reader announced this week that it would be delayed in getting to market. One stays, the other goes...

We at JABberwocky met this week with Steve Saffel, an experienced hand in sf/fantasy (w/ Del Rey) and graphic (w/Marvel) publishing who is now working for Titan, a British company with operations in both areas which seems like an excellent fit. Steve is very excited about the e-book thing. He feels it gives us the opportunity to sell way more books to casual, infrequent, maybe even heretofore nonexistent, book buyers, especially because of the ability for people to buy a book instantly when it comes to them virally. i.e., your friend says "you've got to try this," and you can try it in a minute from wherever you are in the world, you're a lot more likely to try it. I don't know if he's right or wrong, only time will tell us that. I do know publishing is inherently gloomy in its prognostication. I've been in the business 25 years, it's been dying for that entire time, and it's many years ago that I started telling people that if that's what it was really doing it would need to have actually died by now. It's therefore unusual enough to here his optimism on e-books that I thought it would be nice to offer a tiding of joy to tide you over from the Ides of March to St. Patrick's Day.


Maria said...

While I agree that publishing short stories probably isn't necessary (and may not even be all that helpful) in getting a publishing contract, writing short stories made me a better writer. Having to write a story that met certain wordcounts taught me economy of words. Writing short stories tightened my writing, taught me a few other tricks and the sale of a short or two helped my confidence.

So while short stories aren't necessarily the key to getting published, writing a few isn't going to hurt a writer's skill and is likely to help.

I was pretty sure when I decided to write a short story that I wouldn't enjoy writing them and for the most part, I was right. What I didn't know was how much I would learn. Even if they don't open a publishing door, they might be a good detour on the path.

Moses Siregar III said...

Interesting study by Jim Hines. Thanks for sharing that.

I share Steve Saffel's optimism on ebooks. As more and more people own e-readers in the coming years, I'm guessing the overall amount of reading will go up. Those "viral" impulse buys on ebooks that he mentions should be a significant factor, too. And if Apple can attract a younger audience to ebooks via the iPad, it could be a little bit like what the iPod did for music. Granted, iPads aren't as cheap as iPods, but the iPad can do a lot more than an iPod can.

As brick and mortal bookstores close, ebooks will help make up for their loss. It just means social networking, blogging, etc. will be more important for authors.

Looks like a bright future to me.

Myke said...

I think you're missing the point on short fiction writing. I don't agree that writing short fiction helps to develop your novel craft all that much (the two are very different mediums). I also think that's not the point in writing short fiction (for those who really want to be novelists).

The point is NETWORKING. You would never have become my agent if it weren't for short fiction. I hadn't had made my pro sales, I wouldn't have gotten associate membership in SFWA, I wouldn't have gotten invited to the Philcon SFWA-only party, and we would never have met.

I think this is the real reason that people focus on short fiction sales up front, because it's believed to be a rapid way to build needed contacts that will help you later when you try to flog a novel.

CLH said...

Hmm. As an insurance agent with dreams of grandeur that include publishing novels of notable content, I'm happy to hear someone like you say short stories aren't the magic beans in the publishing world. I've enjoyed getting to know your blog. Just thought I'd say I got here only because I just finished Harris' book 8- I was so dismayed at the weird and unfulfilling ending that I just HAD to get on google and see what else I could find out about Ms. Harris and her next offering. I'm certainly now a little excited to check out your other authors. As a note inspired by this entry, every Sookie Stackhouse book I purchased was on the Kindle I received for Christmas from my hubby. Although I have a strange bond with my real books that renders me incapable of getting rid of them, even the ones I hate, I have to say that I LOVE MY KINDLE. My husband is happy to not have to figure out where to put more books. I love that I can carry a full library with me all the time, and instead of pretending to have something to look at on my phone when I have to wait somewhere for something, I read... as an insurance agent and someone hoping to eventually break into this industry, I can understand how e-pricing is an issue. I can't say that I mind the lower prices. But I do hope that books don't go the way of the 8-track and the beta-max.