May 29 2010
Jim Hines did a survey on how novelists break into the industry. His ~250 respondents are skewed towards fantasy, romance and sci-fi, but I suspect that it’s not wildly different if you’re writing superhero action or historical or historical zombie, etc. Here are several main points I took away from his survey.
1. More so than in the past, novelists are breaking into the industry by landing a literary agent.
I suspect that this is because publishers have more submissions and tighter profit margins. I love the Internet, but it has not been kind to print media.
2. The typical (median) novelist was first published at age 36.
|Age||# of Respondents||% of Total|
I think that younger prospective authors (like, ahem, myself) typically fare worse in the submissions process because we generally haven’t had years of serious writing practice. The typical respondent in this survey had been writing for ten years before getting a novel published.
3. Respondents that studied English in college did not get published significantly faster than people that practiced in writing workshops. However, all of the methods of practice polled were faster than (presumably) not practicing.
- Undergraduate degree in English or writing: typically 6.5 years to get published
- Weekend workshop: 8.5 years
- Week-long workshop: also 8.5 years
- Writing groups: 9.5 years
- Workshop longer than a week: 10 years
- Graduate degree in English or writing: 10 years
- Attended literary conventions: 10.5 years
- None of the above: 15 years
On the whole, the typical (median) novelist took ten years to get published. The main conclusion I would draw from this data is that the differences between the methods of practice are not as significant as the difference between doing anything and doing nothing. Practice any way you can and don’t worry if you don’t have an MFA or a month-long workshop under your belt. (Also, if you go to a literary convention, please make it a form of practice by having literary agents and/or editors evaluate your query letter).
About 40% of these authors had an undergraduate degree in English or Writing and fewer than 10% had a graduate degree in English or Writing.
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