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A lot of us take these first few weeks of the New Year to assess where we are, where we were, and where we’d like to be. For my Top Ten, I wanted to look at the Tenners – where we are, were, and are about to be – to see if there’s anything to be learned about publishing, specifically selling a debut novel, from our experiences.

55 of the 82 Tenners responded to a poll asking a variety of questions about their journey to publication (these 55 are who I’m referring to as “Tenners” below, though it does not include everyone in our group). Here’s what some of their answers say about selling your first YA/MG novel.

1. You don’t need an agent to get published…but you’re probably going to want one.
18% of the Tenners got a book deal without an agent, but only 6% stayed without one.
Agents do a lot – edit, get reads both faster and at houses that won’t take un-agented manuscripts, negotiate better advances and contract points you wouldn’t even think twice about, act as your advocate during the pub process. Sometimes it seems near-impossible to get one, but the odds of getting a publishing contract without one are probably even higher. Like anything, it can be done – those 18% are proof. But 82% of our debut authors did get one, some faster than others…

2. Don’t let agent rejection get you down, but know when to walk away.
54% of Tenners got an agent with less than 10 queries, but 17% of us queried more than 40 agents before getting an offer.
As one of that 17%, I can vouch that persistence (read: stubbornness) pays off…to a point.

I wrote another book before The Mark. I queried a lot of agents on that one, too, before finally shelving it. How did I know to throw in the towel on one, but not the other? The response: the unsold book only got 2 partial requests/turned rejections out of 63 queries. The Mark’s query got interest right away. And, as I revised, I got more partial requests, then more fulls. Until finally, a year and change and 16 reads later, I got it right.

My take-away: if you believe you’re on to something and you’re getting a response that validates it, keep at it. But if you’re not getting requests, something’s not working: the query, the timing, the story, the writing, whatever. Get some critiques and, in the meantime, start something new.

3. Going to writing conferences can help…
14% of Tenners met their agent at a writing conference and 71% of us have gone to at least one (27% have been to more than 5)

4. But they’re not essential. 29% of Tenners have never been to one. Of those:
33% got an agent with less than 10 queries
47% had offers from multiple agents
67% sold their book within a month of submission, half of them with multiple publishing offers

5. You don’t need to know someone, be related to someone, or be a celeb to get an agent (tho’ those things wouldn’t hurt)
58% of agented Tenners came from the slush pile

6. You also don’t need to have publishing credits - half of us had zilch, zero, nada.
Of those who did, 17% were in short fiction, another 17% in “other” (poetry, script, etc.) and 14% wrote non-fiction articles.

7. Once your book is ready/agented, things should move pretty fast…well, for publishing anyway
Almost half of our books sold in less than a month, 83% in less than six months. But if you don’t sell right away, don’t panic: three Tenners waited more than a year for their sale.

8. Your first book might sell…but it probably won’t.
82% of us have at least one completed, unsold novel stuffed in a drawer somewhere. Some of us have quite a few more.

9. Writing a book takes time. And probably experience.
61% of Tenners took more than a year to write their novel, 13% spent more than five years on it. Only a quarter of us are younger than 30.

10. It isn’t just paranormal that sells…
50% of our books are Contemporary (35% YA and 15% MG), followed by YA paranormal (22%), YA fantasy (11%), MG fantasy (7%), and YA Historical, MG Historical, YA Sci-Fi (3% each)
Interestingly, there were no MG paranormal or sci-fi in the mix…hmmm

The bottom line?
Selling your first book can happen a lot of different ways. Conferences and pub credits and connections can certainly help. But if they’re not in the cards for you, you’re far from out of the game. You don’t have to spend lots of money, know people or have a “platform” to sell your first book. But you do need to be committed and persistent, shelving a novel that just doesn’t work, even if it took years to write, sending query after query, revising again and again. It’s a tough economy to be selling anything, especially your first book, but it can happen. Eighty-two Tenners are proof.

For detailed poll numbers and additional questions, click here.

Disclaimer: I am a writer, not a professional pollster or statistician. I stink at math. The 55 respondents don't include all Tenners and certainly not all debut novelists and not all 55 responded to every question. Most did, but the 3 without agents didn't answer the agent questions, obvz. You could probably draw a lot of conclusions from this info - some different than mine - including that this is a very small sample size and self-selecting since we're all kids' writers who joined the same online community. I just thought this was interesting. I'm kind of a geek like that.

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
leah_cypess
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, Jen -- this post is fascinating! Thanks for doing all that work and writing it up so clearly.
veschwab
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful post! Thanks for breaking this down for everyone.
ext_161740
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
I love the geekiness!
That was fascinating. Thank you for running those numbers -- somehow, knowing that this is really just a small group made the numbers feel more real than if it had in fact been 'scientific.' Here's a to a great 2010 for all of you!
sandy_williams
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I love numbers posts. Great info here!
jberkj
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, thanks, Jen! I am going to use some of this in my upcoming talks to writers' groups and such. It's very fascinating & I appreciate all the work you put into doing this for us.
amybre_white
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
Great idea, Berk! I'm going to have to steal it.
amybre_white
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jen! Excellent info about the group and lots I didn't know.

cynjay
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
Great post - really interesting!
dawn_metcalf
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Great job! Gives a peek into what is really going on.
ext_216549
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
This brings a tingle to my toes! I love facts and figures that back up our expectations. Now that I have an agent, this info makes me feel even better.

One thing - persistence is key. My first book had several requests, with most going into the "no" zone. So I wrote another book, circulated that with very few requests, and when I least expected it, the first book came around and got me my agent. You never know!

- Julie
jennadol
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
It's so true...people's paths to publication are all so different. It can happen quickly, slowly, right away, or when you least expect it. Congrats on the agent, Julie, and good luck!
irenelatham
Jan. 11th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
Jen, this is awesome! And just one more week to wait for THE MARK!!! We should do a similar poll at the end of the year for 2nd book deals. xxoo
jennadol
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Irene! So MANY Tenner books out this month...yay!
seaheidi
Jan. 11th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
This is a FABULOUS post.
What interesting statistics, too.
I'm spreading this all around!
jennadol
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Heidi!
denisejaden
Jan. 11th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
This is so great, and interesting, Jen. Thanks so much for all the work you put into it!
lindsey_leavitt
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Wow. Have I mentioned this week how cool you are, Jen?
jennadol
Jan. 12th, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
If a Boppy was at all involved in the typing of that, you're WAY cooler than I am!
shellijohannes
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
this was great thanks :) I have a MG paranormal!!! hmmmmmmm ;)
jennadol
Jan. 12th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
Hmmm, indeed! Good luck, Shelli!
sharigreen
Jan. 12th, 2010 12:13 am (UTC)
"I'm kind of a geek like that." -- I <3 geeky stats, so thanks for this!
bree_despain
Jan. 12th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
This was an excellent post! It was so fun to see the results.
jessica_shea
Jan. 12th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
This is fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing the results.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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