Survey Results

Tobias Buckell’s survey results are up. Remember? He was trying to find out how many novelists sold the very first novel they wrote. There were 150 respondents and 35% began their career with their first written novel.

I’ll admit I’m surprised. That’s a bigger percentage than I thought. But it does confirm my anecdotal impression that most people do not sell their first novel.

Thanks, Tobias! Will you be keeping the survey open? Be great to get even more respondents from other genres.


  1. cecil on #

    I am surprised by that percentage as well. Regardless, it seems that everyone agrees that you have to write, write write.

  2. tobias s buckell on #

    It was an interesting project 🙂 I’ll leave the survey open, maybe with enough links we’ll get way more respondents.

  3. Maggie on #

    Hmm … interesting. I’m kind of surprised at the 35% selling their first novel, as I personally don’t know any writers who sold their first. But, hey, anything’s possible.

  4. Diana on #

    Maybe more people who sold their first novel were inclined to respond to the survey?

    Another interesting question would be how many people who sold their first sold multiple more…vs. how many were “one book wonders.”

  5. Penni on #

    Also, one wonders what kind of mentorship or guidance people had in selling their first. People who work closely with the book industry or who have done (good) writing courses might have more of an apprenticeship in craft and are perhaps more sensitive to the editorial process…I had done lots of strutural ediing which meant I learned a lot about shaping raw material, about novel structure, voice, plot and characterisation – basically what works and what doesn’t.
    First novels can be really special though, they can have a lovely freshness and unpretentiousness. It depends on the writer I guess – some first novels are overworked, tedious and terribly pretentious!!

  6. Justine on #

    Cecil: And regular blood sacrifices to the publishing gods.

    Tobias: Excellent!

    Maggie: They’re definitely around. Scott is one but I would have thought the percentage was more like 15-20%.

    Diana: Good points. I mean obviously with only 150 respondents the result is not exactly holy writ.

    That is an interesting question. Plus I’d love to know what percentage only ever sell one book full stop. I suspect it’s very high. But then it might be hard getting those people to respond because they may no longer consider themselves part of any writing communities which is where the survey would be circulating.

    Penni: More good points. Makes sense to me that those already in the industry and intimately aware of the demands may well be more likely to come up with something salable at their first attempt.

  7. claire on #

    it wouldn’t surprise you if you’d been forced to choke down more contemporary lit fic. (i worked for the events dept of an indy bookstore for a couple of years so i had to read all the latest crap.) it seems at least half the litfic is first novels by people who just got their mfas. the novels themselves are mfa theses–barely digested autobio spewed out to get a degree. i.e.: first time novels.

    it’s an evil, evil system.

  8. janet on #

    Then there’s the phenomenon of publishing novels in the order other than the one in which they were written. I forget where I heard this, but John Crowley’s first novel was Engine Summer, but it was only published after a couple of his other early novels had been published. So he did publish his first novel, but he didn’t publish it first.

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