Monday, January 7, 2008

Tor's Ten Recent Debuts

In Tor's most recent newsletter, they had a list of ten recent debuts. Here they are, arranged in release date order and hyperlinked:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, January 2007 (original release in 2004)
The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald, April, 2007
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell, May 2007
KOP by Warren Hammond, June 2007
The Wanderer’s Tale by David Bilsborough, July 2007
The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari, August 2007
The Genesis Code by Christopher Forrest, August 2007
Radio Freefall by Matthew Jarpe, August 2007
Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery, August 2007
God’s Demon by Wayne Barlowe, October 2007

Now, because I'm an analyst by occupation and by nature, I thought I'd apply a bit of analysis to this list. We have ten debuts over the course of a year. This rate of debut publication seems highly typical for major publishing houses.

We have nine men and one woman in the list. Now, I'm no feminist, but this appeared to be a large disparity to me. They probably have perfectly good reasons for such a disparity. Maybe they simply didn't have many good submissions by female authors last year. I could analyze this in-depth, but Tor published over 200 books last year, and I have too many unknown variables, so I'll just note it and move on.

My next question to myself was, were any of these authors already established in the SF field before their debut? To answer that question, I had to look at each author in turn.

John Scalzi
Anyone who keeps a speculative fiction blog knows about John Scalzi. According to his bio, he's not a debut author anymore; Old Man's War was first published in 2004. Reading his bio is fascinating anyway, because he serialized several of his novels online before Tor picked them up. So he became published in a rather unorthodox way. Who knows? It may be the way of the future.

Sandra McDonald
I had not yet heard of Sandra McDonald. Her paperback comes out in February, and I'll be getting myself a copy. It looks to be a hoot. Anyway, she seems to have established a name for herself writing short stories before her publication of The Outback Stars.

Tobias Buckell
Prior to his publication, Tobias Buckell was no unknown. He had won the Writers of the Future contest in the fourth quarter of 2000, and he had published short stories as well.

Warren Hammond
Hammond appears to be a complete newcomer to the scene, thus proving that it is still possible.

David Bilsborough
Bilsborough appears to be another complete newcomer. Unlike Hammond however, he appears to maintain absolutely no web presence whatsoever. This is not the first time I've attempted to find him online without success. I just don't understand why any author would shun such an easy and inexpensive way to promote books. Perhaps he is a recluse.

Mark J. Ferrari
I'm pretty familiar with Mark J. Ferrari because I featured The Book of Joby a few months ago. He illustrated covers for major publishers for years. However, I don't think his connections helped him get published, at least not initially. According to his own guest post here at Fantasy Debut, a midsized publisher first picked it up to be published in 2004, but then that publisher canceled his book. However, he used that almost-publication credit to secure an agent, who secured his book deal with Tor. He also advises that you use the "back door" approach whenever possible.

Christopher Forrest
Unforgivably, I completely missed Christopher Forrest's debut in August. It seemed to have gotten buried in all the other Tor debuts of August. Maybe because it is billed as a thriller, I mis-categorized it as non-speculative. However, upon reading the book blurb, it is undoubtedly science fiction, so I'll have to do a regular announcement for it in the next few days. Anyway, Forrest also appears to be a complete newcomer.

Matthew Jarpe
Matthew Jarpe calls his writer's bio a "pathetic display of single mindedless." He has a trunked novel and a trunked movie script, but nothing else. So, he's another newcomer.

Brian Francis Slattery
Brian Francis Slatterly is an almost-newcomer. His bio includes a prestigious win of the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award and one other short piece in addition to his novel, Spaceman Blues. In addition, he is an editor and an author of nonfiction.

Wayne Barlowe
Wayne Barlowe is another illustrator-turned-writer. However, he's been writing since the 70s, when his book Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, won the Hugo in 1979. He's done covers and illustrations for every major publisher, plus scads of other stuff. Really, you must read his bio for yourself. He cannot be considered an unknown to the field. I've probably seen his paintings at the Orlando Science Center with my own eyes. (Incidently, I have a guest reviewer lined up to review his novel, God's Demon, in the next week or so.)

Of the ten -- going strictly by their own bios -- I count four who had a clean bio upon their debut publication, and six who had bios ranging from a few sales to being a well-known name in the field for reasons other than fiction. If we strike Scalzi off the list because of his Established Author status, then we have 9 debuts this year. (This is making a rather broad assumption that the list includes all Tor's debuts of 2007.)

Tor had a total of 209 books published last year. I obtained this figure by using their search tool, narrowing the search to fantasy (111 books) and then science fiction (98 books). This is a 4.3 percent debut rate.

Over at SFWA, there are 29 "qualifying venues"; i.e. major publishers. Assuming Tor is average, and assuming this was an average year for major publishers, (more broad assumptions to make, I know) then there is an average of 261 debuts per year out of around 6061 novels.

(These figures does not count excellent small press markets like Juno Books, who gets books on shelves from coast to coast but does not qualify for SFWA's "professional" standards.)

And this concludes my analysis of Tor's debut list, for what it's worth.

12:53 - edited for clarity - TN


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting analysis. If I could help out the cause by being a woman, you know I would. But a small correction: I guess I wasn't completely single minded in my career. I did have a few short stories published in the digest mags before selling RADIO FREEFALL. All but the last one sank without a ripple, but I still can't call myself a newcomer.

Carole McDonnell said...

Hi Tia:

I swear, I had to giggle. Your mind is so analytical. You really do completely commit to the idea of debuts.

My question is: Is there another spec-fic publishing company we could examine/analyse? A large company like Baen or Ace? A smaller company like Juno or Dark Hart? Wonder how many of these tor debuts were agented or from the slush pile?

Tia Nevitt said...

Matt, thanks for the correction!

Carole, that's why I have another blog. I'm actually thinking of starting a third to showcase my calligraphy.

To answer your question: if someone will provide me with the raw data, like Tor did, I'll happily do another analysis. But I would shudder at the thought of having to gather the data.

I have not heard of Dark Hart; I'll have to check it out.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden said...

Our newsletter didn't say it was a list of debuts from 2007. It said it was a list of ten "recent" debuts.

Tia Nevitt said...

I apologize for the misconception. I will fix the post.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting! And I, too, would love to see another analysis like this one, if it's possible. That would be neat.

Maria said...

Great post. I enjoyed it.

Kimberly Swan said...

Wow Tia, that's a very informative bit of information! It does make you wonder which of the pubs welcomes the highest percentage of newcomers each year. (The smaller presses like Juno and Medallion definitely have some amazing fantasy and paranormal authors published with them)

Tia Nevitt said...

Kimberly, I've announced 4 or 5 Juno books and I know I have 2 or 3 more on my debut calendar for 2008, so they definitely have a lot. I'll have to look into Medallion; I've never covered them.

Thanks, Maria and Katie!

Kimberly Swan said...

One thing I love about either of their websites is that you can see what's coming up well in advance. Definitely check out Medallion when you get a chance. :)

Carole McDonnell said...

uhmmmm, maybe when Paula, our hard-working editor, isn't so busy I could ply her for information.

Tia Nevitt said...

Wow; maybe I ought to put up a post asking everyone for their favorite small press recommendations.

Maria Zannini said...

Tia said: --I had not yet heard of Sandra McDonald.

I can't speak for the other authors, but I'm doing an author interview with Sandra McDonald on the OWW Newsletter in March.

(copy and paste the string above with no extra spaces)

I'm looking forward to hearing the story about her road to publication.

--the other Maria

Anonymous said...

Maria, I will read it tonight -- thanks for the head's up! I am rapidly becoming more acquanted with Sandra. Look for more on her here in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tia --

Allow me to jump in with some points - and pardon my length!

I don't have the press release, so I don't know the raw data, but my guess is it is, as Patrick mentioned, merely a list of recent debut novelists. (Although Scalzi is hardly "recent" in comparison to the rest.)

1) On what do you base your assumption that this is "highly typical for major publishing houses"? Have you seen similar lists? Does it take into account that Tor is really the only New York publisher specializing in sf/f to the extent they do?

2) Surely you don't think books published in 2007 were submitted "last year"? ;-)

3) A debut novel is just that -- the first novel published by a given author. Jay Lake, for example, is not included on this list. MAINSPRING, pubbed by Tor in 2007, was not his first novel, although it was the first from a New York publisher. Whether an author is well-published in the short form or an award winner or a long-established professional non-fictionalist (like Scalzi) -- they are all debut novelists.

So what does it matter whether they were "established" in the field or not? It is a list of recent debut novelists.

4) Of course it is possible for a complete unknown to be published. Happens all the time in genre and out. The sf field, however, has a different history and community than other genres. Modern sf novels initially "grew" from shorter works published in magazines. At one time that was the primary route to becoming a novelist: establish yourself in short fiction, build a name. This is still one route, but one route only.

Being professionally involved in or knowledgeable about the field is not necessarily a "connection". I can "connect" till doomsday, but I can't write a publishable science fiction novel. :-) Sure, any door helps -- back, front, and side -- but you still have to have the chops to be invited in.

Further: Folks, publishing is a business. If you can't sell enough books you don't stay in business. Decisions about what to publish have to be made with this in mind.

5) Final quibble (and probably the only one that really concerns me): First, thanks for the positive plug for Juno Books. However...

SFWA, like any writers organization sets certain rules in an effort to qualify members. As a professional writers organization it has a duty to encourage what is seen as a professional rate of pay. SFWA has yet to deal with a lot of modern publishing issues because they haven't needed to. (For instance in the romance field some writers have earned a great deal more than $2000 from ebooks, but with zero advance. Surely earning $20,000 for one's work is a better rate than earning $2000. But this has yet to become an issue SFWA needs to consider.)

One of SFWA's qualifications is: *All* works of fiction published from a venue must receive at least a $2000 advance (or .05 per word.)

I don't know HWA's current determination of pro rate is, but back when I was a member it was also a $2000 advance for a novel -- except it was on a case by case basis. This seemed more reasonable to me because, if nothing else, it was more easily provable.

I really don't know how you determine if *every* advance is $2000.

SFWA, for example, accepts Dorchester/Leisure as a qualifying venue. I don't know about now, but I do know that not very long ago they did NOT pay a $2000 advance for every novel. Maybe they do now.

I personally saw, in 2007, a contract from a publisher on that list that offered less than $2000 as an advance.

Like I said: How do you know?

Moreover, on the form used they ask that the venue "Is NOT a small press, self-publication, or vanity press". Uh. What exactly IS a small press? There sure are a lot of SFWA qualified venues I would call small presses. I definitely do NOT see 29 "major publishers" on their list, though.

ANYWAY -- the point here is that SFWA is doing its job the way it sees fit.

In the case of Juno Books, I don't know if anyone has ever tried to qualify us. With the exception of the advance amount, we probably qualify and have all along. RWA, with different measurements, considers us an imprint of a press that has been in business for more than a year and has published more than ten authors. So SFWA might see that, too. And, if not, we've NOW met those criteria.

And we have authors that can, if they wish, show them a contract for at least a $2000 advance. But no one can prove we have paid that for *every* book. I'm sure not going to give anyone copies of my author's contracts without permission and even with permission I am not sure I would.

I'd like to pay at least $2000 for every novel. NOT paying $2000 may mean I can publish a certain book.

These are Juno Books Debut Novelists:

Jade Tiger by Jenn Reese

The Bone Whistle, Eva Swan
Wind Follower, Carole McDonnell
Dark Maiden, Norma Lehr
Master of Shadows, Janet Lorimer
Blood Magic, Matthew Cook

2008 (forthcoming)
Apricot Brandy, Lynn Cesar
Clockwork Heart, Dru Pagliasotti
Personal Demons, Stacia Kane
Seaborn, Chris Howard

Additionally, Chasing Silver by Jamie Craig is a first PRINT novel; Rags and Old Iron by Lorelei Shannon and Matters of the Blood by Maria Lima are both first novels they were (sort of) previously published.

Oh! One more thing...Sandra's THE OUTBACK STARS is an excellent book. A mix of sf, romance, and thriller/mystery. There's to be a sequel out this year, I think.

Tia Nevitt said...

Paula, I'm delighted that you dropped by to give a much more educated analysis!

1) My "highly typical" statement was based on my experience on what I've seen over the past eight months. When I started this blog, I didn't expect as many debuts as I have per month. It seemed to me that many publishers were putting debuts out almost every month. I could be mistaken. I'll try to get a better sense for it over the next year.

2) Certainly not! :)

3) I was trying to discern which authors appeared to be complete newcomers, vs. not. As I said in the entry on Mark Ferrari, it did not appear to be very useful in his case; he had a long struggle to get his novel published.

4) I think unpublished novelists everywhere will find encouragement in this statement.

5) SFWA provided a convenient list of major houses. Locus Magazine has a similar list, which they divide into "major" and "specialty" houses. I have every confidence that Juno will soon be on SFWA's list.

Thanks for the list! All of these novels are already on my debut calendar!

(BTW, I'm thinking of putting my calendar on my blog.)

I never mind being set straight, so thanks again for stopping by! Thanks for spending so much time on this!

Tia Nevitt said...

Oh, and -- squeal! -- I'm going to meet Sandra McDonald!