I signed with my agent 2 years ago. At the time, my boss congratulated me with a bottle of champagne but looked pained, asking if it meant I’d be quitting soon to write full time. My friends and family asked me the same question. To all of them, I said, “I appreciate the enthusiasm but that’s not quite how it works.”
A big part of my day job is pattern analysis – studying what normal behaviors look like to identify anomalies, looking for commonalities of badness, that kind of thing. So, of course, when I decided to getserious about this writing thing, in addition to studying craft, I analyzed the journeys of best selling authors. I wondered how long it takes to be an “overnight success.” The short answer: an average of 8 years.
How did I arrive at that conclusion? I looked at the bodies of work for each of the new authors populating the general and crime fiction NY Times and USA Today best sellers. By “new,” I mean those who were on the lists for the first time. Most (roughly 90%) had published at least 2 previous books. Looking up the publishing dates of each of their previous titles, I noted gaps of 2 years, give or take.
Thus, when I signed with the lovely and talented Paula Munier, I operated under the impression that in 6 years and 3 books, I’d build a following. And then I learned more about the business of publishing. When a book goes out on submission, that’s a variable beyond anyone’s control. Right now, my first novel is still sitting on a few desks. And that’s fine. In fact, that’s great. I’ll take a slow “yes” over a fast “no” any day of the week. But, because it’s a completely subjective variable, let’s set that aside. I’ve learned there’s a period of time between when a deal is signed and when it’s publicly announced, typically around 6 months. I’ve also learned there’s an additional period of time for edits, cover art, ARCs, and such, typically around 18 months. So, the average time between a deal being signed and the book hitting the shelves of your favorite bookstore is, collectively, 2 years. Which means I needed to add that to my previous research to accommodate the timetable of Book 1. Thus, the grand total to “overnight success” is 8 years and 3 books. On average. It could be longer and/or more books. In other words, I don’t plan on quitting my day job any time soon. Signing with an agent, landing that first book deal, these are huge milestones. But it’s not the end. It’s just the beginning.