I'm linking to this article because one of the difficulties I faced when I was starting my AuthorQuest was developing the best strategy to get into the industry. To "break out" as the term goes. I know there was no hard and fast way that works for everyone, but I didn't have anything to base my strategy on. I was working with some outdated sources--Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, etc. People who have started in 197X, and forgot how to struggle to get published. Not to mention the cultural changes that occur. You might as well bring out your old Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles toys to show your two-year-old how awesome they were.
But now we have some data. Read the whole thing yourself. But this is what I took away from the article. Traditional caveats: not scientific, data quality, and so on and on.
1. Fantasy Oh boy, oh boy. If you want an increased chance of acceptance, write some fantasy. But I think it should said that fantasy covers a pretty damn broad spectrum. When I think of fantasy, the first thing I think of is swords and dragons, Lord of the Rings type stuff. In actuality, it pretty much covers anything that's not scientific fiction, urban fantasy, or horror (as far as spec fic is concerned). That means Animal Farm, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Beowulf, A Clockwork Orange, The Time Traveler's Wife, Watchmen, I Am Legend, Batman, Johnathan Livingston Seagull, and The Dark Tower all count as fantasy. So I wonder whether it's really fantasy that's taking off, or we just use it as a placeholder for "uncategorizable spec fic". Nonetheless, if you're writing a book, it couldn't hurt to put a centaur in there.
2. Short Stories Both Stephen King and Orson Scott Card, and numerous other people advised using short stories to break into the medium. These act as fodder for your "writing resume", proof that you have chops. Of course, these guys were writing in 1970, before app stores, eReaders, and MP3s. And maybe it's a factor that no one gives a shit about short stories anymore.
I, me, myself particularly don't like to write short stories, and none of my favorite novelists were known for their short stories. Scalzi wrote novels and comedy articles. Gaiman wrote comic books. I only wrote the short stories I did because I felt I had to. And I never knew whether it was necessary or not. Well, now we have the data.
Hines explains it all, so I won't repeat him, except for this tidbit. The median number of short stories sold before selling a novel was one. That means that 50% of authors responding to the survey sold 1 or more short stories before selling a novel and 50% sold 0 short stories before selling a novel. The data speaks for itself. This means that I don't need to spend as much effort on getting them sold, and I can focus on my novel writing. But it couldn't hurt to keep them circulating out there. Also, short stories are a good way to practice writing. I learned a lot from the critiques I got back from them.
3. Self-Publishing This isn't as important to me, because I've never considered self-publishing to be a viable way to get into the industry. Only one out of 247 (0.4%) people self-published, then sold the book to a larger publisher. Excluding other, the rest were filtered through query letter, slush pile, or small press. An author cannot do it on his/her own. He/she needs agents and editors to sift the junk coming through and separate the plankton from the flotsam.
But I think I better accelerate my efforts to find an agent. Lots of them are waiting in limbo--they probably don't respond with rejections, which I'm not particularly fond of. But my query letter's undergone some improvements, so it's time to step up the game.