First, some metrics -- then the (short) story (from my point of view, it's likely to have different tidbits were they to write it or respond to it).
Client: Ken Scholes
Amount of time from signing as a client to first sale: 228 days
Prior publications: short stories in markets such as Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony, and small press book (too short to be considered a novel, hence the debut assessment for his sale)
Client: Laura Reeve
Amount of time from signing as a client to first sale: 1339 days (why, yes, I am stubborn when I believe in something, why do you ask?)
Prior Publications: None (and the sale was not for the first manuscript I represented, hence she gets debut as well)
I was introduced to Ken at the World Fantasy convention in Austin in November 2006 by Jay Lake (this seemed very appropriate since I was introduced to Jay Lake by client Elizabeth Bear at Torcon - again I am impressed by the generosity and support my clients offer each other). We sat and talked for a little while Jay fetched drinks and discussed Ken's work-in-progress based on a short story published in Realms of Fantasy. He had brought along a copy of that same issue to give me. I read the story on the plane en route to home, and was hooked by the characters, and looked forward quite a bit to reading the novel. I received that manuscript in January of 2007. I loved it. There was a little bit of revising and discussion but I signed the book in February of 2007 and was off to the races. I sold it to the first editor I sent it to (coincidentally, she also edits books by Jay and Bear as well - it's a strange little world). Five book deal (even though originally there were only 3 planned) and Ken decided somewhat last minute to attend the World Fantasy convention of 2007 to meet his editor and publisher. An amazing road to walk in only one year.
I met Laura Reeve at the Pike's Peak conference (one of my favorites for meeting great writers) in 2003, and heard a pitch about her fantasy novel. That summer she sent me a partial manuscript and a few weeks later I requested the entirety. My response time in 2003 wasn't near as good as what it is now (in general), so it took me around 4 months to get back to her with revision suggestions and an indication that I was interested in seeing the rewrite. Two months later the revised manuscript arrived and about five weeks after that I offered representation. Total time from initial meeting until agreeing to work together: 10 months. The book was out the door about a week later.... 11 rejections later we realized that, though we were getting some lovely comments from the editors reading the book, it wasn't striking the market right. We started discussing other ideas and in November 2006 I got to read a proposal for a science fiction novel. By May of 2007, we had the full manuscript out on submission and had (sadly and hopefully temporarily) retired the previous manuscript to await revisiting at a later date. The editor I sent it to liked it, but was a bit on the over-worked side (aren't they all?) so she passed it to a colleague who had been recently promoted and was starting to acquire more books. That editor made an offer in September of 2007 for three books based on the same world and character as the one that we'd submitted. A journey of dedication, and I appreciate that Laura believed in me as much as I believed in her.
And there you have it. There is really nothing quite like the buzz of a debut novel sale. Other sales are awesome, too, don't get me wrong, but it's a different kind of rush. And, these stories clearly illustrate why I get a little cagey when people ask how long it will take me to sell their book, or what they can expect for their first advance, or how many books the first contract might cover. Every author is different, every book unique, and every journey a new one. It's one of the things that makes this a career full of discovery, instead of just a job.