Why your first book sucks

I follow Rachelle Gardner‘s blog. She is a sweet, selfless literary agent*. I was quietly surprised to see her post on four reasons you shouldn’t even bother submitting the first novel you write. Given that, shortly afterwards, she posted an entry that mentioned her gentle surprise at meeting many writers who don’t even read books in their own genre, I think it’s been a bad-slush week for her.

Kids, don’t cause nice agents/publishers to burn out by being a moron.

Today’s post is unusual, because I disagree with the gist of her argument. I think writers SHOULD submit the first novel they write (my own first novel did rather well in a contest, and I later sold it for actual money – although nowadays I’m deeply grateful that the publisher never actually produced it), with the following caveats:

1. They have edited it, then left it for at least a month, then edited it again. At least one person (who is not a relative or in love with said writer) must also help with editing – you can tell a good editor because they make the writer cry and/or consider deleting the whole book at least once. After the crying/giving up, the writer must then fix 90% of the problems the editor has pointed out. You can find critique partners all over the internet, including at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp.

2. The writer has read at least three books that are in their genre and published within the most recent five years (look on actual bookshop shelves – and if you’re too poor to buy them, go and get the exact same books from the library for free).

3. The writer has helped to edit at least three opening sections (chapters 1-3) of other people’s unpublished novels, and has also edited one full unpublished novel. You can find heaps of critique partners online, eg at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp

After the horror of reading someone else’s book (which will almost certainly be deeply awful), the writer must have another honest look at their own book, and do one more edit (or more if needed).

Congratulations! You are now ready to submit your first novel.

Was it a mistake? Here’s how to know:

If three publishers (who produce the right genre!) have rejected the opening chapters without requesting the full manuscript, it’s probably worth setting that book aside and writing a new one (which you’ll probably begin while waiting for your responses – which take 1-6 months each). The new book should NOT be in the same series – it should be something genuinely separate. (Otherwise you may find yourself dragging the corpse of a bad book around, because it’s part of a series – been there, done that.)

Here’s Rachelle’s article:

There is a cliché in publishing that by the time a writer finally gets published, she already has a whole stack of novels completed and hidden in a drawer, never to see the light of day. No writer gets their first book published, right?

Well, there are exceptions of course, but mostly, it’s true. Nearly all successfully published authors will have written two or more books before they get their first contract offer. Here’s why:

1. Practice. It takes most people a few tries to write a viable and saleable novel. Like it or not, this is true for the overwhelming majority of writers.

Read the rest of the article here. I definitely agree with #1.

Don’t forget to glance at the comments of the article – the second person has FIFTEEN unpublished books. Most of the people there had four or five unpublished books.

And here’s my cat, who has a thing for styrofoam:

* If that sentence surprised you, you’ve probably never met a literary agent.

Published by Felicity Banks

I write books (mainly adventure fantasy for kids and young adults), real-time twittertales, and a blog of Daily Awesomeness. @Louise_Curtis_ and http://twittertales.wordpress.com. My fantasy ebook is on sale at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278981.

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