There are two schools of thought on first novels. Some people believe your first novel is essentially practice. First novels are sometimes referred to as “Juvenalia.” Consider William Faulkner’s first two novels, Soldiers’ Pay and Mosquitos, both almost forgotten. Critics generally believe his third novel, The Sound and The Fury, only achieved greatness because he dumped his “precious darlings” into the first two failures.
The other school of thought also uses Faulkner as an example, but for his first book of short stories, These 13, which contained nearly all of his best-known short stories. To them, an author’s first published work in any given genre can be the truest expression of his or her inner talent. In support of this theory is a long list of captivating books by first-time authors, such as those in this list assimilated by Book Marketing and Book Promotion:
Whether you view your first book as practice or as the essence of your genius, your first book takes considerable work to create.
Stories of eBook break-throughs sometimes tempt authors, new and veteran, to bypass the traditional “guardians of the gates” as Mark McGuinness aptly tags literary agents, publishing house editors, and publishers themselves.
Digital publishing has allowed anyone with access to a computer, a word processing program, and few pieces of software to write and publish a novel, no matter where the author lives or which connections he or she doesn’t have.
But first-time novelists can still learn vital lessons from those first-time authors of times past – when being published itself was a sign of success.
Gordon Kessler represents the generation of authors who have transitioned from traditional to e-book publishing. His first novel, Jezebel, achieved that once-highly-sought prize of a real publishing contract back in 1992, before the web even existed for most of us. Kessler described what happened next as an author’s worst nightmare – the publisher went bankrupt one week before his first print run. No other publisher would accept the novel; so, it languished in a drawer for almost two decades.
As the technology for creating and distributing e-books evolved, Kessler decided Jezebel deserved one more shot. He self-published it as an e-book and has sold thousands of copies through Amazon and his own website.
Kessler never gave up on his novel because he knew that it had the potential to be engaging and to become a book that mattered to his readers.
The essential question first-time authors have to decide for themselves before they seek out publishers, whether traditional or alternative, is this:
Do I want to create a story that matters for my audience, whoever and whenever they are, or do I really just want to be on a jacket cover?