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06 May 2022

Is An Author’s Debut Novel Their First Novel?

Written by Sarah-Maree

In my last blog, I mentioned my desire to write a blog titled something like: How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel Worth Publishing? Before anyone gets all up in arms about the ‘worth publishing’ bit, here’s a little bit about what I meant.

What does a novel worth publishing look like?

This is a difficult question to answer as it’s subjective. While every writer would love to have an error free anything, that’s not always what happens. Many editors and authors have already admitted that errors make it to publishing.

Four examples of famous authors with typos in their books

Here are four such examples of famous writers with typos published in their book. You can read similar articles here, here, and here.

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
    1. In the first edition of the Philosopher's Stone, there is a list of school supplies that has “1 wand” listed twice.
  2. Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
    1. There’s a famous character in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. She’s called Imogen, but did you know her name was actually Innogen? Apparently those double n’s were mistaken as an m. Woops.
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    1. This is one of the simpler errors, and one of which I have also made. Basically, the error was in fact a correctly spelled word, but it was the wrong word. In this sentence, the word ‘was’ at the end was supposed to be ‘saw’: “I took the bag to where it used to stand, and ripped a hole in the bottom of it with the was.”
  4. The Green Mile by Stephen King
    1. While the original may have been fine, in the book-to-movie adaptation, there is a continuity error. At the start of Part 6, the men let Percy out of the closet and he rubs his lips after they remove the tape from his mouth. Only problem is, he’s still in the straight jacket.

If typos are not what I meant when I said ‘worth publishing’, what did I mean? I meant that while a writer may fully finish a novel, that novel may not be their debut novel. A debut novel is the first novel an author publishes. When I say the first novel written isn’t the debut novel, I am really saying that the first novel didn’t make it to print, and it may never be published.

Why don’t those first novels get published?

Below are some examples of what I have heard other writers say about their first novels and why they won’t see the light of day, along with my own experience on my first novel. As you may have guessed, my debut novel was not my first novel.

Experience comes with practice.

Many authors claim that you reach real skill once you’ve written 1 million words. That’s a lot! And that sort of experience shows. I mean, have you ever looked back at an essay you wrote in first grade, in fifth, eighth, and so on? I don’t know about you, but I cringe whenever I look at past work. Now imagine writing your first novel. It’s so much different than writing an essay, and it’s the first one. So, of course there are going to be mistakes made!

I’ve heard this from local authors who have spoken at the Allen County Public Library, at Comic Con in Indianapolis, which had similar panels, and even from a personal favorite author of mine, David Eddings.

It’s an ugly baby.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a repeat on the above, but it’s the truth. I first heard this from author Laura VanArendonk Baugh. What she said really connected with me, and I’m sure it connected with other writers as well. The work we do, and this goes into other industries as well, takes a lot from us and is often like our ‘child’. Only, with an author’s first novel, it’s not exactly a pretty child, hence the term ugly baby.

It’s not that we don’t love the baby, she went on to say, in fact we loved it so much we put the effort into writing it. Ironically enough, it’s that very effort that helps to hone our skill as a writer.

For myself, I find myself going over and over the words Laura shared. Oh, and the other two writer’s on the panel where she spoke agreed with her. They too never published their first novel. They love it too much to delete the work, but the amount of effort that would be necessary to beautify that first book is simply too daunting for many writers to undertake the challenge.

In my case, I started one novel and abandoned it after just four chapters. The disaster of that first attempt was so drastic, it filled not only a one inch binder, but the notes and revisions and plot ideas filled a second binder … a two inch binder. Yikes indeed! Then, I went on to complete my first full novel, MAD Upload. That novel has sat on the backburner ever since. The changes I want to make are immense, and all those new projects are just so shiny! Not to mention, I’ve found it easier to complete projects than to go back and work on previous ones.

No worries though, Sir Ryac and the Dark Mage will likely be published this year, so I can keep publishing books and writing new ones. In other words, it’s not going on the back burner, lol.

Just how common is it for a first book not to be the debut novel?

Turns out, it is incredibly common for writers not to have their first novel be their debut novel. Some even admitted it was their third or fourth novel that finally saw the light of day. And the numbers don’t stop there! In a survey of 200 people, 9% said they wrote seven or more books before their debut novel.

Curious to know more about this survey? You can follow this incredible journey here. Gabe, the one who asked Twitter writers about which book became their debut novel, even has charts so you can enjoy seeing the breakdown in numbers. It can help knowing you’re not alone.

What about those who do publish their first book?

While some may not publish their first book because a publishing company isn’t interested, for whatever reason, others do occasionally go on to self-publish their first novel. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. The important thing is for a writer to know what they want to do and then go for it.

The main takeaways from this would be to not give up and to not be discouraged by that first baby. Experience takes time and effort, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even if that first book doesn’t see the light of day, it’s still progress toward that million word marker! And that’s certainly something to be proud of.

May your adventures be many and your inspiration be endless!