Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ask the Authors: Tuesday

Richard and Patricia asked a variation of the same question: I've sometimes heard that the first novel is like the first waffle, the one you practice on and then throw away. How many of you sold the first novel you wrote as your first contract? How many sold it after you'd had others published? How many of you still have it languishing in a file somewhere, unsold and unloved?

I sold my first book, and it was my first book published. I wrote it in 1981, sold it in 1982, the publisher went bankrupt a few months later, I sold it again (along with its sequel) in 1983, and both books were published in 1984. -Robin Lee Hatcher

Sold first novel. Definitely a Cinderella story. -lisa samson

I wrote the first draft of my first novel in five months and sold it a few months later. I know the Lord had reasons for letting that happen, but in truth, I had a LOT to learn. Some of it, I learned in that first editing experience; much I still have to learn. I was privileged to get to rewrite that first book recently and while I chose not to start from scratch, it was nice to be able to apply some of what I’ve learned to fix some of my newbie mistakes. I do have a couple of novels written after that first one that have yet to see the light of day—and probably never will. -Deborah Raney

I baked a whole lot of waffles before I got published. I think seven is the final tally, but I may have lost count. At any rate, I have a good many completed and partial manuscripts filed away somewhere that have never been published and never will be. They represent some 8 to 10 years’ work. I don’t consider them a waste of time; I consider them the foundation of my career. I was learning how to write. They taught me. -Ann Tatlock

I sold my first novel, Whom Shall I Fear?, much to my surprise. I was busy with my architectural practice and aware of the odds against publication, so I made no attempt to see the novel in print. I never called or wrote anyone. Then I had an apparently random encounter with a newspaper editor, which led to endorsement of Whom Shall I Fear? by a Pulitzer prize winning author, representation by a major New York literary agency and an offer from Simon and Schuster. Throughout all of this, I was just led along. I still had never sought out anything. Unfortunately, Simon and Schuster’s offer was contingent on replacing the name “Jesus” in the novel with the “more generic word, God” (this was long before Mel Gibson’s movie). Some people today probably think I should have gone along in the interest of being “missional” or whatever, but I viewed it as a test of faith and refused. S&S walked away, the literary agent got angry and dropped me, and Whom Shall I Fear? went back on my shelf. Then a pastor friend heard this story and told someone he knew, who in turn contacted his own literary agent on my behalf. Again, I didn’t go looking for them to do that. Whom Shall I Fear? was ultimately published by Zondervan Publishing House, and here I am five books later, retired from architecture, writing full time with book number six in the pipeline and the rough draft of number seven coming along nicely. I’m pretty sure this writing thing is a calling. -Athol Dickson

My first written novel was Eyes of Elisha (suspense). Second written novel was Color the Sidewalk for Me (women's fiction). Third written novel was Cast a Road Before Me (women's fiction and prequel to Sidewalk). These were all for the secular market.

Just when I was about to make my first sale in the secular market (Sidewalk), God called me to the Christian market. I took back my books, told my agent they were no longer for sale, and rewrote the two women's fiction as Christian novels, then rewrote Eyes of Elisha. Cast a Road sold first, followed by Eyes of Elisha (in a two-book contract, with the second book being "blind"), followed by Color the Sidewalk for Me (also in a two-book contract, with the second being "blind"). So my first written novel--Sidewalk--was my fourth book to sell, coming after a book I hadn't even written yet, nor had any idea what it would be. However, I will say that when these doors started to open (after a 10-year-journey), they opened quickly, and these contracts came in fairly short succession. (The entire story of my 10-year journey to publication is on my blog--"How I Got Here.") -Brandilyn Collins

I had written other novels, but my first published novel was actually sold off of a proposal, meaning I hadn't written it yet. But the publisher was familiar with my writing style. - Rene Gutteridge

I sold the first novel I wrote and went to contract for it, but withdrew it before it could be published due to myriad rumors of upheaval within the publishing house (and enough confirmation among friends to support the rumors). A little later, I decided it probably shouldn't be published, because it wasn't good enough for publication. I fed it to the shredder a long, long time ago. -BJ Hoff

First novels are very important to your learning curve. But don't make them cul-de-sacs. Get on to the next one, and be thinking about the one after that. I did sell my first novel, but that was after several years as a screenwriter. My first few scripts didn't sell but I learned more with each one. -James Scott Bell

My first attempt sat in a drawer for a long time before I finally pitched it. Trust me, it wasn’t publishable. I consider it a learning exercise, as most first manuscripts are. –Angela Hunt

I wrote and sold my first novel in 1982 to the secular romance market. At that time it was a hungry market, just about anyone who could put pen to paper and write a cohesive story sold. I take pride not so much in publishing, but having remained published all these years. Every author fears selling one or two books and the well runs dry. Even more amazing, I don't have a single unpublished book! Lots of ideas that never flew, but no full length books. -Lori Copeland

I did sell my first novel, A Sweetness to the Soul. I have several short stories lanquishing in my drawer though. -Jane Kirkpatrick

I was already established as a published writer of both nonfiction and children's books when I approached a publisher with a proposal for a novel in 1997. The good news is, they gave me a contract. The bad news is, I hadn't written a novel yet, "waffle" or otherwise! It was very scary to go public with that first effort, Mixed Signals! -Liz Curtis Higgs


At 9:48 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

It appears that sometimes the first novel sells, sometimes it gets withdrawn or shredded, but in every case the best thing to do is keep writing and trust God.
To all of you, especially those who have befriended and mentored me (and you know who you are), thank you.

(And, yes, I'm the Richard who asked).

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing. Good and helpful information.

Jim Bell said (and others in essence), "...don't make them (first novels) cul-de-sacs. Get on to the next one."

K: I interpret this piece of advice in light of this: newbie novelists wonder if (hope, really) their first novels will be published. They've heard the Cinderella stories, and so they slave to improve their craft as they're writing the "stories of their heart," hoping these novels will get a chance to be enjoyed by readers. But as Jim said, you have to write new ones and KEEP writing them, as Ann T. said, no matter how long it takes. Somebody said, "People don't fail; they quit." We can't quit if we want to be a working, contracted author.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

Thanks, Kristy. It bears repeating that publishers are not looking for a novel. They are looking for novelists. Most first novels don't do well even IF they are published. The questions is, can you do this again and again? In such a way that it is likely you will build a readership? That's what the craft is all about, being a pro. Think in those terms even before you're published.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Great testimonies. I loved reading everyone's story.


At 12:26 PM, Blogger PatriciaW said...

Thanks everyone for answering. (Yes, I'm the Patricia.) The comment about publishers looking for novelists, not novels, resonates deeply. But it sure will be a great feeling if my first manuscript sells!


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