Fiction, Novel, Query, Writing

First novel, love it or leave it?

I realize most of you who read this blog have never published a novel, but I’m going to ask for your opinion anyway. Often I’ve read the admonition you shouldn’t attempt to sell your first novel. I saw someone question why on Twitter just yesterday. If anyone answered, I didn’t see those tweets.

Of course, we all know there are exceptions to every rule. There are prodigies in every field. If you were one of those, you would be too busy with your career to be reading this blog. So, how do the rest of us know when this “first novel rule” applies?

Obviously, if you were ten years old when you last wrote anything longer than a shopping list, the chances are exceedingly slim that your first novel will be of publishable quality. And if your first novel was written during NaNoWriMo and you query it on December 1st, don’t be surprised when agents fail to fight for the privilege of representing you.

Is the real thought behind the rule that you learn to write by writing? If so, what if you have seriously studied the craft, whether formally or self-directed? What if you have written short stories? Then are you “safe” to query your first novel?

What is your take on the first novel rule?

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42 thoughts on “First novel, love it or leave it?”

  1. Linda, I saw your blog when you first posted it, and have been waiting until I had time to come over and dwell on it. I’m assuming it was my tweet that inspired your blogpost.

    That “rule” has been haunting me (perhaps that’s too strong a word) since I first read it. I’m new to writing and all that, but I thought it sounded ridiculously broad. Certainly there are many first novels that waste the agent/editor’s time, but there are the few that become best-sellers.

    I’ve greatly enjoyed all the comments you’ve received. It seems everyone is in agreement for the most part. So maybe I’m not ignorantly wasting my time revising my first novel yet again.

    But this all leads me to another rule: Do not write a sequel until you’ve sold the first book. What do you think about that one? I have outlines ready for three other books that would continue the series of my first novel, but I still think I’m going to write something entirely different next. Is that pessimism or common sense?

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    1. Actually, I’ve heard the first novel rule cited many times, including by agents themselves on their blogs and in tweets.

      On Monday, agent Nathan Bransford said this: “If your goal is to be published, writing a sequel to an unpublished, self-published, or under-published book is probably not your best strategy.” So I guess he’d say it’s common sense to leave the sequels until the first does well. However, my friend Kasie has written two series already. One she has set aside for now, but she has an agent shopping the first of her second YA fantasy series, BUT this series she’s writing as stand alone, so the first doesn’t really have to be read first.

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  2. Do you mean this is an actual rule rule? Or just something to play by?
    I like how Joseph says that why in the world would we think our fist novel is publishable. But, you can never know. I think if you care for it enoug, love it enough, and feel you have worked over it enough, why not try (as long as that’s your goal.) You do learn a lot from the query process, even if only how to write a darn good letter!

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    1. No, I’ve seen this stated as a rule. And my first reaction was, “That’s ridiculous!” But then, as usual, I started to question myself.

      As for learning to write a “darn good letter” the jury’s still out on that one!

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