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One thing I see very commonly when reading about famous authors is that their first books were rejected by publishers. Often, an author might have their first several works rejected.

This makes perfect sense - it takes practice - but a novel represents a huge amount of work. How do/should new authors deal with the reality that they are investing months of work into something that in all likelihood is "a practice"?

For instance, if you have a really strong, original story idea it almost seems a shame to 'waste' it but what author is going to not use their best ideas?! How can anyone write a novel with the expectation it won't get read?

Do writing courses deal with this issue and offer any advice? Perhaps authors never consider they won't be published and I'm too pragmatic to be asking the question?!

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I know of two basic ways. In both cases you need to commit to writing as a long term, perhaps lifetime endeavor.

  1. Learn to love the writing process itself. Learn to generate and develop new ideas so you don't feel like your first book is your only child.

  2. Tell yourself that as a writer, you will be getting better. So when your first book is rejected, your second, or maybe third would be accepted. Then, after mastering your craft, you can return to your first book, re-edit it and submit to publishers with much greater success.

However, there is a pitfall in the second option. What if your first book, with a great idea and everything, but not so great literary, is just good enough to get published? In this case, you and the publisher may be reluctant to publish a considerably different "second edition" of your work. Still, there are examples of authors successfully "repackaging" their early works.

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  • do you think this is how many new writers think, or do you think they just never consider they wouldn't get published?
    – Mr. Boy
    Aug 19 at 17:35
  • @Mr.Boy, I think it varies enough that there's not a rule. There are plenty who assume they WON'T find a publisher and are doing it for kicks, possibly with the option to self-publish for a limited circle if they are happy with the fruits of their labor.
    – wordsworth
    Aug 19 at 20:53
  • Alternative 2 is also good for thinking about wasting good ideas. Either you do it so well it gets published, or it doesn't get published and can then be picked up again later.
    – Erk
    Aug 21 at 0:53
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True or false: No author has ever or will ever get their first novel published?

I don't know. I did a quick search and didn't come up with good results. However, I do know that sentences containing nobody, everybody, never, and always are as a rule false.

They are too general and the fact that we usually use such sentences to push ourselves or others down not only makes them false but harmful as well.

Maybe there is an author out there that was published on their first try? Maybe someone will in the future?

In this day and age, you can definitely publish your first novel. No one might read it. And you should probably not use your favorite pseudonym... But you can publish it...

If you don't go all in, it will take longer to get good enough

Reasoning about when people get published and such risks raising thoughts about hacking the system by taking it easy on the initial novel or novels.

It's a bit like the joke about heartbeats: You get a limited number in a lifetime so you'd better not exert yourself or they'll run out too fast...

Not going all-in on your novel will likely prolong the time it will take you to become a good writer. You'll miss important lessons or you'll get them in smaller portions over a longer time.

Not going all in ever is, in my opinion, a recipe for never becoming an author. Or for that matter published. (Agents and publishers will know if you went all-in or not...)

My advice is to go all-in from book one and keep going.

After all, if you decide to self-publish your first novel and someone actually does pick it up and read it, what do you want them to read? The best you had at that time or something you kinda wrote?

You can pick it up later and finish it

Nothing prevents you from taking your best idea, fail writing it, put it aside, and pick it back up later.

Sure, you might get published and later in life realize that it was a poorly executed novel.

Or you might start in one genre and then realize another genre is a better fit for you. You might still reuse parts of the first novel, or have them floating around in your mind as you write other novels.

It may also be that your first novel follows a theme all your novels will follow, that you'll actually spend your career exploring a single theme or a single type of story from many different perspectives. It could happen that the first novel, published or not, will just be one instance of that exploration.

Writing is a lifestyle

Is writing for you? I don't know. I do think, however, that if you write your first book as if it is obvious that it will get published you'll be able to figure out much faster if writing is for you or not.

I suggest that when you write you mean business, you write to get published, you go all-in and produce the best you can, using the best ideas you have. You do it professionally as if it was a job. You start it, do it and finish it. With deadlines, if it helps you from spending a decade "going all-in"...

Otherwise, you will spend your time trying to write instead of actually doing it. (You do, or you don't, there is no try, as it so wisely has been said...)

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  • Harper Lee. One novel (To Kill a Mockingbird.) Published her first novel, then nothing else - but it was her first novel. It is still known and used in English classes around the world. My kids read it in an English course in school in Germany.
    – JRE
    Aug 24 at 8:02
  • @JRE, exactly! Our world is too big for pretty much anything to be something nobody has done or experienced...
    – Erk
    Aug 24 at 12:54
  • Oh there are plenty of people published first time, I'm sure. The 'accepted route' used to be getting short stories into magazines it seems. That avenue is far less available now but on the other hand, as you point out self-publication in the Kindle world is _very_easy and inexpensive.
    – Mr. Boy
    Aug 26 at 8:44
  • @JRE - That's not the first novel she wrote. She wrote at least one previous one, recently published as Go Set a Watchman. Portions of that novel --not published until long after her death --became the seeds of To Kill a Mockingbird but they are definitely not the same book. Sep 21 at 22:47
  • Well, if an example is required Camilla Läckberg wrote "The Ice Princess" and got published on her first try... :)
    – Erk
    Sep 21 at 23:05
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To add to what the others said, nothing says your first novel won't be publishable. It might be! But once it's done, you need to start your next one while you're writing the first one. All can be fixed by writing more and getting better, although it can be a struggle for some (ie. me!).

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I've learned to see every writing project as a learning project. If you learn something from doing it, it's not ever wasted time. And you always put your best foot forward, because that's the only way you learn the most worthwhile things.

There's no such thing as wasting your best ideas. Many authors' greatest books have been much reworked versions of themes they tackled earlier and less successfully.

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  • very true. I suppose my 'worry' if you can call it that is that a novel is a HUGE endeavour. Unlike say short stories which writers can and do churn out as somewhat 'disposable'
    – Mr. Boy
    Sep 22 at 9:44
  • Novels ARE a huge endeavor. And if writing short stories appeals to you, it's definitely a way to get into the practice of writing that isn't necessarily easy, but definitely has a shorter turnaround time (I'd caution you against the "churn out" and "disposable" language, some short stories are immortal). But if you want to be a novelist, part of the commitment of it is learning how to write long form work, which can indeed take a while. I'm on my 6th novel, and tho I firmly believed each one would be THE ONE, the NYT Bestseller, it's only now that I'm starting to understand what I'm doing. Sep 22 at 12:45

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