Walk Before You Run

Just a reminder that I’m still taking Blackstone preorders for the print version.  Order now for a 20% discount.  The ebook went on sale about a month ago; I expected print copies to be available by now, but there was a snag from the printer in regard to the cover.  The color scheme came out a bit skewed, an easy fix.  The issue has been ironed out, so look for physical copies to go on sale any day now.

Anyway, I wanted to draw your attention to this article in Forbes.  It’s a cautionary warning against rushing to publication, especially for first-time writers.  I largely agree with the article’s author. 

One of the more frequent questions writers are asked:  If you’re new to writing, should you start with short stories or a novel?  My advice is always short fiction.  I wrote shorts for five years before I felt comfortable enough to tackle a whole book.  Shorts allow more leeway and variety in technique, voice and style.  That phase of experimentation is vital to cultivate a writer’s toolbox.  Once you’ve gotten your footing with shorter pieces, you can feel confident enough to try a novel.

And fail miserably.

Here’s a secret about your first book . . . It sucks.  No, really.  I promise, it does.  I know you think it’s a genre-shattering work of genius for the ages — it’s not.  But the most important secret is this:  Everybody’s first book sucks.  The sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can move on to your second book.  And the third.  And the fourth . . .

That initial book isn’t going to pay out financially; you’re not going to make any money on it.  What dividends it does pay, however, come in education.  You’re gonna learn more from that novel, both about yourself and the craft of storytelling, than any other book you’ll ever write.  And it’s imperative to finish.  A half-written first novel doesn’t count as a first novel.  If you use the experience as a learning exercise, then it can’t be a failure.

I’ve heard that a debut novel is like the one pancake at the bottom of the flapjack stack.  Although it came off the griddle first, no one wants it because it’s sweaty and soggy and unpalatable.  That’s your trunk novel.  I have one too, Blood Money, which I wrote when I was 18.  No doubt I’ll write about that book at some point in the future, so I won’t spoil much here.

My next novel, Leviathan, I wrote when I was 20.  It languished on my bookshelf for two or three years, until I found my first literary agent (this would’ve been late-2008).  Editors from Tor to Viking to Bantam gave the book solid reviews yet no one made an offer, making my manuscript (along with God knows how many others) a likely victim of the global recession.  I went on to publish the book in 2010, and it’s been my best selling title ever since.  The difference between that first and second novel is astonishing to me, everything from plot to pacing.  I took the lessons learned from Blood Money and applied them to Leviathan, which made that second book much stronger. 

Sometimes authors sell their first novels.  I know a couple of writers who did that.  Chances are, that person worked in the industry beforehand.  As an agent or an editor, as a journalist or an English teacher — some kind of profession that had to do with storytelling or publishing.  It’s much rarer for someone to come to writing “cold” and write a publishable manuscript from the start.

As evidenced by Fox News and CNN jumping the gun about the “unconstitutionality” of the recent healthcare law, it’s much better to be right than it is to be first.  So take the extra time to make sure your book is worth publishing before you send it out into the world.

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