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December 14, 2006

First Novels First Or Not

For the novelists in the crowd, Toby Buckell is putting together a survey on the subject of first novels, and whether the first novel a writer sells is, in fact, the first novel they ever wrote. Most writers know all too well that their first published novel is often the third or sixth or tenth they've written, but Toby's trying to quantify that so folks can have something factual to point at when discussing this truth. So if you want to participate in the survey, here's the link (Update, 9:44pm -- Toby's gone done changed around his site and the old link may not work. Here's a new one if it doesn't).

My first published novel is the second novel I wrote, but it was also the first novel I wrote with the intention of trying to sell; the previous novel was a practice novel, which I wrote just to see if I could write something novel-length. I ended up selling that one too, eventually, but that was kind of a quirk. Of course, selling the novel that I wrote intending to sell was kind of quirk, too, because after I wrote it I didn't bother to submit it. What I'm saying, basically, is that I'm a freak. I assume you know that.

Posted by john at December 14, 2006 02:01 PM

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Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 03:10 PM

The comment thread in his post is giving me some hope.

elizabeth bear | December 14, 2006 03:12 PM

My first published novel was my fourth one written, discounting juvenilia, and by the time I sold it, I had finished, er... nine.


Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 03:16 PM

Here, little spark of hope, little flame of desire, let me pour this bucket of ice-cold water on you. (head in hands, sobbing uncontrollably now) :)

Yeah, I know, I should write the damn things and think about sales later.

Lars | December 14, 2006 03:17 PM

I'm going to put a question to you Whatever people that I've asked John before: what's the best, safest way to get test-readers? I'm not looking for highly sophisticated feedback, just a response along the lines of "I liked this part," or, "this part here was really boring." This is to figure out what my audience is, and what it wants, basically.

I'm writing a novel right now with the intention to sell, but not necessarily with that expectation, and yeah it's a first. I think I'm lucky in that my creative urge is best satisfied when I'm able to generate marketable material.

Chang, who gets nothing done... | December 14, 2006 03:29 PM

Good God I have a long way to go.

- Chang, still working on a 1st novel, 3 more in planning and a whole bunch of short stories, one submitted yesterday!

Matt Jarpe | December 14, 2006 03:35 PM

I just ask people who read. Let them know what you're looking for ("at this point more praise is just going to make me into a bigger jerk, I need nose punch criticism here.") Once you find a person who gives you the crit you need, give that person beer and cookies as an incentive to stick around.

Miscellaneous Steve | December 14, 2006 03:53 PM

I'm going to put a question to you Whatever people that I've asked John before: what's the best, safest way to get test-readers?

Find a good writer's group. In a good group, these folks'll give you honest opinions (sometimes contradictory), encouragement where it's merited and suggestions for different directions where it's needed. A good writer's group won't coddle you, but it won't trash you, either. Honesty is a good thing, even if it isn't always pleasant. Unless you get lucky right out of the gate, test a few groups out and join the one you're most comfortable with.

If the group is more into snark than criticism, find another one.

Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 04:00 PM

Chang, who seems to be without BRAINZ to munch, in a followup post, Tobias says it's running about 50/50 of those who sold their first (I think that's what he said, I've been so up and down about this I ought to just stencil "Duncan" on my side). So there's hope. Hope, I say. Hope? (waiting for Sensei Bear's Bucket o' Reality again).

Lars, I was lucky and weaseled, I mean, proved my worth to a writers group with pros in it. Yeah, was sorely lacking those "punch in the nose" critiques myself. Also, find people who are into what you're writing about. I have a short that deals with hunting. Our village clerk/treasurer is into hunting big time, so I ask her questions about the rules, etc.

And it's great to not only get the "this sucks" critique, but to have it explained just where it sucks and how hard, and some pointers to get to less suckatude. But that just may be me. YMMV.

Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 04:16 PM

actually, their critique was very nice. I'm just joking about the "this sucks" part.

tobias buckell | December 14, 2006 08:58 PM

Thanks for the link love, John!

Anon | December 14, 2006 09:39 PM

The link doesn't work for me (404) -- in fact, his entire BLOG doesn't work for me. Little help?

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 09:46 PM

Looks like he went and put in new blog software. I updated the link.

anonymous steve | December 14, 2006 11:58 PM

I am back. I am seeing the comments and finding a need. John, have you ever considered hosting another website inbetween fifty other projects that demand your attention? I am thinking a writer's group. You have some heavy hitters who visit your site who could take a few minutes to review a first chapter and rip it apart or give constructive comment. See, I bet you were thinking I was going to type criticism. I maybe a budding author. Well, actually, a writer. What do you think other Steves?

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 12:03 AM

No. No time.

anonymous steve | December 15, 2006 12:20 AM

I did not mean you would have to do more than monitoring. Your other loggers would do the work. You would only get the glory. Hold it, that sounds like the Prince and the serfs. Forget the idea was even submitted.

tobias s buckell | December 15, 2006 05:40 AM

Sorry about that, we're upgrading the whole site and my web guy changed us from numbered post links to permalinks, I set up a redirect and it got lost in the muddle, thanks for the correx.

Jacob | December 16, 2006 03:21 AM

That book's pretty goddamn slick. I'd buy it.

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