Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Am I still a debut?


I know that it's easier to get signed as a debut novelist than after having published a book, especially if the book didn't sell very well. (Your exact words were, "It's easier to launch a career than to revitalize one.") So my question is, what if the first book wasn't a novel?

I'm one of three writers at a niche blog, and we'd like to create a nonfiction advice book. The blog is currently hosted by a small publishing company, which is a nice connection, though of course there are no guarantees! Because we have a narrow audience, it's unlikely that we'd sell an impressive number of copies.

But I'm a woodland creature! My question is, how will this affect my future chances of publishing a novel? Publishing credits are good, but then I wouldn't be a debut author, even though it would be my first novel.


But you will be a debut novelist, and that's what counts.

Non-fiction has very little crossover to fiction in terms of sales. Just ask Bill O'Reilly who has had several "non"-fiction books (at least that's how they are marketed--historians are too busy laughing to explain why it's hilarious) on the top of the best-seller lists, but his novel has tanked not once but twice.

Think of it this way: your non-fiction advice book about How To Dry Clean Your Dragon isn't going to appeal to the same audience that wants to read your novel about ballerinas in space.

People read advice books to learn things.
People read novels to be entertained.

You'll be just fine.

66 comments:

Lucie Witt said...

A woodland creature's list of things to worry about never ends. Getting an agent, selling a book, selling a book that doesn't sell ...

**off topic back to yesterday** Love the cover, Donnaeve. Can't wait to read your book.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I refer to those as "Bill O'Reilly's books about killing people", to the delight of my co-workers.

However, if Mary Roach our Erik Larsson or John Berendt (sp?) wrote a novel, I'd be there lickety split.

french sojourn said...


I found "Ballerinas welding in space" actually quite riveting.

nice post.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

You can dry clean your dragon? Who knew!

We do like to fret us silly woodland creatures.

Colin Smith said...

Of course you can learn stuff from novels. I did. EXPELLIARMUS! :)

Oh, and for those who missed it yesterday, our own beloved Donna Everhart's debut novel is available for pre-order on Amazon. You know what you need to do if you haven't done it already:

http://www.amazon.com/Education-Dixie-Dupree-Donna-Everhart/dp/1496705513/

Brigid said...

Oh phew! Thanks, Janet, you're better than chipmunk prozac.

Does that hold true if the book is a short story collection? Fiction, but not a novel!

In other news, now I want to write a book titled How To Dry-Clean Your Dragon.

InkStainedWench said...

I used "debut novel" at the beginning of my query. OP's could then end with:

"I am co-author of a self-help book, How to Dry-Clean Your Dragon (Small Publisher, 2016). Zero Gravity is my first work of fiction."

At least that's how I did it, having published several self-help books before embarking on my fiction career. Which, alas, has yet to launch.

Brigid said...

Donna that's FABULOUS! What happy, joyful, frabjous news.

Matt Adams said...

What about a book about ballerinas cleaning space dragons? That's fly off the shelves.

nightsmusic said...

I want a dragon so I can get him dry-cleaned!

I've had assorted essays published in magazines, not fiction, but the late Erma Bombeck type pieces. Though that's somewhat considered "published," it's not published in the genre I write to novel so I'd still be a debut author. Well, I'd hope to be one. First I have to find an agent who loves my book enough to say, "I can get you a five figure deal for this!" Or at least wants to shop it around :)

On a side note, it's already snowing here. I've been at work an hour and a half and there was no snow on the way in and now my vehicle is covered. I'm thinking I'm leaving early today! But, 12 inches! I'm excited :)

Claire said...

Just adding my voice to the well-deserved congratulations for Donna. What a fantastic feeling it must be to see your book in print! And such a gorgeous cover. I can't wait to read it.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Congratulations to Donna! :) That's very exciting.

But... but... but why do I feel the slightest twinge of empathy for O'Reilly now? I was so content before, but knowing that he wants to be a novelist (and failed, sort of) makes me feel bad for him. We've all got dreams, right? *Cue Rapunzel and her lovable band of misfits*

Actually, that song really fits.

"I'm malicious, mean, and scary,
my show could curdle dairy,
and language-wise my mouth not the cleanest,
but despite my old-man glare,
and my temper and thinning hair,
I've always yearned to be a murder novelist!"

Donnaeve said...

On Topic: To OP, I've also read it's harder to stay published once published, which is in line with the idea of sales, and essentially saying the same as you, only different. Capisce?

I don't need to repeat QOTKU's comment, but heck yeah! A non-fiction publication and your name in print on it still makes it a debut! And it's a writing credit, to boot!

Off Topic: If I could, I would hug each and every one of you, bake you cookies, rub your feet, make your beds, sweep your floors, walk your dogs, cook your dinners,...

Seriously, I am glowing as bright as my cover at the love and support you all are showing me here and out and about on the web. THANK YOU ALL from the bottom of my swelling heart!

Amanda Capper said...

WOOHOO!!! BOOK ORDERED! Can't wait to read it, Donna, sounds so good. October. Gnashing of teeth.

And many thanks to COLIN! I would have missed it altogether, I don't get to the comments as often as I'd like.

I don't want to comment to OP. I'm in the ranks of already passed my prime debutante and rather sad about it.

Amy Schaefer said...

Donna Donna Donna Donna Donna Donna Donna Donna Donna! I'm so excited for you. I hope the wait to October doesn't feel too long.

wordwacker.me said...

Donnaeve, that's so WONDERFUL! You are indeed an inspiration to all of us.

On topic, I have a mirror version of the original question (so I guess I need to wear a goatee...;). I had a college textbook published back in 1992. If I ever finish my WIP and start querying it, thanks to this post I now know I'll be a debut novelist with all the perks pertaining thereto. (Yay) But I'm actually hoping my previous publication will help, because it shows I can work with an editor and publisher. Can I actually have it both ways - I'm an experienced published author, but a debut novelist?

*licking the frosting of my eaten-but-still-possessed cake from my fingers*

Colin Smith said...

wordwacker: Okay, so I now have visions of what a possessed cake might do. Cackle manically? Throw itself into people's faces (though that would seem highly self destructive)? Possess those who eat it...? *slowly backs away from wordwacker*

:)

Colin Smith said...

... who knew "Devil's Food Cake" might be literal... 8-O

wordwacker.me said...

Colin: you completely crack me up!
*slowly moves forward, icing-covered fingers outstretched*
No, there's nothing to be nervous about at all. Not at all.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

In all fairness, Colin, it could just as easily be Angel Food cake. So sweet and heavenly but fallen into cake. Maybe wordwacker has devised a way to capture Angels in cake. We don't know.

Which is nearly as useful as that dry cleaning your dragon I am so interested in

Dena Pawling said...


Now I'm confused. Per this site, you should NOT dry clean your dragon

http://www.mythicalgenetics.com/care-and-feeding.html

In yesterday's news: A lawyer was reprimanded for stealing a shark tooth, which of course made me think of this blog.

https://lawyerist.com/102733/reprimand-steal-tooth/

The things you learn here.................

Congrats Donna!

Lucie Witt said...

This post makes me wonder about querying novelists who also publish essays or articles. Let's use Daniel José Older as an example. He writes for places like The Gaurdian, Buzzfeed. Im thinking you should bring that up during "the call" as part determining if it's a good match, especially if like DJO, you write about things considered controversial? And once you have an agent, I'm assuming you run these things by them first?

John Frain said...

I just read a Writer's Digest article last night that proclaimed (among other things) never mention in a query that this is your first novel.

I know, I know: no reference, it didn't happen. I'm off to find it.

But this strikes me: If I'm querying an agent and don't mention previous titles, can I be anything but a debut novelist? Or do people try to sneak some poorly sold self-pubbed books past agents?

Also, Snow Day!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Skimming comments today.

Don't we also "learn things" from novels too? Novels stories but mayn't some novels, by seredipitious coincidence, uncover some truths or a different map for our world, a different perspective? Because sometimes I seem to learn better by osmosis or indirectly.

Donna-yes, big congrats. Need to get over there and order!

Lucie-I would assume that's definitely part of "the call" conversation, if a person writes non-fiction that could be considered controversial. Perhaps sometimes controversy can be good for a novel because readers will know the position and purchase the novel because of it? Although it could work the other way and bring out the worst reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for folks who take the opposite viewpoint.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, John--I was about to ask the same thing: wouldn't an agent assume the novelist is querying a debut novel unless they say differently? I seem to recall QOTKU herself offering the same advice ("you don't need to mention this is your first novel") and I thought the reason was because that's kind of a given by the fact you're querying. Unless, as I said, you state otherwise.

Dena's link: https://lawyerist.com/102733/reprimand-steal-tooth/

Lisa Bodenheim said...

argh...sorry about the bad grammar. Novels ARE stories

and dry-cleaning dragons...I'm trying to imagine all those dry-cleaning chemicals around a dragon's flames. Maybe we need some more marshmallows?

Craig said...

It's time to pull up those writer's panties and get on the bus.

You have worked hard to get to this point and your stars have aligned. You have a following and a platform. Jump in with both feet. This has been parlayed into successful careers before so there is little to second guess yourself on. Go for it before someone else steals your thunder.

John Frain said...

Thank you, Colin. I should've just stayed here instead of getting sucked into the whirlpool also known as Twitter. Was trying to find the article on querying that said not to mention it's your debut.

You're spot on, I remember the Queen's same advice that there's no need to mention this is your first novel.

nightsmusic said...

John, Snow Day is right!! I left work over an hour ago and just got home and it's going to get worse.

I do mention in my query that I've written for XXX publications, but I don't know how much weight that carries when you're querying for a novel. One is fiction, the other...not. But I mention it on account of.

Laura Mary said...

Lisa - I think the key difference is that you don't seek out knowledge in novels, it's a happy by-product of the story.
Also, fiction has a way of leading you astray... You want to pass your history exam, you get yourself to the reference library. You don't watch the boxset of 'Tudors' and think that'll cover it ;-)
Ahem.

Timothy Lowe said...

This is the most valuable part of reading this blog - the realization that agents are doing us all a favor by rejecting work that isn't ready. They're providing a valuable and free opinion as to the salability of our work. The last thing any of us wants is to publish a book that won't sell. Their opinion is subjective and not always right. But if you send enough queries, you get a pretty accurate idea.

LynnRodz said...

OT: Like I told Donna last week when I saw her cover, the colors are amazing. If I was browsing in a bookstore, the colors alone would make me pick up the book and start reading. Can't wait!

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Thank you Craig - those are my kind of encouraging words I needed to hear today:) Its almost like reading one of those horoscopes thingys. Horoscopes for Writers...hmmm. Might be onto something!

Duly noted, QOTU. Thank you for posting this question, because I happen to go back to my novel and visit for 5 minutes yesterday. It was like greeting old friends, but I knew I had to make the visit short. And today I work on the non-fiction proposal again (into writing three chapters). My brain hurts. Or that could be the nitrates in the venison jerky we made yesterday. I'm not sure.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Laura Mary, you mean "Tudors" is not factual? I see when I edited and then tried to correct myself I missed a word/phrase. Novels are not necessarily factual but that sometimes you can learn truths, in the sense of emotional intelligence that speaks to relationship dynamics or takes you off on a spiritual jetstream.

BJ Muntain said...

So, being an innocent Canadian, I had no idea who this 'Bill O'Reilly' was. Being a search engine ninja, I googled him. I found out that he figures he can teach the Pope what Jesus would say about immigration.

Canada should build a wall to keep people like him out of the country. And you can keep Cruz. He's already renounced his Canadian citizenship. We don't want him back. He's gonna stay on your side of the wall, too.

I once took a university class on ancient Japan, and the prof made us watch the entire Shogun miniseries (although, near the end, he got the order messed up). Not sure what I learned there, but it was an interesting class...

Lennon Faris said...

Yay, good news for OP!

Maybe it's the titles for Bill O'Reilly. Those non-fiction ones sure have eye-catching titles. I did a double take the first time I saw them in the bookstore. But the novel? egh. I had to google it just now to see what it was.

Kate Larkindale said...

Could you still be a debut novelist if you've had a novel published already, by a small e-book only press that has since closed, so the book is no longer available (except on pirate sites, but that's a whole 'nother story)? I guess not... even if the book only sold a handful of copies.

Beautiful cover, Donna! Can't wait to read it.

Christina Seine said...

Damn, I had no idea you were supposed to clean your dragon. I always thought they were self-cleaning, like ovens. I guess this explains why mine doesn't have a girlfriend.

Doesn't matter anyway; I never have any hot water. I have teenagers.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised to learn was that agents apparently like to know if one has newspaper experience. It supposedly shows you have discipline and a good writing work ethic. *laughs hysterically* A good 90% of journalists I've known (self included) and procrastinators who are super, super good at writing on deadline, because coffee. At least I guess it shows you can use werds properly. Mostly.

Good luck OP with your novel!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

You have to be careful when washing your dragon. Use the wrong soap, clean water, and they can get wing shrinkage. Dragons dislike shrinkage. Especially males. So best to dry clean them I am thinking because if you don't wash them, boy do they stink- sulphur and all.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My dragon s permanent press. Wash, drip dry, no wrinkles. Oh sorry I was talking about my face.

As a (for 30 years) non-fiction, op-ed essayist and columnist, being/having a debut in fiction is a big deal. Actually debuting anything after all these years is a big deal. Takes a whole different mindset. That I'd be new in the eyes of an agent, I think, is a good thing but there's a tradeoff.
My writing experience is a plus, considering what I turn out and on time, but my inexperience often leaves me blind to non-journalistic technique. Sort of like a virgin who doesn't know what to do with her tongue.
Did I just say that?
Where's my dragon?

Claire said...

Lucie, if I had writing credits in The Guardian I would definitely be mentioning them in my query letter. I know it wouldn't mean I could write a readable novel, but it would at least mean I could probably string a coherent sentence or two together. Agents are human, and having had a prestigious publication already give the seal of approval like that can only help, I'd imagine.

Karen McCoy said...

Washing dragons is dangerous work indeed! There's also that T-shirt that says, "Meddle not in the affairs of the dragon; for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup."

I'd like to jump on Lisa's bandwagon and say that yes, we can learn things from novels.Neil Gaiman has a lovely piece about that here.

Can't wait for Donna's book! I already referred it to a friend.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Karen, I have a coffee mug with that quote. And I love Neil Gaiman even though both he and Patrick Rothfuss ignore my existence and refuse to play Cards Against Humanity with me. I plan to rectify that by winning a Hugo. After I get an agent. After I revise my query. After.

Maybe Donna can put in a good word for me. They are sure not going to ignore her after her book becomes an uber bestseller.

John Frain said...

This is where Colin is supposed to chime in and ask about an uber bestseller and wonder how anyone would have time to read an entire novel while taking a ride across town in a stranger's Prius.

Sorry, but I still had a couple comments left today, so...

Colin Smith said...

John: I'm still wrapping my head around possessed cakes. My daughter made some blueberry muffins with fresh blueberries. I had one. It was so good... I want more... or do they want me??... 8-O

kdjames.com said...

I have nothing to add on topic, either. I'm past debutante stage and well into on-the-shelf, perhaps even old maid, stage. Going to have to be a rather desperate, er, courageous suitor who would take me on at this point.

Just sitting here waiting for the big squall line to move through. Between the blizzard to the north and the tornadoes down here, I'll be expecting several of you all to check in later. Not that I worry or anything.

John Frain said...

Wow, Colin, those blueberry muffins sound like best sellers. I wonder if you "accidentally" left one on an agents desk, say, resting on top of a manuscript...

Never mind, I'm sure that's another berry bad idea. It's a good thing I'm out of comments before getting in [more?] trouble here at the reef.

Karen McCoy said...

E.M., I want that mug!

I'm yet to play Cards Against Humanity but I sincerely want to! Here's to your impending Hugo!

I met Neil Gaiman once in a veeerrry long book signing line. (We're talking two sets of alphabet, with fifty people per letter.)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Fret not, those of you who think you've blown your One and Only Chance at a debut novel.

There are debut novels and there are breakthrough novels. They aren't necessarily the same thing. Sure, a debut novel can be a breakthrough, but not all breakthroughs are debut.

Sometimes an author will debut to a slow but steady boil, release two or three novels, then the fourth one hits the Sweet Spot and takes off like the love child of Superman and The Flash on meth.

Here's an infographic about when authors wrote their most famous novels. Note that not every breakthrough novel was a debut.

This isn't to say we shouldn't be releasing quality product. Absolutely we should. But don't fret that the one novel you released ten years ago through a small press that has since folded is going to completely blow your writing career. It won't.

RachelErin said...

Duchess, that infographic is fantastic! I thought about his when I read the Hunger Games. I'm pretty sure Collins was selling well before that book, but she was nearing (or in) double digit published books when it became a thing. Most of my favorite books are not the first publication.

Any data on how good you have to be to keep getting published so you have a chance at the breakthrough novel? How are those defined?

DeadSpiderEye said...

Ah-ha, I see that two commenters have dropped tentative hints about the agent noun thing.

Christina Seine said...

I have two things to say about "learning stuff" from novels.

1. Judy
2. Blume

You girls know what I mean. :)

Panda in Chief said...

You guys are making me laugh out loud today. Which is worse? Cleaning a dragon or giving a cat a bath?

Donna, the all over the country/world book signing dilemma can be solved with book plates. Get yourself a PO box if you don't have one already, and have people send a self addressed stamped envelope to you. Have some cute bookplates with a detail from the cover made up, sign em, and send them out in the aforementioned SASE's. Easy peasy!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

When people say dragons are 'dry clean only', they really mean you rub them down with sand, then oil. (Also, I've never had a dragon that I cleaned with water.)

Only a Darwin candidate would use a flammable liquid to clean a dragon.

kdjames.com said...

All clear here, no storm damage (although it was eerie-green scary for a while).

Donna and Colin, sounds like both your areas had some rough weather. You okay?

nightsmusic said...

Quick check-in. We have at least 7 - 8 inches on the ground in as many hours and it's still coming down like a whiteout.

YAY!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

RachelErin asked:

Any data on how good you have to be to keep getting published so you have a chance at the breakthrough novel? How are those defined?

*blink* I have no idea. My small press publisher's happy to contract me for a fourth, so I must be doing something right. Every time one of my titles is released, I get a boost in sales from my backlist. But I am too specialised and too small a demographic to be a good example.

Her Sharkness would have better answers than I. After all, it's her job to aid the careers of authors. She'd know at what point one could call it for a career (after some serious rethinking, revamping, rebranding, resusc and/or rehab).

I do know this: an agent and a publisher are more interested in your career than in a single book. It's a career than makes money.

Also, is it necessary to break through to be considered "successful", or can a career survive quite nicely on steady mid-list success?


Colin Smith said...

kd: In my little corner of NC, we had some flashes and rumbles, heavy rain, very gusty winds, and a tornado warning at one point. But we're okay. Thanks for asking! :) I'm not sure how things went where Donna lives. Hopefully she'll check in soon.

Colin Smith said...

NM: The temps here have been in the 70s today (hence the very unstable atmospherics--can't handle dramatic temp changes), so the thought of you guys getting all that snow is... freaky!!

nightsmusic said...

Colin, I came home at 11 today because the snow was already bad. It's way worse now so needless to say, I won't be going in to work tomorrow. More writing time! :)

Michael Seese said...

@ french sojourn... If you thought "Ballerinas welding in space" was good, wait until you read the sequel, "Zero G Ballerinas. I tell you, THAT was a book I couldn't put down.

Theresa said...

2NNs: Now I keep hearing Madonna's "Like a Virgin" in my head.

I had no idea the value of being a "debut" novelist. Fascinating.

Megan V said...

Christina,

Thank you. I just choked on my hot cocoa.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Okay, I have had some time to ruminate again about today's topic question from the OPIE (thanks!) and have a question to ask, Janet.

If I query a non-fiction (memoir) book proposal, How long should it be before I contact the same agent with a novel query if they represent both? Or are they two different beasts and an Agent who turns down a non-fiction may be willing to look at the fiction, if the writing is where it should be?

And off note; Dragons. After the wildfire in 2012, we went to go see the movie, "The Hobbit" that winter. A large screen Dragon's flaming roar, with the sense of impending doom in 3D is just a portion of what it feels like to be in an actual crown fire. I almost had to get up and leave. I've conquered the PTSD by attending other wildfires in our area. You do get over it eventually. But I still wouldn't mess with a Dragon.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Theresa, Madonna and me, we're a lot alike.
She sings, I listen.
At over 50 she did cartwheels in high heels during a Super bowl halftime years ago, I watched the game.
She's famous, I have lots of 'fan'.
She sang "Like a Virgin" I was one.
Yup, me and my bud, Madonna.
Now lets talk about what I have in common with the other Madonna, Mary, mother of ....

Michael Seese said...

@ french sojourn... If you thought "Ballerinas welding in space" was good, wait until you read the sequel, "Zero G Ballerinas. I tell you, THAT was a book I couldn't put down.