Why your debut novel may not be your first book – Amber Brock

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By Amber Brock

A friend and I were discussing an amazing new book that had just hit the scene. The pages were magic, the language crisp, the characters vivid. My (non-writer) friend said, “I can’t believe it’s the author’s first book!”♥

I said, “I’ll bet you money it isn’t.”

The novel was definitely a debut, but the writing spoke of years of practice and perfecting. Little lessons about character, plot, and setting that tend not to come all at once, but instead trickle in as a writer tackles multiple projects. At least, that was my experience. My debut is in fact my third completed historical novel. So, even if I was wrong about that author’s debut not being her first, I know that was my experience. Here are some hard-won truths about why completing several novels before publishing your first one is very much to a writer’s advantage:

1. Thicker skin

If you’ve written multiple novels with the goal of publishing one, it stands to reason that you’re also working with critique partners and beta readers. If not, get thee to a critique group! Not only is critiquing the work of others a great way to sharpen your skills at reviewing your own work, but you get the added benefit of developing the tough hide publishing requires. Rejection comes at every stage, and you’ll be better prepared for it if you’ve already learned to take constructive criticism.

2. Practice, practice, practice

The more words you write in different stories with different challenges, the better you’ll get at navigating those challenges. And, much like running a mile, you can improve your speed with increased practice. I set daily goals for myself, and I went from 500 words a day to 2000 in about three months while drafting A Fine Imitation.

3. Proof that you can finish what you start

When I only had one novel complete, I wondered how in the world I had done it and doubted I could do it again. Now, when I open a new Word document (scary!), I can remind myself that I’ve completed an entire novel several times — I can do it again. The more work you’ve finished, the stronger that evidence is, and the easier it is to fight off self-doubt.

4. Room to expand and grow

I’ve learned something new with each novel I’ve written. The first one taught me how to get full, realistic characters on the page. The second helped me sharpen my description of settings. A Fine Imitation taught me about managing a more complex structure. Each novel builds your abilities in a way that can’t happen if you’re stuck on one.

5. Learning to let go

Perhaps the most valuable thing my writing journey has taught me is how to put something aside. I’ve learned to resign myself to the fact that certain novels really are just about the experience writing them, and they may never make it to the shelf. This is an important lesson that allows me to focus on the craft of writing when I need to, instead of the goal of publishing.

Amber Brock teaches British literature at an all girls’ school in Atlanta. She holds an MA from the University of Georgia and lives in Smyrna with her husband, also an English teacher, and their three rescue dogs. Her novel A Fine Imitation is out now.


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