4 Reasons to Write Several Books*

Rachelle Gardner

*Before Seeking Publication

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

There is a cliché in publishing that by the time a writer finally gets published, she already has a whole stack of novels completed and hidden in a drawer, never to see the light of day. No writer gets their first book published, right?

Well, there are exceptions of course, but mostly, it’s true. Nearly all successfully published authors will have written two or more books before they get their first contract offer. Here’s why:

1. Practice. It takes most people a few tries to write a viable and saleable novel. Like it or not, this is true for the overwhelming majority of writers.

2. Repeatabilty. If you haven’t finished more than one full-length book, you don’t have a good feel for whether or not you can do it over and over again.

3. Timing. If you haven’t written multiple books, you’re not able to accurately predict how much time it takes you to write one, and therefore signing a multi-book contract is problematic. How do you know if you’ll be able to meet your deadlines?

4. Confidence. If you’ve finished multiple books, then you’ll go into your first publishing contract with more confidence. You’ll know you’re a writer. You’ll be less bothered by that nagging worry that maybe that one book you wrote was a fluke.

I’ve seen too many cases now of writers going into multi-book contracts unprepared, and find themselves unable to finish multiple books in the amount of time the publisher has allotted. This can harm your career, but not only that, it’s painful! You can avoid it by being adequately prepared, and there’s only one way to do that: write, write, write.

Question: How many complete books have you written (publishable or not)? If you’re published, how many books had you written before signing that first contract?

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122 Responses

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  1. Hi Rachelle,
    Thank you for this post. It was always important to me to have 2 or more books ready to submit before sending out queries or seeking representation.

    I’m so glad you recommend this! I love your blog and am subscribed by RSS.

    Thanks for everything you do!

  2. Lisa Jordan says:

    My debut novel was my first book, but it had gone through more revisions than I can remember. While waiting for that book to be published, I wrote several others, some still in the rough draft. Each novel taught me something new about story craft and patience…both seem to go hand in hand.

  3. Did some fancy math & came up with eight (okay, so the math wasn’t that fancy). 😉

    Really hoping some of those will see the light of day.
    ~ Wendy

    • Oh, I’m sure they will Wendy.

    • Marilyn Groves says:

      I knew that my frist novel was deeply flawed although I loved the its concept. It rests in a drawer thinking (or going feral!)and someday I may take some of the characters and put them in a different setting – or I may not. My second and current novel, is a YA the first draft of which I completed in about a third of the time the first one took. I’m currently on the fourth revision of this book with 10 rejections under my belt but, understandably, no feedback. So – is my premiss unpublishable or is my writing week. The latter I know still has much room for improvement and I can carry on revising. The former? I know, and absolutely get, that agents can’t feed that back to you; Twitter has given me the insight I needed into the workloads, lives and times of… So – what to do?! Move on? Write the second book in the trilogy of which my current book is the first, or start dreaming up new ideas? I am thoroughly enjoying revising this novel but if no-one is ever going to want to read a story about… Then?!! Suggestions anyone? 🙂

      • Marilyn Groves says:

        Oh Yikes ‘the’ concept. I do check my ms for typos!!!!

      • Marilyn Groves says:

        Oh Good Grief – I mean ‘weak’ I find it really hard to spot these horrors in this little white box!!!!!

      • Marilyn Groves says:

        Third correction – oh dear, oh dear. I meant premise!!! I’m NEVER writing a long blog again without seeing it in MS doc first. If there are more mistakes, I won’t correct them – I’ll just burn in shame! Oh EEEEEEkkkkk

      • Jill Kemerer says:

        I’m smiling over here, Marilyn! I get so mad at myself for typos all over FB and comments on blogs–we must be a lot alike! Ha!

      • Marilyn Groves says:

        Thank you Jill! I was checking back with a sense of mortification and now I feel better! I took a peek at your blog and – yes, we do have similarities 🙂

    • I can’t wait to hold a Wendy P. Miller book in my hands someday! I’ll be one of your biggest fans! 😉

  4. Nichole Osborn says:

    Thank you for this post Rachelle! it was very encouraging! 🙂

    I have finished 1 novel, but after reading Hooked by Les Edgerton, realized I satarted the story in the wrong place. So now, what was the first chapter in the book is now the last. I’m in the process of writing the rest, now.

    I have finished a children’s book too.

  5. Michelle Ule says:

    At my first Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference (where I met my boss), T. Davis Bunn was the keynote speaker and he said he wrote seven novels before he got published the first time. That number stuck in my head and I decided I wasn’t going to worry about being published until I had written seven novels–sort of a journeyman exercise.

    #8 got a contract.

    Everything you said above is correct, along with gaining more knowledge about how publishing works. So many first time writers have stars in their eyes–this is a much more demanding and less financially rewarding profession than most.

    Thanks. 🙂

  6. Four Nanowrimo novels — with a lot of telling and reversals of plot. But I have rewritten, revised, and polished two of these till they bare little resemblance to the originals. Neither are published, but both have won awards. Now I’m revising another Nanowrimo draft and writing my first not-a-Nano novel.

  7. April Brown says:

    Eight completed. One no longer on submission (let an agent pick it up after they accept a later novel, plus it’s kinda out of popularity right now). Another may send to a specific press later. Book 3 is novel one of a group (not exactly a series) and is in the query process. Book 2 of that group is in beta read. Book 3 of that group is in massive edits.

  8. Vicki Orians says:

    In my research, I had read where it was not recommended to try to get the first book you ever write published, mostly because of the reasons you gave here. Practice makes perfect, and although there are exceptions to every rule, and you want to make sure you submit your best for representation!

    That’s really hit hard for me since my first, full-length manuscript is the one that I wanted to share with the world. Maybe I can come back to it after I write a few more books? Maybe then I’ll be able to re-work it in a way I hadn’t thought possible.

    Thanks for this post, Rachelle!

  9. Great question and interesting answers. My non-fiction book was my first (not counting textbooks). Fiction was a different story: four books, forty rejections, four years. Since then, four novels published, another completed and in the editing process, starting another.
    My friend, independent editor Ray Rhamey, says he and his colleagues think it takes about four books before a writer begins to “get it.” I put it more simply–the first books are like the pancake you throw away before the rest are edible.

    • Stacy Voss says:

      I never thought of throwing away those first pancakes. My kids will appreciate your advice!

    • Sarah Thomas says:

      Richard, you’re invited over for pancakes. While I’m not syaing my first book was any good, my first pancakes almost always are. All you have to do is get the griddle good and hot. (Now there’s a metaphor we could run with!)

    • Amanda says:

      This is a PERFECT analogy! Plus I made pancakes for breakfast this morning so it is particularly fun. There were four I threw out before the good ones started coming off the pan.

  10. Stacy Voss says:

    I have one sitting in my slush pile, that cathartic experience that benefited me more than anyone else. My second manuscript is done, a Bible study this time. I’ll wait and see what happens this round, but at least I just finished taking two groups of women through it and many said it impacted them. I need to remember that this writing business isn’t always about numbers and that success can measured in various forms.

    Thanks for this great post and even better reminder!

  11. R B Harkess says:

    Hmm, my writing history depends on where you start counting from. I went through two phases of writing before the currect era. In the first (my late teens) I only wrote one book. In the second (my mid thirties), I wrote three, but in three different genres.

    In this latest, dating from about two years ago, I’ve written loads of shorts, and the first novel (‘Aphrodite’s Dawn’) was published. Written two more since then (looking for homes)

    So I guess I generally support the argument 🙂

  12. Jennifer Major says:

    One completed book, several more growing (outlined, plotted, etc) queries/synopses begun, thank you speech for Pulitzer/Rita/Christy done AND dress designed for Oscar for best original daydreamer. Oh, and 11 years of blogging. Fixes hair. Now to do the laundry!

  13. Wrote three novels before I gave birth to my debut novel. Have three more published and am currently working on a new series. The old adage ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ truly does apply. Also, I believe that a writer needs to be a reader. Reading with an eye to an author’s style can help a new writer immensely.

  14. Sarah Thomas says:

    EIGHT! Well, if I have to. The first book was awful and I fortunatley knew it. The second book is the one I love too much and have been querying. The third book is in round two of edits. The fourth book is underway.

    The funny thing is, with the early books I honestly didn’t know much about what would happen between the inciting incident and the end. With book four, it’s all there. Things still pop up that suprise me, but I’m amazed at how much clearer the stories get the more I write.

  15. Rachel! What greats points you made here! I thought I was the only writer who worried that my first book was a fluke and I’d never do it again! Even though my first book was actually a trilogy and I am now deep into two more books, I still worry that maybe I’m not a “real” writer. Getting that multiple book deal helps (my trilogy is signed with Knox Robinson Publishing and they have an option on my next book as well), but I still worry that maybe I’m just imagining I can do this — because as a writer, I imagine all kinds of things. Worry is part of the process and what keeps me writing more. Can I do it again? Only way to know is to do it again! Only regret in my burgeoning career is that I had to cross you off my query list as a rejection, since you never replied! But I’m in good company: Stefani Meyer (my fellow college alum) got 5 rejections and 9 non-responses before accidentally landing on the right agent’s desk. No wonder we writers feel insecure! Write on!

  16. Patti Mallett says:

    I pretty much realize this is true, but one never knows. Right? (Now, back to work.)

    Thanks, Rachelle. Your posts are always so helpful.

  17. Lara says:

    Hmm… I have one NANOWRIMO novel drafted. A non-fiction book completed. And I’m just starting non-fiction book #2 (with a solid idea for a third stewing on the backburner).

    Guess I’m on my way, but still might have a few books to go before publication! Thanks for this post, Rachelle. Your 4 reasons have me changing my mindset. And resetting my expectations to view this new book as another opportunity to learn the craft frees me to enjoy the process more. I’m thinking I’ll write better too, without the pressure of having to sell the book hanging over me.

  18. Dustin Scott says:

    I’ve written 2 books, a horror script, numerous short stories, and I’m currently working on some poetry. I have tried giving up but the stupid ideas keep coming. It’s a curse and a blessing. I stopped writing all together and was focusing on work for the past few months and was asked to submit to a local college’s literary/art publication put out quarterly. I submitted one of my short stories not really thinking about it just going through the motions. It was accepted and I am finally getting something published. It doesn’t pay anything, it probably won’t be read by more than 100+ people, but it shows me there is hope if I just keep keeping on. Hopefully we all have the will to keep going if only for the sake of getting these damn ideas out of our heads (don’t they know I’m trying to sleep).

  19. Great post. My third manuscript was the first published. I had two others published after that. I’m currently working on number six. I had to get a few books under my belt just to learn what genre worked best for me.

  20. Joanne Sher says:

    I have one completed and one in the works. Really want #1 published, but I think it has to wait for some others to be published first. And I’m okay with that. Great post!

  21. I’ve written two full books, both non-fiction. The first was published thanks to a top-notch agent, Janet Grant. I have about three others in various stages of completion, both fiction and non-fiction. Yes, the only way to learn to write is to write. Good wisdom here. Thank you.

  22. David Todd says:

    5

  23. Clear and to the point. Love it! I only wrote one book so far, and I’m writing a new one while I’m querying. I agree, this fist book was like a workshop. It helped me develop my writing skills, learn to give and receive reviews, start networking, and I continue learning about the whole publishing process as I research agents and enter contests. Even if it never gets published, the experience I’m gaining with it is invaluable.

  24. Jen Zeman says:

    I’m on my third novel. The premise is the same, but I’ve changed the overall direction of the book based on feedback received. First it was a memoir; then a YA paranormal (don’t ask ;-D); and the current version is YA contemporary.

  25. I’m with Julie – I had to write in a few genres to find my niche. Which shouldn’t have surprised me when I found it, since I devour Historical Romance/Suspense as a reader. I wrote two full novels before the third one which I’m currently confident to stand behind and pitch/query. The first two better not see the light of day without some serious editing (lol) but were critical in helping to develop my skill. I’m on my fourth now and finding the writing comes much easier now that I have found my “voice”.

  26. Leah Bailey says:

    Three (two mysteries and a young adult)and the first part of a trilogy. I haven’t tried to do anything with them yet, though. I am probably going to self-publish one mystery.
    I also have another trilogy started and another mystery, but those are on the backburner.

  27. Michelle Ule says:

    The interesting thing about writing so many is it shows me the themes that important to me–surprising who keeps turning up in the stories no matter where in the world I set them!

    It also means, I can go back and revise to make those books better–I see the problems with them now. If I’m ever in a situation where I need to come up with a manuscript quickly, I’ve got a computer-full of projects that need refreshing and reshaping but the story is there.

    Money in the bank? Well, manuscripts at least. 🙂

  28. Marilyn Groves says:

    Rachelle, as ever, your blogs and everyone who sails in them are so informative, encouraging and helpful. Thank you so much. 🙂

  29. I am not a novelist, but your post offers some great advice for anyone of any genre seeking publication. Love it, Rachelle! I will be sharing!

  30. Melissa says:

    5 novels in exactly 3 years this month! Number 1 is in the drawer, the next 2 have gone through the polishing process, the next 2 are rough draft, and I’m thinking of skipping #4 to polish #5, (number 4 might be a hard sell in the CBA for a debut author, considering in contests I either get “this is a dangerous book” or “I’m so glad you’re tackling this”) With these last 3 books I know I could produce a polished one in 9-10 months barring catastrophe or laziness. 🙂

  31. Jill Kemerer says:

    Well, Rachelle, I’m breaking Wendy’s Magic 8 rule! I started writing full time in the fall of 2007. I’m currently working on book 11. I push myself to meet my own deadlines, and I have no regrets about the books sitting on my computer. They fulfilled something in me. I still think of characters from books I wrote four years ago!

    So, any writers who see “3” books or “8” books or even my *10+* books, don’t be discouraged! You don’t know what your number will be, and if you truly love writing, it won’t matter. 🙂

  32. I’ve finished 2 novels and have one in progress. The first is occasionally out and about, reaping rather complimentary rejections. I’m working on revising the second. Maybe the third will be the keeper? or the fourth? Hope I live that long (71 now!).

  33. Okay – now I’m depressed! lol
    Seriously, just goes to show it takes as much perseverance as talent to get publish.

  34. Sarah Grimm says:

    It’s really nice to *know* the whys behind this statement. I figured practice makes perfect, but the other reasons you gave make so much sense.

    Including the 3 stashed away in my dark drawer, I have written 6 novels and am plugging away at number 7.

  35. Fabulous article, Rachelle. I guess I have a ways to go yet. The first and only novel I wrote is women’s fiction, but then I switched genres and now write for children. Granted, my first children’s picture book is also my first published one, but I’m still aching to go back to writing for an older audience. In the meantime, I have 6 picture books done, and one MG novel halfway complete. At least I’m getting lots of practice.

  36. I’m ashamed to say I’ve written 16 books and co-written one over the last 19 years. Still looking for that first legitimate publication.

    I stopped counting my rejection letters years ago, but I’m sure I’m somewhere around 400 now. “This is very good, but it’s not for me. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding another agent.” I have it memorized.

  37. Julia Becca says:

    I have 5 written, completed and self-published right now. Working on a few publishers as we speak. If it weren’t for the wonderful feedback of my readers I’d have never even tried to self-publish, but apparently unless you’re already an established author or unless you know someone in the business, they don’t even look at you. It’s been tough. But I’m still trying.

  38. I have been writing since 1985, published in journals, magazines, supplements, and so forth almost immediately, first book in 1991. Today, I have three novels with a small publisher, seven story collections I re-issued from my back list, a poetry book (all in paperback and eBooks, of course) and a whole bunch of short stories as single ebooks. Every piece of fiction I have ever written, except my WIP, is now in print, but yes – it’s all been revised and re-written several times. I have a beta group that keeps me busy. There are enough rejections, since 1985, to paper all four office walls!

  39. Bonnie Way says:

    I’ve written five or six novels. I wrote them all in my teens, so I can’t remember exactly how many I finished right now… several of them are publishable, I think (with a bit of reworking). I was writing a series that I would like to pitch to a publisher sometimes in the next couple of years. The second novel in the series is definitely better than the first, so I’ll have to do some work on the first before pitching it. 🙂 Great tips here. Thanks.

  40. A great topic, oh agent mine! 🙂

    I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I absolutely agree, and I toy with the idea of stockpiling novels for five years so I never have to go through deadline stress again.

    On the other hand, writers with complete novels that took nine months to a year to write can still encounter an editing situation in which they must rewrite 80 percent of the novel in two months, even if the submitted novel was initially well-crafted. The editor may want a different kind of story. This is always going to be quasi-nightmarish for the writer, if her normal pace is nine months to a year per novel. It’s different if the writer naturally writes the kind of fiction that comes very quickly: short category romances, for example. But for trade-length fiction in which the writer aspires to write good prose, a two-month full rewrite is going to completely change that writer’s lifestyle. There will be time for NOTHING else, and she’d better get ready for a noticeable rise in blood pressure. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. 😉

    There’s no guarantee against deadline stress, but I do agree that it’s probably better, in the long run, to have at least two or three high-quality *publishable* novels before signing a contract.

  41. My WIP is number five. In retrospect I realize that with the first, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and each subsequent one has been part of my education. I don’t like to speculate how long I’ll have to be in school before I graduate, but since education is never a wasted effort, I’ll just keep writing. 🙂

  42. Short and sweet post. Thank you ~ that brings a lot to the table that needs to be thought about. I do like Rosslynn’s idea of stockpiling novels. What a great idea! 🙂

  43. Sarah Tipton says:

    Interesting discussion! I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses.

    I completed 2 MG/YA manuscripts before studying. Then I learned I don’t want to share those without rewriting! But I needed to prove I could reach “The End.”

    Then I wrote the rough draft of another story and realized it needed some plot reworking. So I set it aside and tackled a new idea. That manuscript (#4) I completed in 6 months—from outline to manuscript to proposal. It landed me representation with Rachel Kent.

    While shopping around my first polished, pretty manuscript I tackled the next project. It will take me closer to 10 months by the time it’s complete, but it will be ready to go in June. While I edit it, I’m outlining the rewrite of manuscript #3.

    So I am counting 5 manuscripts at this point.

    I’m considering doing the full-outlines of a few sequels just in case contract day does come. But I fear that is putting the cart before the horse 🙂

  44. Not published. Three novels complete.

  45. Cara Putman says:

    I have written 15 books with the next one releasing in May. Those are the only books I’ve written. I’d written two books when I got my first contract. I’m one of those unique stories. 🙂

  46. I have written one nonfiction book thus far which, Lord willing, I will be signing a contract with a small publisher for. I am about 1/4 done on my second book which is a novel.

  47. Jeanne says:

    This has been an eye-opening conversation. I need to get on the ball with writing. 🙂 I wrote my first draft of my first novel last winter. Then, showing it to a couple of authors whom I respect, I realized my heroine needed serious re-vamping. I’m getting ready to re-write my book. And I have other ideas floating around in my head (and on my computer). So, I guess the question is, how much time do I spend on my first story before I move on to write a second, and a third, and a fourth?

    You’ve all given me lots to think about. Thanks, Rachelle, for addressing this subject!

  48. Barbara says:

    My first book netted me a publisher and an agent; however, what it didn’t do was sell well, my agent retired and the publisher rejected the second book. I didn’t understand the importance of having more than one book to market when my first was undergoing the editing. I spent almost all my time on responding to the publisher’s editor, thinking when it was ready, I’d work on the next book. Now I know better!

  49. Susan Crawford says:

    Thanks for this post, Rachelle. I consider myself a “sophomore” in the school of fiction writing. I’ve been devouring craft books and blogs and online courses for a couple of years and I’m working on my second novel. It’s easy to feel like I’m behind everyone else and want to rush to catch up, but posts like this one encourage me to keep my pace and just keep writing. Thanks again!

  50. I think of each book as a Master’s level course on writing. I’ve written 3 full-length novels, a novella and a memoir. I’ll be sending a proposal on the novella next week, and then I’ll edit the second novel. The first–that’ll stay in the drawer a little while longer. I’m not ready to give up on it yet, but I know enough to know it’s not ready for publication.

    I hope I don’t get all the way to eight books before I’m published, but I won’t quit until God tells me to. I’m having too much fun.

    Thanks for the great post, Rachelle.

  51. I had a slew of children’s picture book manuscripts and two middle grade manuscripts before I found my calling in Christian fiction. My first Christian novel has now been re-written three times (for three different age groups–so don’t know whether to count that as one or three!).

    While that novel was tied up in negotiations with a publisher, my brilliant agent gave me the advice to start something new. I finished that one in less than a year. That was a wonderful experience and it got me over that fear of that first(?) novel being a “fluke.”

  52. Sue Harrison says:

    Okay, I’m one of those novelists who had the first book I wrote published. I could stand on that haughty claim without telling the rest of the story, but here’s the whole truth….

    In its first incarnation, that first novel stunk royally. Many versions later, my first novel was finally published, and it did well. But it was a long journey. It was also a joyful journey. I LEARNED so much!

    I’ve written 12 novels now and have only 7 published. I’m still able to churn out a stinker now and again. That’s fine. Those novels are my “going back to school” novels. They may not be publishable, but I LEARN so much by writing them! And the journey is still joyful.

  53. I’m unpublished, currently finishing the first draft of my 7th novel (plus one proto-novel that petered out at 10,000 words) and heading into final revisions of my 6th, which I’m hoping to start querying soon. I’m very glad I wrote the other novels but they are NEVER seeing the light of day again. *shudders*

  54. I’ve discovered that writing multiple books also has helped me define my niche. I thought I was going to write Historical Fiction because it’s what I love to read but to my surprise, Contemporary Women’s Fiction comes MUCH easier to me. Perhaps my age and life experiences are playing a much larger role in my writing now?

    Thanks again for the encouragement – just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing!

  55. K. D. Hume says:

    This is a very reassuring article for me. I’ve written three complete books thus far, but I haven’t even begun to query any of them. The first I’m very attached to, but it will need a really heavy rewrite. The second I’ve trashed completely. I think the third shows promise — that’s the one I’m currently editing.

  56. These are all great points. I have four novels completed and brainstorming for my fifth.

  57. Susan Spann says:

    I wrote four full-length (80,000-100,000 word) manuscripts before obtaining an agent and publishing contract (for the fifth novel). The first four have now become my “trunk novels” – novels I had to write to acquire the skills to write the one that really shines.

    My fifth novel is actually in a different genre altogether (historical mystery as opposed to straight historical fiction) and sold to a major publisher in a three-book deal.

    People sometimes ask me if it bothers me to have “wasted” so much time (almost five years) writing novels that would never be published. I always answer the same way: Not a minute of it was wasted.

  58. Calisa Rhose says:

    I had three full length mss written when I sold my novella. Great informative post. Thanks.

  59. Um, 3 or 4? Working on a new one now. (Still yet to be published, but I hope within the next year!)
    And I totally agree with this. It goes back to the “you’re not a writer until you’ve written one million words,” or Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours until you’re an expert.” I believe it takes that long of a time for a writer to find their voice and settle in their style. And maybe first time authors fail at subsequent books because they tried copying someone else on their first, and can’t find their own unique style to keep it going.
    Thanks for posting!

  60. This post and all the comments made my day. Thank you so much!

    I often joke with my husband. “Look over there on the nightstand, an entire novel.” It feels so funny to have written something I completely love that may never see publication. It took me forever and I loved every minute. I am so glad I am not alone.

  61. Keli Gwyn says:

    I’d completed five manuscripts and rewritten three of them at least once before my First Sale. I’d rewritten the book that will be released in July (my debut novel!) twice before receiving my offer of representation from Rachelle, and I rewrote it two more times before it was ready for submission. I’ve often quipped, “I’m not a writer; I’m a re-writer.” While I say that as a joke, there is a lot of truth in the statement.

  62. Peter DeHaan says:

    I’ve written five books — four are academic research (two theses and two dissertations) and one is a biography, which for reasons outside my control will never be published.

    I’m currently working on two memoir style books, which I do hope will be marketable and therefore publishable.

  63. Since turning to fiction in 2006, I’ve completed 7 novels and am working on #8. (Every time I learn something new at a conference or in my critique group, I haul out all the past novels and incorporate that discovery.) But I am finding that all your points are true and that my skills and confidence are growing.

  64. Five novels. One short story collection. Twenty-eight stand-alone short stories. Reams of poetry. And counting ….

  65. I have written many short stories, and a couple full length pieces that will never see the light of day. I am currently editing the first novel I plan on querying. I look at my first one and can only shake my head at how bad it was. At the time, I was so proud of it, but now? I am embarrassed that came from me!

  66. Gabrielle says:

    I’ve unpublished and have written ten novels, currently working on my eleventh. I’ve learned a lot about how I like to write, how long it’ll take me to finish a book, and how much I can write a day without burning myself out.

    I know that several of the books will never (and should never!) see the light of day, but they’ve all contributed something important to my writing career.

  67. susan says:

    I’m about to start querying for the first time, and though this is the first book I’ve tried to publish, it is the second book I have written. I do think at least one “try” is necessary before nailing a novel, but I don’t think 3 or 4 is needed for most people IF they are really engaging in the process, and not rushing through it. If someone is just going through 3 or 4 drafts and then abandoning project after project, that seems to me to be a problem, too.

    • I don’t know if I agree. Artists, craftsmen and professionals of every type take years of practice to master their skills. I don’t know why writers would be any different. However, each person is different and each person has their own skill level and their own journey. Yes, some people have written and published amazing first novels!

      • susan says:

        To me it’s about the time and craft a person is willing to put in. Several years for a literary novel, for example. Not some meaningless number of notches on their belt. Anybody can write ten bad novels.

        And a lot of people are doing this, which is why I’m taking the time to comment – I know several writers that are ditching projects barely after the first draft is done, in part because of this mentality, which is popular throughout the internet. It’s a sort of truism nobody is really thinking about. These writers believe they’ll get better just by pumping out attempts rather than honing their craft on a specific project. If you can’t stick it through proper revisions and genuinely try to work out the issues, then I don’t see the point of doing it at all.

    • Oh, yes, I see what you’re saying. Totally agree.

  68. I don’t know if you count publishing by small e-presses, but my first novel was accepted, and my second, and my third, all by different publishers.

    I’m ready to take the next step, though. I learned a lot while working with small press editors, and my writing has certainly improved in the process. I’m working on a fourth. Maybe this will be the one.

  69. Victoria KP says:

    I found this post particularly encouraging. I finished the first draft of my first novel this winter. It was such a huge accomplishment to have a concrete beginning, middle, and end to a novel under my belt. But I find that it just doesn’t interest me as much as my new work in progress. I think in many ways, it just isn’t as good as the new piece but I feel guilty just letting it collect dust. Maybe I can just consider it my “practice” novel.

  70. Marilyn Groves says:

    I am unpublished and on the fourth rewrite of my second novel, this one a YA. This blog is like a lifeline to the world of writing my friends simply don’t understand and vaguely wish I wouldn’t mention as they don’t know what to say! 🙂 It’s so encouraging to hear my own experiences echoed here – and lovely to read the experiences which, in the end, lead to being published authors. Writing is my greatest pleasure; striving, revising, living with my characters. It’s just great to be reminded that I’m not totally bonkers! 🙂

  71. Ann Bracken says:

    What a timely post! My husband and I were stuck in a car for five hours today, and part of the discussion was around me becoming published and what it would take. This very point was brought up.

    So far I’ve got one finished novel and one in the planning stages (ie: writing scenes, fleshing out an outline, researching history). I can easily see why it’s recommended to write more while waiting to publish the first. It’s a completely different experience this time around.

    PS – Rachelle, I’m interested in your take on the DOJ serving Apple and publishers with an anti-trust lawsuit over the Agency model. I’m sure it would take an entire blog, so don’t bother replying to this post if you’d rather cover it that way.

  72. So far I’ve completed one middle-grades manuscript and three full-length manuscripts. With each one, I have more confidence.

  73. A.J. Cattapan says:

    Two summers ago at a writing conference, I heard a successful romance writer talk about how she wrote thirteen manuscripts before she sold her first book. Thirteen! A good friend of hers was bemoaning the fact that she had written twelve manuscripts and not sold one yet. The published author told her friend, “You’ll have to write one more before you get any sympathy from me.”

    Personally, I’ve got three manuscripts under my belt. In fact, I just pitched manuscript #3 at a conference this morning and got two requests! Brace yourself, Rachelle! A query for this manuscript is headed toward your inbox in the very near future. 🙂

  74. Josh C. says:

    Two novels, three years…saleable novels? Absolutely not. I hope by the time I am published (book-length work, that is) that I would have a stack of them. Right now I’m working on breaking into magazines that publish the kind of fiction I write with my short stories. I hope having some stuff on a resume would help my case for an agent and publisher to take a chance on my work, but I’m not even querying for the novels yet because I already know the outcome. They’re not the best they can be, but they are written.

  75. Susie Nott-Bower says:

    Very interesting discussion. My first novel is about to be published – and yes, it is my ‘first’ completed novel (though quite a few unfinished ones and an almost completed non-fiction book are gathering dust, together with a lot of poetry and the odd short story). But I began this novel back in 2006 and have been working on it ever since. It’s been a steep learning curve. Maybe the experience is a bit like being a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ (writing by seat of pants) – some people learn by re-working the same material, others learn by forging ahead with new work. Only time will tell, I guess…

  76. Kathy says:

    Such an interesting article and lovely to read all the comments. When I learnt to drive, it took me 30 lessons before I passed my driver’s test. My driving teacher said I took the longest of all her students. Some days, I think my writing is the same. I’ve written four children’s books, nine novels and one novella but nothing published yet. My latest complete novel is being edited by a publisher but I’m still not guaranteed publication. Plus, it has many revisions! But, it’s been a wonderful journey and I have learnt so much. And I’ve honed my genre to specifically sweet, contemporary romance. It’s easy to become jealous of those that get it right first time round. But then I’ve had all this experience along the way which I suppose I wouldn’t trade for anything.

  77. My first published book was my 5th novel. I now have 3 published books, but I am starting writing on my 10th novel, so yes, I agree practice is important. I like the point you made about confidence as well. I’m confident in my ability to plan and complete a novel in a set amount of time which is much different than the timeline for my 1st or even 5th novel.

  78. B. James Wilson says:

    Thanks for the affirmation, Rachelle. I think your right on in this. That’s why I’m 2/3 of the way through my third novel and hoping for representation soon. But I won’t hold my breath before starting the fourth.

  79. I had written four manuscripts before I sold my first and I plan on completing four this year (one is due to a publisher in July). I still think I’m behind the curve!

  80. So true! I’m currently editing the fourth novel I’ve written and this book is the first one I’ve honestly felt is publishable. The truth is, beginning writers don’t know what they don’t know, and it takes those first few novels (for most of us) to get a feel for things, become humble, and gain confidence. I’ve grown so much as a writer since that first book, and I know back then I believed I was operating at my ultimate best. So glad I was wrong, because now the stories are better and better.

  81. Cindy Huff says:

    WOW! you were reading my mind. I started a novel years ago. That was my second unpublished book. The first was a biography for children. My third I fished around unsuccessfully to publishers and agents.It’s n Historical Fiction. But I have several contemporary ideas in my pc. Today I started working up a character sketch on a main character for my newest idea. In the process feeling guilty. Was I abandoning the rewrite of the Historical too soon? I have rewritten many chapters in the past two years. You have encouraged me that it is Ok to start something new. Just like many of you I have learned a lot about the craft of writing through the process. Conferences, critique groups and classes have helped me grow. I know I am a writer I just needed to be encouraged that start fresh with a new idea was a normal part of the process.

  82. Cheryl Dale says:

    I have completed abuot 6 full length book manuscripts and would be the first to admit that each one was better than the last and my writing skills have improved immensely.

  83. Depends upon whether you count my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation (the latter was a killer!) I copyrighted a secular novel that was written on a typewriter back in the day. Then went back to grad school after twenty rejections of said MS. Since then I completed a short (55K), a long (117K, cut down to 95K), and two trade length MSes (90K each). Still praying for fiction publication, with two proposals out in circulation. Thank you for this post. I agree with you. When I joined ACFW five years ago the pet phrase was “three in the can” meaning to not bother submitting for publication until you had completed three full MSes. I think there is wisdom in that.

  84. Rose Godfrey says:

    Like some of the other commenters, I found it helpful to write in different areas. I have only published non fiction. Slugging away at that first novel has proved harder than I thought it would be, but I keep up the nonfiction, hoping it helps me round out my skills (and pay the bills).