Will Your First Book Be Published?

stack of paper4 Reasons You Should Write Several Books Before Seeking Publication

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.

Q4U: 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?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Jennifer Lovin Williams on November 25, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    Thank you for posting this. I will be linking to this post next week on my blog. I am on my fourth novel now and I keep hearing how crazy I am to move on to new manuscripts when I haven’t been published. I really believe that to be a good writer it does take practice. That and I have nightmares that my first novel sees the light of day. Yes, it’s that bad 🙂

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  6. Sam on December 10, 2011 at 11:06 PM

    In my time I’ve written about 3 screenplays, couple of short plays, short stories, poems, I write letters (by quill of course), and after writing it out 107 times in various forms over 4 years, have finally finished what is *technically my first novel. Hopefully this is enough, but we’ll see 🙂

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  9. Jaime Wright on May 11, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    >Love this topic because it's SO TRUE!! It's amazing to look back on my writing and see how I've grown. I've written three books. Two in the historical genre and one contemporary. It helped me find my voice when I wrote the contemporary. I definitely was more passionate about my historicals.

  10. Rachel Rossano on May 10, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    >I have nine finished novels, two of which have been published (through Publish America and Lulu). I have four unfinished novels in the queue. One almost through the first draft, one in the planning stage, and one over 20,000 words into the first draft. The last might never be finished. Many of them are destined for self-publishing or a small publisher, however, I haven't given up hope of being traditionally published someday.

  11. girlseeksplace on May 9, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    >I've written one novel and have another in progress. I am working on a short story collection and have written numerous other short stories. I am also planning to do NaNoWriMo this year.

  12. M.R. Anglin on May 8, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    >I wrote about 15+ stories before being published. At the time I didn't understand it, but looking back I can see that my writing was horrible! The awful plots, the bad dialogue . . . oooh! The last time I tried to read one, I couldn't get through it!

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  14. Shelly Goodman Wright on May 6, 2011 at 12:22 AM

    >I started Spring of 2009. I have three completed novels, three short stories (one being published in Steampunk Tales in the fall edition).

    My first novel exists in eight drafts(thanks to the critiques of a writing group).

    I've started a fourth novel and is about halfway finished. There are two more novel ideas, but I also have three girls–11, 9 and 7.:-)

  15. Siri Paulson on May 5, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    >I've written four that I'll admit to (the ones I wrote in high school are not to be mentioned again), plus one in progress. I haven't yet mastered an editing process, so I won't be querying for a while. But even the first draft of the fourth novel is much stronger than any of the ones that came before it. If it's not publishable, it's close (in my humble opinion!).

  16. warrior poetess on May 5, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    >I started with short stories and got one of them published. After few years of writing many short stories that 'saved in my desktop and never sent out except to my English teacher at university and few local literary figures', I sat down to write a book. At that time, I was so much engrossed in teh process and thought that mine was the most unique, amazing story. I look back at it and see how immature my writing was, it was difficult to switch from short stories to a full blown story of more than 100,000 words. I rewrote the first book again and made it a bit tighter.

    Now I am writing my second book, which feels more like 'my voice and my story'. Perhaps, when I look back at it after a year or two, I might see the loopholes, but I am thinking of pursuing publishing houses and literaty agents once I am done with this one.

    There are few other plots and stories lined up but let me get this one done for now!

  17. Dave Brumbley on May 5, 2011 at 1:05 AM

    >My co-author and I have been writing together for eleven years, but it's only in the last year that we've really buckled down to putting our stories into organized book and series formats. Since then, with everything we've done before, we've finished four books of a werewolf series and the first of a vampire trilogy. We queried for the first werewolf book, but received the usual barrage of rejections. We'll soon start querying for the first vampire novel, and we feel it's much more marketable than the first round.

  18. R.D. Allen on May 4, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    >I wrote a Fantasy novel about 5 years ago, then 2 years ago I wrote an Inspirational novel, a few months after that I wrote a sequel that failed, and I finished a Literary Novel this January.

    So that's 4. 🙂

    One of the biggest things I learned was how to expand ideas — I tend to write things too short and cut out descriptions — as well as how to effectively plan out a novel. It's been a fun trip and I'm planning to write a 5th novel this summer. 🙂

  19. Nicole on May 4, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    >I just finished the first draft of a psychological drama last night — that makes 6 novels in all. There are 2 that are crap, 2 that may be salvageable, 1 I'm currently querying on that I feel good about, and now this one.

    It's true that you need to write just to prove to yourself that you can do it, and write more to prove that it wasn't a fluke. I'd always written short stories because I didn't think I could commit. Now all I do is write.

  20. Lauren on May 4, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle!

    I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I am finishing my second novel while querying the first one. Though these two books are part of a 4-book series, I am going to shelve them for a while and start on a completely unrelated novel.

  21. Lisa on May 4, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    >Several of you have mentioned screenplays. I found writing a screenplay helped me focus on the essential elements of my story and edit the novel I'm now interested in publishing. In some ways I like the screenplay better. There's a certain beauty in brevity and writing for visualization, even if it doesn't preserve all the nuances of the full story. But novels and screenplays are two completely different animals, and I wouldn't trade away the depth of a novel, even though it's more important than ever to keep even a novel brief. I'm not sure Tolstoy, Faulkner, and many other masters of literature would have made it in this day and age, which is kind of sad. But most people just don't have that kind of time to devote to long books anymore, there are so many more books making selection possibilities almost overwhelming, and, since the classics already have been written, much of what you might say in a longer book already has been said before.

  22. Kate on May 4, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    >Thanks for this. I was talking to a friend about how much I learned while writing the two novels I have "under the bed." An acquaintance jumped into the conversation and started grilling me about why I don't "just" perfect those manuscripts and get them out there. No amount of explaining that they really aren't right and that it was about practice – and how much I believe in my current project – could sway him. He couldn't get over what a "waste of time" it was.

    Of course, he doesn't understand anything about publishing or about writing fiction. Still, I found it to be kind of rude. It's my decision! But I couldn't agree with you more, I've learned so much and I'm not finished learning yet!

  23. Kathryn Magendie on May 4, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    >My first novel written was published first, but I worked hard on it, edited it, cut out thousands of words, etc. I wrote another one while I was letting that one simmer and thinking about where to send queries, etc.

    The first novel draft was way too long, and I knew this, so I also knew it could have the potential for being more than one book, and turns out it did – so the second in the trilogy was next published, then the book that I wrote while letting the first book simmer was published, and I'm working on the 3rd in the trilogy.

    That sounds confusing *laugh* – but, it just means I constantly work so there is always a "product" ready when my publishers are ready for me. Since 2009, I've had three books published, and there will be a novella and a 4th book out this year.

    Then maybe I'll slow it down a bit. or not. Whatever works! 😀

  24. catherinemjohnson on May 4, 2011 at 6:37 AM

    >Up to and including last year:
    1 finished but messy MG
    7 chapters of a YA
    countless PBs (mainly from last year)

    This year:
    Funnily enough same again for this year: MG, YA, 2 PBs, and poems.
    (1 PB from last year is ready)

    Not much to show for all that writing yet.

  25. Ioana Savin on May 4, 2011 at 3:42 AM

    >Just one. My second one is under writing. But I am only 17 and I have all the time in the world to finish and get perfect.

  26. Scarlet Passmore on May 4, 2011 at 1:41 AM

    >Since fourth grade, when I started writing… Fifteen WIPs, five of were utter crap and thus dropped. The remaining ten are in various stages of done-ness, from 3 pages to 160+. I have one finished and polished manuscript, and I agree with everyone when they say going back and reading what you wrote…

    I had a 'finished' work when I was in fifth or sixth grade I think. I still have it. I… there are no words to describe how terrible it is. xD

  27. Matt Mikalatos on May 3, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    >I had a slew of half-finished novels, one complete novel and a full screenplay written before getting "Imaginary Jesus" published.

    And the one complete novel and the screenplay are definitely "drawer novels." The only remaining copy of the screenplay is one physical copy which I keep sort of hidden on my book shelf.

  28. Regina Jennings on May 3, 2011 at 10:30 PM

    >I started a novel last year as a New Year's Resolution. It was my first and it hits the shelves next spring – thank you, Bethany House.

    Yes, miracles do happen and no one is more surprised than I am!

    I will admit, it's overwhelming. I don't have years of experience going into this but I'm willing to work my fanny off knowing that they took a huge risk on a unknown, untested writer. (Can we say 'fanny' in CBA? I'm still learning the rules.)

    Be ready. You never know when it'll be your turn.

  29. Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC on May 3, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    >Three. We don't talk about the first two.

  30. J.L. Murphey on May 3, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    >I've written thirty, published 27 and pray the first two never see the light of day. I've also got four WIP's to date.

  31. Lisa on May 3, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    >I've authored four novels, am working on a fifth, and have written a couple short picture books for children I've also been illustrating, mostly for personal pleasure. Sometimes you have to get a few things out of your system before you can go beyond yourself and write for the reader. And learning the necessity, and beauty of self-editing through at least ten reviews can be even more intensely gratifying than finishing the first draft. For serious writers, the value of that process of reflection can only come through experience. The satisfaction of capturing the truth and heart of the matter should not be underestimated. Am just now ready to seriously look at publishing.

  32. Lisa McKay on May 3, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    >I'm in the same exception boat as Shrinky (above). I wrote one manuscript, it was accepted (though, I should add, it then required more than a year's worth of editing and the cutting out of more than 60,000 words from the initial 170,000 word draft, so maybe that actually counts as writing 1.5 books). I didn't sign a multi book contract, and didn't sign another contract when it was offered to me right after the novel was published… I need to write on my own time. I'm just now finishing up the draft of my full second book… a good four years after the first one was published. Yeah, it works for me but not exactly a good business model if you want to make a living at writing.

  33. Shrinky on May 3, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    >Um, bollocks (sorry). Only written one completed manuscript, and it's been accepted (shrug).. and there is no way I would ever agree to a deadline on my next one – hopefully, it'll happen – but on MY time, no one else's.

  34. Beth on May 3, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    >At last count:

    • Three novels, two over 50k and one not finished yet. Only the last one is one I'm hoping to rewrite and sell. One of the others might work with an entire overhaul, but I don't want to focus on that one right now.

    • Nine or so picture books, but only about four of them are what I'd consider salable, and only two are out right now making the rounds.

  35. Carol J. Garvin on May 3, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    >Your question has elicited a lot of replies and I love seeing how so many writing experiences are both different and similar.

    I began occasional freelancing for magazines many years ago, then wrote a memoir intended only for my family's eyes. Over the last ten years I've written three novels and have a fourth in the works. After the first one I took a break to read several books on the craft and quickly decided my novel was garbage.

    What I learned is that I did need to keep writing, but writing alone wasn't enough if I was going to repeat the same mistakes. So I continued to read, write, network, work with an editor and attend conferences. It's a cliche to say that the more I learn, the more I know I need to learn, but at the same time the education has brought me to the place where I feel ready to take the next step. But to answer your title question… no, my first book will *never* be published!

  36. Hannah Hounshell on May 3, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    >Well, if I don't count an old manuscript that truly will never see the light of day, then I've written one. It's the first of a trilogy though, so I don't plan to query it until I've at least finished the first draft on the third book.

    And then it'll be on to the three stand alone books I have swimming around my head.

    I'm not even published and I already love this job 😀

  37. Linda1979 on May 3, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    >Im a novice writer, having written on and off through the years. Only in the past year have I become serious about it. Im rewriting a story I've been thinking about since I was sixteen, I hope this first attempt isnt as cringe worthy as others'. Despite doubts which have stopped me before and being unsure of how to find a CP or querying, I write, write, write. The rest will come.

  38. Jill on May 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    >I've written five and barely starting my sixth. My first three are tripe. I really like 4&5. We'll see about book six.

  39. Kristin Laughtin on May 3, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    >I'm almost done with my fourth book since deciding to take this writing thing seriously. I do think my first book is pretty strong, and might be publishable with a few more tweaks. My second story was terrible, though, because I wasn't used to writing without having thought about the story for years. It's gotten better and easier with each book since. I still really like the idea for the second book, so I may completely rewrite it someday when I'm a little more convinced the first book wasn't a fluke. So far the current MS is going really well, though.

  40. buzzbernard on May 3, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    >The author's copies of my debut novel, EYEWALL, arrived via UPS today (really). The book is the product of 10 years of work and 4 different manuscripts.

    Becoming a novelist isn't easy.

  41. K. Victoria Chase on May 3, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    >I've written four full novels and one novella in the last two years. I'm currently pursuing publication with an MS on the desk of an editor. After a couple of agent requests for my first book (technically terrible writing), I'm going to revise it, even though I'm scared of the amount of work it will be, haha. It will be worth it though, I know it!

  42. Malin on May 3, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    >I have five finished manuscripts – the first two have failed after rewrites, the third is my best and the one I'm querying with. The fourth is too short and needs multiple edits, and the fifth is in another genre (romance) than I usually write so I'm not taking it too seriously. It was good exercise though!

    I don't have an agent, or any published novels. I definitely agree that people should write multiple books before querying. Though I must admit that looking back on my first manuscripts and trying to rewrite them has buckled my confidence. If I thought they were good three years ago, how flawed will I think my current manuscripts are in ten years?

  43. Lyn Miller-Lachmann on May 3, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    >I wrote three novel manuscripts before selling my fourth to a well-known small press that also published my fifth manuscript. However, I incorporated elements of my first manuscript into the storyline of the fourth (the first to get published) and the second novel that was published (my fifth completed manuscript) was a totally gutted, brand-new version of the third unpublished manuscript.

    After losing a contract for the third manuscript I quit writing fiction for 10 years, but I couldn't get the stories out of my head so I returned despite the long odds and my own long history of failure. Getting published successfully has encouraged me, though, and I'm finding that now it takes me about a year to write a novel, whereas before I'd spend three years or more on each manuscript.

  44. Julie R. Mann on May 3, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    >This post was really interesting to me – and I also think it held some really great advice. I've written many, to many to count, novels/short stories/random drivel that is completely un-salvageable, but they've taught me a lot about myself and my writing style. I now know what I will not stick with, what kind of plots bore me, and what kind of plots inspire me. Writing all of that nonsense is why I think that the novel I'm trying to get published right now actually has a chance. I've been getting pretty good feedback so far, so I'm thinking positively right now. (:

  45. Krista Phillips on May 3, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    >I have 2 completed novels.

    My first novel was kinda my second… I worked on my FIRST first one for 8 years but never finished it, so when I got serious about writing, I scratched it and started fresh, and finished that novel. I started two others that would be part of a series (they use minor characters in the one before to be a main character) but I decided to leave them unfinished because it would stink to finish them, then sell the first one and have an editor want to change something big that then makes the second two have to be different. So I set those aside, having just enough to be able to pitch it as a series, and started and finished my second book. I'm now working on my third, which is kinda part of the series but has no connecting characters, so could stand by itself.

    Long answer but I totally agree… keep writing books! Now, I still want to sell my first book though… I'm just determined and love to tackle the impossible, but also believe in having my eggs in multiple baskets:-)

  46. Julie Surface Johnson on May 3, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    >This post was a great encouragement to me. And everything you said about gaining confidence, along with skill, is true. I've recently completed my sixth novel (women's contemporary) and am unpublished . . . but feel I'm getting closer to publication.

  47. Sara Grambusch on May 3, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    >Wow. This post and all the comments are both discouraging, overwhelming, inspiring, and exciting. I am researching/outlining my first novel, haven't written a word yet. Being at such an early stage, this was a great post to come across. I agree that if you're really a writer you won't be able to stop anyway, no matter the rejection or obstacles.

  48. Jen J. Danna on May 3, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    >I wrote five novels before I thought I was ready to start thinking about approaching professionals. I was lucky enough to find representation with that sixth manuscript. I can't speak for everyone else, but I very much agree with all of your above points. I was certainly not ready after my first novel, or even my second or third for all of those reasons. But they were wonderful growth experiences and I couldn't be where I am now without them.

  49. CraftyMama on May 3, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    >I can't even imagine how many books I've started! None finished. It's on my wish list. 🙂

  50. Byrdmouse on May 3, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    >I started three different stories before I figured out that I couldn't re-write them until I finished writing them. Then I learned that writing literature was much more involved and fun as I wrote my first novella. It is an allegory of Jonah and is also my first completed work. It has been revised as much as I can get it without an agent/editor.
    I started working on my next novel. It is over halfway done, and is much longer then the novella. I am anxious to finish it to go back and work out the kinks, but from time to time I still try to query the novella. If there's something hard to sell it's a novella for a first publication.
    Reading this post gives me hope, I'll get there, and I know I'm not there yet.

  51. David Jarrett on May 3, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    >@xdpaul: You're probably right. Everything today is all about the MONEY. I guess I can't blame the agents and publishers, as that's why they're in business, but it explains the dramatic increase in self-publishing that's occurring now.

  52. Jessica DeHart on May 3, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    >At least a baker's dozen!

  53. Jessica DeHart on May 3, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    >At least a baker's dozen!

  54. Jeremy Myers on May 3, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    >I've written three, and am currently working on three more.

    I am not yet published, and have (so far) not sought to get any of them published.

    Someday, though….

  55. Valerie Comer on May 3, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    >I wrote eight complete novels (most of them revised several times) before signing with Barbour for an unwritten novella. (Revising it this week!) Two of my previous novels are currently seeking a home–the rest FOR SURE will never see the light of day, and I'm good with that. I've learned tons through every step thus far.

  56. Timothy Fish on May 3, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    >One of the things about non-fiction is that if you have the platform and/or expertise, you probably have the experience to write the book. Non-fiction is all about whether people believe you can help them with a topic they are interested in. With fiction, it is about whether people believe you can tell a tale that they find entertaining. In non-fiction, your experience comes from doing and studying the thing that you are writing about. In fiction, it comes from writing similar stories. But writing experience for non-fiction doesn't hurt. Given a choice between two books about one subject, people begin to notice differences in writing style.

  57. Jessie Andersen on May 3, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    >Oops, I was signed in as my husband. That Todd comment, is really from me. 🙂 Jessie Andersen

  58. Todd on May 3, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    >3 1/2
    One that will never be published– the trial/just for fun one.

    One I'm querying now–finished and polished.

    One that's finished, but will end up with about 3 more edits before I really decide it's okay.

    One I'm just starting.

  59. Laura on May 3, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    >I've written five novels, published two with a small traditional press, got an agent with my fourth only to lose my agent as she decided YA was not her thing.

    I did publish my first novel, but learned so much more from writing the others. Your thoughts resonated with mine.

    I know I'm a writer. I know how long it takes me to write a book. And honestly, even books published by a small press give me experience with the concept of being a real author.

  60. Michael A Tate on May 3, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    >Rachelle, thank you for this post. It was very helpful to know that my first won't sell and that's alright. The second is well on its way and of course ill submit my first, but now the rejection should hopefully sting a little less 🙂


  61. Lindsay Ribar on May 3, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    >I just scored my first book deal last month (hurray!), and it was with my second novel. Well, third, if you count the novel-length fanfic I wrote in high school. I'm VERY glad it was this book that got me the deal — for all the reasons you said! I feel like the first original book was a shot in the dark, but with this one, I actually sort of knew what I was doing. I had a better sense of my own process. So when my editor asked me if I could write more books under a deadline, I said yes, and I wasn't lying.

  62. James L. Rubart on May 3, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    >I'm one of the exceptions. ROOMS was the first novel I wrote.

    BUT … I was a broadcast journalism major in college and had been writing as a professional copywriter for nine years when I started writing ROOMS.

    Consequently I studied the craft
    for many years before I attempted fiction.

    And I read books on writing fiction for fifteen years.

    Also, ROOMS took me six years to write, BOOK OF DAYS took two years, and THE CHAIR (September '11) took five months.

    There are no shortcuts. The craft has to be studied as if we're in medical school learning to be surgeons.

  63. Keli Gwyn on May 3, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    >I completed five 100K word historical romances and 50K of a futile attempt at a contemporary romance. I rewrote one of the historicals twice on my own and once under the guidance of my knowledgeable agent before she sold it.

  64. Laila Knight on May 3, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    >I've completed 10 novels, all fantasy. By the time I was done with the 10th book, last year, I figured I'd better start querying. No sense just letting them sit and tug on my heart strings. While I'm doing that, I'm working on three, one fantasy and two paranormals that are threatening to turn into four. I'm not counting the really old stuff. That was just practice.

  65. sewa mobil on May 3, 2011 at 10:22 AM

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  66. J.M.Cornwell on May 3, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    >My first book was never finished and my second book was published and edited lightly. Second through thirteenth books were published and I self-published my latest book.

    I wouldn't let the first unfinished book see the light of day and it is like lost on an old style floppy disk or can be found in molding files. It was enough to show me that I need more than an idea to drive a story and should have a better idea of everything between point A and point B. I'd not considered writing a novel until then. I had focused previously on short stories.

  67. xdpaul on May 3, 2011 at 10:18 AM


    Because a publisher doesn't make money off your first one, and they don't know if you have a 2nd one in ya.

  68. David Jarrett on May 3, 2011 at 10:06 AM

    >Why is it imperative that one write multiple books? Wnat's the matter with one, good, stand-alone novel?

  69. Linnette R Mullin on May 3, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    >For newbies, this could be a discouraging post. However, it's been my experience that the only way to improve writing skill is lot's of practice and lot's of learning techniques from people in the know. Ask questions! Get clarification!

    Also, if you're truly a writer you won't be able to quit writing no matter how discouraged you get. If you do try to stop, it will eat at you. And whether its your first wip or your 5th, put your whole heart into it.

    My first wip sits in my computer awaiting the day I'm ready to plunge eyebrow deep in rewriting the book. It's SO badly packed with telling that a rewrite is the only real option. But, it's a great story and I think it will be worth it. Some day. 😀

    My second wip is undergoing final revisions now. It took three years to write it and my skills have improved drastically since I first typed the original chapter one. In fact, I'm astonished at the difference! Can't wait to get it done and start sending out the proposals. I have story ideas for two sequels and have started the second with character sketches and timelines, etc. I don't really feel like I can plunge into the story, though until I get all the loose ends with Finding Beth tied up and proposals sent out.

  70. Marcy Kennedy on May 3, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    >I'm on book four right now. I still believe that the ideas in two of the earlier attempts were sound, but the writing wasn't.

    I find it encouraging to compare them to see how far I've come. I can also see how beneficial the hiatus I took from fiction to build my non-fiction freelance career was. All the lessons I learned from working full-time writing for magazines and newspapers translate into stronger writing in my current novel.

  71. Liberty Speidel on May 3, 2011 at 9:30 AM

    >I've written somewhere around 5 – 7 whole-length novels, and started several others. Some have been abandoned, others are sitting, waiting for more attention. Three in the 5 – 7 are in various stages of editing currently, and one of the three is almost ready to send out (I hope!)

  72. dianehenders on May 3, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    >I've finished three novels, and I'm working on my fourth. I'm glad I didn't rush trying to get the first one published. By the third, I'd found my voice and figured out enough craft to go back and fix the first two.

    Now I'm beginning to query for the first one (the novels are a series). I feel much more confident about the quality of my writing, and I know how long it takes me write a novel as well.

    The added advantage to holding them all back is that I could go back to the earlier work and make minor changes that would drive my series forward more effectively. Tough to do if the first books are already published. 🙂

  73. Linda B on May 3, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    >I have written three novels and am about 2/3 through my fourth. I believe that each one has gotten better as I continue to learn along the way. That said, I still believe my first novel has the best STORY, so at some point, when I feel my skills have really increased even more, I will go back and revise it so that it might at some point have a chance at publication. I think my third book is pretty close to being ready. And I know I'm breaking the rules in that my current WIP is a sequel to that third book. I just couldn't help myself . . .

  74. A3Writer on May 3, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    >Five. The beginning of a fantasy series that I took a brief stab at submitting then later realized to be garbage. It's sitting in a drawer waiting for inspiration and a re-write.

    The rest have been an urban fantasy/mystery series I'm working on.

    I'm about to embark on a straightforward mystery, and I have ideas for another urban fantasy series and a sci-fi novel.

    It's all about branching out and learning from each book, right?

  75. Beth K. Vogt on May 3, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    >I broke the more than one rule too.
    I had zero books written before I landed a contract for my non-fiction book. I pitched the idea with nothing but a pitch sheet.
    What did I have in my favor?
    A longstanding relationship with the editor. She knew me, knew my work, knew I was willing to write, rewrite, that I would come through for her because I had done it in the past when I wrote magazine articles for her.
    I also had a dedicated critique group who slogged through the rewrites with me–and the "I can't do this" times too.
    It was definitely not the norm–and people asked me why I did it that way. Yes, I put my editorial eggs in one basket–but that was my goal at that time. And it paid off. I knew the risks. I knew it doesn't always work that way.

  76. Lise Saffran on May 3, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    >My recently published novel JUNO'S DAUGHTERS is the fourth full-length manuscript I've written! A couple were long-shots and never came close, and one came very close indeed, only to receive a rejection, in the end. My advice is to give each manuscript your best shot–finish it–and then start something new.

  77. Graceful on May 3, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    >Uh-oh…I've only written one! But does it count that I rewrote it like 12 times? The final version is MUCH different than the original.

  78. Eileen Astels Watson on May 3, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    >For all four reasons above I've written five books so far, all unpublished.

    They say practice makes perfect. I don't think perfect is achievable in writing (too subjective), but it sure offers improvement.

  79. Daniel F. Case on May 3, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    >I just spent a moment going through the past 5 years or so in my mind. By my count, I've:

    *Started twelve novels and one novella.

    *Finished five novels and one novella. (the other 7 novels were either ideas that didn't work in novel-length or that were just plain lame and didn't deserve to live).

    *Completed approximately 4.731 rewrites (Okay, so I'm exaggerating. It actually feels like more.)

    I've personally met only one person who sold their very first novel. IMHO, they got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time with the right historical novel that the right editor was willing to do a lot of work on so they could tie it in to an upcoming historical anniversary.

    That individual, as far as I know, has never sold another novel.

    I'd rather have five in the drawer and a promising future.


  80. Rachelle on May 3, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    >Natalie 1:57: If your goal is publication, then I think you write each book with that in mind. After you finish each one and go through revisions and hopefully get some outside feedback, maybe even submit it to a few agents, you'll get a feel for whether it's ready for primetime or even close. But either way, you always keep moving on to your next book, and you write each one with the full intent of publication.

    Marion 3:37: I think I'll devote a post to your comment. The short answer is no, you definitely don't have to sign a multi-book contract, and you may not even be offered one. (You certainly won't be offered one if you don't have any more than the one book.) But there is a larger issue here: it's not good business for an agent or a publisher to commit to an author who may only have one book in them. There is a huge investment of time and money, especially when it comes to trying to build an audience. We would hope that audience-building would be for the long haul… that your fans would follow you through multiple books. If you've taken 10 years to write that first book, I'd recommend you write book 2 and see how long that one takes you. Meanwhile, you could be querying book 1 and see what happens.

    Someone mentioned bestselling authors who are famous for a single book, and that's a possibility, of course. I think that one book would have to be so good and have such amazing potential that the agent & publisher aren't so concerned about subsequent books – they believe the first one will be worth all the effort in itself.

  81. MJR on May 3, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    >I'm on my fourth (unpublished) novel and I agree–the practice was necessary, although I didn't want to hear this while writing my first novel. But you can steal scenes, your best metaphors, names, etc etc from previous novels, so it's not a waste of time. Also, I got a lot of the autobiographical stuff out of the way in the first couple of novels.

  82. Tiffany on May 3, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    >Your blog is a blessing. I have had a desire to write for as long as I can remember. I am in the process of writing our story – of how God led us to Ethiopia to adopt a blind boy – only to bring him home and find him able to see. How God has shattered our hearts for Africa and her orphans. I am not sure if it will ever get published, but I must write. I believe God has given us all a story to steward, and my way of stewarding it is to write it all down.
    Be Blessed.

  83. David A. Todd on May 3, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    >I've finished four:
    – a family history
    – a Bible-era novel
    – a thematic poetry book
    – an historical/political non-fiction book, which I just e-self-published via Kindle, will go live today.

  84. R. Chambers on May 3, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    >I had done a lot of bad writing before I began a novel. It took a long time, but it was published to very good reviews. I then began the 8-5 task of working to help support two daughters' educational aspirations. While I continued writing, I didn't attempt another novel until both were out of school. Since one wanted a Ph.D., that took a good bit of time. I now have two completed, professionally edited novels and the outline of a third. Times are a lot more difficult now than when my first was published, and it wasn't easy then! Writing is always an effort at some level, but I believe it's always worth the journey.

  85. Kelly Combs on May 3, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    >Enjoying the comments on this post as much as the post, reading everyone's writing experiences.

    I especially like Tana Adams comment, " Writing is such a hard mountain to climb. You have to really want to reach the summit to put in all the effort you'll need to get there."

    And I also wonder if non-fiction is a different situation.

    Thanks for getting us thinking today, Rachelle.

  86. Casey on May 3, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    >My first novel was a historical. That one is truly one for the junk drawer.

    My second (which I am editing now) and then I just finished a rough draft a third are both Women's fiction. Through working on this MS's, I am seeing my strengths and weaknesses come out and am learning something new pratically every day, if not about craft, then about how I work.

  87. Marla Taviano on May 3, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    >Do you think non-fiction is different? I sold my first book. But now that I think about it, there wasn't a whole lot of my first draft left by the time it became a book.

  88. Erin MacPherson on May 3, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    >Hi Rachelle-

    I think this idea applies a lot more to novels than it does to non-fiction work. I think with non-fiction, you can rework your book over and over but you don't necessarily have to write 4 "drawer" books before publication. That's just what seems the norm in my (very) limited experience.

  89. Erika Marks on May 3, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    >Oh, what a great question (and post), Rachelle!

    In the span of nearly 20 years, I probably wrote close to 13 manuscripts before I got my book contract. And in a variety of genres, too. (Of course, if someone had told me 20 years ago that I would never sell my first, second, or even TENTH manuscript, I doubt I would have stopped writing though.:))

  90. Richard Mabry on May 3, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    >My cyber-friend, independent editor Ray Rhamey, says his colleagues agree that it takes writing at least three books before an author begins to "get it."

    I wrote three (actually four if you count completely re-writing one) over a period of four years and accumulated forty rejections before getting my first contract. My third novel just came out, and my fourth launches this fall.

    Oh, and like many writers, I now look at my first novel and blush with shame–but at the time I thought it was the great American tale.

  91. Sharon A. Lavy on May 3, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    >I have written and re-written and hired editors on #1. I still like it. It is a better book then when I started 15 or so years ago. (I am to lazy at the moment to climb up on my bookcase and pull down the Writers Digest School binder and check the date)

    I have also completed a second one, rewritten it mega times and think I have finally got the sense of story.

    I spent a year studying story structure before going over the manuscripts again.

    Which leads me to my current wip. I have my plot skeleton a-la Angie Hunt's classes.

    I still cannot write a straight rough draft. I write and re-write as I go. But I do have a beginning that holds together.

    What I mean is I know why it holds together. =)

  92. Lynne Connolly on May 3, 2011 at 6:53 AM

    >One. The first book I wrote with a view to publication was, in fact, published.
    Sounds good, doesn't it? But actually writing was a serious hobby of mine long before that. I loved writing stories, but for the most part they were fragments, or fanfic, or when I completed them, I tore them up.
    Then my health deteriorated and I couldn't do my job, and I decided to take a different path and turn a hobby into a career. Even then I had a choice, because I also made miniature dolls for dollhouses (have you seen the prices some of those fetch?) But the writing did it for me.
    So I kind of knew what I was doing when I wrote "Yorkshire."
    But it does happen, and sometimes the writer is happy with that one novel. It's the businesspeople who want to make it into a career. Salinger, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee – we'd be much poorer without them.

  93. Timothy Fish on May 3, 2011 at 6:38 AM

    >Natalie, good point.

    If we all listened to what we “ought” to do, none of us would attempt anything. There’s all this advice out there—and it is good advice—but if we look at the authors who have made it, how many of them would say that they followed all the advice that they now know to be a better way? Given the number who talk about the mistakes they made along the way, I would say that number is zero.

    We have a paradox of sorts. We know that our books would be better and would have a better chance of succeeding if we practiced more, but the only authors who have succeeded are those who refused to listen to the best advice and submitted before they were ready.

    Reading books on writing is good. Practice is good. But we’ll never have the motivation to make the changes we need to make to our writing if we aren’t going to put it out there for other people to read.

  94. Terri Tiffany on May 3, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    >Starting my sixth:) And wow when I look back at those others. Ugh. I keep wondering which one will finally have all the aspects I need it to have. But I am learning as I go.

  95. Wendy Paine Miller on May 3, 2011 at 6:12 AM

    >Five. Will be done with sixth in June.

    I love going back and reading through my novels, noticing how my writing has improved with time and attention to stuyding the craft.

    ~ Wendy

  96. Sue Harrison on May 3, 2011 at 6:11 AM

    >I am one of the fortunate writers who had her first novel published; however, the completed ready-to-publish manuscript was a very different book from the first draft. Since then I've written books that were published and books that were not! Writing is a continual learning process.

  97. Nairam on May 3, 2011 at 6:05 AM

    >I'm in the middle of my third, though the first one is pretty short, at 39,000 words.

  98. Jessica Nelson on May 3, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    >I've finished four books (but not edited them all).
    My first book is about to be sent off to a pub after being requested, revised, etc.
    Even though I have high hopes for this first book, I'm well aware that it might still get shelved, and that's okay. Furthermore, all the time I spent "perfecting" my first story could've been spent writing new stuff…so we'll see what happens with it. 🙂

    Great reminder here though! Thanks. 🙂

  99. Katie Ganshert on May 3, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    >Oh – and I just wanted to add. That even though my 3rd/4th book got contracted, it wasn't until writing my 5th book that I felt as if I finally understood/knew my writing voice.

  100. Timothy Fish on May 3, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    >I've completed seven.

  101. Katie Ganshert on May 3, 2011 at 5:26 AM

    >I've written 5 novels(but am oh so close to finishing my 6th and am rearing to flesh out a potential idea I have for the 7th).

    My 3rd novel was the one that got contracted. The first two were very good practice.

  102. Anne Gallagher on May 3, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    >I have three books written. I queried all three, received partial and full requests on all, although no agent love. Yet. I have four more ready to write.

  103. Jackie on May 3, 2011 at 5:12 AM

    >This is one of the reasons I love this site. What an encouragement to discover that having three unpublished novels under my belt and a fourth well underway is par for the course, just a normal part of the process of getting published. Hurray – so I'm not a literary freak after all!

  104. Rick Barry on May 3, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    >To date, I have 4 novel manuscripts written (with a 5th–and I believe my best–in the revision process right now), and 2 of those are published books.

    My first novel did get published, but not in that order. The first novel written became my second novel published after having languished in a drawer until I could go back with better skills to improve it.

  105. Anonymous on May 3, 2011 at 3:47 AM

    >I wrote three when I was young, then a long break while being a single parent, then instant success once I tried again. That extra maturity and life experience did the trick for me.

  106. Melissa on May 3, 2011 at 3:38 AM

    >The current novel I’m now revising (yet again) and considering querying is the fifth that I’ve signed my own name to, but not the fifth that I’ve authored. ☺

  107. Rosemary Gemmell on May 3, 2011 at 3:24 AM

    >Well, the very first novel, I wrote, a Regency intrigue, Dangerous Deceit, has just released from my Canadian publisher yesterday! But… this wasn't published right away. It lay for a few years while I wrote different types of novels (unpublished and in various stages), then I went back to that first one in light of more experience and rewrote it. And it paid off. And also this week, I've just had my first children's novel accepted by another Canadian publisher (although I'm in Scotland!)

    I've also been a published short story and article writer for years, before tackling novels, and I was used to hard work and rejection. But this has all contributed to my confidence as a writer and novelist. My mainstream novel, and the one closest to my heart, is currently being considered by an agent (!), but meanwhile I've been building lots of connections through blogs, forums and Facebook. So yes, my first book is now published, but what a lot of experience I've gained between finishing the first draft and seeing it available to buy!

  108. marion on May 3, 2011 at 2:37 AM

    >My first draft is finished. Ready for revision–aarh. OK, revision is under way, barely.
    It's taken me over 10 years to get this far. Like doing a writing degree, I think. Some of the old stuff I wrote was awful–huge paragraphs of dialog, e.g. (Still have a few of those, which have to be fixed.)
    So I think, in a way, perhaps I have written more than one book.
    I have a second novel on the back burner. Have done a little research & writing for it.
    QUESTION: Rachelle, do you have to sign for a multi-book contract? Can you just give your publisher right of first refusal on your next & subsequent books? Hopefully my next one won't take over 10 years, but I really have no idea.

  109. Louise Curtis on May 3, 2011 at 2:34 AM

    >I've just finished my 13th book – none published (although I've sold plenty of short stories). Of those 13, 5.5 have been thrown out as irredeemable rubbish. (Wow, Becca, I thought I'd be the one with the most books here.)

    Natalie, if it's any comfort, I did technically sell the very first one for money (to an extremely small publisher, who paid me but didn't produce the book). But I honestly wish more writers simply gave up – for their sake (mental health) as well as mine (thinning the herd of my competition).

    13 unpublished books? Not fun. I have absolutely no doubt that my life would be better if I was in a normal job. But I'm one of those people addicted to writing, so there's no hope for me 🙂

    If the writing isn't fun, there's no rational point in continuing.

    Louise Curtis

  110. Patsy on May 3, 2011 at 2:07 AM

    >I wrote 1 1/2, then decided the genre wasn't right for me and switched to something I feel I'll be able to sustain. I'm querying the first of the new batch and working on a couple more.

  111. Sarah Hilary on May 3, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    >My fourth book was the one that got me my agent. The same agent who'd read and commented on the earlier three. Ian Rankin has famously said he thinks he was published too soon and wishes his first books weren't "out there". Good post reminding us why, as writers, we must write. Everything else comes later.

  112. TERI REES WANG on May 3, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    >I worked retail for just about too many years. When I came upon wanting to open my own shop, I interviewed the other neighborhood shop owners to see what their take was. They told me,
    "Every time you think you are ready, go back and work for someone else again, and learn some more."

    I suppose it's the same reasoning.


  113. Melissa Jagears on May 3, 2011 at 1:25 AM

    >4, ready to start on #5. Yeah me!

  114. Michael K. Reynolds on May 3, 2011 at 1:01 AM

    >My first novel I wrote when I was 17. I was going to make millions from it and become a renowned bestseller. One day a friend asked to borrow the typewritten manuscript to read and I never saw it again. My only hope is that it received the proper burial it deserved.

  115. Natalie on May 3, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    >I accept your arguments, but it is rather depressing to be in the middle of writing your first novel and be told – keep writing, but this one will be rubbish not worth reading. If I truly believed that, I don't think I could continue with it. If I thought it was rubbish, I would dump it and start something that wasn't!

  116. Trudy on May 3, 2011 at 12:48 AM

    >I am currently writing my 1st, I also have others book ideas on a back burner, plus I'm thinking 2 write a book from each chapter of the 1 I'm currently working on. Still researching & learning alot, w/the help of the internet & "2011 Guide to Literary Agents" … I have also written many articles—nothing published as of yet. I plan 2 stay on my grind, not giving up!!! I AM A WRITER!!

  117. Jessica on May 3, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    >I've written and queried one non-fiction, one fantasy, and am almost through my second, unrelated fantasy novel. I've also written many articles/short stories. I think the most important thing for up-and-coming authors is to remember to not only practice writing every day, but also read every good writing book you can get your hands on, and as many published books in your writing field as you can. There is a saying: "The first 100,000 words an author writes are practice, the second 100,000 are readable, the third 100,000 are publishable." Writing novels is like receiving a MFA without paying all the tuition!

  118. Cheryl Barker on May 2, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    >I've written one non-fiction which is now on a backburner (needing some revision) while I work on another that I think will give me a better chance at breaking in to book publication. Here's hoping!

  119. Sarah on May 2, 2011 at 11:42 PM

    >I've finished a screenplay and a novel. I've also drafted a sequel to the novel and am partially through an unrelated book. The screenplay was pretty bad. :/ I still have hope for the other projects, though!

  120. Melissa K Norris on May 2, 2011 at 11:40 PM

    >I've written six novels. I learned from each of them, but the fifth was where things really started to come together.

    The sixth I wrote like I was on deadline. I completed and edited it in 7 months. I needed to see if I could sustain that pace with two kids and a day job. Now I know what I can commit to when that contract comes. (Hopelessly optimistic, good thing I write romances.)

  121. Loree Huebner on May 2, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    >I've written 4 novels, and over half way done with a fifth book.

    At present, I'm taking time to really learn the craft and study the business before I set out to query again.

  122. Kate Larkindale on May 2, 2011 at 11:31 PM

    >I've written 5, but I only really admit to 4 of them. I've kind of gotten into the pace of writing one first draft, and rewriting/polishing another MS each year. If I can keep up that pace I'll be happy.

  123. Maril Hazlett on May 2, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    >How many books? Oh man. Four? Five? Six? Depends how you count. And two screenplays. And that's just the total after age eighteen.

    When I want a giggle, I go back and look at my first book manuscript. Pretty hilarious stuff. I wasn't one of the early achievers.

    I did actually query on it, though. It took more than twenty rejections before I went, "Oh!" That query letter seems pretty funny now, too.

    Oh well, everyone has to start somewhere.

  124. phyllis sweetwater on May 2, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    >I have two finished manuscripts andI'm working on the third. It does hurt to try and submit them right?

  125. Tana Adams on May 2, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    >I just read a manuscript I wrote several years ago. I actually felt a little sorry for the old me who penned it and thought it was all that. I'm so glad I chose to stand firm, write everyday, read books, blogs, and magazines about the craft and pick myself up from the bootstraps when those rejections came in. Writing is such a hard mountain to climb. You have to really want to reach the summit to put in all the effort you'll need to get there.

  126. Elizabeth Michels on May 2, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    >Thank you. Sometimes your posts are exactly what I need to hear just when I need to hear them. I'm working on manuscript 2 now. 1000 words a day except on Sundays. I know that I need to keep writing and not get caught up in the query, contest, self promotion of it all…but it is refreshing to hear occasionally. Thanks for inspiring me to get off my blogger dashboard and back into the scene that's giving me fits at the moment. 🙂

  127. Neurotic Workaholic on May 2, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    >I'm not published yet, but I've written two novels so far. I think you're right in that all writers need to practice first. I think that the writing process teaches us a lot about what works and what doesn't.

  128. Becca C. on May 2, 2011 at 11:10 PM

    >15 novels written 🙂 and I'm 19.

    I'm not published yet, but my 13th novel is the one I've been querying and getting a good response to, so here's hoping!

  129. Scooter Carlyle on May 2, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    >I wrote a mystery novel (complete drivel) and a musical (salvageable) before beginning my fantasy series. Both taught me a lot.

    I've recently begun writing short stories, and that has really helped me learn to be laconic.