Write Another Book!

Yesterday I talked about the importance of working on your writing as opposed to spending time on social networking. This is crucial if you’re an unpublished fiction writer. It seems I’ve been having this conversation with so many people lately… both authors and editors. It’s come up several times in my conversations with editors at ICRS the last few days.

Last week I had lunch with two writers, one published and the other not yet, but close. The most impressive thing about these two women is that they’ve each written more than a dozen books. Because of that, I think they both have strong writing careers ahead of them.

I work with a lot of first-time authors, because that’s part of what I love to do. But something I’m learning is that we may be doing you a disservice if we contract you when you’ve only written one book. Yes, writing that book was a huge accomplishment. And if your very first book garnered positive attention from editors and/or agents, that’s even more of an accomplishment. It’s terrific!

But it’s not enough. The hard truth is that it takes a lot more than one book to really know “how to be a writer.” So if you get contracted after that one book, over which you slaved for years, and then you’re under the gun to produce another book on a deadline, what’s going to happen? You are going to have a very, very difficult time.

If you’ve got that one book in the can, and you’ve edited and revised until you’re blue in the face, and for whatever reason it’s not selling, STOP. Set it aside and write another book.

DON’T feel like you’re giving up. DON’T get all depressed about the one that didn’t sell. Keep writing. You cannot afford to stop. The only thing that’s going to make you a better writer, and possibly transform you into a publishable writer, is to write more books. Any editor will tell you that no matter how fabulous an author’s first book is, it’s rather scary signing a contract with someone who’s never written more than the one.

Keep writing!

Rachelle Gardner, Colorado 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. Dee S. on July 31, 2009 at 3:11 PM

    >Wooh Thank you! I've been praying about this all week. I have a novel series that I've been pitching to agents for representation, but I have other stories I want to begin writing. I had some published author friends who told me to keep pitching and others saying the market is bad to hang tight. But I want to write my other books. Now I have a solid confirmation, thanks, Rachelle.

  2. Rachel Starr Thomson on July 16, 2009 at 6:27 PM

    >Sounds like excellent advice to me (possibly because it makes me feel like I've been doing it right — I've written 16 books at this point).

  3. Tara on July 15, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    >Great advice. Just because the first book may not sell now, it doesn't mean there won't be a time when it will. I know of many authors who couldn't sell the first book, continued writing, got published and then were able to make that first book sellable.

  4. Anonymous on July 15, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    >I've been doing exactly that. 5 MS in the last year and a half. The one story I took two years on was fantastic. These? Are not nearly so good. I feel I'm turning into a hack, but the worst kind– a still unpublished hack.

  5. Glynis on July 15, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    >Well thank goodness book two popped in my head 🙂 Thanks for the advice.

  6. careann on July 14, 2009 at 11:26 PM

    >I compare writing to playing a musical instrument. In the early stages I learn the basics and practise a simple tune until I can play it perfectly for a recital. But it’s still just an elementary piece and in my naïveté I don’t realize it lacks soul. Only after I can present a more complex piece with the confidence and ease that comes from experience will it truly be concert quality.

    The mss I’ve produced so far are probably only recital quality so I’ll keep learning and honing my skills. I’m aiming for Carnegie Hall. ☺

    Careann/Carol Garvin

  7. TE on July 14, 2009 at 9:54 PM

    >Hi Rachelle!

    As always a word of direction for the real purpose of this journey- to write.

    I have been overdosing on reading books on craft that I think I have scared my me stupid when it comes time to implement what I have read.

    I love Tam's comment especially because I believe my first book is "THE BOOK." I have thoughts of book two already burning on my mind, but this first one is my baby that I wouldn't trade in for the world.

    Back to writing, hopefully I can just sit back and let the characters take over, they do so far better than I do.

    God bless you all!

  8. Anonymous on July 14, 2009 at 5:50 PM

    >Re: my earlier post: Sorry, I didn't mean to say these writers needed "professional help" as in therapy! LOL I meant a pro editor or agent to give them actual feedback or a critique. Sadly, many writers I know tend to make the same writing mistakes over and over, no matter how many mss. you write. But until you get a professional, critical opinion, the mss. may not be publishable–yet.

    After revising my first novel for years, it took a novelist and one kind agent only a few chapters to point out the flaws w/ my ms.: no, it wasn't the writing, but luckily it was an easy fix!

  9. Michelle on July 14, 2009 at 5:39 PM

    >Davis Bunn wrote seven novels before he sold one. I'm on number five, and until I get past Davis, I'm not going to worry about it.

  10. Liana Brooks on July 14, 2009 at 3:56 PM

    >Great advise!

    I actually hit this point today, I'm so excited! I finished the draft I was working on for my current WIP, and I know it needs more editing before I query. But I want my beta-readers from my critique group to look it over before I start editing.

    So I'm working on a new book. I have that lovely, tingly First Chapter thrill all over again. If all goes as planned I'll have a rough draft of the new book to play with while I query the current WIP.

  11. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought on July 14, 2009 at 3:46 PM


    (how cool my comment is directly under Susan's. I love her blog too)

    ~ Wendy

  12. Susan Meissner on July 14, 2009 at 3:16 PM

    >This is really good advice. When I wrote my first book and was waiting to see if anyone would want it (got my share of sad SASEs in my mailbox) I began the second one for the reasons others here have already mentioned:
    1. it kept me exercising my writing muscle.
    2. it kept me from obsessing about those SASEs because I had this other labor-intensive pursuit going on.
    3. it helped me to continue to think of myself as a writer who writes not a writer who waits. The mental difference was staggering to me.
    4. it made a difference when I actually did get a contract offer. My first aqcuisitions editor asked me when we first began talking about a contract, "What else do you have?" It was great to be able to say I was already hard at work on the next one. They contracted for that one, too.
    Keep writing. Networking doesn't produce books, writing does.

  13. Scott on July 14, 2009 at 3:04 PM

    >Thanks for a great post. I think this was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. I thought my first burst of brilliance would be published. Little did I know it would be many burst of brilliance later until I had confidence enough in myself and my writing to risk the scary world of querying.

    Those first efforts languish in boxes in my closet. There's some definite junk in those boxes, let me tell you. It was only with time that my writing improved.

    Hey, maybe one day, my heirs can publish those manuscripts as "The Lost Writings of Scott". Hmmm . . .

  14. Amy L. Sonnichsen on July 14, 2009 at 2:05 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. I was in the writing doldrums and your post really cheered me up by renewing my perspective. 🙂

  15. Robbie Iobst on July 14, 2009 at 12:50 PM

    >Rachelle, I saw you after you spoke at our writing group (WFTJ) in Denver. I was feeling sorry for myself about not having any books published. After I gave you some of my pity party, you asked, "So how many books have you written?"
    Ouch. 1 and a half. REALLY helped me get out of my poor me moment. I need to stop crying and keep writing and writing and writing. This is such good advice. Thank you!

  16. Helena Halme on July 14, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    >I couldn't agree more. I'm on book 3 and it is the best yet. I've had positive feedback, but haven't landed an agent yet. Although one asked to see any new material.

    Another great and relevant post. Many thanks.

  17. Yat-Yee on July 14, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    >This came at a perfect time for me. I am blue in the face with my first book and I've decided that if the current agents who have my work don't bite, I will put it away and concentrate on my second book, which has been going in spurts and starts because I've been spending more time on revising and subbing the first one.

    To the other people who've written multiple books: kudos.

  18. Timothy Fish on July 14, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    >I hear what you’re saying, but at the same time, I don’t see myself writing twelve manuscripts that don’t go to press. I’ve never been particularly fond of journaling and I don’t write just to be writing. I write because I want people to “get it,” whatever “it” is. A writer who believes his message is urgent isn’t going to keep writing book after book with no success. I suppose it comes down to the question of whether we are writers with a message or messengers who write.

  19. Anonymous on July 14, 2009 at 10:34 AM

    >What if you've already had a 20-year career as a published writer/journalist
    (top magazine articles, essays & short stories, etc.)? I somehow think this advice is for those aspiring novelists who don't write for a living and have no formal training…Don't they need professional help along the way?

  20. Kristen Torres-Toro on July 14, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    >I'm about to start my 6th book, so I'm really thankful to read this! Books 1-3 certainly were more for practice/honing my talent than anything else. My prayer is that 4 and 5 will be picked up one day. I figure the more time between then and now, the better/stronger they will be due to editing and other's critiques. Until then, I'm going to keep writing, keep trying to get better and better. The more I write, the more I learn!

    Thanks, Rachelle! It's good to know that I'm on the right track (the "keep writing" path) even when it seems overwhelming!

  21. Kristen Torres-Toro on July 14, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    >I'm about to start my 6th book, so I'm really thankful to read this! Books 1-3 certainly were more for practice/honing my talent than anything else. My prayer is that 4 and 5 will be picked up one day. I figure the more time between then and now, the better/stronger they will be due to editing and other's critiques. Until then, I'm going to keep writing, keep trying to get better and better. The more I write, the more I learn!

    Thanks, Rachelle! It's good to know that I'm on the right track (the "keep writing" path) even when it seems overwhelming!

  22. Livia on July 14, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    >Starting a new book also gives you something to distract you during the query process.

  23. SM Blooding on July 14, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    >It looks like we've got a lot of serious novelists in here. LOL! Awesome! I'm working on my…I kinda lost count. I have a folder called completed novels and they're all great stories, but they're done…*shrug*

    I'm really hoping that after oh, a dozen or so books, that I've finally mastered the art of writing. *eye roll* GADS! If only it were so. LMAO! Anyway, thanks for the post! This was awesome, but I think it was more awesome to see all the other novelists who have more than one book out there! Good for you!!

  24. Cindy on July 14, 2009 at 8:55 AM

    >Rachelle, this is my favorite bit of advice you've given so far 😀 In the midst of platforms and social networking and queries and proposal packages, so many writers throw up their hands and say, "I just want to write books!" And we should. Balance between all those things is important but in the long run, writing a good book and then continuing with another is one of our best choices.

    I'm working on my 11th book now and I can honestly say I've learned the most from simply writing. Writing and rewriting, learning which genre I write well. Developing my voice, applying the rules, taking chances, finding a perfect hook. It's been wonderful. There's nothing better than having fun while you're learning and growing.

  25. Rachel on July 14, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    >This was very encouraging.

  26. JStantonChandler on July 14, 2009 at 8:39 AM

    >Great advice (as always). I have two books that shall remain in the box in which they currently collect dust. They aren't good but I learned so much in writing them! My third book I queried and got several nibbles but no bites…not yet. Now, I've written books four, five and six (a trilogy) and I can see how much I've improved! While I shop book one in that trilogy, I'm already in the words for my seventh book. Wow. I can't believe I'm working on my seventh book!

  27. Tam on July 14, 2009 at 8:21 AM

    >Sorry to buck the trend but I sold my first book. I didn't slave over it for years – it took six weeks (from conception to 'The End'). And I sold my second book, which I wrote immediately after the first. So by all means keep writing but don't hold your first book back if you truly (and HONESTLY) believe it has what it takes. The worst that can happen is that people say no. And whilst you're waiting, get on with the next book. It's all a learning process.

  28. Mark on July 14, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    >Great post. This is the same advice John Grisham's agent gave him. He seems to have turned out OK as a writer. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek)


  29. tamara hellgren on July 14, 2009 at 7:51 AM

    >Thank you for this post! I did send out my first book (got a nibble but nothing more) for months last year, then "retired" it and am about three-quarters of the way through a second one now. I always felt guilty for abandoning the first one, but now I realize that this is pretty common. Thanks for the encouragement!

  30. Marybeth Poppins on July 14, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    >I have a question to this. When you say write a new book, would you recommend working on the sequels? Or would you suggest a NEW book altogether?

  31. Jessica on July 14, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    >It feels like with every book I write, it gets better. That's how it feels, not sure that's how it is. *grin*
    But I'm a pantser and there were so many things I didn't know with my first finished book. Like there should be external goals and a character arc. LOL! So each subsequent book has felt more compact, more together, as I've learned new things.

    Thanks for the post. I actually think it helps a writer to have more than one book. If I only had the one and had to spend every day waiting for responses to my queries, I think I'd go nuts.

    But since I have others and am working on more, the wait is easier, as are the rejections, because there's always the hope that if book 1 doesn't make it, book 2 will. And so on. 😉

  32. Rachelle on July 14, 2009 at 7:10 AM

    >No, you still don't mention all those other books when you begin querying. As long as you're unpublished, whatever book you're querying is the only one you talk about. Once you've established a relationship with an agent or editor, there will be an appropriate time to discuss what ELSE you've written. But the standard agent advice still stands: don't mention those other books when querying. Like all agents, I can only decide if I like a book based on THAT book. Later we'll talk about other issues like a series and career planning.

  33. lynnrush on July 14, 2009 at 7:00 AM

    >So true. I actually hear that it's, like, your fifth or sixth book, that actually is the one that gets noticed or picked up by an agent/editor . . . Have you heard that too?

    Regardless, I agree. Write on, is my opinion. I'm currently penning my eighth paranormal romance. People ask me why I keep writing, and I'm like, "I can't not write."

    "What if you never get published? You've spent all that time writing . . ."

    It doesn't matter. I'l keep on writing. I'm having too much fun with it not to.

  34. A Musing Mom on July 14, 2009 at 6:51 AM

    >I guess maybe the good news about not mentioning all the previous books you've written is that as a "first-time" author, your writing will shine. All the other work you've done will come through in what you're submitting. And so that agent or editor will think, 'Wow! This is her first book? She's brilliant!'

    I think that's all great advice. This post greatly encouraged me (much as it might seem discouraging). Now I just need to decide how much time to put into editing book #1 before packing it away to write book #2. Hoping book #1 might get published is certainly a good motivator for working hard at polishing.

  35. Krista Phillips on July 14, 2009 at 6:45 AM

    >I'm trying, I'm trying! 🙂 I so completely get what you are saying, which is finally why I laid down my sequals to my first book and started a new book. Not that I'm not going to finish them, I AM! But I guess in a way I want/need to prove I can go beyond the first series idea and write something else. Mind you, I'm still putting my first book out there. Unlike many who write it as "practice" and then move on to something else… I've spent two years rewriting it, editing it, and am now finally REALLY ready to start putting it out there. I do have a book I started eight years ago that I never got past chapter three which will never see the light of day. (although I still like the story… maybe someday… *grin*)

  36. Gwen Stewart--Singer-Scribe on July 14, 2009 at 6:35 AM

    >Thank goodness I'm doing something right–I needed the encouragement today!

    I echo Holly: I thought it might be good for agents/editors to know that I had already written two novels when I queried number three. But the common knowledge then was to mention only that ONE book.

    Maybe your contemplation will change "common knowledge" Rachelle! (Don't think this blog doesn't have the influence either–you're like Miss Snark with a sweet dog who's too laid back to deal with queries…and you have all the joie de vive and insight of Miss Snark, but without the snark. Hey, there should be a blog award for that.)

    Anyway, I'm glad my novels keep coming. I have number five nearly finished, and number six is knocking. Writing too fast comes with its own hazards though; there's no way to escape the difficulties of this discipline. You have to be really committed and really passionate to perservere, I think!

    Enjoy ICRS, and happy lunch-ing!

  37. Katie Ganshert on July 14, 2009 at 6:22 AM

    >Great advice! The more I get to know other published authors, the more I'm finding how typical it is for that author to have written four or five (maybe more) books before finally interesting an agent/editor with one of them. So many authors have their first books sitting in a drawer somewhere because those ones were sort of like a warmup – a practice before the big game. That's encouraging to me to know that even if my first books don't get published, they weren't a waste of itme. They are an opportunity for me to grow.

  38. Jody Hedlund on July 14, 2009 at 6:07 AM

    >I totally agree with the need to keep writing and not get stuck into forever editing one or even two books. I have at least five books that are stashed away in the closet that will never see the light of day. They were my practice books to get me to where I'm at today. With each book I've written, I've grown tremendously. And I only hope that I can continue to improve!

  39. Holly Bodger on July 14, 2009 at 5:43 AM

    >The only thing that surprises me about this great advice is the fact that many agents say not to mention all your other books when you query. You'd think they'd want to know that we've written several, even if only to prove that we are serious about the trade.

  40. Sharon A. Lavy on July 14, 2009 at 5:23 AM

    >I almost didn't write the first book, knowing most first books don't get published. I tried to find another story to write first. But this is the story that meant the most to me. And so I wrote it. And the characters grew on me until I have trouble not rewriting this story to death.

    Finally finished the second story. In the midst of editing and getting the rough spots out.

    Meanwhile snippets of book #3 are coming to me. I have a file and a journal started for this story.

  41. Lisa Katzenberger on July 14, 2009 at 4:56 AM

    >Rachelle, I completely agree. It was hard to put my first novel to sleep, after I sent it around the agent circuit to no success. But I'm working on a new novel now and (I hope) I'm getting better at it. And the more I read about publishing the more I realize how rare it is that an author's first published book is the first book she ever wrote.

  42. Michael Malone on July 14, 2009 at 2:06 AM

    >You are so right, Rachelle. I am on novel 5 now and I have learned so much along the way and I am way better for having gone through that process. And I will keep on going until…