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Writing, and reading, beyond debut novels

Writing, and reading, beyond debut novels

Writing, and reading, beyond debut novels

We live in a time when ‘new’ is highly prized. New is shiny and exciting and interesting; new is coveted. But should new be the focus in publishing?

Recently, Joanne Harris, author of the award-winning novel Chocolat among many others, spoke out against publishers putting their energy into debut authors at the expense of authors with more experience. As reported in The Bookseller, in a question-and-answer session with Sam Missingham of The Empowered Author, she explained that some debut authors are getting large initial advances, but their publisher will not necessarily support the author beyond the debut. She said:

‘We’re getting a generation of twenty-somethings being praised and paraded around for their debut because it’s a debut and then we just don’t hear about them again. Their second novel – which is often a bit of a problematic one to do anyway – may not necessarily do as well, has not necessarily been pushed as much. Their career instead of moving upwards and building on its success ends up kind of dwindling. They get replaced by the next big debut.’

The problem is so deep rooted, Harris explained, that some published authors are even creating new pen names in order to covertly publish a new novel as a ‘debut’, hoping to ‘rid[e] the wave of this love affair with debuts’.

This, Harris says, is ‘both misleading and a bit absurd’, and I have to agree. How does a reader feel when discovering that a debut is not a debut? How does the author feel, having to engage in such subterfuge?

I cannot imagine Burning Embers, my debut novel, having been my last. Nor can I imagine bringing out subsequent books under pen names.

This year I have published my seventh book, Concerto. I love to see my books together on the shelf – they are each individual parts of a whole; of my writing. And with each book I write and publish, I am always planning to write another. Even as Concerto went to print this year, I was working on my next novel, which my publisher hopes to bring out in 2020.

Concerto is not ‘new’ in the sense that I am a known author, but truthfully that is a positive rather than a negative. If we only read debuts, we don’t have the opportunity to get to know an author, to get comfortable with their style, to look forward to their next book. And then, that feeling when you hold in your hands the new release by a beloved author… it’s wonderful! Like meeting up with an old friend.

In addition, if we place too high a value on debuts then we are driven to read only new books, just published. But there are so many ‘old’ books waiting to be discovered, and treasured. After all, those debuts would not exist without all of the older books, the writing tradition from which the debut author has learned and been inspired.

Do you like to read debut novels, or do you prefer to read books by established authors? Do you feel perturbed that publishing may not be supporting the careers of authors in the long term and instead focusing on marketing debuts to readers? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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