There’s only one book that matters to an unpublished writer – the first

(and I’m not talking about their own).

This could also be titled: a first time writer needs different skills than an established one. The first time writers need to prove themselves, and they haven’t earned any goodwill that might cushion missteps. The first boring section, a slow start, or an uninteresting section of dialogue, and the new author risks losing their audience and likely not getting them back, especially if they are not being published by a large traditional publisher with glowing reviews (which might by them cushion for one or two mistakes).

Established authors admittedly are generally more polished writers, but they’ve also earned a loyalty in their followers that will buy them at least a few pages of grace. They are likely more focused on the end of a book, of the spine of a longer series, of emotional payoff and drawing readers back when the book is over. All of which is important, but they can probably relax a little more on the opening few pages. This is almost the reverse for the new author. They have to intensely scrutinize the first pages, and may have no-one ever reach the end of their book.

So what is the practical take-away from this? For those trying to break in, and studying how to clamber over the barbed and electrified wall of publishing, when you are looking at established authors and what they did right, there is only one book you should focus on and try to emulate: their first. When they were in the same boat as you.

After you’re published, you can learn all sorts of things from their later books, but the author is then working in a new place, with new benefits and drawbacks. For better or worse, they’ve got their footprint in the sand, created expectations, establishing a certain audience and set of expectations. Sometimes that footprint in the sand may be aimed in the wrong direction, and that sucks, but one way or another it’s something that got them noticed, and it’s sometimes good to keep that in mind when listening to established professionals give advice. What they are focused on and struggling with for their tenth book may be absolutely the wrong piece of advice for your first…

Here’s to all our firsts! 🙂


We moved recently and I haven’t unpacked the art stuff, so this image is an oldie but goodie. I’ve gained a tiny bit of steam on the StoneDragon manuscript, maybe 25% rewritten now, and picking up speed. I’ve decided that much of the original writing was actually reasonable and in places, all I have to do is change the pronouns from first person to third. Where I’m adding new POVs takes a bit longer, but again, it’s more about finding motivation to ‘chop wood and carry water’ without much in the way of creative reward, that’s slowing things down. Chop, slosh, chop!