Confession: I don’t like my first book. I’m actually pretty embarrassed by it.
Back in 2017 when I first wrote What Could Be, I was like a proud new first-time mama. My book baby was perfect. Beautiful. And certain to make its mark on the world.
Aaaaaaand then I read it again months after I’d released it into the world. My face burned with embarrassment and regret. I wanted to immediately unpublish it and hide it away for eternity. The pacing was slow. The heroine was annoyingly perfect. The chemistry fell flat. And wow, I really should have hired an editor. Instead, I’d already turned it into a series! Ever the problem solver, I got a team together and put that book through more editing, proofreading, critiquing, and then launched a second edition.
And it’s still not a great book.
Each book in the series is an improvement over the one before, but not everyone gives them a chance because there are still so many problems with that first book. Now, while I try to love the book that made me a published author, my feelings toward it are…complicated. As it turns out, I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Here’s what some of our own InspyRomance authors had to say about their first books:
“I recently revisited the manuscript of my first book, Holding on to Someday, and it makes me cringe at some of the errors I made. I wish I had time to go back and rewrite some of it, but then it wouldn’t be a first book, would it? lol!“ – K Leah
Teresa Tysinger says, “When I set out to write my first book, I knew a lot about storytelling — I had been an avid reader and studied literature for a long time. But I knew very little about the craft of writing a novel as a sellable product. I’m so incredibly proud of my first book, Someplace Familiar. It represents a courage I didn’t think I had. When I look over it, however, it is easy to find things I’d change. No matter your career or hobby, though, shouldn’t we look back and see growth since the beginning?“
“Authors aren’t supposed to publish the first book they ever wrote. But I didn’t hear that advice until after I’d already released Falling for the Foe. It has a flabby middle and I wish I’d known then how to ratchet up the dramatic tension. I was so shy about writing kisses that the lead characters only manage a hug at the end! Despite that, I’m proud of what this book stands for. It’s a signpost of how God brought to fruition my desire to share stories, and it’s introduced the country of my birth to many readers.” – Milla Holt
Merrillee Whren was a lot smarter than I was. Ha ha! She said, “The first and the second books I wrote never came close to seeing publication. My first sale to Love Inspired was the 9th book I wrote. I eventually sold them the fourth and fifth books, after I went back and revised them. A good portion of my sixth book became part of my Pinecrest series. The eighth book was my RWA Golden Heart winner and my first indie book. I eventually indie published the third book by cutting a lot of it and turning it into a novella.”
Liwen Y. Ho’s remarks sum up my own feelings so well! “I’m grateful that I was able to start my author journey with Taking a Chance on the Heartbreaker, but am I proud of the book? Not exactly. Lol. It is what it is though—a story (based on my own love story) of God’s grace and redemption and how He took something broken and made it beautiful. It’s also very much a reminder of how much I’ve grown as an author since then and how God can take something so imperfect and use it for good. I had to start somewhere as an author and I’m thankful it was with that book.”
Regarding her debut novel, Elizabeth Maddrey says, “I still love the story of my first book, Wisdom to Know, but it’s also one of those situations where I didn’t know how much I didn’t know (despite having read a lot of craft books.) Readers generally still have positive things to say about it, and there’s a part of me that isn’t sure I’d be able to write the story today with out that optimistic ignorance that comes with being a debut author.”
I very much understand what she means. Writing—or pursuing any creative endeavor, really—requires revealing a part of ourselves to the world. That’s a very vulnerable position to find ourselves in. Without that “optimistic ignorance,” I imagine few creatives would have the guts to put their work into the world. But what a tragedy that would be!
“I published the very first book I ever wrote, Love on Ice, last year just in time for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Even after loads of editing, there are still things I’d tweak. But do I love it? Absolutely! (And I’m thankful readers like it too!)” – Carolyn Miller
Like Merrillee Whren, Lindi Peterson didn’t publish her first book. “There are two things I remember about my first manuscript. At the end of every chapter my heroine went to sleep–and when I actually wrote the end, I printed it, (which took ages back then!) and set it on the kitchen table, declared to my husband, ‘I wrote a book. I wrote The End!’ He asked what I was going to do with it. I said ‘I have no idea!’ That book will never be published. “
I especially admire Shannon Taylor Vannatter’s frankness in her confession: “Ugh!! I have 2. Both published by small print on demand publishers (when it was a new thing) and completely unedited. I want readers to know that anything published before 2010 is badly written. There were only 2 of them, but they were really bad. 2010 and after, I had an editor. And boy did I need one. I still need one.“
Veteran author Valerie Comer shares her own reflection on what it was like to reread her early books. “About a year ago, I decided to set a new series in the world of my first published series, so I reread all six books and made copious notes. My first book, Raspberries and Vinegar, made me cringe so many times! It feels so clunky to me now, but I couldn’t think of any way to make it better without a total rewrite that would change the essence of the story. The readers who found me through that first book… and loved it… are still my most avid fans. But boy, do I feel like my writing is so much stronger 40-some books later!“
“I still love the story I told in Falling on Main Street, but I cringe when I see the writing itself… so much narration, not a lot of emotional impact, and a lot of cliches. But – it was the story of my heart and God has been faithful to use it and readers still seem to enjoy it!” – Tara Grace Ericson
Angela Ruth Strong says, “Finding Love in Sun Valley makes me cringe, but I’m so thankful for it. I wrote it during the most difficult year of my life, so I basically went through aversion therapy. I also don’t think my work was ready to be published yet, but at the same time, it was a gift from God. It was released in hardback, sold in Costco, and optioned for film, which likely will never happen again. God was pretty much saying, ‘You can do this. Don’t give up. Your life story is just getting started.’“
InspyRomance alum Janet W. Ferguson shared her candid thoughts as well. “I read and rewrote Leaving Oxford so many times, it makes me crazy to try to look at it for any reason. I’ve thought about adding a 5th book to that series, but that would mean I might have to, so I have put it off indefinitely.”
The truth is, “it’s complicated,” defines the relationship every author has with their first book. Whether or not that book was ever published, there’s a mix of pride and embarrassment whenever we consider that early work. And that makes sense. After all, we’re supposed to grow with experience and get better with practice, no matter what we put our hands to. Ball players don’t reach the pros if they remain at their high school level. James Beard awarded chefs don’t cook the way they did their first time in the kitchen. Lucky for them, their first dish is nothing more than a memory, while authors’ early works continue to line shelves for anyone to pick up and judge.
So as you’re reading those backlist books from your favorite (or even new) authors, please consider them with grace and know that we’re improving our craft little by little as flawed humans who have to learn and grow like anyone else. Try not to judge our early efforts too harshly. Because we know those books are a little rough, but we’re not the same anymore. And if you’ve ever given an author a try, only to DNF a book for its flaws, maybe give one of their later books a chance. You may just find they’ve come into their own and figured out a thing or two about storytelling.
My dear friend Toni Shiloh had this to say to her author friends recently, and it’s such a wonderful perspective that I have to share. “A LIFE TO LIVE is the very first book I ever wrote and published. But for so many years I have looked at it in shame. Cringing at the “bad writing”, “broken rules” writers aren’t supposed to do, and remembering what that very first cover looked like… But I don’t want to look at my efforts any longer and be a harsh critic who holds no grace. … This book gave my first good reviews, got me readers who wanted to know when I’d publish another book. This book led me to the wonderful Christian fiction author community and the many talented authors I’ve met along the way. This book gave me fans who are still reading every book I publish and cheering for me without prompt. This book is a sign of growth as a writer and turning dreams into reality. I’m proud of this story and proud of where I am today.”
Thanks for joining me today! Have you read any of these authors’ debut novels? What made you love that book or decide to keep reading their work even if that one wasn’t your favorite? Are you more likely to give them grace if you’ve read their later books? Share your thoughts in the comments!
And because I’m working toward loving my first book again, I’m giving the Everyday Love series a facelift. They’ll get new covers next month, and there’s a new series order! I’m sharing the images with YOU first. 😊 What do you think?
Until next time,