Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are Debut Books Better?

It has been a disappointing month for me in the reading department. There are several books I have been anticipating, all new books from authors I love. Of the four books I was eagerly waiting for, I was let down by three of them.

On one of them, I didn't get past page 50 because it was all backstory and informationg-dumping and I didn't care enough to keep going. Another kept my interest through the whole book, but I was constantly thinking "Did an editor even look at this?" because I felt the writing was a bit... well, sloppy. Another felt like a retread of the last book.

I would expect this from some of those author machines who churn out 2 or 3 books a year, but it surprises me in literary and commercial fiction.

If I had to go through the last twenty books I read and rank them for how I liked them, debut books came out on top by a long shot. It had me wondering -- is this because in this tough publishing climate, debut novels have to be better to get published? Once an author has a track record, are authors, agents, and editors taking less time to make sure the books are better than perfect?

I'd love to hear some opinions on this because it has me wondering if it is just me reading too critically these days.


  1. I think you have it right. Once an author has an established fan base, editors and publishers, probably because they are all insanely busy, don't give as much of their time to them, maybe thinking that the sales will be there anyway. And I agree, it shows.

  2. I would bet that sometimes "established" authors have more leeway and receive less editing.
    But they also come with your expectations. If their last book was your favorite of all time, the next book is likely going to fall short. A debut author has no where to go but up.

  3. That's a good question! It's hit-and-miss for me. Most of authors and novels I hear about nowadays are debut authors and novels, so the very nature of my reading is biased. That said, however, I don't finish that many debut books, either, so I'm not sure how relevant my experience is. :]

    One thing I do imagine, however, is that debut novels are normally more "concurrent" with trends, both in subject matters and in writing styles -- or so it seems to me. In older works (especially in the fantasy genre), info-dumping and backstory are more acceptable -- and for some authors, it's difficult to change style.

  4. I've noticed this too. I think you're right. A book ahs to really stand out ot be a debut, but once you've already signed an agent and sold your first book, while it's still not easy, you still have a step up.

  5. Excellent post. I agree completely. For instance, Hunger Games really impressed me and I went right out and bought Chasing Fire. Big mistake. It was like no one was really trying that hard to make it as good, so it just rode on the success of HG. I have so much respect for JK Rowling, because she could have churned out the sequels one right after the other, but she never allowed herself to get sloppy. She cared about the quality of her work. I'm sure the editors would have just slapped a cover on whatever she turned in and sold millions, regardless, but she had more integrity and respect for the writing craft to fall into that trap.

    Gosh, sorry this is such a long comment, but your post hit a nerve! I find this ALL the time and it irritates me so much!

  6. Thanks everyone for coming by.

    Karen, I agree completely. One of the books I read got a lot of hype because it was the second from an author that had huge commercial success AND a major advance for the second book. But when I finished it, I just felt that there should have been more of a time investment from the publisher (pushing back to the author to make it better), not just a money investment.

  7. This is an interesting thought. I've never been able to tell which books were by debut authors, except to rule out the ones I knew weren't and maybe pick up one that I know for sure is a debut.

    I have heard agents say that more experienced authors get away with things that debut writers wouldn't get away with, because they can say they know their audience. So, they might not be as carefully edited.