When Is A Debut Novel NOT a Debut Novel?

Yesterday, I read a blog post from Janet Reid (the literary agent). What I spied with my little eye was the bit about the writer who was very, very good but she’d turned him down because she’d seen that story a dozen times. A debut novel needs to be something fresh and new, she said.

Over the weekend, I attended an SCBWI conference where Alexandra Cooper (an editor) mentioned that writers should do their homework, see what publishers are buying and pay attention to what kinds of books are glutting up the marketplace. But what if a writer’s been working on a book for a couple years and NOW the marketplace is glutted with her kind of story? What to do then? Ms. Cooper suggested that perhaps that “overdone” novel might need to stay under the bed for awhile. A debut novelist needs something…yep, fresh and new.

The last query response I received was very sweet. I can’t remember the agent’s name off the top of my head, but she personally answered the email. Loved the title, she said, loved the humor, and she felt that the writing was good and that the book would find a home. But this sweet agent already had something like my novel. Honestly? It’s not the first time I’ve gotten a response along those lines.

And so I’m considering, or perhaps I should say re-considering, whether this manuscript is the one I should be putting out there as a debut novel. I really love this story. I love these characters. And I want to tell more of their story. A story that may, if I keep pushing, sell sooner or later.

But is it fresh enough and new enough to be a debut novel? In the last three months, I keep hearing this message, and now it’s beginning to take on an ominous tone, like a warning. To wit: just because you can get your first book published…should you?

Which just goes to prove that October may be all about scary monsters and things that go bump in the night, but what really keeps a person wide awake and terrified is freakin’ reality and the choices we make that might affect the rest of our lives. (Boo!)

6 thoughts on “When Is A Debut Novel NOT a Debut Novel?

  1. Tough choice. I have a "chick lit" piece I wrote before I moved overseas and now I'm wondering what to do with that as well. Has its time passed? I guess follow your heart. This is your baby and you don't want to wonder "what if."

  2. Great post, Cathy. How kind of the agent to explain that to you. If it was me (were me?) I think I'd heed her advice and try to work on something else….for however long… By the way, Hugs and Happy Birthday…a day early!! 🙂

  3. Ack, it's so hard to know what to do, isn't it? It sounds like you really believe in this ms and that counts for a lot. Also, you've been getting excellent feedback which means you're close to something. Maybe it just needs to land on the desk of an agent who doesn't already have "something like your novel"? Have you tried newer agents? (Not very helpful, I know, but I feel for you and I'm sending good vibes your way if that counts for anything.) 🙂

  4. Oh, thanks for weighing in, y'all, and sending good vibes and happy wishes!I'm doing market research (again) and…ruminating. I'll let you know how that goes–that ruminating thing is harder than it looks. 🙂

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