Claire King


No-one is buying debut novels

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 by Claire - 53 Comments

No-one is buying debut novels these days. Publishers don’t want them. Agents don’t want to take on new writers because they can’t sell debuts. Booksellers are closing down and the way forward is 99cent ebooks. It’s all doom and gloom out there. So why bother? The chances are infinitesimally slim that you will ever get the book deal your heart is set on. Why not go to the pub, or get comfy and watch re-runs of Friends instead?

‘They’ would have us believe that this is true. I wonder if the reason ‘They’ would have it that way is because ‘They’ are writing their own books and don’t want the competition? Maybe not. Maybe just because dismal news seems to sell. Unlike debut novels.

But wait!

For about 18 months now I’ve been using Twitter to meet and chat with writers all around the world. A few of them were already published writers, but most were like myself – scraping time to write in jam-packed days, entering writing competitions, occasionally getting shortlisted, or getting short pieces accepted in literary magazines. For me it’s been one of the best things I ever did in my writing career – in my Twitter stream I’ve found encouragement, wisdom, cheerleading, information, coaching, tips, consolation…and I hope I’ve managed to give back, which is in the spirit of Twitter.

And recently, in the last few months, some of the debut novelists on my twitter network are having breakthroughs.

These people are not different from you and me. They are not better educated. They are not richer. They are not people with industry connections. They are people who sat down and wrote. A lot. And re-wrote. They have families and day jobs and they are busy too. These people are getting agents and they are getting book deals. Three cheers for these people:

Maria Duffy, who signed with Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown last autumn and has just signed a two book deal with Hachette Ireland. Her debut novel, Any Dream Will Do, will be published November 2011

D.J. Kirkby, who writes fiction and non-fiction and after self publishing her first novel, Without Alice, has just signed up with Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton

Liz Fenwick recently signed with Carol Blake at  Blake Friedman and signed with Orion for her debut – A Cornish House – and a second novel…

Claire LeGrand (Who is 24, by the way!) has just sold her debut novel to Simon & Schuster

Kate Brown who just signed with Jamie Coleman at Toby Eady Associates for her debut historical novel.

Mariam Kobras who just signed her contract with Buddhapuss Ink independent publishers for her debut contemporary romance The Distant Shore

Kerry Hudson whose debut novel TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE-CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA comes out from Chatto & Windus in summer 2012

Claire McGowan whose debut novel sold in February to Headline and will be published in 2012. See her blog post about living the dream here.

Jonathan Pinnock whose debut Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is out this September from Proxima Books

Rebecca Emin whose children’s novel New Beginnings will be published next year by Grimoire books.

Hip, hip, HOORAY! And many congratulations to all these writers!

I’m NOT saying that it’s easy. The market is difficult at the moment and I know several brilliant writers who have got great agents and are still waiting for a publisher to buy their book. That must be so frustrating after that magic moment of finding an agent raises your hopes…But what they aren’t doing is sitting around moaning about it. They are all, without exception, writing the next novel.

And as well as those people there are still many of my twitter friends submitting to agents, getting rejections, revising and submitting again. And of course there are those still climbing the first draft mountain. But I’m convinced that many of them will succeed because it’s clear they are determined to do so.

So, what’s stopping you?  Write. Write today. And come and find us on Twitter – make friends, watch others succeed and be encouraged (keep an eye on the #writegoodnews hashtag). Or occasionally drown your sorrows together.

Claire King on Twitter


53 Responses

  1. Nettie says:

    I’d reply, but I’m too busy getting that first draft down ;). Great post.

  2. Marisa Birns says:

    All so very exciting – and inspiring!

  3. milla says:

    always love any post with a spot of encouragement in it. I read lots of debut novels, the well can’t dry up!

    • Lesley Pearse says:

      Don’t be too disheartened. Tara Hyland has just got her debut book rising in the charts. It does still happen for those who perservere x

  4. Really great post, Claire. I’m a firm believer that if people feel like writing then they must.

  5. Thank you for including me in this wonderful list, what a great honor!

  6. Derek Flynn says:

    Here, here! As one of those as-yet-unpublished but doing his damndest, I couldn’t agree more. And couldn’t have said it better.

  7. Pete says:

    Congratulations to all. The problem with t’internet is that a perceived wisdom develops very quickly which is not always true or based on solid evidence. I remember once reading about twenty press articles on a subject all putting forward the same viewpoint and all based on one source article!

    Sure times are tough, but are people going to stop reading and are established authors going to stop dying or retiring? There will be a need for new authors just as there are still new bands emerging in the music industry and that industry faces very similar challenges. Is it difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

    Keep calm and carry on!

    • claire says:

      You’re right, Pete – Source articles are often copied and pasted and then you’ve got a depressing meme.
      People – feel free to use the positive news in this article! 😉

  8. Brilliant, wonderful, inspiring post. I often think that it’s just crazy to think that no one is buying debut novels. One day, all the current authors will die, and if we have no new ones, then that will be the end of new literature. That’s not going to happen, is it? Maybe it’s harder, maybe it’s not, but there is no way it’s impossible that debut authors will be published.

    • claire says:

      Thank you Clare! From the reactions on Twitter (scientific poll 😉 it seems like readers, bookstores, publishers and agents are all very keen to find good debut novels. Up to us to deliver!

  9. Nik Perring says:

    Thank you, Claire! It is SUCH a pleasant thing to see someone talking sense about things like this (and I do have quite the strong suspicion that you’re right regarding people not wanting to competition; I’ve seen it and it isn’t nice or what this game should really about). As I’ve said MANY times, good books sell (usually) so that’s what we should all be concentrating on.

    And congrats to all with stuff coming out! That’s what we like to see!

  10. Christopher says:

    Encouraging, Claire! Thank you!

  11. Hazel Osmond says:

    What an inspirational post… and a lovely blog too.

    Rejection does get dispiriting but I always feel not writing is worse and so always find myself back in front of the computer. Sometimes I even turn it on.

    I agree about Twitter being encouraging, you just have to learn who listens as well as talks I think.

  12. Goodness me – well, all the sqillions of authors names on the spines of squillions of books were ‘debut’ novelists once. Or yesterday. Who writes thes ethings? I was having the oppposite conversation recently – with them what know – because they buy the books. They are actively LOOKING for debuts. here’s another to add to the list –
    Catherine Smith, tutor at Sussex Uni, included an extract written by one of her students in her chapter in Short Circuit. It was brilliant! Student was called Jess Richards. The saw this a couple of weeks back. Whizzy! recently

  13. Sheila Riley says:

    Wonderful post – if initially heart stopping – I have just had an e-mail to say my effort is being read by a fab agent so fingers crossed this one will become my debut novel.

  14. AJ says:

    What an inspiring post – thanks Claire!

    I have just sent the link on to the writing group I belong to in Cirencester. I am sure they will all appreciate it as much as I do.

    Off now to write!

  15. Great post, Claire. Good sense and very encouraging.

  16. Yeah, it’s definitely not easy, but SOMEBODY is buying debut novels! So, why not write them? This post is what I needed to see today!

  17. L'Aussie says:

    Great post. Bit depressing, but it’s hard work all the way. We are committed for however long it takes…aren’t we?

  18. Jan says:

    This is so very encouraging – a great post, thanks!

  19. Cathy says:

    I blogged in a similar vein earlier this week. As a writer currently trying to find an agent I’ve found all the recent successes motivating rather depressing.It’s just a matter of not giving up and always striving to improve.

  20. D.J.Kirkby says:

    I am so happy to be mentioned in this ‘feel good’ post, thank you for including me. I think it is important to get messages like this post out to all the other writers who are struggling and wondering if it is all worth it.

  21. Cheryl says:

    Well so glad I spotted your tweet! I have been published ( 3 non-fiction) but it’s a while ago and I have several projects on the boil but sometimes feel as you say – why bother. Good to read such positive words and I’ll be enjoying more of them. Thanks.

  22. Great post Claire and I know those people listed deserve their success. Congratulations to you all!

  23. Linda G. says:

    “Never tell me the odds.” ~Han Solo

    My debut novel, along with the next in the series, sold in early March. Good thing I didn’t know debut novels weren’t selling, or I never have tried. 🙂

    P.S. Love the “Success” poster!

  24. Bev Carr says:

    Thank you. Those words of wisdom feel like a glimmer of light.

  25. Jarika says:

    Makes sense…why give up just because things look bad? Writers simply must have thick skin and must persist.

  26. MegP says:

    Great post!

  27. Jen J. Danna says:

    A great post! As an author who is on submission for the very first time, this is a great reminder that there is hope. Thank you!

  28. Elpi says:

    A wonderful, inspiring post. Back to writing!

  29. Well said! Actually, as a published writer myself, I haven’t even heard the “debuts don’t sell” thing – what we hear all the time is that publishers DO want debuts, more than they want the midlist author who has been working away and being published for years without spectacular sales (that’s most of us!). It’s ALL about the book, not whether you’re debut or not. Believe me though that staying published is as hard as getting published.

    • claire says:

      Thanks Nicola! That’s what Vanessa Gebbie said too. And of course with subsequent books they are unlikely to have been a ten year labour of love… Is your next book going to be ‘Write to Stay Published’? 🙂

  30. Liz says:

    What a fantastically inspiring post. Am exceedingly tired of the doom and gloom and needed this for a big smile and encouragement.

  31. Rebecca Emin says:

    I have just discovered this post thanks to Google Alerts so thank you very much for mentioning me, what a lovely post to be tagged in, and as others have said very encouraging too.

    Thanks, Claire xx

  32. Lovely post and comments Claire. I have my first (wild romantic comedy set in Italia) novel coming out next month and am petrified it will be a tiny blip after all that work and waiting. Keep up the positive energy please! Ciao cat

  33. harry dunn says:

    Yes, it’s really possible so never,ever give up.
    I’ve just received a contract offer for my first novel and am well into drafting my second.
    Try to banish the self doubt and keep writing to the finish.
    There certainly are going to be new authors published in the coming years and it may as well be you.

  34. Ruth says:

    It’s so nice to see positive news shared, when there’s so much negativity out there. Everywhere you look someone seems to be telling you to stop wasting your time writing! It takes determination to continue and eventually succeed. Thanks for such an uplifting blog!

    • claire says:

      Thank you, Ruth! As you say, determination and passion should get you there in the end. It’s not easy, and when you get there people may well say you’re ‘lucky’…but the journey is well worth it!

  35. June says:

    Great article. Perhaps the chances today are fewer for debut books …but, eventually new material will be required. Readers are discerning people. Writers should never give up at the first hurdle – it’s all part of the learning curve, and one day it will ….’write’ itself!

    • claire says:

      There’s a constant need for new books, once upon a time I felt very alone, accumulating rejection letters without other writers to chat to. Then came the internet and what do you know, we’re all getting them! But you can also meet those breaking through, which provides tremendous motivation!

  36. Debi Alper says:

    Brilliant, Claire. Huge congrats to you and the others listed here. Proof that it can and does happen if you a) write a stonking good book b) work hard to edit and polish c) edit and redraft again! d) be persistent and refuse to give up on the traditional publishing process.

    Half a dozen authors I’ve worked with (as a freelance editor)this year alone have been signed up with major agents. One has been published and is a bestseller in her native Lebanon. These were all debut novels.

  37. sam millar says:

    An excellent and thoughtful article. Should be read by all writers, and those about to start the journey of writing. Well done, Claire.

    • claire says:

      Thank you for coming by and commenting. Every week I read fresh reports of debut authors winning their first deal (via Book Brunch, The Bookseller etc), and every time it’s a delight to hear their good news and I do a little cheer.

  38. Bronagh Curran says:

    HI Claire, I just found your blog through and I can’t stop rummaging through your archives! I’ve also read the first chapter of The Night Rainbow and I love it, I plan to add it to my reading list when I finish my current novel. I’m working on my 3rd YA at the moment. My first two are currently being pitched to publishers by my agent and yes, the wait is pretty tiring. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the wait to get an agent,(it took a year) at least now I have the comfort and confidence boost that my agent believes in my ability. The friends and family questions are exhausting, they ebb away at your confidence and make you wonder if you really are, as you suspect they suspect, deluded. So I’ve stopped talking about it, I’ve learned people don’t want to listen unless you’ve signed a million dollar deal and secured the movie rights. Of course, should that happen, I’ll never shut up about it, but until then I’ll save it for those who understand, like you! 🙂

    • claire says:

      Hello Bronagh, I’m really pleased you’re enjoying browsing the archives. I’m so glad I started this blog before I was agented – it tracks a very memorable journey for me. Congratulations on finding an agent, and good luck with the pitching. Have you tried twitter? It’s a great please to meet kindred spirits! Cx

  39. Gerry Wilson says:

    Hi, Claire. After a discouraging day, I stumbled on this post! Thanks so much for the encouraging words. I should focus on the fact that my manuscript is getting full reads, not wallowing in the rejections. Maybe my book has a future after all. I’m so glad I found your post when I needed a boost. Thanks!

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