Career Killer: Maybe Your 1st Book SHOULDN’T Be Published

Before I was a successful Romance author, my published mentors used to lecture me:

“You must finish your first Romance so you can learn how to write book-length fiction. You must finish your second Romance to get published.”

Needless to say, this advice rankled. I was already an award-winning journalist. Getting my first Romance contract was taking entirely too long (10 years, to be exact.)

Yep, I’m what my fellow Texans would call, “an ornery cuss.” 

But I had good reason.

Birthing a Bouncing Baby…er, Book

My first, unpublished manuscript was my baby. I poured a lifetime of passion and pathos into every word.

(Okay, fine. I was 20-something-years-old. I poured a quarter of a lifetime into that book.)

I loved its plot; I adored its characters. As far as I was concerned, the nine Legacy editors who’d rejected my baby were all “ediots.”

Ignoring the wisdom of my New York Times, bestselling mentors, I tucked my masterpiece into a box, slid it under my bed, and secretly plotted my revenge.

“Those ‘ediots’ will be sorry,” I cackled to myself. “The minute I’m a successful Romance author, I’m going to publish that book and make mega-millions!”

Now let’s fast-forward a couple of years…

At long last, I was published in commercial Romance. My first bestselling trilogy (Wild Texas Nights) had won national awards, and Bantam was pestering me for a fourth book proposal.

Suddenly, I remembered my old manuscript.

Confessions from an Ornery Cuss

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My ever-practical side raised the question:

“Why go through the hassle of imagining new characters and a new plot, and writing the BANE OF MY EXISTENCE (aka, a synopsis) when I have a complete, Historical masterpiece, gathering dust under my bed?”

I figured Brilliance in a Box (as I’d secretly dubbed it) was a shoe-in for success. After all, literary critics were hailing me as a master storyteller (ha!)

Yes, I was confident that I could sell Brilliance in a Box to my Bantam editor, and she’d pay me enough money to buy a private island. (Or at least, to pay off my car.)

I confided my grand and glorious scheme to one of my published friends. We’ll call her “Jayla.”

I figured that Jayla, who had risen to the lofty rank of New York Times bestseller herself, would support my scheme. After all, we were comrades-in-arms. Her first manuscript had been a finalist in the Golden Heart contest the same year that Brilliance in a Box had been a finalist.

However, Jayla’s Contemporary manuscript had earned a publishing contract from Harlequin, while Brilliance in a Box had languished (unfairly!) under my bed, denied its rightful place in the Annals of Historical Bestsellerdom.

Seeking (or rather, Demanding) My 15-Minutes of Fame

Enthusiastically, I described my sneaky shortcut to glory. Instead of developing a whole new book, I would “wow” my Bantam editor with Brilliance in a Box.

Jayla actually blanched. 

“Uh, have you read your first unpublished manuscript, Adrienne?”

“Well, of course I have!” I exclaimed, undaunted by Jayla’s ghostly whiteness. “Oodles of times!”

“Uh-huh.” Jayla didn’t look convinced. “Have you read that manuscript lately?”

I frowned. I was beginning to notice her less-than-encouraging demeanor. “Well…no,” I admitted.

“Maybe you should,” she said gently. “Before you shoot yourself in the foot.”

I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the carpet. Jayla had never read Brilliance in a Box. How dare she imply that it was less than…well, brilliant?

“What do you mean?” I demanded. 

“Look. You do whatever you want,” she said uncomfortably. “But I wish my first manuscript had never been published. It embarrasses me now. I’m a much better writer than I was 10 years ago.”

Ouch.

I was Appalled!

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Sheepishly, I drove home and read Brilliance in a Box. Almost immediately, I realized I’d written a hot mess. It oozed with signs of amateurism: story bloat; background dumping; secondary characters, who eclipsed the hero and heroine; subplots that distracted from the love story…

The list of defects went on and on!

As a newbie, I hadn’t developed the analytical skills to fix that manuscript. As a published professional, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of revisions that would be necessary to get that book ready for the marketplace. Seriously: plotting a whole new novel would have been easier!

So with great reluctance, I finally (permanently!) scrapped Brilliance in a Box and began plotting Scoundrel for Hire. That move was one of the best business decisions of my career. Eventually, Scoundrel for Hire won awards and topped the bestseller charts — multiple times.

The moral of this story?

Jayla’s advice saved my career.

The other moral of this story?

Don’t Bulldoze Your Way onto Amazon

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Don’t self-publish a book because you’re angry. Or impatient. Or jealous of somebody else’s success. Take time to study your craft.

If you bulldoze your way into the public eye, promoting a work of glaring amateurism, that book will haunt you for the rest of your career — assuming, of course, that you have a career, after shooting yourself in the foot.

Are you a Legacy Author?

Then exercise restraint. Self-publishing a poorly written manuscript from your “newbie days,” will alienate fans. Their reviews will lambaste your writing, and worse, they might even warn other readers not to waste their money.

No writer can afford such negative publicity. Reviews are the lifeblood of book sales!

If your goal is to write a Romance novel that sells, be brave, be objective…

And let go of that stale, old manuscript before you commit career suicide.


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