Firsts: Is it Better to Have Your First Book the Worst or Best
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Last week, we hosted Harlequin’s Executive Editor, Marsha Zinberg, as she toured blogland talking about various writing insights from the authors of their Famous Firsts’ collection. To celebrate 60 years of publishing, Harlequin re-released 16 books representing the “first” titles of 16 different, famous authors.
As I was reading Uneasy Alliance by Jayne Ann Krentz (review later today), I was struck by how it appears that Krentz was attempting to negotiate the romance conventions of the day in contrast to her own feminist point of view. I’ve read most of Krentz’ backlist, even her Harlequin Temptation titles that are out of print and available only in used book stores. (My favorite is Lady’s Choice).
I don’t think I would be alone in my opinion that Krentz’ writing has come a long way from Uneasy Alliance. Her heroes are more subdued in their Neanderthal behavior and her heroines not as easily cowed (nor so indecisive). In later books, Krentz plays up on the quirkiness of her characters extending those traits beyond a mere introductory scene, as it was in Uneasy Alliance, and making it part and parcel of their personage. In the love scene arena, Krentz’s novels have changed as well becoming far more polished and less obvious.
In a recent profile of Nora Roberts in The New Yorker (subscription required. I recommend buying a paper copy) excerpted quotes from Irish Thoroughbred that seemed decidedly un Nora like: “You impudent little wench. You great thundering blackguard.” Promise Me Tomorrow, an early work of Nora’s, is one she refuses to have republished. Likewise, Jenny Crusie often disavows Sizzle, a novella published by
Loveswept Harlequin. Both books are out of print.
Other times, first novels are our favorite. Certainly Twilight caught me up in the Stephenie Meyer saga and I regretted every novel I read thereafter. I can remember the very first Harry Potter book. Maybe it wasn’t Rowling’s best work, but it is my favorite. Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first book. Manhunting, one of my favorite books of all time, was Jennifer Crusie’s first book. Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins was the second to the last of her backlist that I read but it remains my favorite of all the Higgins’ books (Harlequin recently released it in eform as well. Huzzah as Jayne would say).
Often the “first” novel really is only the first “published” as is evidenced by the series of interviews that Alyson H is undertaking for Dear Author. Alyson H has interviewed all the nominees of the RITA Best First Book award. Jennifer Morey said that her “first” book was actually the eighth she had written. Kimberly Killion’s Her One Desire was her third written book.
When I have met authors from time to time at RWA and elsewhere, I often don’t know what to say. Should I tell them that x book was my favorite even though it wasn’t their most recent? Usually I lamely say “I’ve read you!” with as bright a smile as I can generate (this is generally 30 watts short of a 40 watt smile). I would think that authors want readers’ most favorite book to be the most recently published because that would mean that the author gets better with every book. I’m not unconvinced that is the reader’s expectation as well. Certainly I expect the next book to be at least as good the last one.
What do you think as readers? What are your favorite firsts? Do you expect authors’ works to grow as time passes and backlists grow? As an author, do you care if the reader’s favorite book is your first book?