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Firsts: Is it Better to Have Your First Book the Worst...

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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?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

42 Comments

  1. Nadia
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 04:43:46

    I think that readers expect their favorite authors to improve. But here’s the dilemma –

    If the author does indeed improve, her readers may just shrug and say, “Just as expected” because she delivered a better book than before, i.e. meet expectations nothing more.

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  2. Nora Roberts
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 04:59:58

    Jane, you impudent little wench, I don’t care which of my books is a reader’s favorite–I’m just delighted if they have a favorite.

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  3. Gina
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 05:39:47

    If I read a book by a new author that blows me away I usually buy the backlist – in that group I have my favorites and my so-so’s, but as I read a lot of series books / authors, sometimes the backlist is essential in the world building. When I started the In Death series it was on a borrowed book that turned out to be the 8th in the series so I went back and bought the whole set and have remained a die hard Eve Dallas fan since – accepting that not every book can be perfect but most fall pretty close. Same with the Dark Hunter series – I very much enjoy most of those books but I felt Acheron – the crowning jewel – fell short of the expectation hyped by the buildup. The Numbers series by Janet Evanovich hooked me in the begining but by the middle of the set I was ready to throw the books against the wall – yet I’m hooked on the series so with hope I continue to buy because I’ve just got to know who she ends up with. Taking the good with the not so good with the “wrap it up already” is the life of a series reader.

    In this years Barbara Vey birthday bash I was one of the lucky winners who received 4 of the books from the 16 Famous Firsts. Books from authors like Linda Howard (Tears of a Renegade) and Stella Cameron (Moontide). I found that the authors voices were not as polished, not as passionate and definitely not as engaging as their more recent works. I enjoyed all four, they wouldn’t go in my “would read again” section, but they remain key books in my collection because it shows the range and growth of the authors.

    Series like Twilight and Harry Potter suffer from their own fame and hype. We enjoyed the first books because they were new and unexpected, an enjoyable discovery. The subsequent books got so mired in their own media hype – the midnight madness parties for the later Harry Potter books, the press, the contests, the movies – by the time the finish product arrived it could not live up to expectation. Enjoyable yes, but not quite the holy grail of literary works.

    IMHO

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  4. Jennifer Estep
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 06:28:51

    The very first book I read by an author (no matter if it’s number 2 or 3 or 30) is usually my favorite because that’s the book that introduces me to an author’s voice, style, tone, etc. That’s the one that makes me want to read more by them. Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughn is one book that comes to mind for me.

    You didn’t talk about authors who write in more than one genre, but sometimes, I find that I like one more than the other. For example, Sugar Daddy is my favorite Lisa Kleypas book, not one of her historicals.

    I think anyone who writes on a regular basis learns more about her craft as she goes along. It’s practice, like everything else.

    I don’t know that I expect an author’s work to get “better,” per se. (There will always be some voices and writing styles that just don’t click with me.) But I do think works should get more “polished” in terms of plot, characters, etc. I know I learn something with every book I write, which I can hopefully use in the next book.

    As an author, it doesn’t matter to me which one of my books is a reader’s favorite. I’m always happy that a) someone took the time to read me in the first place and b) was nice enough to let me know they enjoyed my work. :-)

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  5. Andrea S
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 06:31:37

    Hm… go many sides to the issue…

    I do expect my authors to get better/grow over time. I don’t want to be reading the same thing over and over, I want the writer to grow and change and come up with fresh perspective. But that doesn’t mean I expect the writing to improve, I don’t expect La Nora or Jenny Crusie to become better writers. I think they’re already fabulous writers, so if their technical skill doesn’t improve I wouldn’t mind.

    On the other hand, new writers like JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer could use the improvement. I haven’t read the Twilight books, but I know JK Rowling developed her writing as she went. She became more skilled at her craft, and I appreciate that about her. Through the grapevine (called the internets) I’ve heard one of the disapointing things about the Twilight books is that Meyer failed to grow as a writer and stayed pretty much the same.

    So maybe what I’m saying is that writers should be honing their craft, but that can mean different things for writers at different levels of experience.

    I can say HP 7 is probably my favorite. And Bet Me will remain my favorite Crusie for many, many years. As a reader, just because a writer’s new book isn’t my “favorite” doesn’t mean she/he has done badly. It just means I didn’t connect as much with the new characters or topic.

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  6. GrowlyCub
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 06:33:55

    Mary Jo Putney made a comment about ‘voice’ at some point in time when we were discussing not liking newer books by an author as much.

    It stuck with me, because I’ve found that often the first book I’ve read by an author stays my favorite and Mary Jo’s point (if I remember right) was that that’s because the voice was new to me. With subsequent books, the writing might get better/more polished but that ‘aha’ moment of discovery isn’t there any more and fatigue can set in because we always look for that ‘new’ spark and it won’t be there with this same author.

    So, it’s a trade off between getting a ‘reliable’ read or getting that excitement of ‘new discovery’.

    I don’t really know what the solution is. I really dislike it that so many of my early favorites either changed sub-genres or completely abandoned romance, but at the same time there are a couple of other early favorites I don’t read any more because their books all seem the same. Guess I’m just fickle! :) Thankfully, I’ve found many new to me authors via my online reading here and at SBTB and other sundry web presences.

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  7. Kati
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 06:45:19

    Irish Thoroughbred was the very first romance I read (thanks, Nora!) in 1983, and I fell hard for it. Of course, I was 12 and they TOTALLY DO IT in chapter 10, which seemed so naughty at the time. I recently re-read it for a column that I wrote at another blog, and I have to say, yes, the story is dated, and the hero is um, a bit of an ass, but the construct of the story was still well done and I love, love, love when Nora writes the Irish. So I still have fond memories.

    The book though that sticks out for me as a stellar first effort is Splendid by Julia Quinn. While Quinn’s style has definitely been refined, I remember reading it and thinking, “this woman has serious dialog chops!”

    Julie James also wrote a terrific first book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive.

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  8. sallahdog
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 06:51:14

    If your waiting to see who Evanovich pairs up with Stephanie,your in for a dissapointment… She is not following a story arc, just doing various vignettes (which is the part that bugs me, because after a couple of years as a bondsman, Steph is the same screwup, which in the real world would get her killed), its also lending her stories a sameness (I couldn’t at a moments notice tell you the plot of book 8 as a opposed to book 9)

    Some of my favorite authors early books are my favorites, and I fall out of favor with the writing. With LKH its that her Anita became a character I could no longer root for. With JR Ward it was because her world building got more confusing and the story needed severe weeding. Crusie i still enjoy, but agree my favorites are probably Manhunting and Welcome to Temptation (although i enjoyed the heck out of Agnes and the hitman.

    Some authors its their middle work which are my keepers.. linda howards, Mr Perfect and Open Season are her jewels whereas some of her early titles are wallbangers and her latest titles just haven’t connected with me. I think sometimes too, the author may not have changed, but my tastes have…

    I hate to think that someday I will be saying the same thing about Patricia Briggs books (she is my go to read at the moment, and her books are coming out on audible which I LOVE) , but I guess anything is possible… Just last week I went through and got rid of a ton of old dogeared Johanna Lindsays and have no interest in even reading her new Mallory novel (those were my keepers in her books)..

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  9. KeriM
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:06:16

    Speaking of this topic, I recently put my books back in order, I was worried about not having enough room for a couple of the letters and a I realized, that there wasn’t any problems as I didn’t buy/read the author anymore. I got to thinking why not, I mean Joanna Lindsay was one of my top autobuys, I didn’t even read the back I just picked it up. I think I just outgrew the author. I couldn’t tell the characters apart anymore. Same with Linda Lael Miller, Contance O’Banyan, Iris Johannsen.

    IMHO, some of my authors no longer write with the same conviction to me that they once did, Linda Howard, Karen Robards, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, Kay Hooper. Is it because they feel like they are boxed into a formula or tired as writers, they have changed or did I just change?

    Then there are those authors that I wish would go back to her roots and write her romance/romantic suspense like they did in the past, such as Tami Hoag and Sandra Brown. They are still very strong writers, I just don’t connect with them now as I used to.

    But once in awhile I pick up one of my authors that used to be an autobuy, but isn’t anymore and I get blown away all over again, like Betina Krahn. I read The Wife Test the other day and I was reminded all over again why she used to be an autobuy for me, I loved that book.

    As always though there are always new authors to become the next autobuys, Susan K. Butcher, Karen Rose, Victoria Dahl, Pamela Clare, Kristan Higgins, Laura Griffin and Julia Spencer-Fleming. These are the authors where I have to find some room in my 14 and counting bookcases. :-)

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  10. ilona andrews
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:19:16

    I hate my first book. It was my third manuscript and I wish I had a chance to severely revise it. I chronically think that every book I’ve written is the worst book I’ve written until it hits print, but yes, if I could get a chance to edit Magic Bites, it would make my day.

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  11. Lori
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:21:00

    I’ve been a Cruisie fangirl forever and am so sad to say that I can’t even guarantee I’d buy her anymore. I could go on and on why Crazy For You is my fave romance novel evah, but her recent co-writes have been so meh for me that my little fangirl heart broke.

    I’ve felt that certain authors reach a place and they get lazy. Robert Parker’s Spencer series was my all-time favorite for years and I can’t read him anymore because it feels like half the book is missing. He’s gotten too darn lazy to add meat to his bare-bones story and the reader is starving to death.

    On the other hand: my best friend is a NR fangirl and has given me book after book and I never connected or finished any. But then an impulse buy of Vision in White and I want more.

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  12. Mary Stella
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:31:51

    As an author, I’m just darned happy that a reader liked my book whether it was the first or the second. I’ll admit, there’s a twinge of an ouch if someone says, “I liked both of your books but the second was so much better”. Admittedly, that ouch might happen because I translated that as, “I liked both your books but compared to your second, the first one sucked” which is all my insecurity and not reader reaction. *g*

    I think my first book is good. I think the second one is better. If I ever finish a third, I hope it’s better than the second and first. I believe that I should always work on improving at the craft of writing. It would be horrible to have an entire body of work out there and hear readers say, “Jesus, what happened to her? Her early books were SO much better than the crap she puts out now.”

    That said, I think it’s also possible that one book in a writer’s career will stand out as a tour de force. It’s the extra-special, super, amazing story and characters that readers could very well remember long after they’ve forgotten their own kids’ names. Creating that classic doesn’t mean that everything else is shlock, just that this particular book blew past excellent and hit the realm of extraordinary.

    Oh, don’t I wish I had one of those!

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  13. joanne
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:47:54

    Krentzs’ first books have the same hero/heroine set up that was often expected and accepted in earlier romance books. Very few authors deviated from those patterns so I suppose she, like many, many others, wrote what the publishers were buying. I don’t fault an author for that just as I don’t go out on a search and kill mission to find the thundering blackguard designer who made shoulder pads popular. It was just the style of the time and at the time it seemed to work. If they don’t go beyond that old framework than I don’t continue reading their books.

    The thing that makes me pick up an authors’ work for the first time is the trope. A writers’ voice can be absolutely wonderful but if the story blurb doesn’t appeal to me than I’m not even going to try their work. If it’s a trope I like then it becomes the rhythm of the authors’ writing that decides whether or not I look for more of their stories. A review or a recommendation can not tell me if I’m going to connect with that rhythm.

    To answer the question: I don’t necessarily expect the authors’ newest book to be better but I do expect it to be as good as their previous works.

    rant: AND speaking of wenches. Really does anyone know now —or have you ever known —- any man that calls a woman VIXEN? arrrrrrrrrrrgh. end/rant

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  14. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:57:42

    I’d much rather have my first book be my worst! Otherwise, what an anticlimax, for me and my readers.

    As a reader, I’ve loved a lot of first books. I think part of it is discovering a new author, that sense of excitement. Also, some first books are more polished than later efforts, because the author has had to revise it a dozen times to get it published.

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  15. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 08:04:21

    Jane, you impudent little wench, I don't care which of my books is a reader's favorite-I'm just delighted if they have a favorite.

    This is how I feel, even though I’ve only got two books to choose from so far . . . if someone likes an author enough to have a “favorite”, that says a lot.

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  16. azteclady
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 08:52:31

    I’m firmly sitting on the fence on this one, reverting back to my all time favorite “depends on the writer”

    Most writers seem to get better at the craft, so that yes, each book is “better” (for a subjective value of better) than the previous one.

    Then, it would seem, many (if not most of them) seem to hit a wall at some point wherein I no longer enjoy their work as much. They go a different direction, explore a different subgenre, what have you–their writing no longer resonates with me. Are their books no longer well written, form a relatively objective point of view? I doubt it–but I no longer enjoy them as much and, in most cases, stop reading their new stuff.

    And of course you have those writers whose first book or two are so gripping and fresh and wonderful that you overlook the technical aspects to get lost in the story (JKRowlings is a good example for me as well) but whose successive books seem to lose that je ne sais quoi that made that first book so amazing.

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  17. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 08:57:30

    As an author, I’d like to improve with each book-so I’d hope they’d like the first enough to try the next, and like that one more, so they try the next…and so on and so on.

    As a reader, I really don’t want the first book I read by an author to be so stellar that everything of theirs I read after just pales in comparison. I want to keep enjoying each one.

    There are a couple of series that I’ve dropped because the books started out awesome and then trickled away to…meh, not worth the time to read it. I love looking forward to a book and being blown away while reading it. I hate it when I wait for one and then I buy it, try to read it and I’m like… I waited months for THIS???

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  18. Christine Rimmer
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 09:24:56

    Favorite first: Kushiel’s Dart (that was Carey’s first, right?) and Gabaldon’s Outlander. I’ve loved every one of Carey’s books since (well, except the ones I didn’t read, Godslayer and Banewreaker, as the back cover copy seemed too Lord of the Rings-ish and I don’t need any more of that) but the first stays with me, I guess like the first Bruce Springsteen record I ever heard. It’s about hearing/reading a particular–and amazing–voice for the first time. You never get to do that again. As for Gabaldon, well, Outlander is my favorite by a hundred miles of the two or three I’ve read.

    Re my own first: I live in fear it will be reissued someday. :-O

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  19. votermom
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 09:27:00

    What I see many good authors falling into is this– their early books are tightly edited. Then they become so popular that the the publishers, knowing they will sell millions of copies, become lax about editing. Or maybe the relationship becomes too weighted on the authors side? I don’t know. All I see is the effect — tightly written books giving way to more bloated ones.
    At least that’s what I think happened to authors like Anne Rice, LKH, even Rowling (Harry Potter #7 could have been tightened up a lot in the middle — all that wandering around camping).
    Sometimes it’s the opposite — instead of becoming bloated, the books become sparse and skeletal — barely more than outlines. I would guess it has the same cause.

    Hopefully my favorite authors will avoid this trap and not become victims of their own success.

    (FWIW, I love reading big fat books — but I still want them well-edited and packed with content.)

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  20. Darlynne
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 09:38:08

    Booksellers I know often refer to the “sophomore slump,” when the second book isn’t quite as good as the first. This happens when expectations after the first book are sky high; everyone wonders whether the author can pull off the same brilliance again or if the first book was all s/he had. In those cases, the third title is a fairly good indicator of what to expect from then on, IMO.

    @Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites is what made you an auto-buy for me and the next titles reconfirmed that good decision. If the day ever comes where you edit MB to your satisfaction, I’d sign up to see how you would improve on something that’s already excellent. /fangirl

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  21. Barb
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 09:48:30

    And remember, Uneasy Alliance wasn’t Jayne Ann Krentz’ first published book. She did several for McFadden. But the one that got me hooked on her was her first Candle Light Ecstasy Romance–Gentle Pirate. And yes, her books are still on my “gotta read” soonest list, no matter what name she puts on the cover. And I’ve read all of Nora Roberts’, too. And I keep reading both authors because they consistently deliver a well-written, entertaining story.

    And, like the other responders, there are some authors that I have given up on for the usual reason–I no longer enjoy reading their books. And there are too many books and too little time to waste reading books you don’t enjoy.

    Note to Ilona Andrews (remark #10 above). Don’t worry-I really liked your first book. You are on my “must grab when next one comes out” list.

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  22. Renee
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 10:18:33

    I love that feeling of subsequent seeing books improve. Ilona Andrews and Kat Richardson are 2 that come to mind where, while I enjoyed their first books enough to read the second, the second was better than the first, and the third was better than the second. This makes me even more excited for each new book. That being said, though, idk how much of it (for these or other series books in particular) is due to the writer getting “better” or that they have had a chance to develop characters and worlds over the course of the previous books. I suppose it’s a combination of the two.

    However, I have experienced the flip side of that. A while back, I read 2 books which totally blew me away. This was partly because I didn’t have any preconceived expectations of either the books, or the authors. Recently, when their next books came out, I was disappointed. Partly, because the stories weren’t as strong as their predecessors. But, I think they were also the recipients of my really high expectations based on those earlier books.

    So I guess this is the really long way of saying what Azteclady said. It depends.

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  23. Kerry Allen
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 10:39:55

    An author has the luxury of polishing that first published novel for years, if necessary, to make it catch the eye of agents/editors. Once they have a deal, the next book might be due in a year. The year after, the deadlines might shrink to 6 months—or less. I’ve watched many, many authors’ quality suffer from the multiple-books-a-year expectation as their careers take off because they no longer have the time to devote so much attention to making each book shine.

    As for “Not-the-Current-Release is my favorite book of yours,” any writer who takes offense at that needs to lighten up. Going out on a limb here, but just maybe, possibly, perhaps that’s not a criticism of the current work, but an adknowledgement that a character or theme or setting in the previous book really struck a chord with that reader, causing it to become their favorite. That counts as a job well done regardless of where it occurred in the backlist.

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  24. Vivian Arend
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 10:54:29

    As for “Not-the-Current-Release is my favorite book of yours,” any writer who takes offense at that needs to lighten up. Going out on a limb here, but just maybe, possibly, perhaps that's not a criticism of the current work, but an acknowledgment that a character or theme or setting in the previous book really struck a chord with that reader, causing it to become their favorite. That counts as a job well done regardless of where it occurred in the backlist.

    Amen!

    Especially for authors who write in a variety of genres. There are books that impact me as a reader because of what’s happened/happening/about to happen in my life. It says nothing about finding anything lacking in their other works.

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  25. Lusty Reader
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 12:06:37

    I never thought of it from the author’s persepctive before, but that does make sense that they would want their most recent to be the best due to improvements on their end.

    I can only speak from the reader’s side though, and more often than not I find it’s the FIRST book that I love, re-read, and gaze at fondly on my keeper shelf. Examples ahoy:

    Devil’s Bride, by Stephanie Laurens (1st Cynster Book)
    My Lady Notorious, by Jo Beverly (1st Malloren book)
    Candle in the Window, Christina Dodd’s first book published

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  26. Anthea Lawson
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 12:46:49

    @Christine (#18)

    From an interview with Jaqueline Carey:

    “I spent a solid ten years writing without a significant break, working a day job to support myself. It’s discouraging. Not at first, but after a while, rejection wears on you. In the end, it made me a better writer, because I continued to keep pushing myself, but there were definitely times when I thought, “Maybe it’s time to give up, go back to school and get a real career.” In fact, Kushiel’s Dart was my make-it-or-break-it book, because I knew it was by far and away the best thing I’d ever written.”

    So although it was Carey’s first published book, it was ten years writing for her to get to that point. Perseverance!

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  27. MB
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 13:18:44

    It goes both ways for me–I think it’s a matter of taste.

    I much prefer the more recent books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Linda Howard, Jennifer Crusie, etc.

    But some authors have become unreadable (Laurell K. Hamilton).

    And some I’m still willing to give a second chance. They were previously on my auto-read or auto-buy list but I found the last one or few to be so appalling and I became hugely disappointed/disgruntled. Christine Feehan’s latest was a case in point. I also didn’t like Loretta Chase’s last (although the new one sounds wonderful) and I didn’t care for Mary Balogh’s either. Lori Foster’s newest was just plain strange. Stephanie Laurens are like reading the same thing over and over. Suzanne Brockmann’s…just don’t much do it for me anymore.

    Sometimes, it is because I feel manipulated. Sometimes it’s because I feel they’ve slacked off, and sometimes it’s because I feel that they’ve carried me off in a direction that I have no desire or willingness to go. Time to hit the brakes!

    But, after all, it’s my choice to read or not read, correct?

    And, if an author doesn’t intrigue me with the first book in the series–it’s unlikely that I will continue with it. Weaker 1st book are expected as the author gets into her stride. But you’d better make sure that it’s strong enough to make me want to glom that second. Georgia Evans “Bloody Good” is a great example for me. As is Naomi Novik and Charlaine Harris. I couldn’t wait to continue!

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  28. Kathleen
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 13:22:05

    As a reader, I’m not one of those who find that my first is my favorite. In actuality, it is more common that my favorites are those in their midlist…when they had proven themselves enough that they could write what THEY wanted, as opposed to what the editors wanted…but still new enough that they were edited well. Some authors’ series also start to sound tired after the umpteenth book…so when the author moves on to a new genre, or a new world within the genre, etc. I often find myself loving it more than newer books in an “old” world.

    As an author…I hope my books improve as time goes on! Yet, I hope that my world-building and character development are such that readers reading my yet-to-be-published backlist still enjoy them because of the story that’s told.

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  29. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 13:22:51

    Harry Potter #7 could have been tightened up a lot in the middle -’ all that wandering around camping

    Amen. We called it “endless teen angst in a tent”. Lots of griping about “will it ever end?” I kind of think Rowling went off the rails after book 3, when the books suddenly quadrupled in length.

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  30. Moth
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 13:57:28

    I kind of think Rowling went off the rails after book 3, when the books suddenly quadrupled in length.

    Ditto. Three’s my favorite. For the movies and the books.

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  31. Marianne McA
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 14:07:44

    Amen. We called it “endless teen angst in a tent”. Lots of griping about “will it ever end?” I kind of think Rowling went off the rails after book 3, when the books suddenly quadrupled in length.

    And just on a your-mileage-may-vary note, I loved the tent stuff – it was the highlight of the book for me. Something about it really appealed – I think I don’t think much about what I read, and had always accepted the convention that the hero/heroine on a magical quest would move smoothly from challenge to challenge – and I loved the idea that in ‘real life’ one wouldn’t have a clue how to do that.
    They could have sat ineffectually in a tent for another three months, and I’d still have been happy.
    (My complaint with that book would be that I found the bits about Dumbledore’s past tedious.)

    My mum would agree with you about the series: she – to better communicate with the grandchildren – followed the series to book 4, but gave up on book 5 murmuring that the book needed to be edited. I think, however, that the series wouldn’t have had the same appeal without all the unnecessary detail.

    As fot the first book in general, I think most authors get better, often a great deal better – but sometimes the first book, even if technically not as accomplished, has something special about it. So I’ll sit on the fence with azteclady.

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  32. Mandy Hubbard
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 15:43:29

    As an author, I don’t care which book is their favorite. Just that they enjoyed one of them. Course my first novel just came out last week so maybe when it’s a distant memory, I’ll want the CURRENT book to be the one they love. Think of it like a CD– it can be a brand new album, and we’ll all have different favorites. It’s not even that the artist “improved” with each song. It’s that each song will appeal to different people in different ways.

    As a reader, i dont want to be totally disapointed by a book but I don’t expect to like each one successively more than the last one.

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  33. Christine Rimmer
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 16:57:31

    Anthea, (#26) Well, I guess I had to know that– I mean, in my heart. Even though it still pleases me to imagine Carey springing fullgrown–creatively speaking–out of Zeus’s head or some such.

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  34. Diana Peterfreund
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 17:39:33

    I’m with those who think it depends.

    Also, I think there are some comparisons of apples to oranges in this post. Let Stephenie Meyer write 173 more books (or even just be in this business for another 22 years) and then see how she’s progressing compared to Nora Roberts. No matter how popular she is, no matter how many millions of copies of her books have sold, she’s still a relative newcomer.

    In fact, I think that writers who are as popular as Meyer or Rowling from their debut novel have a much harder time moving on or progressing. There’s a lot of scrutiny there, and a lot of pressure — perhaps even pressure not to “mess with the formula” — because it’s often when writers take chances and write something different that you see a great leap forward in quality.

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  35. Kay Sisk
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 17:41:33

    As an author, I’m thrilled when someone says they loved one of my books–and I don’t care which one! If they say they preferred one of them over the other–then they’ve read two!

    As a reader, I believe in the sophomore book slump. The first one was polished to within an ounce of its page count and sometimes the second one seems rushed, as if the author had to make a deadline and did so under fear that the second wouldn’t be as well received as the first.

    All that to explain why my second is still in the box. In the closet. Taped shut.

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  36. kelly krysten
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 18:21:58

    Lisa Kleypas actually rewrote her first book, IIRC. And I hear that everyone praises Christina Dodd’s first book above all others. I wonder what to say to an author if my fave is an older one, too.
    Although, I know that Julia Quinn takes great pride in the fact that so many people have completely different faves of her books. I think that’s really cool, too. She’s such a consistent author.
    Great blog, Jane! You’re so awesome at analyzing things.:)

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  37. library addict
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 18:23:42

    Count me among the “it depends” crowd, too.

    Obviously something in the first book I read by an author has to catch my attention enough for me to want to read another book by them. There are times when I think it's a very good thing I didn't discover a particular author until mid-career because his/her first published book didn't have that “something” and I would not have read them further and therefore missed out on some of my favorite books. But then there are authors I was lucky enough to discover at the very beginning of their career and, as a reader, it has been fun to follow them through their various ups and downs. Discovering a new-to-me author with a backlist can also be loads of fun. And much easier now with the ability to find/buy books on-line. I still remember snail-mailing used bookstores all over the country back in the day. In some ways I have more sentimental attachments to those hard-to-find books simply because it was such work to get some of them – LOL. And if they didn't live up to my expectations after expending all that time and effort to track them down, the disappointment was greater than if I obtained them easily.

    I don't love every new book by my favorite authors, but it also takes more than one bad book for me to kick them off my favorites list.

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  38. SonomaLass
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 20:02:31

    There’s definitely something special about the first experience of a good author — as others have said up-thread, your first encounter has that “wow!” factor. And some authors do get better at what they do, so that later books are better written, while others fall into a rut and later books seem like re-treads.

    For me, my favorite book by an author is usually something very personal. With Diana Gabaldon, for example, my favorite is Voyager, because Jamie and Claire are older and are reunited, and that speaks to me. With some authors I don’t really have a favorite — I couldn’t pick my favorite Nora Roberts, although of course there are some of hers I loved more than others. Sometimes it’s just my mood or the point in my life when I read a book that makes it really work for me, or not.

    I do expect my favorite writers to keep writing well, and to write what they want to write. Sometimes that means that they go in directions that aren’t as much to my taste as their earlier work, and then maybe I don’t read all their stuff anymore. That’s okay, because if it’s good, there are other readers who will like it, and there are always other authors for me to try. Other times I follow them to a different place and find out that I like it. I love it when that happens.

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  39. Kaetrin
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 23:50:05

    When it comes to favourites I think it depends on the book, the reader, the timing and some kind of “x factor”.

    Sometimes a book will resonate because it came along at a particular time in life and re-reading bring backs it all back.

    Sometimes there’s just something in that particular story which sticks.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with whether it is an earlier book or a later book necessarily.

    For example, my favourite Mary Balogh book is “Heartless” which is one of her earlier books. I still read and love her books but that one is just the best for me – something about it just “zinged” and I don’t think I can explain it better than that.

    I also love Jenny Crusie’s work – my favourite is “Bet Me” even though I have enjoyed all of her other books.

    In both cases, it was neither the first nor the most recent of that author’s that I’ve read.

    When I first started reading the In Death series, I felt a wonderful excitement that I had found such a cool new series. While I have enjoyed some books in the series better than others, I still look forward to a new installment with that same (if not more – after all, I’ve a fair idea of what I’ll be in for now) excitement.

    Oh, I saw Jenny Crusie’s Sizzle in a 3 book anthology (all her work, but I can’t remember the name of the othe 2 novellas) released here in Australia by Harlequin earlier this year.

    While I don’t think it’s true of any of the authors I’ve mentioned above, sometimes an author, rather than getting better with time, actually gets worse – it feels like they’re not doing it for love anymore and it’s become a bit of a formula. For those authors their earlier work is better. Others get better with time and others kick ass right from the start.

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  40. Zoe Winters
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 17:59:02

    I hope an author’s work grows as time passes, I hope my work will grow as time passes. If I thought what I’ve written so far is the best I could ever do, I think I’d just stop writing.

    But I think part of why so many 3rd or 4th books (especially in a series) really start to suck, is it feels rushed. Authors are only human and they have limited time to write and edit, but it seems the pressures get higher and higher and that’s not really very conducive to creative flow IMO.

    Also, many publishers start wanting more than one book a year. Some writers can produce like this and still produce good work, but I don’t think I ever could, and I know of many author’s whose work has suffered considerably when their publishers started wanting to produce the work faster than an author could reasonably write one (meaning more than just a rough draft that goes through a couple of passes edit-wise. I swear some later books in a series I think it’s a rough draft that got hastily edited, rather than work that has truly gone through the process it should before reaching a reader.)

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  41. DeeCee
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 21:46:34

    Count me on the “it depends” side as well.

    votermom:
    What I see many good authors falling into is this- their early books are tightly edited. Then they become so popular that the the publishers, knowing they will sell millions of copies, become lax about editing.

    Absolutely my biggest complaint is editing. Charlaine Harris got so much attention when the Sookie books took off that she’s having to backpedal now and explain away all the inconsistencies in editing and fact checking. Yet, on the flip side, I love the Harry Potter books (specifically #5 & #7) simply because there is so much more to love and seeing the group grow up unsure of the future (much like in real life). I absolutely hated the first 3 HP books (sheer boredom), but I reread them all every year because I love the last 4 so much.

    Recently I began to go through my bookshelves and try to rediscover the old keepers. But I’ve found in the 10 years I’ve been reading heavily that my tastes have changed dramatically. I no longer just want the characters to get together and have a HEA-I want some part of the story to compel me to continue..to be on the edge of my seat. I ended up donating almost half of my “keepers” simply because I outgrew them.

    I think in a lot of ways the hype over new authors or the latest bestseller can greatly hurt the books. Expectations are so easy to dash. I remember I loved Project Daddy by Kate Perry back in 2006, but when the second book came along…not so much.

    When I first discovered the Stephanie Plum series, I was in love. I’d never read a funny mystery in my life, and they took me out of my reality for awhile. But when I started to expect Stephanie to become slightly realistic and pick a man for goober’s sake I was ruined. I don’t buy her books anymore. I just reread 1-6 when I need a laugh.

    I didn’t care for Twilight. I hated Bella. I loved New Moon (the scene with the red hair on the the water still creeps me out), and pretty much hated the rest of the series because I had wanted her writing to continue to improve. Meyer had so much publicity telling her everything she wrote was roses, that it didn’t seem like she had many thoughts beyond “let me just complete my contract and rake it in”. I compare Meyer to Patricia Cornwell. Lots of success very quickly, and then Cornwell seemingly goes off the deep end with the Jack the Ripper and her stories are never as well written.

    I think the sell out factor bothers me a lot as a reader too. When an author will bargain with readers for a story, suddenly insert every brand name possible it appears like they get a kickback, or changes an already established fact in their created world to suit someone better…its a red flag for me.

    Besides the editing, I just want quality original stories. I don’t want a cookie cutter story that could easily be #1 or #20 in the series. Its got to have progress. One thing I’ve noticed is whenever an author subtly or not so subtly changes their style, they say the story arc is changing-they’re gonna go in a new direction. Once in awhile that works, but its rare for me to continue reading that author if I struggle through one of the books.

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  42. Zoe Winters
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 14:59:53

    Hey DeeCee, I think there is a real danger of writers whether well-known or not to start believing their own press. The irony is that the second a writer starts to do that and thinks they can’t stand to improve, is the second they’re doomed. Rowling is one of the few authors who has gotten mega-famous who was consistent (and even improving in quality) throughout the Harry Potter series. Either she ignored all her press, or she was a wise enough woman to rise above it.

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