The Shame of Accomplishment

If you have just published your first novel, congratulations to you. For now, you can bask in the warm afterglow of having accomplished something you may have always wanted to do. Enjoy. You should probably stop reading this now.

There will come a time when you will look back on your first book with the shame of accomplishment. You will be sick of that book. You will be tired of talking about it, promoting it, reading from it, plugging it, writing about it, answering questions about it, even reading reviews of it.

Worse yet, you will have grown as an author and you will have so much more skill, and finesse, so many more tools than when you penned that first book. You’ll see things you did in that book that will make you wince. You may occasionally regret having used your own name when you published it. You may even be thinking about changing your name now just to get out from under it.

Your first book is out there on Amazon, smiling stupidly at you. Remember when you made out that time under the bleachers with whoever it was, and maybe you were a little drunk and really regretted it, then you see them years later at a class reunion and they’re telling everyone the story about how you two made out? It’s like that.

Congratulations. Now you are a real author. If you have experienced this, you are normal—well, as normal as you can be and still be an author. I’m not just relating my own experience here. I know some other authors who feel the same way about their first efforts.

K.S. Brooks has published something like ten books. She says, “Taking pride in your first book is like placing that little plastic trophy you won when you got your yellow belt up on the mantle with your Oscars.”

Okay, well maybe not everybody can relate to the Oscar thing, but I think the message is clear. She’s not crazy about her first book anymore and she says it happened almost right away. She wants to burn it, stab it, shoot it, then burn it again. Her first book is still out there and still getting five-star reviews.

It’s the same for me. My first novel got really good reviews and still does. It didn’t become an international best-seller, but most of the people who read it really seemed to enjoy it. I am personally sick of it. I can’t look at it now without thinking of all the things I’d do differently.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every author experiences this. There may be some rare few whose skill was so honed, so fine-tuned, that by the time they put pen to paper on their first book, they were able to render a tome that set the bar for their future performance. I don’t want to mention any names here (McNally), but I think these people (Cantwell) are probably (Berkom) the exception.

Most of us will learn a lot as we go. So, I feel good about feeling bad about my first book. How do you feel about yours?

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

28 thoughts on “The Shame of Accomplishment”

  1. Since I’m still working on the second book, I still feel that my first is amazing. I’m more worried about the sophomore slump at the moment. Second books, especially for a series are a daunting task. I’ve lost all enthusiasm for marketing the first. When the second is close to release, I’ll start flogging the first again.

  2. I’m with Karla. Working on the second book and pretty proud of the first. Getting tired of marketing the first while expending my writing energy on the second though. As a songwriter, though, I can totally relate. I have some I look at and say “Did I really write that?” At least I realize I have learned a lot from the experience. Thanks for the post!

  3. Since I published my first novel through a vanity press (hey, what did I know back then?) I am now going through it again (and again) after having it professionally edited and fixing it up to where it should have been all along. I have 6 more novels out there, and to have to go back and fix the first one up has been painful. But I feel better that when I get it back out there, it’s not the red-headed step child anymore. Am I tired of looking at it? Heck yeah! But I know this is for the best. I plan on doing KDP select with it, so it better be pretty because I hope to get lots of downloads with it.

    Tired fingers crossed.

    Excellent post.

  4. Very timely piece. I just launched my very first novel today and I’m floating up there somewhere on that ubiquitous cloud. I’d kinda like to stay there for a while if I can

  5. Very interesting post. I still like my first book, but do occasionally wince and cross my fingers that people will like it. There are definitely things I’d love to do to improve it.
    I think it’s awesome how much we grow as writers and I want to keep on feeling this way, because I want each book to be better than the one before it 🙂

  6. Scared to death of embarrassing myself now.
    Am writing the second draft.
    Yet, I have to take my chance in life.
    Forewarned is forearmed.
    I will stay ready to wince.

  7. That’s it exactly, Melissa. We certainly hope to make each book better than the last, and could not do so if we didn’t feel there was some room for improvement in our writing and ourselves that can only occur with growth, experience and maturity as writers.

    We almost always prefer to be engaged about our latest works. Those are the ones that fuel our excitement. We move on.

  8. My first book, I had it taken off the market even though there still are some floating around out there. I replaced it with a new (Rewritten) book because it was part of a series. Still I get embarassed when those that have bought it bring it up. I am learning with each passing book and hope that each one not of the series that I write is better than the last one!
    You are right, we grow as we write very few are lucky to pen great books the first time around!

  9. When I read my first book I want to tear it up and start over – but, it is loved by those who read it. So who am I to complain? I just keep wanting the next one to be better. The bar keeps getting higher.

  10. There are tons of things I would have done differently with the first book (tons and tons and then a couple more tons), but it was a true learning experience. sure, some things about it make me wince, but I remain proud of it as I make my way through its sequel and am already excited about where I want to go with its conclusion in the third. Maybe if I had read this first, though, I would have started with a stand-alone just in case 🙂

  11. Wait ’til you’re editing book 3 and outlining book 4, Karla. “Oh yeah, right, book 1 — that was the one with the owl on the cover, I think…” 😉

  12. It’s always so validating to hear other writers echo the sentiments of our early experiences, and I smiled as I read this together with the comments.

    I spent years writing my first book, never finishing it, loving it at first, coming to despise it as my writing skill evolved, always editing, and editing some more, still never finishing the story, abandoning it again until it became the entity in the attic mocking me in the still of night. Haunting me, insisting to my somewhat obsessive-compulsive tendency that I get it the help it needed.

    It wasn’t the first book I published though, and even though I had moved on to many other stories, still, it lurked there in the background, demanding that I don’t waste the years I spent on it. But I just couldn’t face it, disgusted every time I looked at its sorry ass. And then when I finally did complete the story, I fell in love with it again, the writing becoming so easy that I couldn’t wait to implement that same skill set into part I – which I did earlier this year.

    While one of the hardest things I ever had to do was to correct all that amateurishness, so much so that it might’ve been easier to start from scratch, I felt I owed it to that book and to myself to sort it out once and for all, after all, it took me through my entire writing journey.

    Today I have a sense of accomplishment for having finally completed it, happy with it; look forward to seeing it on occasion, and while I still tell people it was my first born, I no longer cringe or apologise for it, also adding (in so many words) that my awkward child grew up and matured very nicely indeed thank you very much. And I know I shouldn’t favour one child over another, but I think I always will. 🙂

  13. My first book was a huge learning experience. HUGE. Since I couldn’t stab or burn the ebook, I considered unpublishing it to erase it from existence but then there would be no second edition to try and redeem the mistakes made in the first. The crazy thing is, it continues to sell and the positive reviews far outweigh the negative. Readers like it – when the right readers get their hands on it. I cringe when I think of the typo-riddled, over-wordy first editions that will be forever floating around out there.

  14. My first publishing endeavor was amazing! One click and whoosh! Instant self-importance! I’m a bloody author! AUUUUU-THOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRR!

    Then I needed to find a bit of information and I remembered I wrote a question on it, so I looked it up in the book. Oops. That sentence doesn’t make sense. Oh hell, why didn’t spellcheck notice that word was misspelled? Jumpin’ pie-jiggers, that answer’s actually wrong! Raptor Jesus, I forgot to put in a copyright statement!

    Needless to say, even something as lame as a quiz book requires a bit more editing than pressing F7.

  15. My first book is still sitting on my computer in obscurity, thank goodness. I know my writing improved since my first published book, but four years later, I still believe in it. Whenever I start to doubt that, I try to direct my shame to the computer file that has only been seen by me.

  16. My first book came out in 1991 – a collection of all my awarded and published poems. My second book was my first novel, which was rejected dozens of times and then found a home, eventually to be taken up by BeWrite Books. It does well, but is no masterpiece, although some reviewers thought so.

    My second novel went nowhere, and is still there.

    My third became my second, and it created something of a wave, which I still enjoy, although it’s no tsunami.

    My third novel is the one I HAD to write – there are things on a writer’s chest that have to be dealt with, and that book dealt with them. Done and dusted, now, to some acclaim.

    I am now writing my fourth novel, which is really what I would like to think of as the first real thing. It’s shaping up well… famously … and will be out by Easter.

    What do I think about its precedents? Yeah, well – some parts of them are excellent. You all know what that means. There are parts I’d rather not have shown to the whole world. But such is the turn of the page for the author, as Stephen puts it so well here.

    Hopefully, enough readers will write what they think, and my fourth will prove to be the one I should have waited for.

  17. Ahhh Stephen, reading down the page at the various reactions, a lot of raw nerves there I feel. I didn’t even try to publish the first book I wrote, it’s a sci-fi, and every now and then I go back and re-edit it; actually rewrite is more accurate, and it doesn’t matter how many times I do that, the next time I look at it is another radical re-edit/write.

    Great post, Stephen, up to your usual thought provoking standard.

  18. Ooh I feel better now. Hate the first book so much that I nearly didn’t write the next. In fact, come to think of it, without Indies I probably wouldn’t be moonlighting from formatting it right now.

  19. Uh-huh. ‘The Urge to Edit’ – which must be fought down every time you find an adverb too many, or too pat a description. *sigh* But you learn from your first book, you really do…

  20. I can’t read my first. It’s too scary. I had to close my eyes and dream up a happy place while I was writing it. Sick of it? Hell, I don’t even remember enough about the thing to be sick of it!

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