When Writers Meet Their Debut Books


speakman-darkthornOnce upon a time, I wrote a fantasy novel.

When completed, I gave it to author Terry Brooks to read. He ripped it apart in certain places. I put the thing back together. He re-read it—and said I’d written a damn fine book, one even he would be happy to blurb.

Then I got cancer. Cancer is not something you plan on. It happens. You deal with it the best you can, hopefully with a bit of grace and courage. I knew I could handle the treatment but I couldn’t handle the financial aspect of it. You see, I did not have health insurance as a freelance writer and I was about to be hit with a huge medical bill that no one should have to deal with during circumstances such as that.

At the time, I was submitting The Dark Thorn to a number of publishers in New York and gotten some interest but nothing panned out. Two different editors in chief got my foot in the door with small presses.

Let’s just say I took a different route. I decided to publish The Dark Thorn alongside Unfettered, a fantasy anthology I put together featuring short stories from some of the best writers in the genre. I thought having complete control over my book along with the publicity Unfettered would give me would be ideal.

Thankfully, I was right. And the reviews have been strong.

Then the books arrived.


All of that did not prepare me for holding The Dark Thorn in my hands though. Last week, copies arrived, boxed and beautiful, and I had an odd feeling.

I felt nothing.

That’s right. I felt nothing. No sense of accomplishment. No surreal feeling of universal lines coming together in one perfect moment where angels sing and demons curse. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t giddy. The book is beautiful but I felt… nothing.

I was perplexed by this. Have I edited the book so many times that it lost all magic for me? Did the ebook publication of the book that took place months earlier sully my hardcover experience, especially now that reviews have been written? Am I already so far along the sequel that book is all that matters? Or was something else going on?

I decided to write my writer friends, to find out what kind of experience they had with holding their debut novels.

And those experiences varied as wildly as

Jennifer Bosworth

Blake Charlton

charlton danceI’ve published only two books. It’s a joy. Both times, after opening the box, I danced like Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Mark Lawrence

We may find that ‘surreal’ has been overused by the time all the answers are in – probably because it’s entirely apposite. And it’s a good word because it’s mood neutral. I can’t claim to have been ecstatic, just bemused. Being an author was never an expectation of mine, and to see my work in book form was … odd. Pleasing, yes, but I didn’t dance around the room or need surgery to remove my perma-smile. With each book I find the interest in that physical copy moment wanes for me. My excitement is in writing the story, and then in hearing what people think.

David Farland

Your first novel is special. There’s a certain dread that comes with
it. I had gotten some great and very positive reviews for ON MY WAY TO PARADISE before its release, but I had nightmares for a week before it actually came out, and when you open it for the first time, you feel sort of like a proud papa examining your firstborn.

Eventually, though, that fades. After about thirty novels, you seriously don’t give a damn, other than to make sure that the editors didn’t screw it up too badly.

So enjoy that feeling while it lasts!

Terry Brooks

After 35 years and almost as many books, I have to tell you I can’t remember half of it. The one I do remember was the launch of Running with the Demon. That one I remember because the book launch was in Hawaii at the Maui Writer’s Conference, and there was this huge cake and a leather bound edition signed by many, and my first look at a cover I didn’t much like. But I loved that book and still do.

These days, I don’t get quite so excited about a new book’s release. I do get excited when I finish each one, though. Then I really do feel like celebrating.

I would say what most veteran writers say. That first book is special, and it will never be exactly like that again.

Todd Lockwood

My first (and so far only) art book, Transitions, was exciting for me. I felt that with the first series of books I painted covers for for TSR, especially The Wayward Knights. That’s when I felt like I was finally working in the genre I loved. It struck most recently when I received my copies of Tales of the Emerald Serpent, because it contains my first published fiction. I know I’m going t be excited to see Unfettered and hold it in my hands– that edition, too, will have a piece of short fiction of mine, set in the world of my novel forthcoming from DAW Books.

And when I hold THAT book in my hands–my novel–I think I will truly experience what you’re talking about like never before.

Greg Bear

For me, the first real buzz came with my first story publication in FAMOUS SCIENCE FICTION in 1967. Followed by my first cover on ANALOG, back in 1976. I carried it around with me to dinner, and then for the next several days! And I now own the lovely Rick Sternbach cover art. But the first book box was also a wonderful moment, three years later…

And new arrivals never cease to amaze!

Peter V. Brett

To this day, the first thing I do when I open a box of a new book for the first time is take one and hug it.

True story.

Guy Gavriel Kay

I call dibs on the funny answer. My fourth novel, Tigana, was my first with Penguin and the first where there were indicators it might be a national bestseller. Some real excitement and anticipation when the pre-publication box of author copies arrived by courier. I didn’t even get it out of the front hallway. Grabbed a knife from the kitchen, ripped open the box and saw the splendid, handsome copies of …. A History of World Whaling.

So, showing aplomb, élan, and extreme serenity under pressure, I called Penguin Canada warehouse and got a person who seemed capable and also serene in the face of an error. I explained what had happened, suggested my box was probably still there, they could just send mine and collect the whales and take them back at the same time. He thought this was sound (and surprisingly calm) authorial thinking. Put me on hold for a bit. Came back and said, ‘Can’t do it.’ ‘Why?’ queried the slightly less composed author. ‘Your books have gone to the other guy.’ ‘Um, where?’ ‘Vancouver Island.’

I told my wife later that day (and have retold this line for two decades) that I had a sudden, vivid image of the other author opening his box on the west coast, expecting a sober history of cetaceans (the one he was sure he’d written!), finding a massive historical fantasy, and turning to his wife to say, in tones of rueful admiration, ‘Have I got an editor!’

C.S. Friedman

I remember very clearly my response to my first book, and it was the same response all my friends and members of my family had.

I held it in my hand for a moment, and of course it was not wholly unfamiliar to me, since I’d seen the cover in production. Then I opened it, and said, kinda stunned, “wow, it has words in it.” As if up until that moment I’d accepted that a book with my name on it could exist it theory, but seeing the actual text in made real. Maybe that is in part because, while the cover represents our work, it is not actually something we created. Looking at the words inside…that’s when it hit me what I’d done.

Later I showed it to my brother, who looked it over, opened the cover, and said, “wow, it’s got words in it.”

And to make a long story short, nearly every friend and family member of mine to whom I showed my first copy went through the same ritual of inspection, and made exactly the same comment when they saw the text.

Of course it has less impact as you go on. I still feel a powerful rush when I first see my cover painting (if it’s good), and when the cover print gets sent to me so I see for the first time what is going to look at. I think that is when the book “becomes real” to me these days. But I will never forget that moment of wonder when I opened my first copy of In Conquest Born and realized that yes, the thing with my name on it really had my words inside. Until that moment I don’t think I ever quite believed it.

R.A. Salvatore

Drove to my local Waldens in my coughing old diesel…climbed out of it with my bad back (was nearing disc surgery at the time – 1988) and crawled into the store…and there it was, face out on the shelf with that glorious Larry Elmore cover. Wow. I couldn’t believe it.

But my back still hurt and my car still sputtered, shaking on its last legs (tires), and I still didn’t have the money to replace it.

Michael J. Sullivan

For me receiving the actual copies of my book came with mixed feelings. On one hand it was so great to see the dream finally realized and after decades of waiting my first impression was, “I’m going to sit down and read this now that I’ve made it.” I only got through half of the first chapter before realizing that I was just too burned out from all the re-reads during the copy editing and proof reading stages that I just couldn’t do it. So for me it was a goo six months later that I actually had that “sit down and read” moment and with that bit of distance i truly enjoyed the experience.

Patrick Rothfuss

I wrote a blog about it back in the day….


Lev Grossman

Whenever I see a new book of mine for the first time, all I can think of is the end of BACK TO THE FUTURE when Marty McFly’s dad gets those copies of his novel in the mail. Sadly, I’m not kidding about this.

But the first time I felt like I was seeing a child of my mind was actually with my third novel, THE MAGICIANS. I think what I felt was partly relief — like I’d finally said something, I’d said what I meant to say, and that if I died tomorrow, well, at least I’d have that. People could forget about me or not, but I’d least I’d had my say.

I didn’t keep that first copy, by the way. I signed it and sent it to the person whose work made it possible, which was Ursula Le Guin.

Kevin J. Anderson

I still feel that rush when a case of new books arrives…and I’ve had over 120 titles published. Nothing beats the pulse-pounding exhilaration of peeling open the envelope to see the cover art for my very first novel (RESURRECTION, INC.) back in 1988. Actually, it was a pretty lousy cover and i cringe at it now, but that didn’t matter to me then. Most recently I got the real glow when I received my first copies of CLOCKWORK ANGELS (in September)—not only am I very proud of that one, but it’s a stunningly beautiful book with color printing throughout, fantastic design, makes you want to run your fingers over every page.

Peter Orullian

Wife calls: “There’s a box here from Tor.”

Queue music: Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss—

You might remember it as the 2001: A Space Odyssey music.

I race home—think Benny Hill chasing a dame.

I walk through the door. Spy the box.

Strauss’s horns play a descending minor second. Tension.

Drums (or is that my heart) begin to pound.

I approach the box. Lay hold of its cardboardy awesome.

Horns play an ascending minor second. Closer to the moment.

Mallets again pound huge orchestra kettle drums.

I part the tape carefully with a steak knife.

From the bubble wrap I draw forth the First Copy.

Horns play a grand ascending major second. Tension release. Joy.

And flourish. As I raise the book like a primate wielding a bone.

Since it could, in fact, be a blunt trauma weapon.

Soaring, rising horn melodies lifting to space. And beyond.

I’ve triumphed. Dream fulfilled. Look upon me!

Then, I start to scrutinize it for any problems, errors.

Cause, you know, I’m insane.

Kelley Armstrong

I remember getting my first copy of Bitten–the UK edition–which was very exciting. I don’t recall the first shipment I received, but one related experience does stick in my mind. On release day, I was in the city, and my husband and I detoured to a bookstore to see if it was there. I knew it probably wouldn’t be on the shelf yet, but there is was, at the front of the small store, on the New Release rack.

I went up to the clerk and explained that was my book–showing ID–and asked if I could sign their copies. She stared at me like I was asking if I could rip out pages and said “I don’t think we allow that.” I said that the publisher had assured me they’d take returns on signed copies, and I left my name and number for the manager, to call if they wanted me to come back and sign their copies. I suspect that paper went straight in the trash. Even today, a store can have a full shelf of my books, and I rarely offer to sign, for fear I’ll get that look again!

There you have it. From some of the best writers working today. I can’t believe some of the comments sent my way. They matched my own. But some were so different from mine I’m wondering if I’m missing out on something?

Probably. I’m always the last to know!

The Dark Thorn is available on Grim Oak Press!

Read the first nine chapters and see if it for you!