As I await responses from various publishers on my novel queries, I’ve been reading reams of info on the publishing world. Learning what to expect in terms of selling your work can make you wonder if it’s worth it at times, when you think of all the love and effort you put into your project.
If there is one tidbit of advice I keep reading, it’s that you better be in it for the enjoyment and satisfaction of writing, and not for making a ton of money, or even a living. But that’s a topic for a future post.
I wanted to share this book list with you. It may give you more incentive to keep striving for that goal, to get your own work in print.
- Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
- Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees
- Harper Lee’s only novel To Kill a Mockingbird
- Margaret Mitchell’s only novel Gone with the Wind
- Boris Pasternak’s only novel Dr. Zhivago
- Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
- Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook
- Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants
- Daniel Dafoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
- Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
All of these ten wonderful works of fiction, are, of course, bestsellers. Some of them even won the Nobel and/or the Pulitzer Prize.
But what is most interesting and inspirational to me about this list is this: they were all first novels. Yes, that’s right, these were debut novels that were wildly successful, and in fact there are many more ( I shortened the list). The older classics are known to still sell thousands of copies a year.
And many of them were rejected by numerous publishers before ultimately being signed.
As an example, Kim Edwards found great success with her first novel The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, the last one on my list, and the second to most recent I’ve read on the list. Published in 2005, it made it to #1 on USA Today’s list of bestselling books. As a result, in 2006 USA Today chose her novel as the Book of the Year. As they put it:
Book clubs and word of mouth helped send The Memory Keeper’s Daughter to Kite Runner heights, and once you’ve read this heart wrenching story, it’s easy to understand why it has connected with millions of readers.
On a stormy winter’s night in the 1960s, a doctor delivers his own twins. One is a perfect son; the other is a daughter with Down syndrome. He tells his wife the little girl died, and his lie reverberates across the years and affects every character.
Prepare for tear-blotched pages and a redemptive, hopeful ending that makes the tears easier to bear.”
I loved that book and loved finding out it was a first novel. So take heart, burgeoning writers. Perhaps your debut novel will make money. And if the stars align, perhaps it could be added to this list before long. Wouldn’t that be a dream realized? Stories like these are what keep me hopeful in selling and promoting my work.
You miss 100% of the shots you didn’t take. ~ Wayne Gretzky
What keeps you optimistic in your writing life?
31 thoughts on “One Thing These Famous Novels Have in Common”
Another wonderful first novel is “Stones for Ibarra” by Harriet Doerr. How I loved this book, and it was written when the author was nearing her seventies. Hope springs eternal.
I hadn’t heard of that one; I should have a look for it. Yes, there may be hope for us yet!
It’s a quiet little novel, beautifully written. You might enjoy it. 😀
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That list does give me hope, Jennifer. One, in particular, stands out for me. Harper Lee never wrote another book after “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s message – standing up and doing the right thing no matter what – continues to resonate with me.
I keep saying I have a book in me, but have never gotten farther than a few pages. Your post inspires me – even if I never get a book published because I do love to write. 😉
I found that list inspiring as well, and thought it worth a share. Have ever been published in a magazine or newspaper or for any paying work?
I was a reporter – first for radio and then for daily newspapers (Gannett) in New York and Florida.
When I worked – briefly – at a weekly newspaper, I nearly had an article published in a magazine. Unfortunately, they went out of business before that happened.
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Many publishers want to see something you had gotten published before. Luckily, there are others that don’t hold that as a requirement.
Jennifer, thanks so much for this encouraging post. I really needed to read this. Sometimes I don’t think my novel will ever be ready (I’m on the 6th round of editing) and at other times I can’t wait to start the query process. I admire your persistence and follow through–go Jennifer go! ❀
Blessings ~ Wendy ❀
Wendy, what I found about the editing is that it could have gone on forever if I didn’t put my foot down. (lol) I was reminded of the quote: “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. 🙂
I’m playing the waiting game now as I wait to hear back from publishers. In the meantime I work on other things, including the sequel.
I’m sure you’ll get to the query stage very soon. ❤
The only one of these I haven’t read is the Harper Lee. Personally, starting the day at the keyboard has become such a habit I can’t actually recall why I do it anymore. Is there money in it? I haven’t done any queries for a while, but I guess there can be. Best of luck with yours – may it sail!
Thanks, Frederick! I appreciate the good wishes.
I had no idea. Thanks for this list.
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You’re very welcome!
Jennifer that is very interesting I have read many of these but never realised they were debut novels. I guess the only thing that keeps me going is. I cannot, not write so I may as well keep going. The passion to create is strong and if I practice enough I am sure one day, one of my stories will be good enough to share.
“I cannot *not* write.” Exactly, Kath. And I am confident that one day your stories will be shared.
Only The Notebook and the Memory Keeper are missing from our reading list. Will have to give both a shot (I have been resisiting Nicholas Sparks for a long time, maybe unfairly). Good luck with your novel – it’s a long drawn out process that necessitates a lot of patience!
You are right on the money there; so much effort goes into a novel and the process of trying to get it published. An impatient individual would have a terrible problem with it. Thanks for the good wishes. 🙂
Much as I know it’s a dream, there’s always a little part of me that hopes my novel (if it every gets published) will be a bestseller. The same part of me hopes I’ll win the lottery one day 🙂
I know it seems like a crap shoot, but you never know unless you at least try. Everyone should have some sort of dream, shouldn’t they?
Like Dory from Finding Nemo said, “Just keep swimming”. Everything will work out. And I have good reason to believe in the book. I’m really impressed by your professional conduct through it all, as well as the courage and determination you’re showing. Pretty soon I’ll be saying, “this is my friend and famous author, Jennifer…” Not a doubt in my mind.
Thank you! I don’t know about ever being famous for my writing, but I appreciate you bringing it up as a possibility. 😉
You too may be famous one day for your art, so I can say “this is my friend and beta reader, the renowned artist, Janet…”
It could happen! xo
This was an interesting list. About half of them had either historical background or social change.
Is there some formula for a best seller?
If only we knew what it was.
I agree, they are intriguing books, every one of them. As for a formula, I don’t know if it is that simple. All I can figure out is that strong character development is key, and the story has to resonate with many people.
Wow those are amazing facts Jennifer!
As far as your novel goes, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, my legs crossed and my eyes crossed so that you might be successful!
You are so sweet, Diana. Another friend said something quite similar: “I’m crossing everything I’ve got for you, Jennifer!” 🙂
There is always a reason to hope. xo
Yes there is! And I love your motivation for writing Jennifer. ❤
No reason you can’t have the enjoyment and the money though right? 😉
No reason I can think of! 😀
The question I understand to ask yourself is “Would you write if you knew you would never be commercially published?”
Pretty sure I would.
I agree since I have never been published and I write for free daily. 🙂
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Yeah, it’s like a need or something.
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Indeed it is. 🙂