The Magic Number

One thing I have noticed lately is writers who are agented or published have one thing in common: most of them, this is their second, or third, or sixth book–it took them that many tries to get it “right”. This made me curious. Is there an unspoken magic number in the publishing world? Is there a certain number of books it takes to master the art?

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been writing my whole life. What started as picture books progressed to short stories then chapter books, until finally I finished my first complete novel at 12, handwritten in a pink journal. It was a science fiction/dystopian about a girl who discovers government secrets, and then teams up with the rebels to overthrow them. Naturally, now I read it and it’s complete crap, and will live the rest of its life locked away in my files, never to see the light of day.

My second book was an epic fantasy that probably should have been two or three books instead of one, about four kids united by magical powers, saving their land from the Dark Lord. I was probably about 13 when I wrote it, so considering that it’s pretty brilliant, but like the previous will never see the light of day.

My third I wrote when I was about 15 and is 102 pages of teenage angst. It was my first contemporary, about a girl whose boyfriend is killed in a car accident. Again, teenage angst. There are some tiny gems, but most of it is one giant facepalm.

Now my fourth was Ember, which you have probably heard me mention. I started writing it when I was 17, and this was the first one worth reading. Countless rewrites and two years later, I am in the process of querying it. Though I’ve only been at it six months or so, it’s hard not to get discouraged, especially when promising leads end up going nowhere. I started writing its companion, but needed a break from writing in the same world and same story for two years. So to battle the rollercoaster of querying, I started Nightfire.

Ember and Nightfire are my true loves. But one question I have been asking myself a lot lately is–what if Ember isn’t the one? What if it’s just another one in the series before I get it “right”? I absolutely believe in that story; I love the characters, the world, everything. It was the first story that characters became real to me, that I started to get voices in my head. I believe I have developed my writing skills well enough that I could be published now. But what if there’s something wrong in the formula? Something that Nightfire has the chance to get right?

Which led to me wonder–what is the magic number? I wrote three books before Ember, but was that enough? Do the ones I wrote at 12 or 13 count, when I was still so young and had so much to learn?

I believe in Ember, but I wonder if it’s not the one that will get me agented and published. Maybe that is Nightfire, and Ember can come later. But my question remains–is there a number?

What do you think? How many books have you written–if any? Is there a magic number of books a writer has to write, before they have “mastered” it? Is there a magic number of books it takes before one makes an agent fall in love?

 

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16 thoughts on “The Magic Number

  1. Honestly, I differentiate between the ones I wrote and queried and the ones I wrote just to write. If you count every book/screenplay I ever wrote, I’m up to like 37 different stories. If you count the books I thought were good enough to query, that’s 2.

    (Mostly, I just say “I wrote X amount of books for fun, but I wrote 2 ‘publishable’ books.”)

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    • That is a great point! I would say Ember and Nightfire are my first two publishable books as well. I guess I also mean how much “practice” it takes, but for me that is more so in the publishing world since I have been writing my entire life but very new to publishing. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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  2. I don’t think so. They say mastery is gained after a million words. I don’t believe that either. A person’s first story can be great, or their 20th can be crap. We’re all different.

    I also think the story has to be just right for the market. A perfect story might not have sold two years ago, and might not sell two years from now. There is a lot of timing involved.

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    • That is true! Though that might have to do somewhat with talent rather than practice. And yes, that is absolutely true. That is one of the hardest parts about the publishing industry, is how little of it actually has to do with your writing. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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  3. I don’t believe there is a magic number, but I do very much believe that writing is like any other type of work. Even people who are naturals have to practice, to work on their craft, just like musicians have to, or tailors, or computer engineers. I think that is a part of why authors’ first novels are rarely published, because they are still in the early stages.

    However, I then also look at a lot of published novels out there that are less than stellar, but were still published through mainstream, and some are even wildly popular. I’ve realized that there’s another aspect of ‘being a writer’ as a job that I only started to figure out this year (after 20 years of writing.) You have to get into the industry, too, you have to treat that as part of it, learn it’s ins and outs. Whether you want to self-publish or get an agent, I think it is important.

    I’ve been meaning to write a blog about my own experiences in this aspect, I think you’ve just inspired me to finally get off my butt (or rather, sit on it in front of the computer long enough) and write it 🙂

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  4. I don’t think there’s one answer. My dad got his first (and only, so far) book published, but that was after 37 rejections and several years of trying.

    I’ve written several books, including two non-fiction, but this is my first novel I will try to publish. I sometimes wonder if I’m trying something too hard, and I won’t be able to pull it off, but then I just try to think of it as a learning experience and I’ll just keep at it until I get it right,

    You’re still early in the process- it’s not time to give up!

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  5. Puck’s Choice, the book I’m currently getting published, is novel number 4. While I believe my previous novels will one day be publishable… with a lot – and I mean a LOT – of re-writes. I’ve already completed the first draft to Puck’s companion novel, Jenna’s Story, and am working on another project I hope to finish soon – also for publication.

    I don’t think there’s a magic number to getting published. It’s just a matter of finding the right niche for your work. PDMI is a a smaller publishing company worth looking into. I’ve heard a lot of good things about them. On top of that, here’s a really good post from one of their authors telling about why she signed with them.

    Good luck! Maybe Ember will find the home it deserves. 😉

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  6. I wouldn’t count the stuff you wrote as a child. They were written for fun and they helped you learn a lot, but it’s my belief that children are still learning the basics of everything connected with writing. There will, of course, be “geniuses” out there who are so good they get published during puberty but they are rare. It’s more of an exercise in strengthening the writing muscles in your brain.

    I doubt there’s a magic number. Some people hit it off when their 1st, others with their 3rd, still others with their 10th. I wouldn’t give up though! 😀

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  7. Haha, I wrote a spec. fantasy novel when I was 12 as well, hand-bound it and everything with green ribbons and sparkly smoke grey covers, typed with basic font and an awful lil world map drawn with pen on the inside cover. It was about a girl, lol, who assembled a team from the four corners of the world and traveled to heaven to defeat the gods and bring her planet back to true peace. xD

    I’ve always been writing too, but I lapsed for a while in my late teens because my focus went to visual art like photoshop and other stuff. All of my writing time was taken up by roleplaying with friends, it wasn’t til a couple years ago that I stopped myself and was like “no, I should write a book instead”. Playing catch-up now~ I’ve been working on seven to eight novels simultaneously, but I plan to finish only one or two in the next couple of years.

    So, I don’t know what people mean when they say they’ve written books… but haven’t done anything with them, prior to their published or current work. Usually I have to try and get an understanding, have they been in writer groups for the past decade? When they say book, do they mean a NaNo? Does it mean a complete manuscript that takes no further edits (is there such a thing?)?

    Hmmmm…

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  8. Counting every book I’ve written, I’ve actually lost count of how many there are. 🙂 But most of them were quite short, only exist in first draft form, and like your early ones, will never see the light of day (at least in their current form).

    I don’t think there’s a certain amount of books you have to have written before you’re ‘good enough’. I think it comes down to the story, and the skill of the individual writer. We all have our own learning curves and paces. We shouldn’t compare ourselves against each other, though I know it’s a completely natural thing to do. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.

    So don’t worry. If your story’s strong, and you believe it’s good enough, keep plugging away with it. Success will follow – at least, I hope it does for you.

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  9. I completely understand what you are saying. When I started seriously writing when I was 13. That was when I decided what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was really into writing sequels as well. So I have four completed novels. Two different ideas and they were made into sequels. They each reach about 200-250 pages. I wrote those in the span of 13-16. And then I would start story ideas get about hallway through and stop. I also co-wrote a few stories with a friend of mine. I would say we have about two completed stories together as well. But looking back on them, they are all complete crap. While I like the ideas that I had in many of them, the writing is absolutely terrible.

    I am now 22 and I am finally writing a novel that I believe may be the novel that starts my career, a very similar boat that you are in now. But it is scary. It is scary to think about all the time we will put into this one, the one we fully believe in, but what if it is just another book to toss aside before the right one comes along? How do we honestly know? Or could every one of these novels be worth reading if we put the same passion and love into the old ideas we had? We thought they were good once, right? Is it about the time we right the story or is it about the dedication we have at the moment we start believing in a particular work?

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