Authoring is not a race, so there are a couple of arguable points on the question of whether first is best in this business. One is how often books that top the charts in sales are actually the “best books.” I’d love to hear other opinions on this, but my sense is that, unlike the mass market, chart-topping regional and specialty books are likely to also be of high quality. In regional markets, big marketing and promotion bucks aren’t thrown selectively at certain books. Alaskan books, for the most part, must stand on their own merit.

The other prong of this question is whether an author’s first book will likely be his best book. PW Shelftalker Alison Morris ponders this question in a recent blog, with readers weighing in on both sides. Logic would say that writers improve with every book, so their books would keep getting better and better. However, there’s not a ton of evidence to bear that out. Some stunning first books have been followed by mediocre efforts. Reader and writer psychology comes heavily into play. The thrill of discovering a new author is bound to diminish. On the author’s end, the organic process of writing doesn’t necessarily lend itself to systematic improvement.

Among the highly successful first books of Alaskan authors are Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolves and Velma Wallis’s Two Old Women. I don’t know if the first novel phenomenon played into Kantner’s publishing next in non-fiction, but it seems a wise choice, taking some of the edge off expectations and worries over the success of the next book. Wallis has published two more good books, but neither sells like her first. Then there are one-book wonders, like Kim Rich’s Johnny’s Girl and Natalie Kutz’s Road Song, powerful memoirs that would be tough to top.

What do you readers think? How often is an author’s first book her best?

2 thoughts on “IS FIRST BEST?”

  1. I’d say it’s tough to generalize on this particular topic.

    Obviously, some people only have one book in them. Especially so when it’s in the autobiographical or roman a clef vein.

    On the other hand, an author’s author has the tools, the imagination and the perseverance to craft book after book after book.

  2. Well said. Motivation is critical. Some of us are driven by one story that begs to be told, while others, energized by the process, are always looking for new stories to tell.

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