Written by Emily Harstone March 23rd, 2020

The Importance of Reading Debut Novels

A debut novel is the first novel published by a writer. When one is attempting to find an agent and publisher for their own first novel, it is very important to read debut novels by other writers to see what is being published now.

Older, established novelists like Margret Atwood and John Irving are going to have their novel published regardless of subject matter or scope. Reading a recent book of theirs will give unpublished novelists no real leads on what agents or publishers are seeking now. To get a feel for that, you have to read debut work.

When you read debut work that’s like your writing, check the acknowledgments (or the internet) to see who their literary agent is. If their work was published with a smaller press or one open to direct submission, take note of that. Keep track of these names, because these are the people and the places you should submit your work to.

I also like to find out what I can about the author. Was their work published in literary journals first, if so what literary journals? Are they active on social media? What do they do to draw in readers? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you know what you need to do to get your work published and how to present yourself to these agents and/or publishers.

It is important to note that “debut” can be a misleading term. Delia Owens was 69 years old when her debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing was published. She’d already co-authored New York Times bestsellers, but these were works of nonfiction, which allowed her to still be considered a debut novelist.

More and more debut novelists have published a book in a different genre previously. Ocean Vuong’s bestselling debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,  was published several years after his successful poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds.

These authors still had a harder time publishing their work than established novelists, because they were still unproven as novelists. So I still encourage you to read these books, but with an awareness that the writer was not starting from scratch in terms of their career.

Whenever I write or talk about the importance of reading debut books, authors ask me how find debut books. There’s no one place to find a comprehensive listing, but below I’ve listed some websites that are good jumping off points. It’s worth noting that most lists do not include work by smaller presses.

10 Best Debut Novelists of 2020

15 Debut Novels we can’t wait to read in 2020

Goodreads’ YA Debut list 2020

The Best Debut Novels of 2019

30 Debut Novels to keep an eye out for in 2020

Happy reading!


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