I have three trunk novels that I sometimes talk about. These are the three novels I wrote, revised, polished, and sent out to try to get them published, before actually selling my fourth. I stopped sending them out fairly quickly, after just a few rejections each. I was always working on something new, I could see how much better my writing was getting, and I knew the newer work had a better chance of selling. In hindsight, I think I probably could have sold them, if I’d kept sending them out and cast my net wider than the major publishers. But I’m really glad I didn’t.
I get asked sometimes if I’d ever dig up those novels and try to get them published now, and the answer is. . .maybe. Because I do think about those early novels sometimes, and I still like the characters and stories. There’s something worthwhile in them, or wouldn’t have spent as much time working on them as I did. But I wouldn’t want to publish them as is. They need a lot of work — there’s a reason they were rejected. I really want to go over them, beef up the plots, polish the writing, make them the best they absolutely can be. And I just don’t have time for that right now because I’d rather move forward and work on all the ideas that I’m getting now, that are super exciting and make sitting down at the computer worthwhile. Did I mention I’m a much better writer now? As interesting as it would be to apply the ten-plus years of writing experience I’ve accumulated since setting aside my trunk novels, and as nostalgic as I am for those stories, I think it’s much more worth my time to work on new stories.
I don’t consider those trunk novels wasted time that I ought to try to salvage. After all, they taught me how to write novels. They taught me that I could write novels. More than one, even, and I didn’t know how valuable that knowledge was until later. When I sold my first novel and suddenly had a two-book contract and had to write that sequel right now, I knew I could do it. No qualms at all. I didn’t have to contend with that second novel anxiety that strikes some authors who sell their first novel and suddenly have to confront, under deadline and with money on the line, the issue of whether they can do it again.
And there’s no better compliment you can get in a review of your first novel than hearing that it doesn’t read like a first novel. When people tell you you have more skill than they expect to see in a first novel. That your first book isn’t just good “for a first novel,” but that it’s, you know, good. Because it isn’t your first, really. But you don’t have to tell them that.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no shame in having unpublished trunk novels lying around. They’re my million words of crap (well, more like that last 300,000 of the million words of crap), and they served me very well indeed.