What If My Published Book Isn’t Good Enough?

I’m going to think out loud a bit here.

If you could sit down with an author you admire or enjoy reading and could only ask them one question, what would it be? I know what I would ask.

“What do you do when your first published book doesn’t match the quality of your second or third?”

It’s no secret that writers are constantly learning and improving their craft. Their voice develops, their skills are sharpened, and they find little by little what truly works for them.

I self-published my first novel, Little One, in the summer of 2015. It wasn’t the first novel I had written, but at the time it was the best, and I felt I was finally ready to take it all the way.

Now, a year and two months later, I’m eyeing potential release dates for my second book, Where The Woods Grow Wild. It’s not a sequel to Little One, nor does it have anything in common in terms of tone or content.

Not only that, but the closer I get to publishing Where The Woods Grow Wild, the more I feel Little One just isn’t that great. Besides a slew of technical problems during its first weeks of life, I’ve improved so much as a writer in the last year that I’ve come pretty close to unpublishing Little One for good. I don’t want it to misrepresent me.

I’m also ridiculously pessimistic.

On the flipside, I’m probably being too critical of myself. Little One isn’t bad. It’s accumulated nearly 1000 downloads in 12 months (granted, most of those are free grabs), and it averages 4.7 stars on Amazon and 4.45 on Goodreads (and that’s after Amazon obliterated most reviews by friends and family). I’m frequently humbled by the glowing feedback I receive.

And yet, I know Little One could have been better. A lot better. I also know Where The Woods Grow Wild will be better.

Part of me wants to unpublish Little One and treat Where The Woods Grow Wild like a debut novel. Gotta put my best foot forward, right? Another part of me knows I should be proud of Little One regardless of its flaws and move on. After all, everyone improves over time. I never expected Little One to be my masterpiece.

Have those of you with published work ever felt this way before? If so, what conclusions have you come to? Give a brother some pointers here.

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17 thoughts on “What If My Published Book Isn’t Good Enough?

  1. Yes! That’s exactly how I feel about my first published work. I like it, but it could be better despite getting pretty good ratings and reviews. Except, since it’s the beginning of a series, and since the tone of the rest of the books will be different, I probably will sit down and rewrite this fall.

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  2. I’ve felt the exact same way for quite a while about Starscape! I’m putting out a second edition with a new cover in a few months, and I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to completely rewrite some parts (at least). Even though a lot of people liked it a lot in its current form, some parts are poor now that I reread them.

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  3. I’m working on self-publishing my eighth book right now, and I’m going to let you in on a secret: Almost every book will be better than the one before it.

    You’ll have learned that much more about writing.
    You’ll have polished your writing style that much better.
    You’ll have grown that much more as a person.

    The only reason a book wouldn’t be better is if you’ve fallen into a rut and/or start coasting on your success and just write “safe” books.

    I published my first book at the age of sixteen, five years ago (I celebrated its birthday the week before last), and while it was a good story, I didn’t know as much about writing then, I hadn’t quite discovered my writing voice, I still had a ton of growing to do. It’s incredibly tempting to pull my first book off of Amazon and bury it in shame (especially since it’s review average is more in the 3.9 area). Most of the reason I haven’t is that two of my other books are its sequels, and two of my others are short story collections which each contain a companion short story to the series.

    But here’s the thing: In five years, I’m going to look back at the book I’m publishing in October and I’m going to wince almost as hard about it as I currently wince at my first book.

    Because I still haven’t learned everything about writing.
    Because I still haven’t polished my writing style to perfection.
    Because I still haven’t grown into the perfect person.

    It may be tempting to take a step backward and remove all hints of past failures, but it’s just that – taking steps backward. If you have 4+ for your average review, don’t take the book down just because it isn’t as good as the book you’re publishing now. It may be hard to appear less than perfect, but it’ll only start a habit of perfectionism that may hurt your writing career more in the long run than if you hide the evidence. Because next year, when you’re ready to publish your third novel, you’re going to look back at “Where the Woods grow Wild” and wince just as hard at it as you currently are at “Little One.”

    Sure, you want to put your best foot out first, but you’ll only annoy readers if you remove evidence of your past writing.

    (Oh, and I’ll let you know another secret – my main writing project next year is going through all of my published books and running them through another edit and polish, and fixing continuity issues. It’s perfectly acceptable to correct the failings of your past. Just don’t try to hide them and pretend they didn’t happen. Because they did happen, and all of the people who gave you 4 and 5 stars will remember that.)

    Keep learning about writing.
    Keep polishing your writing style.
    Keep growing.

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  4. Interesting post. I haven’t published anything yet, but after reading this I’ve come to realize I’d better not publish my main WIP novel first. I never planned on finishing it first, but now I have a pretty good reason not to. I’ll do all I can to avoid being disappointed thus in that lifework. 😀

    I planned on reading Little One in the near future, but if you plan on releasing a second edition soonish, I’ll wait to buy that instead. Really looking forward to some of your writing! 😀

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  5. (the late) David Gemmel published Legend in the 1980’s and it was a success that launched his writing career, but when I went to a signing and Q&A, he was asked if there was anything he’d change about the book and he said, yes, quite a lot…But, overall he was glad he wrote the story. I think most writers/authors seek perfection, and in a way, self-publishing is a terrible temptation to go back and try to correct perceived flaws, whereas traditional publishing doesn’t really offer that sort of opportunity…Besides, I think you should be proud of Little One, it’s a decent book with a good story and I’m looking forward to reading Where the Woods Grow Wild. 🙂

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      1. You’re welcome! 🙂 With my own novella, I re-edited, but did nothing to change the story itself. I also re-did the formatting, and I’m glad I did! Now, it’s hands off! Onto the next book. 😀

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  6. Oh dang! *goes onto Amazon and buys Little One before you can delete it* I’ve been planning on reading that for a while now. 🙂

    I completely sympathize with this feeling. I’m currently rewriting my novel for the 4th time because I want to make sure that my first published book is one that represents me and my writing style. That being said, I know that it is currently a very good story, even if it isn’t exactly what I want.

    Us writers have a tendency to overlook the good parts of our stories. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. So I’d say: try to focus on the good stuff, and know that just because each new piece you write will be better, it doesn’t mean that your previous works are bad. Hope this helps!

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    1. Haha everybody panic!! 😀 I don’t think I’ll take it down, though. And you’re absolutely right. I’m quite the pessimist. It’s very easy for me to overlook the things I’ve done well.

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  7. I’ve always felt that publishing a book insinuates a promise to readers–this book is published, it will remain so. As a reader, I’d feel more cheated than anything to find that one of my favorite authors had deleted one of my favorite books from general commerce–hey, I wanted to recommend that to friends. That was awesome. Why is it gone?
    I also like looking back on the early works of my favorite authors, seeing where they began and how their writing style grew. It’s encouraging to know that there’s always room for improvement, even in people whose skills we already admire 🙂

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  8. I am in a constant battle with myself for everything I publish. I decided a year or so ago to go back over my stuff on Amazon and overhaul it from start to finish. Then walk away from it and start on new stuff. You can always change and it will drive you nuts unless you just draw a line in the sand.

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