Ruth Reichl’s debut novel, Delicious! comes out this week. Although I have never read any of her food books, when I read about this novel I found myself thinking, “I want to read that. I bet it’s good.” Why would I think such a thing? Why would Ruth Reichl be any better of a novelist than someone else? Her book has a chick lit set up (a genre I like, but don’t love or read a lot of), and is about a woman who works for a food magazine in New York that gets shut down. But there is a mystery in the story, in which the protagonist, Billie, finds correspondence between a 12-year old and James Beard, which leads to a deeper understanding of the history of food. I enjoy a book with a subtle mystery, so I think this is what caught my interest, and because Reichl’s an accomplished journalist and food writer, I’m assuming that this twist will be intriguing. Hence why I’m interested in buying this book and might read it over another.
But this is what makes it so hard for people who don’t have public identities to break through as a novelist and why publishers like to publish works by known entities – there is already a brand in place. I guess it’s sort of like using a big name actor in a Broadway play, instead of a younger, less well-known actor. An unknown debut novelist has to write something so unique and enticing that people who know nothing about the person will want to devote hours, and possibly days, to a story they might not feel connected to. That barrier lessens when a celebrity writes a book. And even if a celebrity’s debut novel isn’t great, the fact that she or he wrote one can be news in itself and helps sales.
What I’ve discovered while writing this blog is that there are lots of accomplished debut writers out there and only a few bubble to the top. Some of the books that don’t get attention are not as strong as others, but I don’t think there is room for all the accomplished writers to get the attention they deserve. This might be true in all fields, but what makes it hard with novels is that if your first novel doesn’t sell, it can be very hard to get another book published.
So how to find the noteworthy debuts out there? Later this month I will publish my top tips for finding debut books. And in the meantime, for those who like novels about food, Delicious! goes on sale tomorrow.