Book Theme

Bookish: Book Theme – Debut

book themeEach month I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’

The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.

The theme for March is one that I find rather exciting (and oddly straightforward)!


What is debut

In a nutshell: an author’s first book.

To crack open the nutshell a little:-

  • This could be an authors very first book ever in the whole wide universe. They have published no other book before this one on a professional (either self-published or traditionally published) basis;
  • It could be that this is the author’s first traditionally published book after having previously gone down the self-publishing route however this isn’t often seen as a ‘debut’ in the publishing world;
  • It could be that the author has previously published under one writing name and has decided to write under another. It could be that they want to see how they fare without their popular name or because they’re switching genre (think J.K Rowling). The first book under this new name would be considered a debut as that new name;
  • Maybe an author is known for writing towards a particular audience and they want to release a book for a completely new demographic. This could be a YA author making the switch to Adult or vice versa, their first Adult book would be then be their debut in that category.

The most common one is the top one – a debut is a very first book ever.

These can be released to a range of successes; some writers don’t pick up their audience until further down their career while others have an instant and sensational debut success.

What are some debut books

*Hyperventilates a bit*

Ok Gerry, calm down. The question asks what are some debut books not ‘list every debut book in existence.’

As you can imagine there are a ton because everyone has to start somewhere!

My go to guru Wikpedia tells me they have 1,472 articles categorized as ‘debut novel.’ Whilst I truly do love providing you guys with a thorough reading experience trawling through all those articles may well break me.

That being said….

I’m going to list one debut novel beginning with each letter of the alphabet below because I clearly love you and have no concept of self-care. Or a life.

The ones I’m choosing are ones that are instantly recognizable (i.e. ones that are popular or that I have at least heard of) and in the absence of anything recognizable I’m just going to go with the title that I think is most interesting.

Some of the books may very well be recent debuts and some may be classics. Just because it’s an older book for us doesn’t mean the fan-girls and guys weren’t going crazy over Sense and Sensibility back when it came out in 1811.

Like I said, everyone has to start somewhere.

  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1977)
  • Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)
  • Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (1979)
  • The Graduate by Charles Webb (1963)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling (1997)
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1949)
  • John Dies at the End by David Wong (2007)
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (2012)
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012)
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980)
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836)
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (2014)
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2001)
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)
  • Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng (2017)
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (1966)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
  • X – nothing!
  • The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (2012)
  • Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore (1993)

I picked the above based on what jumped out at me.

It will be interesting to see how this lines up with the next section.

what is popular

This is based off of the ‘Popular Debut Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 1,250 entries. The top ten are: –

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  4. An Ishmael of Syria by Asaad Almohammad
  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  6. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  7. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  8. The Dry by Jane Harper
  9. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  10. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I’ve heard of #1, #2, #3, #5, #6 (only half of the top ten) and out of those I have read #1, #3 and #5.

As I go up the list from number 10 I can see a few more recognizable ones such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

My usual question: What do I think?

Eleanor Oliphant and Divergent were the ones that I included for my alphabetized list but that was because they were the first ones I saw and recognized. That was probably because I’d read Eleanor and even though I haven’t read Divergent I’m fully aware of it and it subsequent books and movies.

A lot of these debuts are fairly recent ones which makes sense. When we think of ‘debut’ we tend to think of what is current or recent and forget that once upon a time everyone who is a published author would have had to publish their first ever book.

The most recent of those top ten are The Hate U Give and Eleanor Oliphant which were both released in 2017 and the oldest are Divergent and The Night Circus which were released in 2011.

A lot of these have had tremendous success upon release and either have had movies made or have had the rights purchased to be made into a movie *cough* where is my The Night Circus movie *cough*

But with tremendous success can come crushing fear of never following up that success. Erin Morgenstern published The Night Circus in 2011. Her second book The Starless Sea is set to be released in 2019 a whopping 8 years after her first.

Obviously I don’t know the reason behind the length of time (it could be a variety of things) but I do wonder if the mega popularity of The Night Circus especially as a debut may cause a lot of pressure.

This could apply to all debut writers with successes.

Alice Sebold published The Lovely Bones in 2002 and while it wasn’t her first published work it was her first published debut novel and as we know, it smashed it. Her follow up The Almost Moon in 2007 was, to be frank, a dire mess and she hasn’t published anything since.

That’s second book pressure for you. In some ways it’s harder than the un-established debut.

And that’s not to say that debuts aren’t hard. It seems everyone’s debut hits bestseller lists and makes a seven figure advance these days but those are just the golden nugget success stories.

You know what peeps? Erin Morgenstern started writing The Night Circus in 2005 and signed with her agency and sold the book in 2010 after being rejected by thirty agents. That’s five years of writing a novel and a lot of ‘no’s.

Celeste Ng spent 6 years writing Everything I Never Told You before it published in 2014 and she beat out the incredibly prolific and popular Stephen King for an award that very year. Interestingly her second book Little Fires Everywhere published in 2017 has done the opposite of Alice Sebold and is even more successful than the debut.

Debuts are just that – debuts. The first one that is published. It can be such a roaring success that nothing published by that author again will ever come close or it’s the first decent book on a solidly improving writing career.

What are my favourites.jpg

Considering as I’ve only read three from the top ten it would be easy for me to just use those. The Hate U Give is amazing and I’ve banged on and on about it on this blog before as I have with The Night Circus. I enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant but didn’t fall in love.

I’ve decided to scroll up the Goodreads list and pick my top 3 from the ones that didn’t quite make the top 10.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (2017) – the first in the Winternight Trilogy, an incredibly delightful story about a witch called Vasya who can see spirits and creatures from Russian folklore. Set in Russian winter this book will make you feel physically cold and emotionally warm.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (2018) – a weird and confusing Quantum Leap murder mystery set in a posh but decaying Downton Abby esque house in the 1920’s. Many people are assholes. Things get complicated. I enjoyed it’s strangeness.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (2016) – this didn’t rock my world as gently sway it but I don’t normally read contemporary romance and this sort of opened the door for me as a fun, fluffy read when I just wanted to feel good about life. I am a sucker for enemies to lovers. Give me all the enemies to lovers.


What are your favourite debuts? Conversely, what are some debuts that you feel were over-hyped and you just couldn’t get into it?

Do you think that we set unrealistic expectations upon debuts and that everyone who wants to be a writer will expect their first ever novel will score them a seven figure deal and a movie series? Because I do!

Is there anyone you think tanked their second novel due to ‘second book’ pressure after a successful debut (like Alice Sebold) or (like Celeste Ng) managed to just get better and better?

Let me know your thoughts and I’ll see you in April for another ‘Book Theme’ – topic TBC!

13 thoughts on “Bookish: Book Theme – Debut

  1. This is such an interesting post, I love that you pointed out that we think of debuts as being current and fresh, cause I’m totally guilty of that. I don’t think it will come as a surprise that my favorite debut is The Bear and the Nightingale. I also have a lot of love for The Hate U Give, The Night Circus and Everything, Everything. Though in Nicola Yoon’s case I love her second book even more, I think it’s miles better. Jandy Nelson’s debut was also amazing, but nowhere near as good as I’ll Give You the Sun. (Yes ,I thought of this because I always mix those two books up cause they both have sun in the title). I should really go back and read some of my favorite author’s debut, I think that would be fascinating. Especially as a writer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s hard *not* to think of debuts as the recent ones and it makes sense that we do as these are the ones that are going to be discussed and talking about and marketed significantly more! I doubt PR was even a thing until recently!

      The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderful debut as is THUG and The Night Circus. They are all such interesting examples as well – one is a debut to launch a trilogy, one is a debut where the author released a second book a year after and the third is a debut where the author is only releasing a second book 8 years after! There’s no pattern!

      I think it would be a great experiment to re-read or read authors debuts and maybe even see how the quality of their writing, characterisation, plotting and story telling has changed over time. For better or worse (but hopefully for better!)


  2. Wonderful post! I honestly don’t pay attention to whether a book is an author’s debut or not (I just read it if it’s in front of my nose lol), but the pressure of following up with a successful debut MUST be stressful. I’ve often debated with my mother why JK Rowling hasn’t published another children’s series since Harry Potter (and she publishes under a pen name) since I feel like she has the imagination to build an entire new world if she wanted to, but I think I can empathize with her if such a massive amount of pressure and attention is on the follow-up being as good as HP.

    And yes, even in regards to the Night Circus (which is now super high on my TBR thanks to you), I was shocked learning that Starless Sea was only the second novel by the author in 8 years! It makes me all the more curious to read it, and I think it’s a good thing that an author takes such a long time to write to a book honestly…many YA books are just chugged out with no real care nowadays, so it speaks to an author’s quality if they feel that pressure; it means they take their work seriously I think. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same, I tend to go with a book that I like the look of and don’t often know if its the authors 1st or 101st until I look into it. Some of the books I’ve read though I *know* have been the debut because of the surrounding it *because* it’s the debut. I think writing a second book after a massively hyped debut would make anyone feel queasy, there’s all the hype and pressure to contend with.

      I don’t know how true it is but I had heard (and it could be a rumour) that the Robert Galbraith books just weren’t making the sales and so it was purposely leaked that they were the pen name for JK Rowling. Again, not sure how true that is and I don’t want anyone to take that as fact!

      Hmm, I have mixed feelings on length of time = quality. Sometimes yes but sometimes no. I don’t know how to explain it. I think if a writer who is *not* a good writer to begin with churns out multiple books per year than I think quality will continue to get worse and not better. But if a writer who is a good writer can deliver multiple books per year than the quality may not be impacted as negatively. But this depends on how technically skilled the author is plus how much they listen to their editorial team when it comes to making changes.

      But that’s just my two pennies and yes, I am thinking of a certain writer who does churn out a lot of books per year and who also doesn’t listen to their editorial team and the quality has definitely declined!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised if JKR’s name was leaked so Galbraith’s books could generate sales. If I was the author, I personally wouldn’t wish that myself, but hey, publishers’ gotta make that dough. 😎

        And nope, you’re absolutely right! It does depend on the innate talent of the author and how quickly they are able to polish their writing (or how little they need to), so writers like that shouldn’t feel the need to hold back since they have the chops to push things out at a faster pace. It’s really the ones who don’t have much skill that need to slow it down…because me too, I see some books out there by (cough) *certain* authors who don’t have the skill to write great prose or tell a story well, so they should take more time to re-work their stuff. Unfortunately, they often don’t. :/

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hahaha! I think we’re probably thinking of the same author here…. but yes, if I’m thinking of who you’re thinking of then they would absolutely benefit from cooling such a hectic schedule and trying to get out quality work over quantity work!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. THUG is definitely an awesome debut and is one of the more ‘hits’ I think. I would say Children of Blood and Bone is also the same but I didn’t fall in love with that one unfortunately. I want to read On the Come Up and see how Angie Thomas has done with her second book!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read the first 100 or so pages of Children of Blood and Bone when I first got it and I honestly wasn’t too impressed. I haven’t gone back to it yet. And I just read On the Come Up. I write a mini review for it that went up on my blog earlier today. I really enjoyed the way Angie Thomas wrote the characters although I admit I didn’t love it as much as I did THUG. I Hope you enjoy it though!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I actually couldn’t finish Children of Blood and Bone either so I’m glad to have found another person who hasn’t! There was so much hype but I just couldn’t get into it and I’ve read hyped books before and loved them so I don’t think the hype was the problem. I don’t think I’ll revisit but if you do, let me know if you think its worth it!

          Liked by 1 person

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