When is a debut not a debut?

One debut hardback novel alone seems to be making a dent in the bestseller lists at the moment. And it isn’t as if there haven’t been some great books published this year already.

Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train has broken through. It is and will continue to be a global publishing phenomenon this year. It’s terrific. But then lots of books are. Why this one? Is it as simple as people are looking for the next thriller with Girl in the title? Maybe. All those tasked with understanding consumer behaviour gainfully employed within the larger trade houses will no doubt be trying to find out for sure. I suspect that no one really knows, least of all the respective commissioning editors in London and New York. A certain piece of PR. A particular retailer offer. Who can say.

But one thing needs clarifying. This is not Paula Hawkins first book. It may be her debut thriller, but by my reckoning it is her fourth published novel, having previously written romantic fiction under another name. The point being, publishers and readers alike do still seem to love the allure of the book that comes out of nowhere, something that takes the world by storm at the first attempt. When the reality is, this is almost always a myth. Writing more, working on the minutiae with talented editors on draft after draft, even publishing books which don’t sell can all be part of the process that gets you to the point where you eventually create something which really catches fire with readers. Believing anything else is a fantasy. And how wonderful that even previously published writers can feel they can successfully reinvent themselves, because no good, self-respecting editor would these days believe otherwise.

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