That goes for all writers. New writers, experienced writers, weekend writers. I tend to be blunt when asked to do a critique. I look at the work as if it was my own—which is probably mistake #1—and criticize accordingly. On the other hand, I’ve been through the grist mill, suffered editors with bad attitudes, editors who wanted me to change my books to what ‘they’ would have written, and enough rejections to fill a thick file folder. But that was my trial by fire. Each and every one of those rejections, those criticisms and comments made me take a harsher look at my writing. They more or less forced me to improve my craft, to read more outside genre to see what I could do differently to avoid those dreaded words: predictable and stereotypical.
Romance novels surely must suffer the most from those two words. There can only be so many ways two people can start out at opposite sides of the room and come together at the end to waltz happily away into the sunset. I would say the majority of central plot lines begin with the hero and heroine being antagonists, then they go through some crisis or have an epiphany that brings them passionately together. It’s the stuff a good romance is made of. And it’s predictable, from page one, if the heroine is feisty and strong-spirited and goes against the social norms of the day, and if the hero is darkly dangerous, a womanizer, a rake convinced he will never fall in love or marry.
I write historical romances, so I’m super critical when I read one and I honestly read as few of them as possible. That qualification aside, my litmus test is the first chapter. If I can see the entire plot spool out in front of me in those first few pages, then I gently set it aside…not unlike, I would imagine, what editors in publishing houses do.
And that brings me to the reason I sat down with this blog….(that and a cloudy day threatening rain *s*)…that being one of the major problems with self publishing.
As previously mentioned, I have a rejection file an inch thick. They were accumulated over the course of my first four manuscripts, all of which, in turn, I considered to be brilliant, ingenious, passion-inspiring, intriguing, exciting…yada yada yada.
All of which sucked.
I think I’ve mentioned before that when I used to do workshops on revising and self-editing, I usually handed out a Xeroxed copy of a horribly written chapter from some anonymous author and asked the writers to critique it. After the gales of laughter some of the honest criticisms inspired, after it had been torn apart and pilloried front to back, I told them the chapter came from my first manuscript. There was always a long, heavy silence after the admission, but in the end, they got the point. I learned from my mistakes. Each rejection made me take a long hard look at those manuscripts until I understood…or thought I understood the problems in each one. And for the next book, I would try to change or improve. I like to say the process is like going to school. You don’t go from kindergarten straight to high school, you have to endure all those years of learning in between.
And that is what is missing these days, with the ease of self publishing. There is no in between. There is no trial by fire, no rejection slips that make a writer sit back and wonder why, why? What’s wrong with it?
The writer writes a book s/he thinks is brilliant, ingenious, passion-inspiring, intriguing and exciting and she puts it up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords etc then sits back to wait for the flood of fantastic reviews and avalanche of sales. When neither of those things happen, the writer is stunned, confused, angry, even discouraged. If so and so can write an indy book and publish it herself and sell a gazillion copies, why can’t I?
Well, maybe because it sucks.
And NO, I’m not saying ALL indy books suck, so don’t threaten to send me a bag full of fleas and a smelly old yak to foster them. I’m merely saying that there are good indy books out there, there are indy books that could be better, and there are indy books that would never have made it past the desk of an assistant editor.
There are a gazillion blogs out there by new and experienced writers who say the most important part of writing a book is having that book edited. I agree wholeheartedly. As much as I may be somewhat confident that I sometimes know how to weave a storyline together, and as much as I edit myself half to death and revise and revise and revise… I still don’t trust what I see or do on paper. I have readers who take the pages and, I hope, give me honest critiques. If it sucks, I want to know. My ego isn’t that huge that I expect every word I write to be a gem and that I don’t need editing or proofing. A quick read through some of my blogs is proof of that *snort*. And yes, when I was typing out China Rose and Bound by the Heart, and The Wind and the Sea in order to self publish them, I groaned out loud and banged my head on the desk multiple times at the adjective overkill and the wordiness of scenes where I took 50 words to say what I could have said in 10. The storylines held up, the writing sure didn’t, and again, I credit those theoretical years in between a writers kindergarten and high school where I learned how to say what I wanted to say in those 10 words, where I learned to make pictures out of words and scenes that would suck a reader in and make her flip those pages faster to see what happened next.
I did an interview not long ago when I was asked if, in this day and age of self publishing, did I regret or resent the years it took me to get my first book into print. My answer was no. All those rejections made me more determined, made me a better writer (I hope), made me think the indy writers today are missing out on those learning years. Then again, perhaps not missing them entirely because if they’re savvy enough and take a good hard look at why their book isn’t selling, they might channel some of that confusion and discouragement and determination into making the next book better.
Please, no yaks. No fleas.